Jayson Buford took the wrong drugs at the wrong time and can’t get happy.
Abe Beame doesn’t live in a dream world. He knows that maybe’s are really no’s on that RSVP form.
Chasing goals is an alluring proposition for someone with work to do on themselves. It’s a placebo, convincing yourself that you’re doing important work, if not the work you actually need to do. If you choose to move forward without doing self-reflection, then you can pretend that your Dad’s contract for you to cash out your inheritance is a mind game when there’s a decent chance he isn’t thinking about you at all. If you don’t get your addictions under control, you may find yourself at the center of a cold, soulless, and hedonistic birthday bash, using it as a diversion from the mess your life has become. I’ve been prone to chasing highs before, because I thought I was going to die alone. Because I was not strong enough to love myself first. It’s a way to temporarily escape from the existential doom that you have felt since you were a kid. It is possible to get better mentally, to start dealing with your issues head on, but you have to want to. It’s a decision you have to make every single day.
Kendall Roy has been chasing a specific type of high since the moment he dropped the bomb at his season two ending press conference, telling on his Father for corporate wrongdoing. That press conference wasn’t a move that a calculated person made. It was one that was done impulsively, out of desperation, with no backup plan in the event everything doesn’t go exactly right. Since then, every move Kendall made has contributed to the downward spiral he is on. “Good Tweet, Bad Tweet” showed us that he thinks that all publicity is good, which is a symptom of toxic celebrity and moral decline.
Last episode, he failed to flip Tom, with Tom all but telling Ken that evil works upwards, that he is going to “get fucked” because he has before, and Logan doesn’t have the same track record. Now, we are at his birthday party, where business is being done behind his back, pomp and circumstance abound, and his ex-wife (Natalie Gold, always tremendous) is passive aggressively, yet forwardly judging his drug use and general lifestyle. It’s Ken’s reckoning, the bottoming out episode (We Hope), the party is over. He’s finally having his breakdown and it’s stomach churning.
Roman, his younger brother, has been emboldened by his Father this season. He is the child that Logan trusts the most, both because Romulus will do whatever he tells him to do, and because their visions for the company, and zero sum philosophies align more than Shiv’s does.
After the DOJ investigation is deemed over for now, we find out that Tom won’t be going to prison (It’s hilarious when Wambsgans finds out. He goes to Greg’s office and becomes a primate; viciously throwing down Greg’s desk and beating his chest like a bear. It’s a real intense moment, a wine burping of sorts, from someone who has been resigned to, and in terror of his fate all season). When Logan tells Roman to go to Kendall’s party, and hands him a card for Ken, it feels intimate, like the two are in cahoots with one another.
We get that confirmation when Ken, Shiv, and Roman are arguing at the party, which features a hall of compliments, an entire room papered with fake tabloid covers (The best calls Shiv “wife of Tom Wambsgans”) and a physical recreation of their mother’s birth canal.
Roman and Shiv are there to approach Lukas Madsen (Alexander Skarsgård), the Elon Musk meets Zuckerbergish, neuro atypical asshole owner of GoJo, a streaming platform Waystar wants to merge with to upgrade the tech on their comparably shitty StarGo (with an interface, that at least at a glance, was hilariously reminiscent of HBO Max).
As Ken recovers from the implicit insult of Rome/Logan’s offer, Shiv is upset that she was not looped in on the decision to deliver the letter to Ken. Roman eventually finds his way to Madsen, where they seem to connect over their crassitude and ruthless business acumen, and seal the deal with Madsen pissing on Rome’s phone. Roman, who was once the black sheep, is no longer that, and is a dangerous person following in the footsteps of his Dad, who he has gone above and beyond to prove himself to this season.
After being set off by Rava, and taking the haymaker of an offer from his dad, Ken has a breakdown while looking for a gift he kids bought for him. Strong is devastating in this scene. Kendall’s possible mental illness has been present in Strong’s performance since Logan sentenced him to jail (and really, since we’ve met him), but for the first time, we’re seeing it, not in chasing highs, but rather, the crash that has been coming for him all season. He’s down, depressed about not being a part of Waystar anymore, and seeing with clarity, perhaps for the first time, on his 40th birthday, the hollowness of his entire life.
Like a beaten dog, he approaches Roman in the VIP room, who dismisses him while Shiv realizes that Waystar’s intimidation tactics towards Kendall’s kids have gone too far. (It’s tough to see Roman outwardly not care about Ken’s well being, particularly after there is evidence that Ken has protected Roman from Logan’s bullying). At times, this episode and its dynamic reminded me of “Prague”, an episode where a party also serves as a hellscape for its characters. Roman, at Tom’s bachelor party, was the joke, with everyone telling him that the dog pound game they played in England as kids was a good thing he enjoyed. Roman was bullied throughout his life by his family, thrusted into Logan’s Darwinian survival games that kids aren’t ready for. Logan did this because in his eyes “you punish the weak dog.” Now, in this episode, Roman is no longer the weak dog.
Kieran Culkin is excellent, it’s the best work he’s done in the series. He’s menacing, with those puppy dog eyes becoming authoritative and terrible, while still maintaining his Oedipus meets Rodney Dangerfield insult humor. They even shoot him differently here; instead of focusing on how he is physically less dominant than everyone else in a room, they made Roman darker in visuals and mood, with him wearing a black shirt and perched above the proceedings, signifying his sudden, fairly stunning elevation. Shiv and Roman fight over the fact that Shiv thought this was going to be her time (“but the men got together and decided no”), which is undeniably true, and it’s bitter to see it in these stark, misogynist terms, how Roman sees it, knowing that he is ultimately correct.
In the end, Roman is in the street, near the High Line, declaring victory for his Dad over the phone, like a dog whose brought home a pelt in its teeth. When we’ve seen Logan hit Roman, bully him into choosing his side, and humiliate him, it becomes sad to see just how much he has chosen his Father over the siblings that often protected him. Roman’s invigorated in a dreadful way, but he’s also a victim of his Dad’s sociopathy. There’s no such thing as final victories on Succession, it’s quite possible that Romulus still gets his day of reckoning, but tonight – as Shiv and Tom share silence, with her heading home to lick her wounds and Tom’s jaw on vibrate, headed out to participate in God knows what, and as Ken stares off his penthouse rooftop with a Saturday morning cartoon blanket cloaking him, and silence in him- it’s clear Rome has become the bully, that he has reversed the power dynamics in the Roy family. But to discuss Connor’s coat, and Rome’s inability to pee in public, and Shiv’s dancing, I hand the mic over to Eminence Griese, old Richelieu, the maligned influencer, Abe Beame. Happy Thanksgiving and good evening brother.
Abe: Happy Thanksgiving Jay. And what a fucking week to unleash this episode on what was a relatively unsuspecting public. People have been calling this season perfunctory or boring, whatever your critique may be, I’d imagine you weren’t bored tonight. It was so brutal, even for this show, I had trouble sitting through it.
There’s this old von Sternberg film called The Blue Angel, and it’s a crazy old German movie that’s all over the place, but there’s a specific scene at the end, where this once great and respectable professor has been brought low, and is debased, and is this circus performer everyone is laughing and throwing shit at, and his wife is off to the side cheating on him, and his humiliation and degradation is so total and complete, that it’s jarring. It’s using film and story in this heightened, weaponized way to elicit visceral emotion from the audience, and that’s how I felt about the conclusion with Rome here, as he eviscerated Shiv from his tree stand, and laughs at Ken’s bleeding wounds, near incoherent on pills, powder, and booze, knocking him to the floor at this “Asshole’s birthday party”.
It was expressionistically surreal, it was evil, it was so horrible I could barely watch. And that’s what this show is, an elaborate nightmare machine intended to inflict pain and misery on its characters, it’s just a question of whose turn it is any given week. Where do we go from here with Ken? Wrapped in his pitiful, wistful nostalgia flak jacket, staring forlornly out into the night, practically quoting “Safe Room” from season two, I couldn’t help but wonder if we’re being set up for jail, or even death, at Lady Caroline’s Big Italian wedding.
Jay: No, I do not think that death is coming for Kendall Roy at the end of the season. Succession isn’t The Wire. This is a show about a small group of people, and Kendall is the epicenter of that universe. We’re heading for more downward spirals, evident by the haircut we see him have at some point in the official trailer. Yes, it was horrible to watch Ken as the biggest loser at his own party. I say it in my review, but it’s a banner Culkin episode, who is a specialist who vibrates at specific, smarmy frequency most of the time, but here, he is the standout. It is the episode that the cast should submit to the Emmy committee when they’re debating Culkin’s case for Best Supporting.
It’s perhaps as dark as the show has ever been. Ken’s drops when Roman pushes him, ever so lightly but still in a cruel manner, the falling on his face we’ve watched for an hour made literal. Shiv and Roman look fractured. You can usually count on them to have an alliance, but not in the past two episodes. Roman has chosen his Dad over every other familial bond that he has. That leaves Shiv out, as someone who is being pushed aside for not only Roman, but even his Dad’s new secretary/girlfriend. We find Shiv with a choice to make, sitting in the car next to Tom at the end of this episode. In a just world, her next move is to uplift her older brother and finally decide to make good on his offer to change the culture of the company, and take over.
She and Kendall are alike in what they want to do, for the most part (Season 2, it was telling when Shiv told him that she felt Vaulter was always a value buy). Does Shiv decide that the ship she has chosen is too rotten, or does she still ignore it and keep plugging along at Waystar? Tonight was the first time I felt that there was hope for Kendall after all, even in the face of the mental illness that he has. Siobhan is a character that does have a limit, no matter how superficial she is, it’s just a question of whether she is courageous enough to reach that limit.
Abe: Easy to lose sight of just how down bad Shiv is with the Ken shit, but man. Post the Jared Mencken debacle, she just can’t even get off a comment that doesn’t land sour in the room at Waystar, and Rome just completely beats the shit out of her during that showdown as she gets roasted for perhaps believing at one point the waters were going to part for her, but never did. The wacky, bad dancing was the act of a desperate woman near her breaking point. I’m not sure I get at this point what teaming with Ken would do for either kid, but it also seems increasingly that there’s nothing left for her at Waystar, or with her current husband. How did the single episode rise, and sudden drug fueled bad trip fall, of Tom work for you?
Jay: It makes sense for Tom to get back to the point where he was before, which is Fly Guy douchebag mode. He’s in that here, with ‘’Tom Wambsgans, not going to prison’’ being his tagline. He’s pumped, rightfully so, and for once, he has seemed to earn his sense of purpose. His scene in Greg’s office is the one openly funny extended scene in this episode. He’s no longer in a mental cage. He can finally stop looking at prisons and talking about lines. I found Greg to move forward with this episode. He got the courage to ask out Comfrey, Kendall’s PR assistant, despite Ken being an asshole towards him throughout the episode and the season.
Abe: Yeah, if this episode was a chart, Shiv, Tom and Ken would be trending down with Roman and Greg peaking. The whole Tom thing was interesting, like the inverse of the end of the Graduate. Tom spent the whole season in fear of jail, and now that he’s finally free, he had the initial serotonin burst, but has to go back to his loveless marriage and role as a punchline in the Waystar hierarchy, and that reality seems to weigh on him heavily as the drugs take hold. They really seem to be pushing the Tom/Greg romantic angle, and it’s probably my least favorite angle of any relationship on the show.
Tom goes to Greg first when he learns he won’t be going to jail, kissing him tenderly on the forehead, and is devastated when Greg actually gets Comfrey to agree to go out with him, in spite of Greg’s goofy accent and dad joke come ons. I don’t think their Rosencrantz and Guildenstern act needs homoeroticism to work, but what do I know. It appears that the fateful watch Ken didn’t buy for Greg was related to Comfrey, an attempt to pull rank on Greg in front of her, and like everything Ken’s done this season, has come all the way back on him in the worst possible manner.
Jay: I don’t necessarily think it was related to Comfrey, so much as it was another way for Ken to treat Greg in the same way the Roy family treats outsiders: As cattle. Greg thought that Kendall was the one person that might have had his back, they do have genuine moments in Season 2, but in that watch scene, Ken treats Greg in a manner similar to Tom, punking him and then trying to love him in the same way. As for Tom and Greg, I think that’s more of the typical homoerotic and bully banter. I want to go back to the offer to buy Ken out, which seems to kill him. The fake laugh and ‘’wow’’ speaks volumes. Ken thought that he was going to be able to kill his Dad, who is a Teflon white nationalist. Are we set up for a showdown with Ken and Logan in Italy?
Abe: Yeah, I read that as Logan finding a new way to call Ken a “nobody”, to tell him he’s irrelevant and they’re ready to sever all ties, and it lands just as I’d imagine he intended. I’m really afraid of what’s coming in Italy, I fear the show is setting us up for a Fredo moment, with Ken in the boat looking out at the pond. Here’s to hoping that isn’t the case, but it feels like we’re approaching the end of his story, at least in relation to Waystar.