All the bells say
Photo: Graeme Hunter/HBO
There is a late scene in the first season of Succession It’s where Kendall, Roman, and Chef meet at the harbor the evening before Chef’s wedding. (No one remembered asking Connor, of course.) They smoke pot. They crack some jokes. They wonder about the old times when they might not have been hurting each other by order of their father. Then Ken asks them to come together for a hug. He knows this might be the last time they’ll ever get the chance because he cuts a deal with Sandy and Stewie for a “bear hug” that will take the Waystar out of the family — and on Chef’s wedding day, no less.
“All the Bells Say” includes an overwhelming mirror image of that moment, with the same three back in Europe for a wedding and for the first time seeing each other as human beings again. The murky ending of last week’s episode was, in fact, something to worry about, not just the technical salute to the drowned bartender. Kendall had slipped into the pool, which may or may not have been a conscious suicide attempt, but it was definitely indicative of his deteriorating mental state. For once, the Roy siblings weren’t trampling on each other’s backs in a crazy struggle to the top of their father’s business, but they’re finally reaching the atrophied parts of their souls where they felt true brotherly and fraternal love. We’ve seen them in those vulnerable places before as individuals, but we haven’t seen them together. There is no angle in it.
In this brilliantly curated epilogue, written by creator Jesse Armstrong, their relationship as siblings and their fate in the company unite into one devastating scene. And we learn – and they learn too – that ultimately for them, work does not go beyond the family. Not the same with Logan. Not the same with Caroline. What Kendall, Roman, and Schiff have in common—and apologies again to poor Connor, who will tell you over and over again that he’s the eldest son—is the admission that they all suffered greatly at the hands of their father, and can finally hold him responsible together. There’s a cynical way of looking at this, of course: If Logan wasn’t about to sell the company to GoJo, thus spoiling them all over the place, maybe nothing would change between them. But Kendall’s collapse in the corridor outside the Tuscan reception has an even more racial quality.
Over the past few days, there has been a lot of concern about Michael Schulman’s stellar profile about Jeremy Strong at New Yorker. The piece delves into Strong’s extraordinarily intense operation, which may bring the best performance out of the best cast of the best TV show, but also causes some friction with his co-stars, whose own operations are affected by his. Celebrities like Jessica Chastain, Aaron Sorkin and Adam McKay (CEO Succession and directing episode one) weighed in to defending Strong from attacking as if it were some kind of hit cut, but it remains a fascinating and unusually heartwarming look at how Strong would play a character like Kendall, who might be at the center of a very funny show, but doesn’t see the role on It’s nothing like a joke.
In fact, Schulman’s piece beautifully sets the table for what Strong accomplishes here while Kendall crumbles into the dirt. He says “Shiv, I’m not here”. “I don’t feel very attached to my children or my endeavors at the moment.” What’s more, this last desperate attempt to turn the tables on his father by exposing the cruise scandal – a process he knew all too well – has failed, and he can’t grasp this rotten fantasy of being the #MeToo hero, and whistleblower his father in prison. “I’m not a good person,” he told them before admitting that he “murdered” the waiter who drowned on Chef’s wedding day. It all comes in a torrent of raw emotion, courtesy of a serious actor who doesn’t think he’s a comedy star.
The way the powerful scene fits into a GoJo deal that would isolate them all from the company is as chained as the show ever began. It turns out that Kendall, Roman, and Schiff have a way of unraveling the deal, thanks to a vague (well, very written) clause in Logan’s divorce agreement with Caroline, which essentially allows them to be vetoed by the great majority. A hastily contemplated plan—God bless these precious, failed kids—has them killing off GoJo’s sale, pushing their father out of the company, and setting themselves up as Waystar’s goofy leaders. We want it to work, too, because the siblings have finally come together against a common enemy. And maybe, just maybe, if they qualify, they can work in complementary roles.
But damn Tom! Waiting in the grass! (I couldn’t be the only one who screamed excitedly when he finally showed up, right?) Tom, that ineffective cube from Minnesota who swallowed his own semen at his bachelorette party. Tom, whose marriage was a constant misery of infidelity and the indifference, if not outright cruelty, of his partner. Tom, whose neck was so far up in the chopping block that he spent most of the season looking at federal prisons as a travel agent looks at vacation spots. Schiff didn’t think Tom was inside of him to carry out a betrayal of this magnitude, but You reap what you sow. As Logan gleefully declared to his children, “their guns turned into sausages.”
The payoff is very satisfactory because it was not expected and was carefully determined. “Hello, Mr. Polis,” Armstrong says. “I gave you all the clues.” Tom had surprised Logan by introducing himself as the fall man in the cruise scandal – a show made all the more remarkable here by the fact that Schiff herself proposed it! As glasses were raised above the Justice Department’s reported indifference to more than just imposing a hefty fine, Logan quietly patted Tom on the shoulder, saying he would never forget what he had done. And now, Tom himself had jumped into a very large seat at the table.
How would that look? We’ll see next season. There was a lot of speculation about who might die in the end—including this gorgeous piece from Vulture’s Jackson McHenry—because it seemed like death was necessary to shake things up a bit. If Logan had died, as I probably thought, Season 4 would have been a crazy scramble to fill the void. If Kendall had died, it could have felt like the inevitable result of a tragic arc. Now everyone is back for a fourth season, and the time between them raises question marks over the future of the Roy family, the company, the changing dynamic between the siblings, and their relationship with Logan.
Who do you know? Maybe this is all a blessing in disguise for them all?
(not like that).
• Getting Roy’s family to play Monopoly together might be a bit worrisome, though, in retrospect, Tom’s “Get Out of Jail Free” cards are an omen.
• Given Kendall’s case, it’s hard to think of anyone suffering more at the hands of his father, but there’s a good argument to make for Roman, who criticizes him for his gay sex life (“Is it all watching and going up with you?”) and legitimately shakes when asked by his siblings? He turns against Logan in the end.His reward for refusing, this time, to get rid of his father is getting a cut with Kendall and Schiff.
• A great story by Mark Zuckerberg about Romans and slaves, especially Logan’s sentence: “Does he have a child in Malaysia who reads history to him?” Maybe so.
• Telling the exchange between Matson and Logan, who share an honest and respectful relationship as a ruthless businessman. Matson wonders if Logan, an old man at death’s door, could be really excited about the future. “That’s something you’re saying, isn’t it?” Logan admits.
• It’s great to see Connor finally defend himself, albeit in an almost awkward way. In fact, his storm of self-pity turns out to be the magical elixir that convinces Willa to accept his marriage proposal, in part because she feels so sorry for him. “Kun, you’re a nice guy,” she admits. “And you know what? Damn. Come on. How bad can that be?” She said yes!
• Greg’s slow heel turn into status-obsessed Roy finally concludes with Comfrey’s follow-up to the eighth princess in line for the throne of Luxembourg, and is certainly a nod to Kind Hearts and Coronets, the classic comedy Ealing starring Alec Guinness as the man with eight heirs from the Dukedom. (“Eighth in line?” Tom exclaims. “If you marry her, you’ll crash far from becoming Europe’s weirdest king!”)
• A brutal end to Roman and Jerry’s relationship. Jerry is a woman at heart, and indulging children was part of her job.
• It took a while for the first season of Succession To take root with audiences, including TV writers here at Vulture, that didn’t recap the first season. But starting tonight, I’m filling in the blanks for fans by summarizing the entire first season, pretending I got into a time machine and seeing each episode for the first time. We are releasing two summaries for the next four Sundays. First: The series’ premiere, “Celebration,” and “Sh*t Show at the F**k Factory.” Check if you can fill in those asterisks.