Has Succession Done the Unthinkable?

An episode chock-full of emotional violence may have ended with real tragedy.

Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong) walks in a gray suit in “Succession.”
Graeme Hunter / HBO

This article contains spoilers through the eighth episode of Succession Season 3.

What’s clear by now is that the Roys need to stay away from water. Every late-in-the-season tragedy and act of bloodshed, whether real or intangible, has been tied to the element that classically represents femininity, emotion, and intuition. These are not, of course, qualities that you’d associate with the Roys, and yet balance will have its way in the end.

Tonight’s episode, “Chiantishire,” named for the unfortunate moniker upper-class Brits give the region of Tuscany, ended with Kendall Roy (played by Jeremy Strong) lying facedown in an infinity pool in the Italian countryside. It was a climactic and devastating end to an episode chock-full of emotional violence, but also one that seems fated to be an installment on the upcoming podcast being made about the “curse of the Roys.” The news of that show, delivered casually by Kendall’s PR flack Comfrey (Dasha Nekrasova), added yet more anguish to Kendall’s buffet of psychological slights. First, his mother, Lady Caroline (Harriet Walter), made fun of his buzz cut. Then she asked him to back out of certain events at her wedding so his more powerful father could attend. Finally, Logan (Brian Cox) taunted Kendall over an uneaten dinner, refusing to agree to buy him out of Waystar Royco, and reminding him that his addictions had led to a young man’s death at the wedding of his sister, Shiv (Sarah Snook). “Whenever you fucked up, I cleaned up your shit,” Logan said. “And I’m a bad person? Fuck off, kiddo.”

More on Kendall in a minute, but I appreciated—finally—an episode that gave some texture to the characters after seven-plus hours of insults, sniping, marital froideur, and dick jokes. In September, I wrote in my review of Season 3 that Succession seemed stuck. At its peak, no show can rival it, but its characteristic ping-ponging between drama and evil-workplace sitcom can prioritize style (rapid-fire insults and vicious satire) over substance. “Chiantishire” seemed to follow the Season 1 model of leaving everything consequential to the end. There were crucial assessments of Logan (“He never saw anything he loved that he didn’t want to kick, just to see if it would still come back,” Lady Caroline told Shiv). There were career meltdowns: Roman’s (Kieran Culkin) sending a picture of his penis to his father instead of Gerri (J. Smith-Cameron), a moment that led to the best wordless acting of the decade.

You could argue, for all Logan’s cruelty to Kendall this episode, that his second-born son is his favorite, his “No. 1 boy,” the object of both his sharpest derision and his grudging admiration. In asking to be set free from not only the family business but the family itself, Kendall summoned strength that no one else in the Roy sphere has been able to muster. Shiv’s husband, Tom (Matthew Macfadyen), who seems to lose more of his life force in every episode, is perhaps hopelessly committed to the privilege and status of Logan’s C-suite. Roman, whose psychological issues are so many and so complex that Michelangelo couldn’t capture them, has been corrupted even more this season by his ascension. Shiv, finally understanding Logan’s nature, is more convinced than ever that she can win the Game of Roy. “Fuck Dad,” she tells Tom, shortly before torturing him with a sexual head trip. “He can kick me as many times as he wants.” It’s the fight she craves as much as the victory. (The episode also poked at the origins of Shiv’s ruthlessness, elaborating on her decision to choose her father over her mother when her parents divorced: “I’ll have the carbonara, and Daddy,” as Lady Caroline mockingly summarized things.)

But for Kendall, the stakes had finally gotten too high. Following the calamitous performance-art meltdown that was his 40th birthday party, the dissolution of his hopes regarding legal action against Waystar Royco for its crimes, and the assurance that his mother, father, brothers, and sister care marginally less about him than they do about world hunger or the state of post-postmodernism—which is to say not at all—he was lower and more pathetic than he’d ever been. That kind of humiliation can breed growth. “Pay up. And let me out,” he tells his father, who is so suspicious that his son might be trying to poison him, he makes his grandson sample the appetizer. “I don’t want to be you. I’m a good guy.”

Nothing in the episode, though, can top the way it ended: potentially killing off its best character. All season, Succession has alluded to death, nodding to Logan as the candidate. His collapse walking beachside with the billionaire investor Josh Aaronson (Adrien Brody), his “piss-mad” UTI outbursts, his Lear-like frailty in Sarajevo—all seemed to signal that the reign of right-wing media’s most iniquitous fictional overlord might finally be coming to an end. But if the show gets rid of Kendall, who was ominously pegged as a “blood sacrifice” at the end of the second season, it has the chance to do something even more satisfying by making Logan suffer. For three seasons his family members and wives and mistresses have all demonstrated the human cost that comes with being in Logan’s orbit—the gradual spiritual rot that seeps in when you’re exposed to unchecked wealth and power; the leaching of integrity; the loss of happiness. Logan has generally been entertaining, but the loss of his child might make him something more powerful: interesting.

There was so much else to appreciate in this episode, like Caroline’s brutal honesty, the subtext of Shiv and Tom’s marriage finally becoming text, and Roman’s casual sexual harassment of both Gerri and his sister, who dressed so similarly in Italy that it had to have been intentional. There’s also the potential merger of Waystar Royco with a company led by a man who’d just declared to Roman that catastrophic failure was his next big career project. What could possibly go wrong? Without knowing exactly what has befallen Kendall until next week, we can simply acknowledge that “Chiantishire” was Succession at its best: savage, brutal, bleak.