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'Succession' recap, Season 3, Episode 8: Looking for poison, and finding it

Logan (Brian Cox) is still as amoral as ever.
Macall Polay
Logan (Brian Cox) is still as amoral as ever.

What happened

A number of crucial Succession episodes have been named after their settings: "Prague," "Austerlitz," "Argestes," "Tern Haven," "DC," "Dundee." This week, the titular setting is Chiantishire, a nickname for a part of Tuscany where well-off British folks live or vacation. The Roys are descending upon Chiantishire, in this case because it's the location of Caroline's wedding — she's the mother of Kendall, Roman and Shiv. (She is played, incidentally, by the great Harriet Walter, who also plays Rebecca's mother on Ted Lasso.)

Let's run through just some of the things that happen in this eventful episode:

  • Logan springs the GoJo deal with Matsson on Sandy 2 and Stewy, only to see Matsson's tweet about Macao destabilize the entire thing. Roman runs off to try to keep Matsson on board, but he gets the impression that Matsson wants a merger, not an acquisition. To his surprise, Logan is into it, potentially — until Roman sends an explicit picture intended for Gerri to his dad, which undermines Logan's confidence in the deal, in Gerri, and in Roman. Just when it was going so well for the little weasel.
  • Shiv has a discussion with her mother that throws her into a tailspin, which she soothes by being cruel to Tom. She also tries to wiggle her way back into the company's inner circle at Roman and Gerri's expense (the errant picture helps).
  • Kendall calls a meeting with his father and offers to leave both the company and the family, just as last week's term sheet suggested. But Logan won't accept it. Now, it seems he won't buy Kendall out even if Kendall wants out. He wants to keep Kendall around to torment and punish him.
  • Kendall winds up face-down in the pool. We're going to talk about that at the end.
  • Speed rankings

    100 MPH: Logan

    Logan reaches Peak Logan at the dinner with Kendall where, fearful that Kendall has poisoned his food, he has his grandchild eat some of it first. We must let that sink in: Logan makes ... his grandson ... eat food ... to see if it's poisoned. Logan is an emotional sadist and perhaps a sociopath (at least in the armchair sense). That's true even if some part of him cares what Kendall is saying enough to resent the argument that it's his immorality and not his genius that's his competitive advantage.

    Logan ends up not just tormenting Kendall about the dead caterer, but doing a sort of spelunking expedition looking for pain points in his troubled son — questioning Kendall's morality, his sexuality, his addiction, everything. What Logan does here emphasizes exactly what Kendall is saying: Logan's lack of any conscience of any kind will always be an advantage it's almost impossible to overcome.

    Let's also acknowledge how funny and casually misogynist it is that Logan lectures Roman about how a sexual relationship between him and Gerri is "disgusting" and she's "a million years old" and this will make Roman "a laughingstock," considering that it's certainly been implied (though not confirmed) that Logan is sleeping with Kerry, and that age difference is much greater.

    Roman (Kieran Culkin) and his mother (Harriet Walter) are not on the same page regarding her wedding.
    Graeme Hunter / HBO
    Roman (Kieran Culkin) and his mother (Harriet Walter) are not on the same page regarding her wedding.

    90 MPH: Roman

    Roman is feeling himself (so to speak) as this episode starts — he can almost taste the proximity to power that will flow to him as Kendall and Shiv are both marginalized. Nevertheless, even in his cockiness (as it were), Roman is the only one who's upset about Caroline getting married and the only one who wants to try to talk her out of it. I don't know how much of that is related to her well-being and how much to his inheritance; I doubt he even knows.

    Roman's relationship with Gerri, which once seemed both playful and fully consensual, has evolved into something rather ugly now that she seems uninterested and he's refusing to take no for an answer. So that's gross.

    Aaaaand then, just as the GoJo deal gets back on track after looking imperiled, a very bad (and funny) thing happens: One of those "d**k pics" he's been sending to Gerri goes astray, sent to Logan instead of Gerri. As we've discussed, the relationship between Roman and Gerri has been one of the few things that would matter to Logan that he didn't know about. Discovering a potential dynamic that he completely missed (in part because he was not looking for it; see again his misogyny) unsettles him greatly. And wow, I have always appreciated Kieran Culkin's comic acting, but in this sequence, as he realizes what he has done, his face is a work of art. A work of art!

    80 MPH: Shiv

    Shiv has given up on showing up at the office at the beginning of this episode following her blowup with Roman at Kendall's party. As she heads to Tuscany, she's feeling kind of ambivalent about everything, it seems.

    But Shiv's pivotal moment comes at her mother's bachelorette party, when Caroline blames Shiv for mishandling her parents' divorce when she was a child. In fact, she winds up blaming Shiv for her unhappy life and saying she should not have had children. She should, instead, have had dogs. The fact that Caroline careens so rapidly past ordinary family sniping and into a statement of regret that her children were ever born is another reminder that Shiv is a Roy, but she sometimes seems surprised — in the same way Kendall does — by what being a Roy entails.

    Of course, because Caroline congratulates Shiv on not having children because "some people aren't made to be mothers," Shiv immediately goes home and tells Tom she wants a spite baby. Oh — and she also wants to take over ATN. And when she offers herself sexually and reproductively to her husband, he wants her to talk dirty to him, and this is the dirty talk she chooses: "You're not good enough for me. I'm way out of your league. That's why you want me. That's why you love me, even though I don't love you. But you want me anyway." And then they do it. All righty, then.

    Tom tells her later that this hurt him, but she only ridicules his lack of sophistication. Worse news for him: She didn't really mean it about having a baby. "I may not love you, but I do love you," she says. Oh, Tom. Poor Tom.

    Fortunately, Shiv gets something new to think about at the end of the episode: threatening Gerri and undercutting Roman after she's the unwitting beneficiary of the Accidental Texting Incident.

    Hey, Kendall (Jeremy Strong) ... are things okay?
    Graeme Hunter / HBO
    Hey, Kendall (Jeremy Strong) ... are things okay?

    40 MPH: Kendall

    It's hard to look at Kendall in this episode. We don't see the scene where he buzzes his hair, but it somehow seems totally unsurprising that he's done it — in my experience, people who are in crisis sometimes make big changes to their appearance, and sometimes that's a very bad sign, and sometimes it's just upheaval.

    And it gets worse, almost as soon as he arrives. It turns out that Logan has declared that he and Kendall can't be at the same wedding events, and Peter (the groom) wants desperately to suck up to Logan, so Caroline is dutifully excluding her son from some of the festivities. It's easy to consider Kendall the son of his intensely awful father, but boy, he is also the son of his casually awful mother.

    Things get even worse when Comfry tells him that someone is making a podcast about all the Roy family scandals, and that one thing it will be covering is the "accident" at Shiv's wedding.

    Kendall has always looked a little desperate. But he's never looked more drained, more defeated, than he does in Tuscany.

    And as it turns out, he considers himself — quite literally — defeated. He tells Logan that all he wants is his buyout; he's ready to go. He's leaving the family, too: "I won't even speak at your memorial. We're done." And since Roman delivered the term sheet at Kendall's party, it seems like this should be fairly easy to do. But now that Kendall wants out, Logan might not be ready to let him out. Now, Logan says the term sheet was just "for fun," and it wasn't a real offer. Maybe, Logan says, he'll just keep Kendall around, also for fun. Kendall actually speaks the words that have seemed to be at the heart of his relationship with his father since the beginning: "I love you, but you're kind of evil." Nevertheless, he cannot escape.

    35 MPH: Tom

    It's pretty clear that Tom and Shiv's brands of wickedness are diverging. Is he starting to figure out that maybe she's kind of terrible for him?

    30 MPH: Connor

    Connor has found himself in a difficult moment: journalists are beginning to look into Willa's background as a result of his presidential campaign. And neither he nor Willa seems excited about it becoming public that she was doing sex work when they met. Her solution seems to be going "back underground," but his solution is apparently that they should get married? I'm not sure why this will help, Connor.

    Kendall Roy has been drowning for a long time

    Can we talk about that ending for a minute?

    Kendall seems semi-conscious when he responds for the last time to Iverson. He moves so that his head extends past the end of the float he's lying on. The bottle slips out of his hand. His head flops to one side, though it's hard to tell, because we're looking at him from underwater. There's every indication he has passed out. And then a line of bubbles comes out of his nose. I watched this several times. And I said to a friend ... "Uh, is Kendall dead?"

    It seems unlikely that they would kill Kendall; he's too much a part of the show, and it's already been renewed for another season. So for purely practical "television is a business and it works the way it works" reasons, I doubt Kendall is dead. But if I were just following the story as a story, and the show as a very careful deployment of imagery (which it's always been), this is exactly when, and how, you would kill Kendall.

    He made the big move that he's been plotting against his father since the first episode, and he failed, pretty finally. For much of his life, he believed his siblings would be on his side if he could just get up the courage to rebel, but that didn't happen: They have instead pushed closer to their father, all three of them focused on how they can benefit. He believed making his father's crimes public would bring him down; it didn't. Kendall has been (temporarily) separated from Naomi, his (flawed) stabilizing force. His mother, who hates Logan, is rejecting Kendall at his insistence. And now, someone is digging up the story of the kid whose death he caused.

    Kendall is out of options; he has been sentenced by his father to spend his life tethered to a family that hates him, unable to get a clean separation from them and unable to fix what's wrong. This is the right point in the story for his tragic end.

    And his death could only be a drowning, because Kendall has been haunted by drowning imagery ever since the accident — which, of course, involved a drowning he escaped. The kid he was with did not. The first time we saw him in Season 2, he was halfway submerged in water (getting spa treatments), with the water up over his mouth, just below his nose. In the Season 2 finale, when he was imperiled by Logan's maneuvering, his siblings were on the yacht relaxing, but he was floating on his back, motionless, in the pool. And in the season 3 premiere, when he had finally made a move against his father, we first found him huddled in an empty bathtub, as if the water that threatened him was gone and he still didn't know what to do.

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    Linda Holmes is a pop culture correspondent for NPR and the host of Pop Culture Happy Hour. She began her professional life as an attorney. In time, however, her affection for writing, popular culture, and the online universe eclipsed her legal ambitions. She shoved her law degree in the back of the closet, gave its living room space to DVD sets of The Wire, and never looked back.