There’s a lot to unpack in the penultimate episode of the season as Jackson Maher breaks down what might be the best episode of this season.
When a TV show is operating at its apex, it has the ability to move us—like, physically. I touched on this in my recap of “The Retired Farmers of Idaho,” an episode that had me pacing and sweating with anxiety, but that’s not the only way a show can force a physical reaction from us. The more subtle—and arguably more powerful—counterpart to this is what I call the “Lean In” scene. Sometimes a scene builds such a quiet fury that it seems to reach through the screen and pull our faces forward by the nose, urging us to lean in.
There are at least 4 undeniable such moments in “Chiantishire,” which is by my estimation the best episode of Succession’s already illustrious run. There is Kendall’s dinner with Logan, Shiv and Tom’s debrief of their disturbing “dirty” talk, Logan confronting Roman about his dick pic, and Kendall’s drunken swim.
The fact that Succession can give a lean-in scene to each of its major characters in an episode that also includes a bachelorette party, Connor proposing to Willa, Greg trying to play the date ladder, and Alexander freaking Skarsgård making fake crying eyes—it’s just unfair. Rip the rest of television.
Inevitability and imminent doom have been present in obvious ways for much of Succession’s run. From Logan’s health to Kendall’s self-destructive nature, the show has never been shy about letting us know that these characters are on the precipice of a great fall, and yet the show continues to find new and interesting ways to play with our expectations of that fall.
Roman starts the episode with a newly discovered confidence after eviscerating his siblings at Kendall’s birthday party. While he’s always been one of the strongest shit-talkers on the show, his quips often served to hide his insecurities. As Shiv pointed out earlier this season, “Oh, you love showing your pee-pee to everyone, but someday, you know, you’re actually gonna have to f**k something.” But now, those “jokes” are now fully genuine, tilting fully from insecurity to arrogance.
He’s playing the same songs, but the tone is different when he says, “Well, I can’t quite fire you yet, Shiv, because I’m still a little bit scared of you. But my thinking is, when I take over, I’m gonna put you in the office next to mine, and you’re gonna be my sexy secretary.” He thinks he’s the successor, the next Logan Roy. But he’s actually just the next Kendall.
He’s the errand boy sent away from vacation to try to seal a deal instead of Kendall this time. He’s the one who thinks he’s better than his siblings. And just like Kendall, he self-destructs magnificently.
When Logan confronts Roman about his dick pic to Gerri, it becomes incredibly clear. Logan simply cannot comprehend what is going on, despite actually trying to relate to it. Is it a domination thing, like how he so often refers to making his opponents bend for him? Is it just Roman being Roman? Boys will be boys?
Roman sits there steeped in his shame, cowering like a scared boy, much like his brother did at the end of season 1 when Logan cornered him and told him he was his number one boy. Roman and Logan aren’t alike at all, and how could they be? Logan has forged Roman into this dysfunctional mess of a person through his continued humiliation.
Such is the cycle of a Roy child on Succession. You work your way up to Logan’s right hand, where he keeps you stalled out until you inevitably self-destruct in humiliating fashion, fall to the bottom of the pecking order and start the hard work of ingratiating yourself with Logan again. Caroline might know Logan better than anyone, “He never saw anything he loved that he didn’t wanna kick it just to see if it would still come back.”
Shiv is in the middle of her third trip around the carousel, having combusted spectacularly last season and having recently suffered a setback at the Future Freedom Summit. Now she’s weaseling her way back in, sensing a chance to drive a wedge between Logan, Roman, and Gerri. Shiv is at her most ruthless in this episode, cornered and dangerous.
It’s that ruthlessness that is what Tom finds so attractive about her. He sees her intelligence and savvy and power, but it continually blinds him to her defining character traits: fear and spite. Shiv is so terrified of being abandoned the way her mother abandoned her that she seeks to control Tom completely. To her, he exists purely as an extension of herself, someone she does not need to be respected or promised anything. She can gaslight him, scoffing when he says, “No, I know, but then sometimes I think, um…sometimes I think, ‘Should I maybe listen to the things you say directly in my face when we’re at our most intimate?’” She can avoid making any kind of commitment to a family, hoping to freeze embryos and maybe even wait it out until Tom dies.
“I may not love you, but I do love you. You know?” is possibly the most gutting phrase ever uttered on the show, saying absolutely nothing, and yet everything by removing the meaning from those words. It’s a message Tom reads loud and clear: love is merely useful.
It’s an exhausting dance, and you can see why Kendall would want to remove himself from the situation. He’s at the bottom again, buzzcut and all (which actually looks really good?), but this time he’s out of moves. He’s ready for it to end and he’s done with the bullshit.
Kendall’s directness frightens Logan in this episode, hiding behind Roman like a coward and asking him if the dinner is a good idea. Later, he makes his grandson test his food in a truly despicable move. Still, Kendall avoids engaging in the usual dynamic with his dad, and I actually believe him when he says, “I’ll be broken when you die,” because Kendall is actually that weird.
He’s done trying to play the games, but Logan can’t even accept his victory, because what he wants isn’t for his son to lose, but for Kendall to vanquish him. He wants Kendall to be so ruthless that he’d poison his food, because it’s only through being killed by his son that Logan achieves true immortality. That would make Kendall just like him. It would ensure his legacy.
“I don’t want to be like you” is the line that sends Logan spinning as he tries desperately to get a rise out of Kendall. Bullying for Logan has always been his twisted Darwinian approach to parenting, to forge a fighter through humiliation, but that’s precisely what alienates him from his children, not what brings them closer together.
Kendall isn’t like his father. He might be a killer, but he isn’t ruthless. He’s the guy who can’t stop thinking about the minutes that kid was alive in the water before he drowned, holding his head under the surface so he can try to understand.
Each recap, we’ll countdown where each character stands. This list is based on who is in the best position to accomplish their goals, whatever those may be, and just my general and totally objective view of who had the best episode.
15. Romance (Last week: N/A) – Roman and Shiv are trying to push Caroline to get a prenup, something she finds “unromantic.” Willa sure is taking her time thinking about Connor’s proposal, something he also calls “unromantic.” Those unsolicited dick pics are not the way to a lady’s heart Roman. And I’m not sure anything is less romantic than being told “you love me even though I don’t love you” in bed.
14. Parenting (Last week: N/A) – Logan is a mainstay here but shoutout to Caroline for gaslighting Shiv about what age she was when Caroline abandoned her and then telling her to her face that it would have been better if she’d never been a mother and that Shiv shouldn’t have been born. Meanwhile, Kendall’s running around asking if anyone’s seen his kids and really nailing that drunk dad voice when he says “okay buddy” to Iverson while facedown in a pool.
13. Kendall (Last week: 13) – Look, it’s been a tough season for Kendall. His birthday was every bit the “big f***ing nervous breakdown” he promised Josh and this week didn’t get much better. He was shunned from family activities and then when he tried to quit the family he was denied. Plus, he’s got some serious suicidal ideation going on again. But he’s not last. Why is he not last? Because Jeremy Strong can pull off a f***ing buzzcut, that’s why.
12. Gerri (Last week: N/A) – Shiv has put Gerri in an incredibly uncomfortable position. She has to pick between throwing Roman under the bus, who is her number one ally and Logan’s point man on the biggest deal Waystar has ever had done, or being thrown under the bus herself. It doesn’t help that Logan’s immediate thought was that he didn’t want her “hanging around like frozen f***ing piss.” I have faith in Gerri though. She’s stuck around this long for a reason.
11. Caroline (Last week: N/A) – Caroline is the most savage parent on Succession, coming in once a season to just passive aggressively drag her children in the most brutal ways possible. Last season it was her telling Kendall that he can’t talk to her about real things, and this time it was telling Shiv that she’s smart to not to have children because “Some people just aren’t made to be mothers.”
10. Connor (Last week: 6) – “Will you make me…the most happiest man…slash most bulletproof candidate in the world?” Quickly followed by “I’m smiling now like you said yes.”
9. Willa (Last week: N/A) – Willa isn’t exactly winning, but she’s got to be higher than Connor simply because it’s her decision to make, and she’s taking her time. It’s a real life decision!
8. Comfry (Last week: N/A) – Let’s pro and con this. Pros: She got to travel to Tuscana on a work vacation where there isn’t that much work to do since Kendall’s life is basically over and she’s kind of dating Greg, who is everyone’s favorite character and very tall. Cons: Greg might just be using her as a date ladder and most everyone is laughing at her for being with him. Also she still has other work to do I guess.
7. Tom (Last week: 8) – Sure, things aren’t great with Shiv right now. She won’t commit to having a baby and, in fact, has told him to his face that she doesn’t love him, both in the act of lovemaking and then again the next day while totally sober. That’s pretty devastating, there’s really no way around it. Well…baby popsicles!
6. Greg (Last week: 7) – Would you be totally surprised if we found out next episode that Greg had sex with the Contessa?
5. Roman (Last week: 5) – Jeez, this is a tough one to place. On the one hand, he literally got caught with his pants. I’m not sure life gets more embarrassing than sending your dad a dick pic. On the other hand, he secured the Matsson deal and got attaboys from both Gerri and Logan right before doing that. I guess it could have been worse? But maybe it couldn’t have been, I don’t know
4. Tuscana (Last week: N/A) – What a beautiful place! I’ve felt the covid restrictions in a decent amount of this season. The second and fifth episodes are essentially bottle episodes and the fourth siloed all of our main characters. But “Chiantishire” felt like the world was opening up again.
3. Lucas Matsson (Last week: N/A) – Okay but did he want to f**k Roman? Matsson is one of the most difficult characters on the show to read. While I’m sure much of it is for show, it’s hard to know what to make of a billionaire who says he just wants to burn as much failure out as possible and sleeps on the floor of his mansion in Switzerland. Still, he got everything he wanted, looks like a merger is in the works.
2. Logan (Last week: 2) – Logan also got everything he wanted. He humiliated Kendall, got the GoJo deal, and even brought Marcia and Kerry to wave in front of his ex-wife. The dick pic thing was tough for him to wrap his head around, but come on dad, sometimes people just send each other pics of their dicks. Get with the times, old man!
1. Shiv (Last week: 10) – What a strategic masterclass from Shiv. She started the episode depressed, but talking to her mom was just the kick in the pants she needed. She told Tom she didn’t love him and then f***ed him anyway in a real f***ed up power move, and then turned this dick pic scandal into a brilliant wedge issue for Gerri and Roman. I mean, Shiv is objectively the worst and if you know someone who’s favourite character is her, that’s a red flag. But you can’t deny that she girlboss-gaslight-gatekeeped her way to the top this week.
Succession Concludes Sunday on HBO and Sky Atlantic