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Don't Trust Succession's Peaceful Ocean Scene

The promise of closure is a bad omen.
  • Jeremy Strong, contemplating that ocean getaway (Photo: David Russell/HBO)
    Jeremy Strong, contemplating that ocean getaway (Photo: David Russell/HBO)

    [Editor’s note: This post contains spoilers for Succession Season 4, Episode 6, “Living+.”]

    Tilt your head the right way, and “Living+” almost looks like the Succession series finale. The sixth episode of Season 4, it features hopeful developments for three of the Roy children. It features antagonists receding into the background. It even features a cameo from Logan (Brian Cox). But those nods at resolution are what make this hour so stressful to watch. As Josh Wigler noted in The Hollywood Reporter, “Peace never lasts forever on Succession, and indeed usually takes on a harsher form than the previous war.” So when an episode has this many nods at closure, it’s likely a terrible storm is on the way.

    But let’s pretend for a moment that what feels like a victory is really a victory, and everything’s going to be fine. In other words, let’s delude ourselves like Kendall (Jeremy Strong), who ends this episode floating face up in the ocean, smiling at the sky. That’s an inversion of what happens in the Season 3 episode “Chiantishire,” which finds him face down in a swimming pool, apparently about to drown himself.

    His happy float comes after several other complicated twists that he perceives as pure triumphs. He’s able to finish his Investor Day presentation to a round of applause. He’s confident he’s shut down a nasty tweet from Matsson (Alexander Skarsgård) comparing Waystar’s new Living+ project to a concentration camp, because Matsson deletes the tweet while Kendall’s still on stage. Compare that to the awkward horror of the time he read out the names of abuse survivors at a shareholder meeting, and he seems like a savvy leader. Plus, he ignores a tongue lashing from Karl (David Rasche), and then a few scenes later, Karl’s back to kissing up. He even pulls off a digital stunt that lets him talk to a video of his father, only he’s had the video altered to make Logan say what Kendall wants him to say. He’s constructing a happy ending with his father — a respectful, official passing of the torch — that he was never going to get otherwise. From a certain perspective, this could suggest his arc is ending in glory.

    Similarly, one could argue Roman (Kieran Culkin) has evolved, since he embraces his power as co-CEO and starts firing top-level employees. He may still be haunted by insecurity, but his decisive actions, however venal, get Kendall to praise him for making big moves just like their dad used to do. In Roman’s final moment of the episode, he’s listening to doctored audio of Logan mocking him for having a small penis. It’s a prank recording that Kendall put together, but if this were the last we saw of Roman, there would be a stark kind of poetry in it. He’d still be the emotionally stunted middle child who never escaped his father’s shadow, but he’d at least be on a definite path as a ruthless corporate boss.

    Meanwhile, Shiv (Sarah Snook) and Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) get somewhere close to a reconciliation. Yes, they play a sadistic biting game as a form of seduction, but only after Tom finds Shiv crying during a “grieving period” she has scheduled into her work day. He holds her, and she sobs in his arms. Later, after a bout of make-up sex, he tells her he betrayed her at the end of Season 3 because he can’t shake his desperate need for money. It’s not a pretty sentiment, but at least it’s honest. So is the moment they both scoff at the idea of choosing love over money. While they’re hardly going to star in a rom-com, they at least seem prepared to support each other as they chase power and wealth. If their story ended here, they’d head into the future as a tentative team.

    All of the above is false, of course, and as viewers, we’re not expected to believe otherwise. These fake-out resolutions are a fool’s gold finale for Kendall, Roman, and Shiv, and they underscore that they may only be able to achieve happy endings if they delude themselves. Yet we can list the landmines the show has been planting all season. An explosion could come from Shiv’s secret talks with Matsson, from the ever-present specter of Jeryd Mencken (Justin Kirk), or even from Marcia (Hiam Abbass) and her stubborn sense of spousal privilege. This episode also delivers new potential crises, including Roman and Kendall’s not-quite-ironic conversation about using the technology in the Living+ facilities to find the secret for eternal life. They’ve apparently forgotten what happens when people confuse themselves with gods.

    This episode could’ve foregrounded one of these issues, giving us a sense of what beast was most likely to rear its head in the coming weeks. But by cultivating a false sense of peace, it leaves us with the queasy awareness that the calm could be disrupted by anything, at any time. All that’s certain is that something’s coming. The show has already delivered the upscale drama equivalent of a jump scare, letting Logan’s death suddenly capsize “Connor’s Wedding.” Now it’s letting characters float in the water while we chew our fingernails, waiting for them to get pulled under.

    New episodes of Succession air Sundays at 9:00 PM ET on HBO. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.

    Mark Blankenship has been writing about arts and culture for twenty years, with bylines in The New York Times, Variety, Vulture, Fortune, and many others. You can hear him on the pop music podcast Mark and Sarah Talk About Songs.

    TOPICS: Succession, HBO, Alexander Skarsgard, Brian Cox, Jeremy Strong, Kieran Culkin, Matthew Macfadyen, Sarah Snook