Succession review, season 4 episode 6: Everyone has gone insane
Hey, does everyone remember the scene in the season one finale of Succession where Roman Roy watches the rocket explode on his iPhone in the bathroom? Welcome to an episode that is essentially “The Scene in the Season One Finale of Succession Where Roman Roy Watches the Rocket Explode on His iPhone in the Bathroom II: This Time It’s Kendall”, stretched to an excruciating hour in length and culminating in a set-piece that involves the promise of eternal life, a deep-faked Logan Roy, and a tweet about the Holocaust. Bonus points for opening the episode with some additional footage of Logan, filming an ad for the company’s ludicrous and confusing venture “Living Plus” –Brian Cox’s wordless stare into the camera, and the intensity of his unblinking gaze, is a useful reminder of the power he brought to the show before his character’s death, and when Kendall stands gawping into the screen at his late father, the sight of the two men made me think of another chilling face-off in Cox’s filmography. To my knowledge, Logan Roy has never eaten anybody, but I wouldn’t put it past him.
I would describe it as a meltdown – human Chernobyl
Pardon my Successionese, but what the f***ity-f*** is “Living Plus”? This week’s episode revolves around the launch of this new Waystar Royco scheme, and at several points it is referred to as the equivalent of “a cruise on land”. It might be a holiday village; it might also be a luxe housing estate. As with many of Succession’s products, much of the humour arises from the vague, often nonsensical tech-speak and business-speak the characters describe it with, as when Kendall calls it a “brand-turboed real estate community”. Shiv and Lukas Matsson have a brief, clandestine meeting on the topic, parking up their jets together for refuelling as a cover for their little chat, and the mood is spicy – when she chastises Matsson for criticising the interior decoration of her jet, it is about as close to conventional flirting as Shiv ever gets. Matsson, probably correctly, thinks that Living Plus is stupid; Shiv pretends not to agree. Either way, she is en route to LA for the launch conference, which is happening the following day.
Also in LA, Kendall and Roman, having been forced into selling Waystar Royco to “the striking Viking” by the sheer size of his offer, are still looking for a way to tank the deal. Kendall tries to paint Matsson as an incompetent and a hysteric, claiming that he was the one who had the meltdown on that mountain in the previous episode. (“Nobody minds a genius acting weird,” says Gerri, who presumably would have loved Jeremy Strong’s New Yorker profile.) When the rest of the board leave the room, Shiv points out that she can tell that they are both lying, and that she also knows that they are trying to mess things up with GoJo. “Hey dad, Shiv spilled chocolate milk in the Range Rover,” she says to them in a snotty voice, a storm-cloud rolling momentarily across her face in a way that suggests this is a very real example with about three decades of resentment roiling underneath it.
Later, she slips through another door at Waystar Royco and begins a different task from her agenda: crying, which she has been doing for allotted hours in allotted rooms at work since Logan died. Unhappily, the opposite of a knight in shining armour (a village idiot in Brooks Brothers, perhaps?) appears, and Tom Wambsgans is soon comforting her, and then kissing her, and then what I can only describe as Wambsganning her on the conference table. This little tryst begins a renewed romance, or a “romance”, between the two of them, mostly fuelled by mutual disgust. At a party, they compete over who did most damage to the other. “You wanna play bitey?” Shiv grins. “You bite me, I bite you, we see who can take it.” (“Would this be hot if it weren’t Tom and Shiv and they weren’t calling it ‘bitey’?” I wrote uncertainly in my notes.) Afterwards, in the bedroom, Tom reveals his reasons for betraying Shiv and siding with her father, and they are both honest and repulsive: “All my life,” he nods, “I’ve been thinking a little bit about money, and how to get money, and how to keep money. And you didn’t let me in, Shiv. You kept me out… And I really, really, really love my career. And my money. And my suits and my watches… and if you think that’s shallow, why don’t you throw all your stuff out for love?... Why don’t you come and live with me in a trailer park?”
Shiv, catlike, crosses the room and settles on the bed next to Tom. “Well,” she purrs, “I’d follow you anywhere for love… Tom Wambsgans.” The pause before his name is perfect, enhancing its inherent sonic stupidity, and also the idiocy of saying you’d follow someone like Tom Wambsgans anywhere for love, and – weirdly, kind of sweetly – they crack up.
Big, big shoes
The first sign that Roman Roy is now insane comes in his meeting with a studio executive, when he suggests that she probably thinks he’s not as impressive as his father, and then fires her petulantly over this imaginary insult. The first sign that Kendall Roy is now insane comes when he asks if he can have a small house built onstage for the conference, “small, plywood, basic brickwork, nothing crazy, maybe some clouds above”. “This is for… tomorrow, right?” the terrified set designer asks. “It’s Hollywood though, right?” says Kendall. By the time he is suggesting to his brother that the best way to dissuade Matsson from buying out Waystar Royco would be to completely double its market value, and that one of the best ways to do that might be to imply somehow that buying into Living Plus might guarantee eternal life, it’s clear he’s on another planet. “I mean, I’m not crazy about dying,” Roman agrees diplomatically. “It feels very ‘one size fits all’.” Just in case, Kendall decides to play around with the projected numbers in his presentation, pushing them so high that everybody else freaks out.
When Gerri tries to discipline Roman for firing the studio executive, who will have grounds to sue, he resumes a familiar line of enquiry. “I need you to believe that I’m as good as my dad. Can you do that?” he asks her, and what follows is an agonising silence. “Say it,” she asks carefully, “or believe it?” Not content with losing his real father, Roman also fires his sex-mommy, his brattiness reaching new heights. It appears Kendall and Roman are both hoping that, if I may quote Brian Cox’s version of Hannibal Lector, “if one does what God does enough times, one will become as God is.” (If it’s mildly blasphemous to compare Logan to God, consider this: in both instances, a powerful guy typically depicted with a white beard has created something valuable, and in both instances that valuable creation is in danger of being destroyed by the men who have inherited it.)
Somehow, the launch for Living Plus ends up going ahead, albeit without Ken’s tiny house, and against Roman’s advice. He does not exactly open well: he says he has “big, big shoes” to fill, repeats “big, big shoes” about five times, and then has a freaky conversation with a big-screen video of his father, which he has cynically edited so that Logan also appears to endorse his impossible projected figures. “Big, big, nervous breakdown,” Roman breathes. Against the odds, Kendall seems to win the audience over with his pitch, which begins fairly normally – Living Plus housing will be outfitted with top-of-the-line security, and Living Plus estates will host all kinds of entertainment, eg screenings of exclusive movies – and ends dubiously, with Kendall’s suggestion that residents will have access to the kind of therapies and healthcare usually reserved for billionaires, thereby potentially extending their lives by “10, 20, maybe 50 years”. (“How am I supposed to follow this?” Tom, who is meant to speak immediately after Kendall, grumbles. “He’s just promised them eternal life!”) “He’s riding a bulls*** unicycle,” Shiv mutters to Matsson on the phone, in another of their secret chats. “But maybe someone could put a stick in the spokes…?”
The particular stick Lukas “I mail bricks of frozen blood to my ex-girlfriend” Matsson selects is a joke that combines the Holocaust with one of Waystar Royco studio’s movie characters (“Doderick Macht Frei”), which he tweets from his account during Kendall’s presentation. Shiv – the one who called Living Plus “prison camps for grannies” on the phone with Matsson in the first place, and thus presumably gave him the idea as well as the impetus – looks guilty as sin. When the press asks Kendall in the post-conference Q&A what he thinks about the tasteless joke, he condemns it, and then comes up with a clever, watertight excuse: “He’s very European.”
With Kendall’s breakdown-cum-presentation having been better received than anybody could imagine, the saddest Roy is – well, not back on top exactly, given that he has just promised to both double the value of Waystar Royco and invent a cure for death, but perhaps a little closer to the middle. As Roman leaves the event in his towncar, he receives another Logan deepfake in a text from Kendall, and where other shows might have had Kendall manipulating the footage to produce a touching message, we’re treated to the sight of Roman’s father uttering the immortal words: “Roman Roy has a microdick.” They don’t make a Hallmark card for that.