Succession, episode 8 recap: Death is haunting this season – is one of the Roys doomed?

·10-min read

Viewers who clamour for more action from Succession season three, suggesting episodes have felt circular or been confined to the boardroom, should be careful what they wish for. This week, I found myself frantically scribbling several pages of the kind of notes that, out of context, look insane – notes like: “Is Kendall seriously poisoning his dad?” or “Tom Wambsgans sexy fireman??” or simply “Oh God, Roman’s penis.” How to sum up this delightfully peculiar hour of TV in fewer than 3,000 words? I will say that as with last week’s 40th birthday party hell, the show continues to turn up its eccentricities ahead of next week’s season finale. Wedding episodes, especially those involving estranged family members, are a sitcom staple for a reason – travelling to Tuscany to celebrate their mother’s marriage to a blustering, chino-wearing man named Peter Munion, the Roy siblings end up with no option other than to spend time at close quarters.

Kendall – whose shaved head is certainly a cry for help, à la a woman cutting bangs after a break-up – is iced out of the festivities at the request of his father, and spends most of the episode floating blankly around the opulent venue like a ghost. Shiv, after a gutting conversation with her mother, is so unmoored that she resorts to an act even more shameful than her drunken dance last week: sex with her husband. Roman, furious that Gerri won’t return his ardour and perhaps equally furious that Mommy is not marrying him, acts out. Connor, getting on one knee and asking Willa to make him “the happiest man slash the most bulletproof candidate in the world,” continues to be wholly Connor. This would all be business as usual if it were not for a few extremely unusual subplots: a potential poisoning, a d*** pic, Tom Wambsgans trying to talk dirty, and Logan reckoning with the aubergine emoji.

Sockpuppet Girlboss Presidents

Roman, in a move that will not come as a surprise to anyone who watched him gleefully stepping in and out of an enormous replica of her vagina just last week, does not want his mother to get married, and intends to tell her so before the ceremony. “She’s probably in sexual thrall to him,” Shiv tells him, as if she is taunting an ex-boyfriend rather than a son, “and he’s driving her wild with his sugar d***.” Roman, lashing out, says that although he can’t fire Shiv yet, he plans to demote her to the position of a secretary once he becomes CEO. “What the f*** is wrong with you?” she flinches. “I dunno,” Roman shrugs airily. “We’re working on it.” Both of them have changed in recent weeks, but Roman in particular has become, as a Reddit poster might describe it, “Jokerised,” his usual playful wickedness curdling into something nastier, more nihilistic. When he describes Shiv, sneeringly, as a “sockpuppet girlboss president,” it is a cutting insult partly because it is dripping with misogyny, and partly because he is right: Shiv’s status as the liberal feminist of the group is hollow, just as plastic and self-serving as her brother Kendall’s activism, and as cynical as Roman’s newfound interest in the internet far-right.

Shiv’s discomfort around her identity as the one daughter in the family comes to a head at the wedding in an extraordinary discussion with her mother, who begins by saying that the two should “just enjoy a fag, and not do any sniping for a bit.” This being Succession, maybe ten seconds go by before the sniping starts in earnest: “I might have been a bit of a spotty mother,” Caroline jabs, “but you were a sh***y daughter.” “You weren’t a spotty mother,” Shiv hits back. “You were just an absence.” Gradually, we learn a little more about the Roy family dynamic, and in doing so are able to decode a little more of the Roy children’s psychic damage – Caroline, supposedly in the interests of maintaining their access to an appropriate share of Waystar Royco, gave Logan full custody. Absurdly, she suggests that Shiv, at 13, was “a piece of work,” a defence that is more or less a rewording of that very famous tweet about abandoned children having “bad vibes”.

“The truth is,” Caroline eventually admits, “I probably never should have had children… Some people just aren’t made to be mothers. I should have had dogs.” “You could have had dogs,” Shiv prods gently. Caroline’s reply is both instructive and upsetting: “No,” she says, “not with your father. Your father never saw anything he loved where he didn’t want to kick it to see whether it would come back.” Suddenly seeing herself as a dog that has been kicked too many times, Shiv flees back to her room, knocks back a drink, and tells Tom that she wants to have a baby. “I’m going to fight,” she says, the connection between motherhood and warfare almost making sense in the unhappy context of the Roys. What follows is a scene almost as haunting as the references to Logan’s lifelong cruelty that preceded it: Tom Wambsgans, startled by the prospect of sexual interest from his wife, is tasked with talking dirty. Fumbling, he asks Shiv to take the lead. “I’m too good for you,” she purrs, “and that’s why you love me. Even though I don’t love you.” “I was thinking more like, love beads, or like, being a sexy fireman,” Tom says later, sadly, of their “spicy” roleplay. “But it kind of got more into the realms of ‘you don’t love me.’”

Jim Jones and the Olive

Succession, on some level, has always been fuelled by the inherent contradiction between its perpetual air of menace – making it seem like the kind of show that might erupt into a murder any second – and its lack of actual violence. Aside from Kendall’s previously covered-up manslaughter, which is alluded to twice in this week’s episode, death has always been a secondary or tertiary concern, with financial and reputational ruin being treated as the highest possible stakes instead. Still, when Kendall invites Logan for a private meal over the wedding weekend, and Logan appears afraid to eat the food, the idea that Kendall might genuinely have resorted to poison is not entirely outside the realms of possibility. “You scared I’m gonna Jim Jones you with an olive?” Kendall asks, affronted; Logan, in a move that becomes more psychotic the more I actually think about it, invites Kendall’s son to eat from his plate first just to be certain. A flicker of concern appears on Jeremy Strong’s face, and he cleverly makes the reaction ambiguous enough that, for a moment, we expect the scene to descend into full Shakespearean tragedy. Instead, he is just hurt, another cowering dog for his father to kick. “I’ll be broken when you die,” he says softly, as if he hasn’t already been irreparably shattered.

Jeremy Strong in ‘Succession' (Graeme Hunter/HBO)
Jeremy Strong in ‘Succession' (Graeme Hunter/HBO)

Maybe because of his breakdown at the party, or perhaps because the wedding makes his banishment from the rest of the family too obvious to ignore, Kendall’s decided he wants out – a buyout of two billion dollars and “a chunky asset,” and he’s happy to be disinherited entirely, and to disappear from Waystar Royco. “I thought I was a knight on horseback, but…” he trails off, weakly. “Life’s not knights on horseback,” Logan growls. “It’s an offer on a piece of paper. It’s a fight for a knife in the mud.” Despite having offered him a buyout just last episode, Logan changes his mind suddenly, seeing another opportunity for cruelty: “Maybe I want you close,” he says, and there is nothing loving or paternal about the statement, which is almost certainly a reference to the aphorism about friends and enemies.

“There’s things you’re able to do that I can’t, dad,” Kendall says, momentarily growing a spine. “You’ve won. Because you’re corrupt, and so is the world. I’m better than you. I hate to say this, because I love you, but you’re kind of… evil? You’re smart, but what you’ve done is you’ve monetised all of the American resentments of class and race, you’re turned black bile into silver dollars.” “Oh, you just noticed, did you?” Logan asks him, mockingly. In the very last scene of the episode, we see Kendall drunk and face-down in the pool, and although eventually we see him blink, it feels like horrible foreshadowing. Maybe the season won’t end without death finally catching up with the Roy family after all.

Pandora’s C***

To end on if not a lighter note, then a more pornographic one: Roman’s penis, an appendage that so motivates its master it is already practically a character on Succession. At the wedding, Gerri asks him primly to stop sending her “those items,” by which she means d*** pics. “I’m kind of offended, are you sure?” he pouts. “I feel like you do want them, but you’re being kind of typically minxy.” When Gerri tries to psychoanalyse him, he offers a warning: “Don’t open Pandora’s Box, there’s just more d***s in there.” All weekend, he is stroppy about being rejected, alternately skulking around Gerri and attaching himself to another woman, eventually deciding to prove his manhood by throwing himself into a business crisis. Lukas Matsson, the p***y-obsessed tech bro from Kendall’s party, tweets that he is meeting with a rival company, despite having purportedly agreed to be acquired by Waystar Royco. Logan, struggling to negotiate with a man whose brain has been thoroughly poisoned by the internet, is tired of trying to decode the emojis in his texts: “I’m not used to negotiating via eggplant,” he complains, in a rare moment of allowing himself to appear like an out-of-touch dinosaur. “He might not want the deal, he might just want a moussaka.”

J Smith Cameron, Hope Davis and Brian Cox in ‘Succession' (Graeme Hunter/HBO)
J Smith Cameron, Hope Davis and Brian Cox in ‘Succession' (Graeme Hunter/HBO)

Roman, who knows what the aubergine emoji means better than anyone, flies out to meet with Matsson, who reveals that he is interested in going forward on the deal with Waystar Royco only if it is “a merger of equals.” “He wants the label, but I think we can still be the puppyf***ers here,” Roman later suggests in a board meeting, his bizarre sexual psychology bleeding into his professional language once again. As the rest of the room discusses the merger, he decides to text Gerri another d*** pic, which we see in all its glory; the rest of the boardroom sees it, too, as Roman accidentally sends it to everyone else, as well. (Side-note: whose penis is this? Did a production assistant have to take a d*** pic for the show? Answers on a bawdy postcard to The Independent, please.)

Understandably, the meeting is derailed, and Logan pulls Roman aside to ask him if he is a “sicko.” “People just send people pictures of their d***s,” says Roman, who is definitely a sicko. “It’s like, here’s my d*** I guess.” Logan, a hypocrite who is sleeping with his thirty-something aide, finds the idea of his son being attracted to an older woman shameful, and resolves to quieten down the scandal by firing Gerri: “I don’t want her hanging around like frozen piss,” he hisses. “I’m not a radical feminist, dad,” Roman counters, in the understatement of the century, “but I think we should probably not fire her for receiving pictures of my d***”. In a show full of troublesome, scandalous, ruinous d***s competing for the audience’s attention, this one might finally be the d*** that pushes the show’s temperature to boiling point.

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