‘Succession’ Season 3, Episode 9: ‘All the Bells Say’
I’ve been thinking a lot this week about the differences between “Succession” Season 2 — one of the most thrilling and funny TV seasons of recent years — and Season 3, which has been just as intensely dramatic and absorbing but overall not as much of an out-and-out pleasure. The biggest change between the two? In Season 2, the Roy kids were all together most weeks, zipping around the world with Logan and nipping hilariously at each other. This season they have been scattered and embittered, lobbing bombs at a distance.
But in the best Season 3 episodes — “Mass in Time of War,” “Too Much Birthday” and now this week’s finale, “All the Bells Say” — Kendall, Shiv, Roman and even Connor have spent time in the same space, talking out their problems in person. The energy crackles among these actors, as their characters swing between being playfully mean and unforgivably cruel.
Anyway, judging by what happens in this episode, they will all be face-to-face much more in Season 4 … whether they like it or not. And that’s an exciting prospect.
“Succession” fans (and even some people who have never watched the show) have spent much of the past week posting on Twitter about two things: whether or not Kendall drowned at the end of the previous episode, and whether or not The New Yorker’s profile of Jeremy Strong makes him look like an impressively committed actor or someone who is obsessive to the point of being a little dangerous.
This episode addressed the first of those topics early, after a bit of a tease at the start. Yes, Kendall survived passing out facedown in the swimming pool after what he insists was “one too many limoncellos.” Comfrey fished him out and got him medical help. For the first time in a while, all of his siblings seem concerned about him. They may think he is conceited, and they may be furious with him for trying to wreck Waystar, but they don’t want him to kill himself. They are bonded to him. Maybe — as Shiv and Connor both insist — they even love him.
The “intervention” scene between Kendall and his brothers and sister is the second indication that this episode is going to be something special. (The first is a scene between Logan and Matsson. We’ll get to that.) While Shiv is trying to reassure Kendall that they care about him, he counters that they have no idea how it feels to be jerked around “as the eldest son.” That’s what causes Connor finally to crack, and to stop being the clueless buffoon everybody loves and nobody respects.
Connor is genuinely upset that no one has bothered to keep him looped in on the GoJo deal — “Matsson wants to de-platform guys like me,” he grumbles — and also that no one has congratulated him for proposing to Willa. “What do I get from you chumps but chump change?” Connor asks. And he has a point. One of the many weaknesses of the three younger Roys is that each of them thinks they are better than anyone in the family not named Logan. Put any two Roys in a room and each will insist the other one is the family joke.
(As for Willa, she finally accepts Connor’s proposal, musing, “How bad can it be?”)
After Connor’s outburst, though, the remaining Roy kids are put on high alert. Connor hips Shiv and Roman to the possibility that Logan might be taking an herbal supplement to boost his sperm count, in hopes of fathering a child that could replace all of them. Worse, they get the news that the Waystar inner circle is meeting with the bankers to talk about selling to Mattson … and that none of the children have been included. Shiv and Roman run to Kendall to get his advice and support, and find their brother still mired in a funk and difficult to rouse.
The scene that follows, in a way, answers some of the questions surrounding that New Yorker profile. Maybe Strong could be a little more chill; and maybe his methods are exhausting to his colleagues. But it’s hard to argue with the results in this episode, as Kendall confesses to Shiv and Roman that he is responsible for a young man drowning. The two of them appear to be rattled, and then moved. They can’t help but be drawn into Kendall’s dark energy (generated, of course, by Strong).
The siblings try to shrug it off, and then to make him feel better about what happened to the dead kid. Roman tries to lighten the mood with several sick jokes, including saying, “The road and the water killed him.” But Kendall can’t turn his grief off, so eventually all they can do is lay hands on him, letting him know that, for real, they are there for him. (The framing in this scene, with Kendall on the ground and Shiv and Roman circling him, looks like something out of an Italian New Wave movie.)
This sets up the episode’s boffo final sequence, in which both Shiv and Roman find reason to question … well, pretty much all of their life choices up to that moment.
Earlier in the episode, fed up with Matsson’s stock-inflating shenanigans, Logan goes to see the flaky GoJo CEO himself, and finds — as Logan often does — that even the upstart young tech geniuses who claim to loathe the old media dinosaurs can’t help but be intimidated by him. Brian Cox is terrific in this scene (and in this episode), as he delivers a mini-soliloquy about coming to America for the first time and tussling with all the great business giants who smelled of “gold and milk.” He can’t pretend that he’s as excited about the future as he was about his past. But he is keen to make a deal, if only to show he still has the knack to get whatever he wants.
When Logan sends Roman away so that he and Matsson can talk more in private, that’s a red flag that Roman initially chooses to ignore — perhaps because he’s confident that Matsson will keep him around even if GoJo buys Waystar. But after he and Shiv reconnect with Kendall, they’re determined to present a united front, using the company’s bylaws to block any sale without their approval. Roman wavers a bit, hoping he can talk to his dad alone first; but Shiv and Kendall keep him in line, discussing how much fun they can have arguing over who should control which Waystar asset.
And then: the sucker punch, as Shiv discovers that maybe her glib toast at her mother’s wedding and her dismissal of Tom’s employer ATN as “the bigot spigot” (as well as her general toying with Tom’s affections) might have consequences. As the siblings — minus Connor — storm into Logan’s enclave to play their “supermajority” trump card, their father gives them one chance to back off before he yells, “I have you beat, you morons!” It turns out that Tom may have warned his father-in-law that the kids were coming, giving him time to manipulate the terms of his divorce agreement with Caroline, granting her and her new husband the power to counter the youngsters.
This episode begins with Shiv and Roman playing Monopoly with Connor, Tom and Greg, while they all wait to hear if Kendall is OK. The Roys rib each other throughout the game, and look for advantageous moments to cheat. But by the end of the episode — and the season — they learn that cheating only works if everyone agrees on the rules in the first place.
What makes men like Logan hard to beat is that when it looks like they’re losing, they can just refuse to play … or can change the game entirely.
In keeping with the naming convention of past “Succession” finales, the title of this one comes from a line in the John Berryman poem “Dream Song 29.” (“All the bells say: too late.”) What snippet will Jesse Armstrong choose for next season? My money’s on “The Little Cough Somewhere.”
Greg was one of the first Roys to get an inkling that something might be afoot with Logan, Matsson and their various financiers, because he follows the buzz on “lackey Slack.”
Could it be that the healthiest relationship on this show is between Greg and Tom? Tom’s the man Greg rushes to tell about how well he’s getting along with the Contessa/Princess, who is maybe eighth in line for the throne of Luxembourg. (Tom: “Marry her and you’re a plane crash away from being Europe’s weirdest king!”) And it’s Greg that Tom grabs before he executes his maybe-betrayal of Shiv, asking for him to sign on for a trip “away from the endless middle and towards the bottom of the top.” (Greg, quickly assessing whether or not he should sell his soul, settles on “Boo, souls!”)