clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

On Succession, Sisyphus rolls the rock uphill

Please please please let Kendall get what he wants this time.

Jeremy Strong as Kendall Roy in season 4, episode 6 of HBO’s Succession.
Jeremy Strong as Kendall Roy in season 4, episode 6 of HBO’s Succession.
David M. Russell/HBO
Whizy Kim is a reporter covering how the world's wealthiest people wield influence, including the policies and cultural norms they help forge. Before joining Vox, she was a senior writer at Refinery29.

Note: This article contains spoilers for several Succession episodes, particularly season four, episode six, “Living+.”

The opening scene of Living+, the sixth episode of the final season of Succession, is like a jolt down the spine. It’s Logan, captured in medium close-up against a green screen, in an unedited, premortem video filmed to promote a new Waystar venture to be announced at the next investors’ meeting: a gated retirement community called Living+ that would bring the “cruise ship experience to dry land,” Logan (Brian Cox) says.

Kendall (Jeremy Strong) and others from Waystar’s inner circle are watching the video, and Logan can’t make it even a minute without losing his patience with the film crew. “You’re as bad as my fucking idiot kids,” he growls. Kendall winces and asks to play it back again.

“Minimize surprise, maximize satisfaction” is Living+’s anodyne slogan. It sounds like a subscription service; pay $9.99 and upgrade to a tier above mere existence.

“Mere existence” happens to sum up the current state of the Roy children. They’re mourning, but are also a bit numb. After the culture shock of their Norway trip, they’re back on the semi-familiar, mundane ground of LA, where co-CEOs Ken and Roman (Kieran Culkin) have to prepare for the annual investors meeting, even as they inch closer to selling Waystar to streaming company GoJo.

Roman, feeling disrespected by everyone he meets with, looks glum as he attends to his new CEO duties. Shiv (Sarah Snook), it turns out, is blocking out time on her calendar to cry. And her brothers are still trying to wreck the GoJo sale; Living+ starts out as just a stale remnant of Logan’s plans, but turns into their chance to convince shareholders that Waystar has a future sans GoJo CEO Lukas Matsson (Alexander Skarsgård), while Matsson is trying to assert his dominance over the Roys.

This is an episode that’s really about resurrections — the retreading of old ideas, old relationships, and old pains. There are only four more episodes left to wrap up the arcs of these characters, and Living+ is setting up ever higher stakes for the ultimate fate of Waystar and GoJo. It’s also ruminating on what it would mean for the Roy siblings to not just survive, but thrive.

Erratic behavior

Kendall and Roman call a meeting with the senior team, citing concerns about Matsson’s “erratic behavior.” Shiv asks what they mean — she knows about Matsson’s strange fetishes, but her brothers don’t.

They lie that Matsson had a meltdown in Norway (it was actually Roman who did), and told them he didn’t actually want the deal. Everyone’s confused by this. It was probably a negotiating tactic, Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) suggests. After all, he made an offer — a very generous one.

Kendall plows ahead with this shoddily built case. “Can we recommend a deal with a person of this character?” he asks.

It’s a ridiculous thing to say given the history of Waystar and its founder — not to mention Kendall’s own questionable behavior in the past.

The farce of Ken and Rome’s reign is that they have to at least attempt to run the company using a democratic process. Logan wouldn’t have called a meeting to ask leading questions and persuade others to take his view. Logan would have barked out an order, and they would have fallen in line without a squeak. Even though his sons (especially Kendall) sometimes mimic Logan, they know intellectually that he was a despot. Yet throughout Living+, they realize that it might just be easier, more effective, to simply lead like Logan. Roman feels this intensely: his typical stream of inappropriate jokes, his schtick of not taking much in life seriously, doesn’t work so well when he’s the one in charge. His insecurity about not being smart enough nor respected enough flares up with a vengeance in this episode; he fires one studio executive and even tries to fire Gerri (J. Smith-Cameron).

It’s not in Rome’s head, not entirely. The board is on the verge of mutiny. In response to Kendall’s question about Matsson’s character, Gerri says. “He’s a genius. Nobody minds a genius acting weird.”

“Honestly, it kind of adds to the mystique,” Tom adds. (We do see Matsson walking outside barefoot in this episode, possibly a reference to another eclectic tech founder, Steve Jobs; meanwhile, Living+ seems inspired by Apple’s branding while lightly mocking tiered subscription services as a whole.)

Gerri closes the book on the conversation, saying that Matsson’s reputation has been priced into the offer. There’s a number at which everything is permitted; Ken and Rome should know that by now.

Meanwhile, Matsson tries to cajole Shiv to put a stop to the announcement of Living+. Kendall and Roman are just minding the shop until he officially owns Waystar, and anyway, he doesn’t like real estate ventures — they’re not “scalable.” Spoken like a techie.

Matsson dangles a position for Shiv high up in the new world order — someone who can advise him closely. It’s the kind of noncommittal bait that her father constantly waved in her face, only to manipulate her later. Matsson makes it sound like both a business proposition and a sexual proposition, but Shiv is still fence-sitting about whether she really wants Matsson as a partner in either realm.

Tom and Shiv are never, ever getting a divorce

Shiv’s furious that her brothers didn’t tell her about Matsson’s supposed blow-up — or, more to the point, that they want to torch the deal.

“Honestly, we were protecting you,” says Kendall. That sends Shiv’s blood pressure even higher. The three of them had a plan — to sell, get out, and buy Pierce Global Media, which no one even seems to mention anymore. Ken suggests that they could keep both Waystar’s news network, ATN, and buy Pierce. (How would that even work when the two are ideological opposites?)

Roman apologizes, asking, “Can we do the huggy thing?”

Emotionally stunted they may be, but they do care about each other. The thing about the Roy siblings is that unlike Logan, they do apologize. But it doesn’t seem to make Shiv feel better.

Shiv’s assistant interrupts; she’s been reserving meeting rooms for Shiv, who is using them to sit in and cry alone, not just over her father being gone, but over the death by a thousand cuts of being left out and underestimated by her family. Tom and Greg (Nicholas Braun) accidentally walk in on one of these crying sessions; Tom’s radar is hyper-tuned to any sign that Shiv might be in distress. “You’re scheduling your grief?” Tom asks incredulously. He hugs and consoles her, and they kiss. Throughout the season, the two have been more tender and genuinely intimate than we’ve ever seen them in the series; they’re ostensibly on their way to divorcing, but absence seems to have made the heart — Shiv’s especially — grow fonder.

But Tom and Shiv are also now on more equal footing than before. There’s a new dimension to their relationship that brings them closer. Tom isn’t her punching bag anymore; she realizes that he’s a real person with complicated emotions and motives, as well as a sense of humor. Later, at the investors reception, Shiv and Tom flirt like kids in the schoolyard. Shiv asks Tom if he wants to play a game called “bitey.” The rules are simple: You bite the other’s forearm as hard as you can, and the first one to cry uncle loses. Surprisingly, Shiv surrenders first.

“Tom Wambsgans — finally made me feel something,” she says, sounding proud of him.

All of this play-fighting can mean only one thing: They’re sleeping with each other again. When Shiv admits that she and Matsson seem to have a connection, Tom tells her, “I think I want you. I think I would like this back.” But it’s not so simple. Tom’s betrayal last season is still a wedge between them.

Tom doesn’t apologize for it. He says what they’ve both known about their relationship. His love for her wasn’t just a gooey warm feeling, but an obsession with money and status — having nice things in life. He betrayed her because he felt he was about to lose all of that. “If you think that’s shallow, why don’t you throw out all your stuff for love,” he says. “Come and live with me in a trailer park.”

“I’d follow you anywhere for love, Tom Wambsgans,” Shiv replies playfully. They both start laughing, maybe because the thought is so absurd, or because the fantasy of leaving the tangle of Waystar behind — of having unconditional love — is actually alluring.


Painting Matsson as unreliable and ill-tempered didn’t work, so Kendall and Roman now need a plan B to block the Waystar sale. What they need is something so exciting and explosive that it could make the Waystar share price soar, to an outlandish valuation. Matsson, they presume, probably wouldn’t match it; he’d walk away.

The answer is tech. Kendall wants a tech valuation on Living+, and it’s not a bad idea. It’s the industry of moonshots and fake-it-till-you-make-it blustering. Countless men, and a few infamous women, have gotten rich off such braggadocio. Why not Waystar?

The pitch is this: “Maximize your physical potential,” Kendall offers, by maximizing residents’ lifespans. Maybe the tech for immortality doesn’t quite exist yet, but they could live a little bit closer to forever. Longevity science is a famous fascination of tech billionaires, but it’s also a subject on Ken and Rome’s minds right now. “I just didn’t see it coming with Dad,” Roman says. “I think people would be very intrigued if there was another way through the whole situation.”

“You mean life?” asks Kendall.

“Life. Death,” he confirms. Rome is envisioning a kind of Matrix brain-in-a-vat scenario. “There’s gotta be a way through — death just feels very one-size-fits-all.”

Ken is manic again. Whenever he gets energized by an idea — usually some scheme to take down his father — it has ended in defeat, followed by a fugue state of depression. But he’s heedless of past ruin. It’s what makes him a tragic, Sisyphean character. He always falls, and watching him get up again is painful because the audience knows how it’s going to end. This time, he wants to build an impressive stage for the investors meeting. Standing on an empty stage, he’s starry-eyed describing his plan to the underlings. “No one can say no,” he declares.

“He’s got that gleam in his eye,” Shiv says. She’s seen this before — Kendall suddenly going off script, attempting to pull off some crazy idea without the backup he needs. Shiv convinces Roman to talk him down from these delusions of grandeur. “He has hare-brained schemes,” she says. “I love him, but he cracks under pressure. And I think we should protect him.”

No one sees Kendall’s vision. Waystar CFO Karl Muller is uncharacteristically (and understandably) aggressive about Kendall’s pumped-up earnings projections, which could land them in legal trouble, and threatens Kendall not to present Living+. Ken is alone — his default state of being — but for the eyes on him, waiting for him to self-destruct.

Somehow, he doesn’t.

Kendall’s big reveal is the video of Logan we saw in the first scene, edited to make it seem like they’re having a conversation. His siblings and the Waystar executives all cringe, but Ken forges on, pitching Living+ as a sanctuary, with cutting-edge life extension services, the sort usually reserved only for “tech billionaires,” Kendall says. This tech could double Waystar’s earnings — but don’t take his word for it. Logan’s video has been altered so that he’s the one making the claim. It’s a clever move by Kendall to puppetmaster the puppetmaster. In some ways, he’s a spot-on CEO, hitting the perfect notes of being clear, enthusiastic, and emotional, genuinely tearing up at the thought of having more time with his father — the kind of thing Living+ might have been able to make real, he tells his rapt audience.

Matsson hates the presentation, and again asks Shiv to stop it. She suggests he do something about it — and Matsson’s move is to tweet a Holocaust joke referencing one of Waystar’s movies and mocking Living+. Matsson eventually deletes the tweet, and the Waystar old guard are pleasantly surprised by Kendall’s performance. But Roman and Shiv are both quietly upset — disappointed that he didn’t fail. Did they want him to repeat the cycle of failing spectacularly, and crawling back to his family in emotional ruin? It also reveals how cowardly Roman and Shiv can be. They didn’t have the guts to take the big swing with Kendall, and now they don’t get to bask in the glow of a win either.

The episode ends with Kendall on the beach, facing the water and the endless horizon. The swells are high, but he goes for a swim anyway. In season one, he accidentally kills a cater-waiter when the car he’s driving crashes in a river. In season three, Kendall almost drowns — almost kills himself — in a pool. But this time the water is restorative, like his Living+ pitch to investors: “It’s somewhere you’re really living,” he says.