Spoiler alert: This article discusses in detail season 4, episode 6 of Succession.
With Logan dead and the Matsson deal all but signed, it looks as though the Roy children are just about ready to take their money and run from Waystar Royco, ATN, Sandy and Stewy, Jeryd Mencken, and all the other various ghouls who define their dad’s legacy. Just kidding! Of course they’re too damaged to simply golden-parachute into Pierce without seizing one more chance to prove they deserve a kiss from (the kilt-clad corpse that used to be) Daddy. In this episode of Succession, the opportunity is a product launch for a real-estate venture called Living+. Kendall introduces it to investors as “physical social media in the real world,” which sounds even worse than Shiv’s “prison camps for grannies” description; as far as I can tell, it’s The Villages curated by Fox News. In other words, it’s an abomination. Also, Matsson hates it.
Last week, the “striking Viking” maneuvered around CEBros Ken and Roman by treating each of them, and their sister, the same way Logan might have. This week, the particular ways in which the late patriarch messed up his kids sort of come back to bite Matsson. Sunday’s episode is actually titled “Living+,” but “Freud’s Revenge” would be an equally apt title. Whether it’s in their actual romantic relationships or in front of a crowd of VIPs, each member of the Roy triumvirate gets to indulge their particular kink. Is this some heretofore unknown stage of grief?
Shiv loves power play
Claudette Barius—HBOSarah Snook and Matthew Macfadyen in Succession season 4, episode 6 “Living+”
Why does Shiv make Matsson visit her on the tarmac instead of strolling over to his plane? For the same reason that Matsson made Shiv, her brothers, and the whole clown car of Waystar execs fly to Norway for negotiations a few days after Logan’s death—because it shows who has the upper hand. And now he has a favor to ask. He wants her to shut down the launch. “We’re buddies,” he says, calling her “my girl on the inside.” Nothing could be less appealing to Shiv. She wants to be a co-conspirator, not a subordinate. She has to assert her power. The Living+ launch is on.
After playing power bottom to a (fellow) billionaire, she finds herself sobbing on the shoulder of the man she used to dominate. (Saddest line of the episode: “Sarah has sometimes found me somewhere that I can have a moment to cry.”) Yes, Tom Wambsgans is back in the picture. And he’s starting to realize that he has to show some backbone in order to keep Shiv interested. They go back and forth over who screwed up the other one more, but there’s no question that in this marriage, she has historically been the aggressor. Tom surprises her, though, when she challenges him to “bitey”—a sort of lo-fi game of chicken in which the two players bite each other’s arms until one cries uncle—and he chomps her flesh so hard she has to surrender. Shiv’s deliciously evil response: “Tom Wambsgans finally made me feel something.”
This is all foreplay, of course. After the sex comes another Wambsgans power move. When Shiv needles him about betraying her to Logan, he replies with one of his finest monologues to date. “It seemed to me that I was going to be caught between you and your dad,” Tom explains. “And I really, really, really love my career and my money… If you think that’s shallow, why don’t you throw out all your stuff for love? Throw out all your necklaces and jewels for a date at a three-star Italian, yeah? Come and live with me in a trailer park, yeah? Are you coming?” “I’d follow you anywhere for love, Tom Wambsgans,” she deadpans, and they both crack up because obviously she’s no more idealistic than he is—she’s just never had to consider what it would be like to be anything but obscenely rich. He’s also communicating that, while he may care about Shiv more than she cares about him, there’s no one Tom loves more than Tom.
We know he’s succeeded when a metaphorical love triangle takes shape. Tom is the voyeur in the office when Shiv is playing hardball with Matsson on a video call. She even riffs out a scenario where they’re a throuple. By the end of the episode, husband and wife have negotiated a truce. “It has to be strictly party and strategy,” says Shiv. Tom: “I can’t help it if I find strategy sexy.” That makes two of them. Maybe they are meant for each other.
Roman craves punishment
Claudette Barius—HBOAnnabeth Gish, left, and Kieran Culkin in Succession season 4, episode 6 “Living+”
Just like Ken and Shiv, Roman has a human side and a monstrous side. This season, he’s often been a voice for sensitivity and compassion, at least when compared to the other vultures circling Logan’s grave. He’s the one mourning hardest after his father’s death; he’s the only one who questions the Roys’ cruelty to Kerry and helps her pick up the contents of her spilled purse. But in “Living+” he’s like a 30-something Joffrey Baratheon. What happened?
Matsson broke him, I think. It’s fascinating to see the way Roman, who’s still anxious to tank the GoJo deal, mischaracterizes the Swede’s behavior up on the ridge; if anyone had a “meltdown,” it’s him. Now he’s lashing out in classic hurt people hurt people fashion. Studio head Joy gets the axe for questioning Waystar’s political stances; or for wanting to have a real conversation with her new boss instead of just obeying his order to “get that hit pump pumping”; or something. Then he knifes Gerri for pointing out what a terrible move that was and—worse still—reminding him that he’s no Logan. “You are a weak monarch in a dangerous interregnum,” she warns Roman. “You cannot win against the money. The money is gonna wash you away. Your dad knew. Tech is coming. We are over.” This is a pretty shrewd analysis of the situation!
But Roman doesn’t really want to make good decisions. He wants people—and especially Gerri, whose air of buttoned-up authority he’s always found attractive—to lavish him with their anger, just as his abusive father used to do. The same semi-conscious wish to be punished that made him send a lewd photo apparently meant for Gerri to Logan instead is driving this reign of terror. Are the writers laying it on a bit thick by closing out Roman’s arc this week with Ken sending him an edited-together video of their dad saying “I’m convinced that Roman Roy has a micro-dick and always gets it wrong”—and Roman playing it on repeat to self-soothe? Absolutely. But you know what, who cares? I chuckled.
Kendall gets off on public humiliation
David M. Russell—HBOJeremy Strong in Succession season 4, episode 6 “Living+”
Consciously, Kendall strives to be seen as a thought leader, an innovator, a force to be reckoned with—what Logan would’ve called a serious person. But on an unconscious level, he must seek out opportunities to make a fool out of himself in public; recall not just his infamous “L to the OG” rap, but also last season’s abortive late-night TV appearance and the absurd spectacle that was his 40th birthday party. As entertaining as Ken’s humiliations can be, they’re also tragic. This battle of id vs. ego has left him in some pretty dark places over the years.
The conflict reignites in this episode, as he seizes control of the product launch, demanding just a day before the event that his minions construct a Living+ home on the stage. Like Roman ordering Joy to keep the pump pumping, Ken has no idea what actually building something entails because he’s never worked in anything less than a high-level supervisory role. So, when that plan fails and Roman bails on what was supposed to be their first CEBros presentation, he dons a sad custom bomber jacket tricked out with Waystar flair and does it himself.
It’s a credit to Karolina that the launch goes surprisingly well—and to Succession’s writers, who showed restraint in resisting the temptation to give us yet another Kendall Roy fiasco. Ken has managed to edit pre-existing footage of Logan into a posthumous video dad who says exactly what Ken wants to hear. He even deftly defuses a question about Matsson’s Living+/Holocaust tweet (one seemingly inspired by Shiv’s work camps crack). “It’s been so fun sharing this with you,” he proclaims before heading offstage to be hailed as a hero by the Waystar inner circle.
Ken excels at playing the clown; he radiates cheesy sincerity. It’s the one thing he’s really good at, but it has nothing to do with the intelligence or dynamism or business prowess that are crucial to his self-image. Which is probably why, instead of celebrating, he ends up alone on a gray beach, drawing a “1” in the sand with his foot and swimming out into the waves. We’ve seen him flirt with death by drowning more than once. We don’t have to know the outcome of this particular incident to understand that what should’ve been a triumph has left him feeling as low as ever.