Whiffing on Succession
The show didn't hit viewers over the head with Kendall's shift in loyalty- and even sharp watchers missed it
One of the great joys of watching compelling television in 2023 is imbibing the accompanying podcasts dedicated to picking over what you just saw. I’ve hosted these podcasts, been a guest on these podcasts, and am a big fan of these podcasts. There are four things they offer, ranked, in descending order of importance to me:
Reasons to listen to TV Show-Specific Podcasts
Don’t like it, don’t need it. If you get it wrong you’ve wasted my time, if you get it right you’ve ruined the surprise.
Reveling in how great that last episode was.
Yes, it’s fun to recall the zingers, and to send your co-host over the edge by reciting favorite lines of dialogue. This category of kvelling includes attestations of how “there” you are for your favorite character whose casually tossed off looks are “everything.” But eh. I can do that own, were I the sort given to kvell or post the word “squee!” on social media.
2. Analyzing character choices, acting choices, and writing choices.
Now you’re talking. I enjoy all offerings that can be properly categorized as “criticism.”
1. Pointing out factual information that enhances my understanding of the show.
This category includes non-spoilerish information about where the creators drew their inspiration, connecting themes or hints from past episodes, noting plot points which non-professional viewers may have missed and, CRUCIALLY, explaining confusing portions of the show that may not have been clear on first view.
With this is mind I listened to the four most popular Succession discussion podcasts and put them to the test.
Succession S4E2 Spoilers and Finely Parsed Details Follow
In this episode the Roy siblings rethink the buyout vote from Gojo. But how many expert podcasters really understood why Kendall switched positions ? We saw him Face-timing with Gojo CEO Lukas Matsson, but afterward there was no beat, no dramatic inhale of breath or squinting and steeling of his gaze to indicate that he’d had a revelation. There was no external indication of the change of motivation Kendall experienced. But it is clear, or was to me, that Kendall is now betraying his sister. Kendall believed Matsson when the Swedish exec told him the deal would die if the Roys pushed for more money. Immediately upon returning to the bar people by real chicks and guys who have blood in their hair, Kendall casts his alliance with Shiv in asking for more money. HE’S BETRAYING HER! Oh, sure, you could argue that Kendall saw through Matsson, sensed that he was bluffing, and, informed by that insight, changed his position. I don’t buy that explanation for three reasons:
Kendall is not as expert reader of people of situations. You’re thinking of another different TV character.
But we’re talking about this TV Character.
If Kendall honestly thinks the renegotiation would yield more money, he’d tell Shiv, and Roman too. He’s bounce back into The Blood-In-Their-Hair Saloon and announce , “I just talked to Matsson and I know he’s bluffing! ” Kendall is keeping the existence of the conversation quiet because he thinks Matsson will pull the offer, which Kendall realizes is what he wants.
This isn’t an analysis of charter or motivation, just a little TV-writing-room game theory. There is A LOT more drama in Kendall betraying Shiv, than in the Shiv/Kendall/ Stewy & Sandi alliance winning the day to the tune of , what? A10% better offer from Gojo? That’s not a wow moment.
I think a betrayal is the clear implication of what we saw, though not made crystal clear through hand holding or the typical cues television provides to viewers. So, I turned to the top Succession podcasts to see if they picked up on what the show was non-ostentatiously laying down. Could they offer insight?
For the most part, they could not.
The trio of Bill Simmons Sean Fennessey and Joanna Robinson gamely talk characters, Roy family dynamics and questions of Shiv’s motivation, but never Kendall’s.
Kendall Betrayal Wiff-o-meter: Capacious
I do love Chris Ryan and Andy Greenwald, and appreciate their pointing out that the Roy children, like Brits, do tend to speak in questions. Interesting, no? But Greenwald and Ryan at best take a few cuts in the on-deck circle but do not make contact with Kendall’s change in motive.
Kendall Betrayal Wiff-o-meter: Ludicrous
Hosts Richard Lawson and Chris Murphy celebrate the details of Roy family karaoke, home in on Brian Cox’s wincing facial expression and bandy about which of the Roy’s may actually become the successor, but totally whiff on the major question of Kendall’s change-of-heart. Murphy states:
“If anything I trust Matsson more than anyone in the Gojo Deal. When Matsson says that he’s literally going to walk I believe him. So the fact that Shiv and Kendall at that bar scene were like, “How can you believe that Matsson will actually walk?”, I think their trust is in the wrong place and they’re not questioning Matsson”
They give credence to the notion that Matsson will walk, yet stop there, not bothering to puzzle out how Kendall took in this information, and why he then changed his position.
Kendall Betrayal Wiff-o-meter: Ludicrously Capacious
The #1 Succession podcast on Spotify and Apple features host Kara Swisher talking, this week, with Succession executive producer / writer Lucy Prebble. A fine moment is when Prebble cites the Murdochian influence of the scene where Logan stands atop a box of copy paper to address employees at ATN, and Swisher, a former Wall Street Journal reporter notes, “It wasn’t that good, I was there.”
Prebble says of Kendall’s motivations:
“Matsson is not pleased to be asked for more money, and that phone call he has with Kendall…it’s an interesting one because Kendall seems to be very on board with just getting out before this point…but I think something happens in that call where he really senses that theres a potential for the deal to fall apart.”
Well Prebble would know. She is an executive producer. She introduces her insight with an oddly speculative air, given that SHE WRITES THE SHOW but does goes on to say that consciously or subconsciously Kendall may wish to slow the buyout, or as Swisher offers, “Scotch the deal completely.” That is correct, and also an unwitting pun about the Roys ancestry.
Kendall Betrayal Wiff-o-meter: . “Drive your fucking whirly-bird!” — They nailed it.
Did you pick up on the Kendall heel (re)turn? What are the odds that I'm the one who who should be scored a slime puppy on the Kendall Betrayal Wiff-o-meter? And do you like when Pesca Profundities takes a cultural diversion? What other shows should I break down, I’m currently watching Daisy Jones and The Six, and the new Rob Lowe series Unstable. Let me know, I’ll be here, plotting, scheming and forever seeking the never-to-be granted approval of a distant father figure.
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