'Succession' season 4, episode 6: 'Living+'
The gist of it
The easiest way to explain this eventful episode might be to start by talking about where all our characters end up, and then we'll explain how they all got there over the course of a trip to L.A.
As the episode ends, Kendall has successfully impressed a room full of investors with fraudulent projections of massive growth, intended to raise the stock price and make it impossible for Matsson to buy the company. For doing this, he is hailed as a hero. So, Kendall: doing great. Roman, having lost his nerve and left Kendall to do this maneuver by himself, realizes that since it worked, he's relegated himself to second position, and it's not going to help that he impulsively fired two powerful women who are smarter than he is on the same day. Roman: doing not great. Shiv is backchanneling with Matsson to keep the deal on track, but she's also rediscovered her marriage and reconnected with Tom on a far more equal footing than they ever managed before, and as he recognizes, she's keeping her options open. Shiv: a cipher.
Kendall is up
The Roys converge upon L.A., because it's "Investor Day" at Waystar Studios. Time to impress all your investors, time to demonstrate continuity after the death of your founder, time to show off your shiny new co-CEOs and show that they are not at all a pair of unqualified, callow doofuses who are going to tank the company.
The jarring opening of the episode on Logan's face comes from a video he shot before his death promoting something called "Living+," which is essentially a Waystar-themed real estate project that's like a cruise, but on land, and forever. Now, yes, I know what you may be thinking: Living+ sounds silly when they describe it as a neighborhood where every element of your life is managed by an entertainment conglomerate and enhanced with its IP. On the other hand, Storyliving by Disney.
In a sequence that almost looks like his birthday party all over again, Kendall plots the launch presentation to include an entire house built on stage, complete with clouds. At least he's not going to sing. When people gently suggest that his expectations for an overnight build are unrealistic, Kendall hides his obvious fury behind a smile. "Here's the rule," he says. "No one can say no." Just as an aside, on top of the fact that it makes people hate you, this rule is how you, as a powerful person, invite ruin.
Kendall's plan is to drive up the stock price so the deal can't happen. This is going to require, as he puts it, "unbelievable growth." The next part of the scene where he explains this to Roman and Greg makes a lot more sense if you know the history of WeWork, but he says, "I think we can get a tech valuation for a real estate proposition on [Living+]." Greg isn't sure, since houses have existed for a long time and are not tech, but that's only because Greg never met Adam Neumann.
Kendall throws around a ton of jargon to convince his numbers guy to create wild projections with no basis in reality. And speaking of reality, it turns out not letting people tell you no doesn't affect it, so there is no house on stage. Kendall will just have to do the presentation with Roman as a regular, boring old PowerPoint (basically).
Unfortunately, even this goes down in flames. Roman has gotten wise to the fake numbers and the potential for disaster, so he declines the flight jacket Kendall has made for him and he backs out, weasel-style, saying maybe he's not as qualified to sell this as Kendall.
As it turns out, he's right. Because after stumbling through the words "big shoes" a disturbing number of times and trying to interface with a video of Logan "Unforgettable"-style, Kendall shows a fake video Greg bullied the video editors into creating in which Logan makes wild promises about profit. Kendall's whole pitch for Living+, which is supposed to create all this growth, sounds credible as long as you don't think about it very hard, which his audience of investors does not. He stops barely short of suggesting people in Living+ will live forever, but he does suggest they might live up to an additional 50 years, which is, again, made up. (If the other thing was based on WeWork, this is maybe inspired by Theranos.)
His Q&A hits a snag when someone asks him to respond to a very tasteless joke that Matsson has made about Living+ and, uh, concentration camps. He plays it off.
So this is what passes for success on Investor Day. Kendall is completely full of patoot about all of this, and it's all going to collapse as soon as it collides with the truth, but he makes it sound good. And that's a win, because all that matters is the stock price, and the stock price is based on vibes. As Kendall himself giggles to Roman before he makes the presentation: "It's enough to make you lose your faith in capitalism; you could say anything."
Roman is down
Roman arrives in Hollywood ready to start flexing his muscles as CEO. He heads off to a meeting with Joy Palmer (Annabeth Gish!), the head of Waystar Studios. He gets some very helpful advice from Kendall on the way: "Sprinkle some sugar," "up our velocity," "break the logjam," "get the franchise pump-pumpin'," and "shoot it to the moon." "New space cowboys in town!" Kendall says. This is going to go great.
At their meeting, Roman starts by trying to throw elbows at Joy over Kalispitron's troubles. Joy puts him off saying it's a complicated situation, and Roman instantly takes offense to her hesitation to get into it with him just because he knows nothing about anything. Joy, however, has her own concern: ATN's overly cuddly coverage of Mencken, which is causing a certain revulsion among the sensitive artistic souls they work with at Waystar Studios. Roman ridicules this idea. Very quickly, seemingly mostly because he doesn't know what he's talking about and he feels insecure, he impulsively fires Joy — the head of the studio — and walks out.
When Roman gets back to the room where Kendall is planning out the Living+ presentation, it doesn't take long for him to get called out over this firing. Not by Kendall, but by Gerri, who drags him out of the room to ask him what he was thinking firing a top executive without talking to legal or HR, or having anyone else there, or anything remotely intelligent. "Joy has a lot of relationships, she has a lot of friends, and you are a weak monarch in a dangerous interregnum." BOOM, GERRI.
Roman uses the one argument he uses for everything, which is that this is what his father would have done. (Not true at all!) Gerri says he's not his dad, and Roman is angry-wounded over her refusal to tell him he's as good as Logan. (Apparently her withering insults are no longer hot.) She also senses that he intends to kill the deal somehow, and she warns him, "You cannot win against the money." So Roman fires Gerri, too. Sure, why not?
Roman finally tells Kendall not that he fired Joy, but that he wants to fire Joy. Kendall says sure. Roman adds that he fired Gerri. "Shiv's godmother Gerri?" Kendall asks, seemingly worried. But, swept away by excitement and brotherhood, Kendall says yes to this, too. WHY NOT, LET'S FIRE EVERYBODY WE'RE GOING TO LIVE FOREVER, WOOOOOO! It was around this point that I began to wonder what we are to assume is the current state of Kendall's sobriety.
As Kendall's presentation begins to look wobbly on stage, Shiv mentions to Roman that the numbers don't look great, either. They look, you know, made up. Which they are. This is how Roman eventually backs out of the flight jacket. But he watches the presentation's superficial but emphatic success from backstage, and he realizes he should have bet on Kendall's fraudulent plan instead of backing out. On the way home in the car, he listens over and over to a manipulated video of his father making a tasteless joke about him. Dad's voice, dad's voice. He loves to hear it, no matter what it's saying.
Shiv is keeping her options open
Shiv starts the week flirting with Matsson, who says he hates the whole Living+ idea, so why are they launching it when he'll just kill it? He offers her some favoritism in the future if she'll become his mole, and she sort of agrees, although she holds her cards close.
Doubling back a little: When the sibs meet at Waystar Studios, Kendall and Roman make up a story that up on the mountain, Matsson went nuts and started threatening to pull the deal. Do they really want to approve a deal with this unstable person? When the senior team is gone, Shiv calls this out for the garbage it is. "Boys, you're not good at this," she diagnoses. She's hurt that they're not only leaving her out, but they're apparently trying to get out of the planned future where they all own Pierce together. The boys admit that they're trying to tank the deal, but they insist they still want to work together. And they're sorry they didn't tell her. "Can we do the huggy thing?" Roman says pitifully, and they do, but it's empty, and this is how the Roys ruined heartfelt hugging for themselves after like three days of doing it successfully.
Right after this, Tom and Greg walk in on a distraught Shiv in a quiet room, and Greg scoots, but Tom stays. It turns out that Shiv has been having her assistant set aside times for her to cry. "You're scheduling your grief?" Tom asks. (This is actually not as weird an idea as Tom treats it like it is!) The thaw between them continues as he puts his arms around her and she cries on his shoulder, and then they also kiss a little bit, because why not? Nobody else is proving trustworthy.
Later at the investor reception, Tom and Shiv flirt intensely, behaving much more like equals than they once did. This culminates in a game of "Bitey," in which they entwine their forearms the way people do when they toast with champagne, and they bite each other. It might be one of the show's most evocative, most bizarre, most effective metaphors for this relationship. The line between actually causing pain and causing pain as part of an agreed-upon exercise is a fine one for this couple. Seeing the two of them with their teeth dug into each other's flesh in front of a room full of people is perhaps the oddest and most compelling picture of their relationship we've ever seen. They're very turned on, they're on the same page, they're having a good time, and they're probably behaving more like equals than they ever have.
Later, post-coitally, they talk about the fact that she isn't sure how to go forward with Matsson. Tom immediately diagnoses the situation correctly: "Still keeping all your options open, honey, you should be careful with that." In one of my favorite scenes Sarah Snook and Matthew Macfadyen have ever played together, all their hostility breaks down in this weirdly cynical, rich-person, beautiful way, where he gently and straightforwardly acknowledges his love of money. He acknowledges that his betrayal came from being afraid he'd get caught between her and Logan and wind up losing his position and all his nice things. But, he notes, she likes nice things, too. If he invites her to live with him broke, giving up everything for love, she won't, and they both know it. This makes them both smile.
The next time Shiv gets on the phone with Matsson, it's at her desk, and opposite her, Tom sits with his feet up on her desk. This is a pose of complete relaxation and collaboration. His comfort with sitting this way tells you everything about where they are now. Their relationship was largely built on her ability to push him around, and now that he's proved that he can push back, it's like now they ... are in love again? Differently? Maybe better? At any rate, she talks to Matsson about whether there might be a way to disrupt Kendall's presentation of Living+, and that seems to be the impetus for his very very ugly tweet — which she doesn't think was a good idea at all. She immediately sneaks off to hop on the phone, and that's when Matsson deletes the tweet, for which the entire team incorrectly credits Kendall's great response.
So Shiv is working with Matsson, but it's not clear how dedicated she is to him, and it's not clear whether her loyalty to him would extend to anything except trying to get the deal to happen — which, after all, was the plan until Kendall and Roman went behind her back first.
The week when nonsense took over
Maybe the biggest development in this episode is that Kendall succumbs entirely to this world of nonsense. (If you want to imagine a word stronger than "nonsense" that I cannot use here, feel free.) He genuinely wanted to be a better person than his dad was. But here, he commits to a scheme of price-spiking that's dishonest, doomed in the long term, probably illegal, wacky in the extreme — and relatively likely to work in the short term precisely because of the irrational way this part of the marketplace works. It doesn't matter what's true, it only matters what people believe is true. Substance is nothing, appearances are everything.
Kendall has taken one thing from Logan's playbook: doing anything necessary for the company. Roman has taken a different thing from it: reflexively punishing people who say anything you don't want to hear — with an added focus on powerful women that seems like it comes from exactly the same place as all of Roman's past moments of misogynist, vulgar, gnarly language. The more they try to be Logan, the more they are not Logan — and not in the good ways.
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