What makes Succession such a standout show is its ability to do a lot of things well. Series creator Jesse Armstrong has given himself enough flexibility to have episodes that favor over-the-top comedy, extravagant hijinks, self-reflection, or—as in this week’s episode—extreme emotional wounds taking center stage, and the show still feels like itself. In “Return,” we got to take a long hard look at what makes many of our characters act the way they do. It was a brilliant, difficult hour of television that added another layer of depth to most of the cast.
With Sandy and Stewy ramping up the pressure, Logan, Rhea, Kendall, and Roman took off to London to meet with shareholders in an attempt to ensure their loyalty. This was the first instance of the episode title coming into play (the last time the cast was there was Shiv’s wedding last season). Returning to London meant the Roy children returning to their mother’s home and, for Kendall, returning to the place where he was involved in a car wreck that cost a young man his life.
I don’t think the title “Return” was just reserved for just the obvious meanings, though. This week, we got to see the three younger Roy children return to their greatest source of pain: their parents. While Logan’s issues are obvious, we really only scratched the surface of the kids’ relationship with their mother at the end of Succession‘s last season. All year long, we’ve been watching Kendall, Shiv, and Roman each melt down to some degree. Their quest for their father’s affection and power has left them all emotionally crippled messes. This week, by adding their mother to the dynamic, that emotional pain became even more magnified.
What happens when a child has parents who are more obsessed with money and power than being good parents? Do the kids self-medicate so they can function in a world they aren’t completely prepared for? Do they not know what a relationship truly looks like and abuse those that love them most because that’s what they think love looks like? Do they spend their whole adult lives looking for a mother figure, with those desires to be nurtured coming out in a sexual form? Of course they do. While Succession has never asked us to empathize with any of the show’s characters, it does give us very painful reminders as to why the younger generation of Roys act the way they do.
This week’s episode will be remembered for Jeremy Strong’s powerful performance as Kendall and Logan’s unmistakable cruelty towards his children. Starting with Logan, it seems pretty apparent that Rhea is quickly passing the kids up as the front runner to be Logan’s heir apparent. Logan, feeling pressured by his daughter to give her what he promised her, used Rhea as means to take Shiv out of the running. The kicker? Logan spouting off about family and the value of it all while knowing that he helped lay the trap to get his daughter out of contention for the role as successor—a role that he offered her.
A scene that will forever haunt me was Roman awkwardly riding with his father on the way to board the plane. Logan, knowing full well that he had struck his son, wanted Roman to not only absolve him but tell him it didn’t happen—to confirm this narrative where Logan would never do a thing like that. Roman was visibly uncomfortable and wanted nothing to do with the conversation. He wanted to be anywhere else, to be talking about anything else. In this moment, Roman was almost childlike, afraid and alone. This is who Roman is on the inside: the child that wasn’t ever nurtured, never as good as his older siblings, and always fighting to be noticed and feel loved. The man he is today is a direct result of his parents’ (lack of) impact on him.
Then there’s Kendall. We saw this week that he’s still seeing Naomi, which (despite the drug use) may actually be the healthiest thing he could be doing for himself. She understands him in a way that nobody else can. Logan learning of this is likely why he chose to punish his son in one of the greatest acts of cruelty we’ve seen thus far on Succession. He forced Kendall to go with him to the home of the parents of the waiter who died in the wreck with Kendall.
Jeremy Strong’s performance all season long has been nothing short of amazing. His physicality in this episode—his shrunken shoulders, the timid body language—told the story of what Kendall was feeling more than any dialogue ever could have. As Logan went to speak to the parents, Kendall sat in the kitchen and forced himself to feel everything. He forced himself to look at photos of the dead man. He’s spent all year long trying to numb himself but not here. This was another sign of hope for Kendall.
Later in the episode, Kendall went to his mother’s house hoping to speak with her. It quickly became clear that she had no interest in the conversation, nor did she have any interest in her children. She, much like Logan, was playing a game and their children were merely pawns in that game. Kendall, Shiv, and Roman have always been on their own, guided by learned behavior from their parents, with their desires for parental guidance and affection never fulfilled. Succession has never asked us to defend the show’s characters but episodes like “Return” make us better understand why they behave the way they do.
This week’s Succession ended with Rhea and Logan’s alliance becoming more clear. She’s making a run for the throne and the kids now see it. Shiv calling Kendall and letting him know about her situation makes me wonder if they’ll work together more to try and edge Rhea out. Having the kids return to the source of their pain, both mom and dad, could be a turning point of sorts for them. This could be when they choose to end their respective downward spirals. Or, the opposite could be true and one of them could self-destruct even further, but I don’t see that happening. The Roy kids have been through a lot and they’ve taken on a lot of behavior from their parents, including ruthlessness. Rhea and their dad attempting to take what they view as rightfully theirs means the gloves are coming off and things are picking up. I’m more than ready to see what happens next. Until next time…