This post contains spoilers for Succession season 3 episode 6, “What It Takes.” Read our previous review here.
Neediness is an attribute that doesn’t serve anyone well in the cutthroat world of Succession, with Logan (Brian Cox) particularly repelled by the stench of desperation. His adult children are constantly vying for daddy’s approval and this remains true after last week’s fraught shareholder meeting. A trip to the Future Freedom Summit in Virginia to pick the replacement Republican presidential candidate gives Shiv (Sarah Snook) and Roman (Kieran Culkin) the chance to battle it out once more, with Shiv coming up short once again. Meanwhile, Kendall’s (Jeremy Strong) failing plot against his father has him reaching out to a person he believes is despondent enough to flip on the family.
Tom Wambsgans (Matthew Macfadyen) is no longer being referred to as Terminal Tom as he has earned the new nickname of the Christmas Tree. This isn’t because he is tall and jolly, but rather the crimes being unloaded onto Logan’s son-in-law. Jail time is occupying his every thought, which includes hiring a prison consultant, reading blogs and ingesting bland diner food so he can get used to his future diet. He has decided to forgo hope and Shiv is too preoccupied with her Roman rivalry to give his obsessive spiraling the time of day. “I don’t get why you keep wanting to talk about it,” she snaps before trying to make up for this lack of empathy with sex.
After last week’s disagreement about having a baby, Tom rejects Shiv’s advances and compares this to “throwing so much cake batter at a brick wall.” This response seems unfair, but it is becoming more and more clear this marriage is fundamentally broken.
It is no coincidence that Tom and Greg (Nicholas Braun) are aligned once more and their outsider status in the family is now matched by the probability of going to prison. Ever since Kendall dropped the bombshell that he might burn his cousin, the real possibility of incarceration has been on his mind — it makes sense for Tom to call Greg when he cannot sleep.
The dynamic between this pair has often seen Tom take the bully role as Greg is the only person he considers to have less significance in the pecking order. Their late-night conversation at the diner involves Greg asking a favor that will hang an extra crime ornament on Tom’s already stacked branches. In this case, Tom’s upper hand is his fall guy position and he doesn’t want anything in return. He will even pick up the tab as “Greenpeace stole your inheritance.”
Cousin Greg’s other role in this episode is to ask questions about this unique presidential selection process, using some surprisingly clunky exposition for Succession. He also plays the voice of reason, noting that Connor (Alan Ruck) should not be the candidate — not that Logan would ever let his oldest son near this ticket.
During the Roy family “next president” discussion, Tom finds himself lacking the enthusiasm to voice his opinions. He half-heartedly agrees with his wife before stepping out to meet Kendall in his new favorite diner. Kendall’s last-ditch trip to Virginia comes hot on the heels of firing his top lawyer Lisa (Sanaa Lathan) after his ego struggled to follow a word of her advice. Whatever leverage he had at the start of the season has vanished and going after Tom is Kendall grasping at straws.
Everyone is being forced to dance this week and Kendall’s pitch starts with his usual “I’ve always liked you” refrain. He brings up Tom’s descriptive new nickname and his brother-in-law’s rise (and subsequent fall) at ATN. “I fell in love with your sister,” Tom reminds him and in return, Kendall dangles immunity — something Kendall cannot promise. Sticking to his plan of eschewing hope, Tom doesn’t even bite when Kendall suggests Shiv won’t wait for him while he is locked up.
Tom has good reason to refuse this offer and is succinct in his assessment of Kendall: “My hunch is that you’re going to get f***ed because I have seen you get fucked a lot, and I have never seen Logan get f***ed once.” Tom is probably going to jail and yet Kendall is the one who keeps on losing. Macfadyen is also making a strong case for the supporting actor Emmy as he oscillates between resigned and obsessive.
Back at the hotel, Shiv can’t make her sensible candidate stick and Logan is sold by Roman’s shiny new alt-right star (played with slick charm by Justin Kirk). Using the phrase “box office” gives Roman the upper hand and his provocative selection even questions Logan’s relevance and his outdated media empire. Shiv cites the climate but her father retorts that he beat the current climate (he also makes a very dad joke about being a climate denier). It is another loss for Shiv against golden boy Roman and she is forced to stand for a family picture with a man she loathes — her greatest act of defiance is to purse her lips.
Even Connor is more successful than Shiv in this episode, as his father pretends to take his candidacy seriously as actual “Conheads” shower him with praise. HBO guest star extraordinaire Stephen Root plays a big donor who can’t help but crack jokes about getting canceled to an unenthusiastic Willa (Justine Lupe). Connor’s longtime girlfriend refuses to play the game and carries on writing her next play on her phone — for this, she earns all my respect.
The pieces are shifting in Logan’s favor and he doesn’t let the news of his ex-wife’s impending Tuscan nuptials dampen his mood. Only Roman seems perturbed by the development — from the images, it looks like Pip Torrens is playing the new beau.
The other big event on the horizon is Kendall’s birthday party. Considering his mood, expect a cringe extravaganza with a theme of last-ditch desperation in his attempt to triumph over his father.