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Succession S4 Episode 6: Kendall's Beach Scene Holds A Deeper Meaning

Warning: This article contains spoilers for Succession Season 4, Episode 6 — "Living+."

Part of what makes HBO's "Succession" such a unique and refreshing appointment viewing experience week-to-week is how little it relies on twists, hidden details, or even plot. Rather, the series draws its audience in with an attention to character and relationships, having spent three and half seasons crafting them so carefully that it can mine unmatchably engaging dramatic tension just by placing any two of its characters in a confined space — or by giving just one of them enough privacy to reveal who they truly are.

Case in point, the most impactful moment this week was arguably not the digital resurrection (or subsequent corruption) of Waystar Royco founder Logan Roy (Brian Cox), Karl's (David Rasche) surprising show of force, or even Roman's (Kieran Culkin) unceremonious firing of his general counsel and ex-lover, Gerri (J. Smith Cameron).

No, what is really sure to provoke "Succession" fans after tonight's episode — either by virtue of its subtle richness or merely its placement as the final image — is Kendall's (Jeremy Strong) haunting swim in the ocean. While its meaning is somewhat up to individual interpretation, looking to the series' past can shed more light on the scene's meaning — namely, via its use of water. If this sequence remains consistent with the rest of the series, it means that Kendall is finally at peace with everything he's ever done — though he won't be for long.

Water is Succession's guilt made manifest

Water is one of the most prevalent and important dramatic symbols used throughout "Succession," though the series never puts too fine a point on the nature of the weight it holds. With the waiter's tragic drowning at Shiv's (Sarah Snook) wedding in Season 1, water seems to embody death; however, in Logan's private swim at Austerlitz a few episodes earlier, it seems to embody past trauma. While both of these conclusions are certainly well founded, neither feels unanimously effective regarding the series' complete use of this visual motif. What all of these scenes feel truly united by is guilt.

Kendall is dripping with it at the wedding reception and begins Season 2 submerged in it at the cold rehab facility; the children are trapped by it at Connor's (Alan Ruck) wedding as they listen helplessly to their father's dying breaths at sea; and the Roys and the Waystar C-Suite are surrounded by it on Logan's yacht as they try to assign blame for one of "Succession's" original sins — the disaster at cruises.

On your first watch, Logan's "Austerlitz" scene may not seem to be about him emerging from guilt with scars of his own. Yet, viewing it after hearing his brother Ewan (James Cromwell) mention their late sister Rose a season later, it becomes clear that Logan's childhood memories are completely engulfed by guilt. It's also worth noting that "Austerlitz" as an episode is almost entirely about how Logan's upbringing prevents him from being able to take responsibility for the emotional harm he's done to his children.

However, Kendall's swim in the ocean is more complicated in this context. If we accept that water is connected to overwhelming waves of guilt, what exactly does it mean if Kendall dives into those waves head first — and what does that mean for his impending fate?

Kendall Roy can't survive without approval

To answer this question beyond the surface level, we need to agree on one thing — Kendall's primary motivation throughout the series is his desperate need for external validation. From his negotiations with Vaulter's Lawrence Yee (Rob Yang) in the pilot to this disastrous Living+ presentation, Kendall is consistently self-conscious about how others perceive him.

In the first two seasons, this need for validation usually manifests itself in fruitless ploys for his father's approval — or, conversely, the schemes he'll involve himself in when he is denied it. Season 3, however, explored if Kendall could possibly fill the void of familial love with outside affection from Naomi (Annabelle Dexter-Jones), his defense and PR teams, and the general public — until he finally realized in "Too Much Birthday" that, as future-President Gil Eavis (Eric Bogosian) once said, "if family isn't right, nothing feels right."

Kendall is isolated from approval by guilt

If Kendall's ideal goal is to be in perfect harmony with his ex-wife, children, siblings, and father, his reality is the complete opposite — and it's built entirely on ineffectual remorse from past actions. At different points throughout the series, "Succession" paints this causality overtly.

As early as the pilot episode, "Celebration," Kendall's ex-wife, Rava (Natalie Gold) strongly implies that the primary reason for their divorce was his drug addiction, the mere mention of which immediately sends Kendall into a somber defensive frenzy. His actions at the end of both Seasons 1 and 2 alienate him from his siblings, and their relationship as a unit isn't resolved until the Season 3 finale, in which Kendall confesses to what he did at Shiv's wedding. Finally, when his father dies in Season 4, his mind almost immediately jumps to the notion of forgiveness — while he may be denying that to Logan on his deathbed, this is arguably a psychological projection as Kendall tries to deflect the realization that his constant betrayals have permanently destroyed his relationship with his father.

That last moment directly leads to what will surely be remembered as Kendall's final turning point in the series: the bathroom scene in Season 4, Episode 4, "Honeymoon States." Directly mirroring his embarrassing bathroom tantrum in the pilot, Kendall calmly examines the paper from his father with his name on it. We may never know Logan Roy's true inner workings, but he is probably not a man who underlines names for emphasis — especially not Kendall's. And nobody is more aware of that fact than the not-so-prodigal son himself.

Kendall is trying to let go of his guilt through brute force

When Kendall finally emerges to give Hugo (Fisher Stevens) the go-ahead to kill his dad's reputation, it's the first sign that he is finally moving on from needing Logan's approval. Even if he wasn't sure about his father's last wishes for him, it's clear he no longer wants to care. Sure, he excuses himself by saying his father would have done the same thing, but "Honeymoon States" showed numerous times that the children were starting to understand that they'd never know who their father really was or what he wanted.

This scene can either be read as Kendall callously acting on his own accord or semi-consciously deluding himself into thinking he knew his father better than he did — either way, this act serves as his first step toward forcibly burying the guilt he carries for what he did to his father, and how his actions caused their relationship to end. Understanding this is the key to understanding the real reason why Kendall desperately needs to stay afloat as CEO.

The CEO title is vital to his existence

At the beginning of this week's episode, Kendall asks his team to replay a damaging clip of Logan disparaging his children over and over, as if forcing himself to accept his father's animosity toward him will absolve him of how their relationship ended. The end of the episode proves that it finally worked.

As he floats in the ocean, it's clear that he no longer carries the burdens of his numerous previous betrayals, the harm he caused professional contacts like Lawrence Yee, or even the death of the English waiter. This season, Kendall is learning that he can live with his guilt so long as he buries it underneath a mountain of professional achievements.

He can live with going behind Karl's back, lying to the public, and even the firing of Gerri, so long as he retains his seat as CEO — ultimately, that's the real reason why he's so desperately trying to hold onto power despite the Lukas Matsson deal. It isn't just about power itself — it's about maintaining the one thing that keeps him from having to confront the reality of his father's death.

It's only a matter of time until he drowns...

As both Shiv and Roman have already seen, however, Kendall's success has not translated to true, lasting inner peace. He may be able to convince himself that the gentle rocking of the waves is relaxing, but the moment he starts to feel that current pull, he will panic. He will flail helplessly, his head whipping about as he sees nothing but water — the sheer vastness of everything he's done to get to where he is.

At the beginning of Season 4, Jeremy Strong ominously had this to say about Kendall's final, Shakespearian arc: "[Series creator Jesse Armstrong and I] talked about 'Richard III' before this season, which is a play about the tragedy of a person who gets what they want, but ... by the time Richard III sits on that throne, he has mortgaged off himself spiritually and crossed every emotional and ethical moral line, so that the leakage of his soul is complete by the time he arrives there. There's very little left of him to put the crown on..." (via The Hollywood Reporter).

Kendall's "mortgaging" of his soul feels eerily similar to someone frantically casting off everything heavy they're wearing before leaping into the ocean — to be as weightless as possible, so that they may float instead of drown. And yet, he can only give up so much before he finds himself naked and stranded in an endless sea of his own making. It is there, guilty and estranged from his surviving family by his own actions, that Kendall will likely meet a tragic end.