In the midst of the delay of shooting the third season of Succession, I have been wandering the internet realm of Succession discussions. In that wonderful world of Tom quotes, Roman/Gerri memes, and “Fuck offs” there is one topic of conversation that recurs frequently- Why, in episode two of the second season, did Kendall steal and throw away a back of batteries from the gas station?
It is a great question about a terrific scene that displays the subtlety of Succession. Plenty of the show is laid out neatly for viewer comprehension or smacks you in the face with blatant acts of aggression. But for those who want to dive deeper, there is always an underlying psychology that keeps viewers drinking from Succession’s well over and over again. This moment belies that deeper psychology and reveals a lot about Kendall’s inner conflict throughout season two.
Obviously, everything Kendall does after the final episode of season one should be viewed through the cracked windshield of a car underwater. That moment was the worst kind of baptism, and Kendall resurfaced as a different man (I wrote about this in The Many Kendalls). So when, not too long after, Kendall is needlessly shoplifting useless items only to toss them away, there must be a connection.
What happened in the first two episodes of season two also matters. Kendall is brought back from rehab after only two days. He was forced to spew propaganda on live TV, making himself look fickle and foolish. He was unable to drive his own bike and had to ride bitch on the back while chauffeured around town at his father’s bidding. He was told to deliver a message of war to his old business partners and best friend, becoming the object of their venom while unable to reach out for help. He was told to dismantle his business-baby, Vaulter, and delivered the news of the mass firing of their staff in person.
There is an enlightening moment towards the tail end of this scene, not too much before Kendall steals the batteries, where a freshly fired journalist spits in Kendall’s face, to which Kendall replies, “Is that all you got?” Later on, Kendall tells Logan that he could take any heat people threw his way for the dismantling of Vaulter.
All of these moments lead to and reveal two feelings in Kendall that illuminate his theft of the batteries and subsequent shop-lifting spree.
- He feels like he deserves punishment, or at least that he can get away with anything without punishment.
- He feels invisible.
These two emotions overlap, but they have their distinct places in Kendall’s psyche.
The more obvious of the two is that Kendall desires or feels like he deserves punishment. Guilt can erode one’s mind. And Kendall is being eaten by guilt. He was beyond uncomfortable when Colin, Logan’s body man, took him into the laundry room and explained how Kendall is all clear in the wake of the car accident. Kendall obviously preferred not to think about it. Later on, he has a panic attack when he visited the boy’s home, a not so subtle reminder from Logan that Kendall should not get too comfortable, Logan will always own him.
Kendall is a bad person, but he is not without a conscious. He desires forgiveness or punishment, as anyone would after such a life altering tragedy. So as he steals batteries (or dismantles companies) he is waiting for someone to react. To mete out the punishment he thinks he deserves. And spit in the face or wrist slaps from his father aren’t going to do it.
The further down the road one takes this psychological deep dive, the more we can understand how Logan raised children that he came to hate. He protected them from all of life’s rough edges, ones that he experienced his whole life, and in short, it created children with complexes.
The fact that Kendall continually sought punishment or forgiveness for his actions, and continually received none led to a sense of invisibility. Kendall was reduced at the start of season two. There is a striking difference in the car rides at the start of season one and two. In season one, Kendall listened to music on large headphones, rapping along as he punched the back of a car seat in order to mentally prepare for a big business deal. At the start of season two, he shakily asked questions about what his father wanted him to do, uncertain and afraid while preparing for an equally important business operation.
The reduction is so great he almost disappears. He couldn’t drive his own motorcycle. His business advice was no longer valid, all of the meaningful relationships in his life disappeared (Rava was gone all season) or turned on him (no more Stewy to save him), leaving him standing on the top of a building looking over the edge, wondering if he should jump. But even this decision was taken away from him when protective barriers (oh yeah, you should read into that symbolism) were erected to remove one more element of control from Kendall’s life.
So let’s look at the scene where Kendall steals the batteries. He hops off his bike (driven by someone else) to ask for some smokes from a guy who is more interested in the television screen than him (can he see him? does he matter?) so he grabs some batteries (will he notice me now? do my actions have consequences?) and walks out (another crime unpunished) tossing the batteries into the trash (none of it matters anyway) before hopping onto the back of the bike and forcefully slapping his driver’s shoulder to communicate that he was ready to go (a move that feels like acceptance) and he is driven away.
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