How Succession‘s Game of Monopoly Revealed Everything About the Season FinalePhoto Courtesy of HBO TV Features Succession
By the end of Succession’s Season 3 finale “All the Bells Say,” the central siblings will have rebonded, suffered immense loss in the battle against their father, and underdog Tom Wambsgans will be on top. The tension never lets up, there isn’t a dull moment in the episode, and by the time the credits roll most viewers were looking at the screen in shock.
But it’s worth going back to the very beginning of the episode, when most of the family sat around a gorgeous Tuscan villa and played a friendly game of Monopoly. The scene is a gentle and fun start to a high drama episode, softening any fears about Kendall being dead, and allowing us to be with the cast for what should be a normal occasion. But that four minute scene is also ripe with so many layers, and reveals more about each of them than it may seem at first glance.
Succession has always been a show about playing the game. It never shies away from associating that with childish imagery; the family mocks and bullys each other in immature ways and plays with running a billion dollar company like a toy no one wants to share. The Monopoly scene invokes this theme, but also the secret games each character is playing underneath the game in front of them.
Willa, for example, plays the game innocently, visible to everyone. She ponders her moves out loud and points out that Shiv is cheating. She’s invested enough that she rejects Connor’s offer to leave the game, but doesn’t seem like she’s trying that hard to win. She’s learning the game, and wants to stay at the table, but doesn’t try to seem like she has a strategy.
We never see Connor make a move, and he seems like he doesn’t want to play. He’s far more interested in the world outside the game—trying to take Willa out and keeping his personal life away from the board. But he also seems like he knows the game better than everyone, acknowledging that cheating is a part of it. Connor wants a seat at the table, but he seems to understand the division between this and what matters outside it.
The dark horse is Kerry, who isn’t playing the game at all. Roman treats her like a non-actor, but while her pieces aren’t on the board she is still involved. By bringing up her relationship with Logan and his visible frustration, Roman is inviting her into the world of the game without her even having to put a piece down. She is an influencing player who has the power to change the outcome, even if no one thinks of her in that way.
Then there’s Greg, who barely says a word, never takes a turn, and never is the focus of a frame. He is the fly on the wall, exemplifying his ability to always be in the room where things are happening. The only time he speaks during the game is when Tom leaves the table, after Tom says to talk about him. While he is by blood part of the family, his only real connection to the game is through Tom.
Tom, meanwhile, may be playing the most layered strategy of Monopoly. Throughout the game he is visibilly trying to win, staring at the board intently as he thinks of his next turn. On his turn he gleefully gets a get out of jail free card (“another one”) with his joy playing into the persona he has built around the family. But when he’s called away he asks if he can just give everything he’s earned to Shiv, to which the rest of the table objects. While this seems quintessentially Tom, this is actually just still part of the game. He’s making himself seem like the subservient one, with no one realizing he’s playing on a deeper level than any of them. He’s keeping his real moves secret, while making sure he appears to be unintrested in playing.
Shiv is having fun playing, perhaps the most of everyone at the table. But when Tom walks away, Shiv is revealed by Willa to be cheating by taking Tom’s money. She jokes and says she’s only cheating so she can win, alluding to her status in the greater game of control. She doesn’t need to hide her strategy, she knows that she has to play outside the box to get ahead and isn’t afraid to show it. Her inability to hide her devious moves is what allows her to get close, but never close enough, to winning. She knows she holds power, and the only way to keep control is by making sure everyone sees that, too.
The Monopoly game picks up after Shiv’s latest show of power against Roman once his relationship with Gerri is revealed to Logan. But Roman still has the supreme power since, at the time of the game, he is the closest to Logan. While Shiv makes winning moves, Roman is casual in his losses because he’s more assured in his overall position in the game. When Shiv is caught cheating, Roman jokingly scolds her, but he takes a few bills as well which no one seems to notice. The divide is that Shiv steals from Tom, while Roman steals from the bank.
The implications of this scene are exhibited throughout “All the Bells Say.” By the end Willa is engaged to Connor, cementing her involvement. Kerry is even deeper in Logan’s trust, and perhaps even trying to get pregnant to further her status. Greg is more connected to Tom than his family. Tom is playing innocent while still involved. Shiv’s attempt to cheat falls through, as does Roman’s.
But the finale of Succession is just another turn in the long game. When Season 4 returns everyone will have to make another move; their pieces are all still on the board. And if Season 4 is truly going to be the last season, that means there are only a few rounds left before a winner is declared.
Leila Jordan is the TV intern for Paste Magazine. To talk about all things movies, TV, and useless trivia you can find her @galaxyleila
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