Succession star Sarah Snook unpacks that finale betrayal: 'There's no safe harbor'
This post contains spoilers for the Succession season 3 finale.
In the HBO drama's climactic season 3 finale, Shiv teamed up with siblings Kendall (Jeremy Strong) and Roman (Kieran Culkin) to stop their demonic father, Logan (Brian Cox), from selling the company, thereby squashing any chance for one of them to take over the reins. Unfortunately, that plan failed because Shiv's husband, Tom (Matthew Macfadyen), whom she mistreated and disregarded at almost every turn, tipped Logan off, which gave the patriarch time to contact his ex-wife and Shiv's mom, Caroline (Harriet Walter) and remove any leverage his kids had. At this point, nobody's aware that Shiv knows about Tom's role in this catastrophic situation. Where does she go from here?
EW caught up with Snook two days after the finale to discuss the siblings' temporary alliance, shooting different takes of the final moment, and whether the trio should be worried about another potential enemy.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I want to start with the parking lot scene. New Yorker writer Michael Schulman tweeted that the blocking changed once Jeremy Strong decided to sit on the ground after several takes. What do you remember about how that pivotal scene evolved while shooting it?
SARAH SNOOK: Yeah. It did certainly evolve over the course of the day. And to be honest, I was battling the elements. It was a 100 degree day, full sun overhead, full sun then coming up because it was white dust, so it was reflecting [up on us]. I had no sunglasses on. It got windy, so I couldn't see through this eye [pointing to her right eye]. It was hot. I was in a dress. I was in Spanx, the mic shoved up my back. It was a lot going on. And I'm also in high heels, there's rocks. It's a 45-degree incline. It wasn't an easy acting day, but those kinds of days also come together to make it — you've got some obstacles to overcome together. When he sat down, I was like, "Great, I can also squat down for a bit."
But only squat because it seemed like the dress really restricted your movements.
Yeah, 100 percent. It was very difficult. I mean, standing probably would've been easier, but you just follow the scene.
Looking on the internet, a lot of viewers found the shot of Shiv and Roman with their hands on a crumpled Kendall very powerful. How did that specific moment come together?
It was in the milieu of lots of different moments like that. There was one where part of the actor brain of Sarah bee-lined for the shade at the end. And then we were all next to the wall of the stable at the back and looking after Kendall back there. What I love about the way we shoot is it's all very organic, and the camera people are so nimble and adept at moving and adjusting and changing. And [A camera operator/steadicam operator Gregor Tavenner] is in the dirt [and] dust with us. And so, that was one of the series of moments that organically happened, and happened to sort of, I guess, communicate something more powerful and deeper about the siblings' relationship at that time.
In the moment, did you choose to put your hand on Kendall's head or was that part of the direction?
That was instinct to put my hand on his head. But also, I'm not there giving him a big old hug. I'm not picking him up. Part of that is being in high heels. But part of that is Shiv's inability to, I guess, come to the party with Kendall at that moment. She is obviously sympathetic and empathetic to what he is going through, what it is. But it's like, do we believe this immediately? Do we confirm, "Oh, wow. Yeah, that is right. Wow. You're really going through something. Yes. We believe you"? At the same time, dad's about to f--- us over out of the company, and we've got to focus on that. And so for Shiv at least, there's two tracks going at the same time. And she feels that she has to be more responsible on one of them, which is the business side of things, because her brothers are not capable at that moment. But then she's not a completely ice queen, cold-hearted bitch. Her brother's gone through something.
These three spent most of the season at odds. How did it feel for them unite against their dad in the finale?
For the siblings, it's something that they've, I guess, not expected, to find a strength in unity. And they're always bickering amongst each other and finding ways to get a get back at each other, or ahead of each other. And I think Roman speaks to that in the car scene directly afterwards [and] where he's like, "It's not going to be water pistols in Bali, where you all back out at the last minute." Who knows what's going to happen, whether the siblings will be able to manage remaining as that united front? But in that moment, I think there's something really joyful for them to go like, "Right. Well, we're back here, we're back, being sister and brothers, siblings."
Speaking of that moment in the car: It's sad how excited they get about fighting each other once they takeover the company, because it's clear they're so trapped in the paradigm Logan established.
Yeah, absolutely. And that's the way they've learned to relate. In their humor with each other, in their sincerity with each other, there's always some jostling, some competition. And maybe they can find a way to make that work for them and to be a stronger engine together. But I think that'll be the interesting thing to watch.
Now onto the big final scene: What was your reaction to Brian Cox's cruel impression of Shiv?
Yeah. It's so great. That was scripted as that, but every time he did it, [it was] so cutting and embarrassing to see your dad do that and so juvenile and immature. But it hurt so much every time. Yeah, it was so acid, it was brilliant.
You told Vulture that Logan and Caroline's speedy reunion made you reconsider Shiv's conversation with her mother in the previous episode, and you realized that Logan only got the kids in the divorce because it was a power move. Do you think Shiv also has this realization in the moment?
I think Shiv would have that realization later, or perhaps in between those two scenes. I'm not sure, but I definitely think that it came to me, the sadness of looking back and going, "Oh, dad actually didn't want us. He just wanted to win." And that was what winning looked like, which is pretty grim. And you think you might have sympathy from your mother, but then she does that in the final scene. Yeah, there's no safe harbor really between either of the parents.
Looking back, it's clear the show was foreshadowing Tom's betrayal. Did you pick up on it as you were shooting the season?
Not at all. Watching this season, knowing where it goes, there's a scene where Tom offers himself up to Logan as the beating post. And that has such a different connotation and feeling now as well, once you realize where the scene or the season goes. It's like, "Maybe he's been planning this the whole time." I was completely in the dark about it. Maybe Tom's the most Machiavellian of us all.
Do you think Shiv understands how this is the result of her mistreating him?
Not in that moment. I think if anything, retrospectively, she may come to that conclusion. And who knows? Knowing Shiv, she probably will compartmentalize it and not accept any accountability, much the same as Logan does. But yeah, I think in that moment, she's not like, "Oh, wow, this is my fault. I've got a real come to Jesus moment." It's probably more just like, "I can't believe my husband did the dirty on me. I've got nowhere to turn now. My mom's abandoned me. My dad's been revealed to be the devil, and my husband has signed a pact with him. So I've got nowhere to turn. And really, will I run to my brothers?" That doesn't seem [likely]. She's got a lot of soul-searching to do, I think, in the next season. Where's the safest port?
I read that you filmed different versions of that final moment where Shiv does or doesn't see Logan pat Tom on the back. Do you remember what was originally scripted?
I do, because I just pulled it up. [Reading from the script on her phone] "Frank says, 'I've eating a belly full of you.' Roman heads toward…They're in their own private worlds of pain. Then from outside comes Tom. 'Shiv, you okay?' Before he can get in, he passes Logan out on the balcony. They catch each other's eye. There's a nod. Shiv sees it. She crumples emotionally. Tom heads on in, to find the three siblings together, a hand held here, a bit of support there, broken, but together."
That's the end, but then whatever else is improvised from there. And we did versions where she didn't see him. The hand thing had to come outside the building rather than in the room with them. And so, we did versions where she didn't see through the door, didn't clock it. And we did a version where there was more soliciting of Roman to Gerri and the rest of the top tier. I think there was one where Kendall did a bit. I don't know, but what we wanted to find really was the siblings, I guess, united. But in that take, it felt natural, because Tom had closed in with physical proximity. I was like, "Get away from me. I can't hide my hurt to your face convincingly. So I'll pretend the hurt is from something else."
Was that your instinct or direction from Mark Mylod?
Mark's a brilliant director because he's quite hands off at letting something evolve and be organic and then just cherry picking, like "Let's just highlight that a bit more. Let's bring that out a bit more." He was quite good at going like, "Just hide it. She's very good at hiding things. I think you should hide it." Obviously, the audience needs to see it a little bit so that we understand that she has seen what has happened or what has gone down. But yeah, let's see Shiv be the good actor here.
What was going through your mind in that final moment?
Just like, "I've got nowhere." I can't trust the one person that I [thought I could]. Obviously, she's using him a lot in ways.
It's like "I can't trust the person who just heard me say I didn't love him"
She's incapable of vulnerability, I think, in a way that Logan is also incapable of vulnerability. And I think she does genuinely love him and love what he does for her, but I don't think she's capable of loving him separate from her. I'm not sure that if they were to divorce, it would be anything but an acrimonious divorce and she would heap blame upon him for whatever. But it's not going to be like, a "Wow, I love you, but I just can't be with you." That's not going to be the relationship demise between Shiv and Tom. She's so competitive though. Part of it is like she wanted to win against her mom and dad.
She wanted to prove that she could have a good relationship. She wanted to prove she could have a career outside the company, and she could have something stable. And so, she went for the most stable, most controllable, seemingly, person that she could. And then even he abandoned her. So then she's got no dad, no mom, or no husband and only her brothers to tend to.
How do you think Shiv will handle Tom moving forward?
I mean, it's an amazing amount of leverage to know that your husband has sold you out and so catastrophically, not even he [or] her brothers [know] as well. It's like, "Do you realize what you've done?" And I don't know how long she keeps that from him. It's pretty powerful. I don't know what she does from here.
But it's leverage until the sale goes through.
True. And then she has to cozy up to Tom somehow, find a different way to get in.
I also feel bad for Connor [Alan Ruck]. His siblings left him out of this big move so soon after his big speech demanding they acknowledge he's the eldest and part of the family. Do you think they've created another enemy here?
Maybe. That's a good point. I don't know. I love that scene. I was cheering inside that whole scene for Alan. "I am the eldest son." Damn right, you are! You tell him!
It's kind of cathartic — and then Connor immediately undercuts it when Willa agrees to marry him.
Everyone just consistently remains flawed. I don't know if they've made an enemy there. It's surprising. One of my favorite moments in the season is when Connor is [sees the fake headline about becoming] "President of s---ing his sleeping bag." He's like, "That's really bad for me." And Willa [Justine Lupe] comes in and protects him like, "He's polling at 1 percent." And we're like, "Ha, ha. 1 percent." For Shiv, she's like, "No, that's actually significant that you actually have a percent and you could play a race." That's a dangerous amount of power that you are beginning to wield. And I don't know what happens in the next season, but if it continues in that trajectory, where he's managed to garner all this support from maybe conservative, libertarian, right wing people, that yeah, maybe he is a dangerous enemy to have. Maybe he does need to be brought more purposefully into the nest as the oldest son.
Succession was renewed for a fourth season.