“All The Bells Say,” the title of the Season 3 finale of “Succession,” comes from John Berryman’s poem “Dream Song 29” — but the full line is “All the bells say: too late.” And too late is how it goes for a lot of things in the episode. The Roy siblings’ unsuccessful attempt to “coup” their father, of course, comes too late, but out of time too are Tom’s (Matthew Macfadyen) patience within his own marriage, Roman’s (Kieran Culkin) hopes that he has changed his relationship with his father, and Waystar Royco’s ability to eat instead of being eaten. Director Mark Mylod’s ability to keep wide-ranging freedom of movement within scenes — hallmarks of the series’ blocking and composition — while still pulling the noose tighter around the Roys’ necks is part of what makes the episode’s emotional journey so grueling, and so outstanding.
Mylod spoke to IndieWire about the Season 3 finale and ending the season on location in Italy after seven episodes mostly shot in and around New York. “We try not to fetishize locations and we try not to fetishize the trappings of wealth with the camera,” Mylod said. “By taking it for granted, then we better reflect the characters and their attitudes towards that world.” None of the characters admire the beauty of their Tuscan villa or the beautiful gardens in which Logan’s ex-wife, Lady Caroline Collingwood (Harriet Walters), is getting remarried. In fact, the key sequence for the episode — and easily the most emotional scene in the season — takes place in a car park, in which Mylod and production designer Stephen H. Carter lined up a set of trash cans so that caterers could be taking out the garbage while Kendall (Jeremy Strong) finally reveals his.
“There was a very specific kind of graphic moment that I wanted to use, to take advantage both of the architecture and to capture these three siblings, and force them into one space and to bring them together,” Mylod said. The villa’s walls and ledges create strong lines that force Kendall, Shiv (Sarah Snook), and Roman into the graveled center and closer to each other. There’s almost a gravitational push and pull of genuineness, as Kendall needs to literally come to the ground before he confesses his part in the waiter’s death at Shiv’s wedding. The closer Shiv and Roman come to Kendall, the more they’re able to offer him, if not sympathy, then at least their presence. The farther away they get, the more the specter of a potential GoJo buyout of Waystar Royco looms. Under the harsh summer light, the location of the scene feels like a crucible in which the Roy siblings could dissolve in a moment or, in a genuinely hopeful surprise, come together to form a united front.
“When I read a scene, [the blocking] is just in my head,” Mylod said. “It seems to me with any family, there’s a pecking order. It’s usually unspoken but it exists. There is a hierarchy, and if our characters gather in a room, I feel like I know where they would be.” Mylod’s intuitive sense of the power relationships among the Roy family explains the flow the confession sequence just as much as it does why Roman takes the middle seat in the van ride to Logan’s impromptu headquarters. There’s almost a giddiness to their ride through the Italian countryside, and the light is never more gentle than it is on Roman’s face as he agrees to attempt to oust his father. But Mylod and editor Ken Eluto weaponize the light, because as the ride drags on and the daylight fades, the audience senses the passage of crucial time. In the most “Succession” way possible, they get the audience’s skin to itch at the sweeping drone shots of rolling Tuscan hills.
“That was our biggest technical challenge, I think of the whole shoot,”Mylod said. “That was even harder than shooting at Matsson’s villa [which had no roads going in to it]. For the walls to be closing in, [and for more] pressure on these characters as the light and the countdown to facing their father… there was an element of the operatic to that scene and to build that tension in the changing light… Because obviously there’s different coverage looking to different directions, towards Kieran and back towards Jeremy and Sarah. It was a lot of coverage.”
Graeme Hunter / HBO
Another thing that Mylod intuitively tracks is how to position Logan (Brian Cox), who changes the power dynamics of any room into which he walks, and especially for that final sequence. “Brian and I can do this dance very well,” Mylod said of working on the scene with Cox. “We’re almost always on the same page about [finding] the right place for him. It’s a character who is so brilliant at manipulation and presenting a facade of honesty, of truth.”
As that facade slowly drops, Mylod moves from close and relaxed on Logan, to a camera that twitches, almost fidgets, as Logan attempts to spin a lie to capture his kids. For as many shots showcasing Logan’s vantage point as there are, there are equal shots of the three siblings arrayed against him. When Cox stands, it’s clear from the way that he moves and the amount of frame the camera gives him, that he’s trying to splinter them apart. “The siblings cluster for protection together,” Mylod said. “[And when] one of them starts to drift, the others will come in and gather around them. That was important.”
Logan wins in the end, because that’s what he does, and the darkness that he walks out into – and that Tom walks in from – is expressive of the Roy siblings’ lost hopes to finally best their father. When Tom enters the almost orange light of the room and embraces Shiv, it’s an inversion of the visual logic of the confession scene: warm and close, but all wrong. “It’s probably the longest scene that we’ve ever shot,” Mylod said, but because of the prep work the team had done, he could allow the performers’ instincts to flourish.
Much has been made of the parallels between the shots of Kendall, Shiv, and Roman in the car park and in Logan’s war room, one of them on the ground and the others gathered around. Mylod said that blocking arose organically. “In that final moment when Kieran found his way to the ground, that was just really intuitive. I can’t remember the stage direction that Jesse [Armstrong] had written, but it was along the lines of, you know, in this moment of desolation and defeat that they have each other. That was the moment of hope for me and the actors responded to that… Kieran’s instinct was to go to ground there and Jeremy’s was to support him, as his brother had done for him.”