Succession ends where it started: with scheming Roy family getting triple-played

Kendall Roy's fate in Sunday evening's superb series finale, a 90-minute whirlwind of whiplash-inducing double-crossing and familial calamity, is in many ways an inversion of his father's.

Finale concludes Roy family's tumultuous power struggle

A man stands at a waterfront, looking into the distance.
Kendall Roy's fate is sealed during the series finale of Succession. (HBO)

Spoiler alert: This article includes plot details from the series finale of the HBO drama series Succession

Succession was never really concerned with who would succeed Logan Roy as CEO of Waystar Royco.

It was a front for the more compelling question of who would become Logan (Brian Cox) just enough to fill the terrible void he left, to be able to strike fear through people's hearts the way that he could, to push away love and a desire for closeness in favour of power.

Kendall Roy's fate in Sunday evening's superb series finale, a 90-minute whirlwind of whiplash-inducing double-crossing and familial calamity, is in many ways an inversion of his father's. While Logan had been destined since the show's 2018 pilot for death — it's in the title, after all — so too has Kendall (Jeremy Strong, in the performance of a lifetime), a man so irrevocably chained to his father's image that he wants to kill himself doing the job that killed his dad or else die.

The show's through line of wealth corrupting family and taking precedent over love, loyalty and morality boiled over during the finale's climactic scene, in which Siobhan 'Shiv' Roy (Sarah Snook) decides that she won't humour Kendall's frenzied quest to screw the GoJo deal, taking back her board vote during one stunning last betrayal.

Throughout four seasons, Kendall has positioned himself as an antidote to his father's misogyny and abuse. With power slipping from his grasp, he barks back a pathetic defence: He should have the crown because he's the eldest boy. He berates his younger siblings, lunging at pregnant Shiv after she threateningly reminds him that he killed someone and therefore can't be CEO.

But it's Roman (Kieran Culkin) — his forehead bleeding from an earlier scene when Ken menacingly, purposefully split a healing gash open — who cuts to the heart of his brother's insecurities with a venomous retort. Logan saw Kendall's adopted children as illegitimate, not part of the Roy bloodline, so Kendall can never take over the family empire.

Three people stand in shallow water, their backs to the camera.
From left, Jeremy Strong as Kendall Roy, Sarah Snook as Siobhan 'Shiv' Roy and Kieran Culkin as Roman Roy during the Succession series finale. (HBO)

That the Roys are so tied to the idea of holding onto wealth and company control for the sake of their children — symbols of intergenerational power, but not much else — while denying them love, safety and protection is Logan's ultimate legacy. It's something that Kendall has perpetuated in his relationship to his own kids, two characters we hardly ever see because people who carry little importance to Succession's central characters are simply not shown.

When, mid-episode, Roman and Shiv agree — and those agreements are always fleeting — that they'll acquiesce to Kendall's longheld ambition to lead the company and give him the board votes to block an acquisition of Waystar by the media streaming platform GoJo, Roman sums up the futility of their years-long battle for control of the company, the poison apple from which Kendall so badly wants a bite: "It's haunted and cursed and nothing will ever go right, but enjoy your bauble."

Succession has always hit its emotional beats with such precision that you could be agonized for its characters in one scene and ferociously hate them the next. That's a testament both to the show's cerebral writing (the word "Shakespearean" is often used to describe it) and to the lived-in performances from its main cast, particularly Strong's passionate embodiment of Kendall. Culkin and Snook deserve their flowers, too.

Four men raise their drinks at a bar.
Lukas Mattson, second from left, toasts to his new CEO Tom Wambsgans, far right. For a family that is constantly weighing the share value of bloodlines, it feels fitting that the final strings should be pulled almost entirely by outsiders. (HBO)

For a family that is constantly weighing the share value of bloodlines, it feels fitting that the final strings should be pulled almost entirely by outsiders: Lukas Mattson (Alexander Skarsgard), the irreverent Swedish tech bro; Jeryd Mencken (Justin Kirk), the neo-Nazi president of Roy creation; and Tom Wambsgans (Matthew Macfadyen), an interloper who successfully infiltrated the family to be close to its money, a guy who basks in moral decay like it's holy water — and who revelled in bringing his willing accomplice Greg (Nicholas Braun) along for the ride. Tom, as Mattson and Mencken's puppet, will make an excellent CEO.

Where to even begin with Tom and Shiv, Succession's cursed romance? Shiv's destiny amounts, in her own mind and sense of self, to castration — bested by a husband that she always believed was her inferior, after being used and discarded by Mattson. Her marriage to Tom is bitterly captured in a final shot of them in his car, her hand resting limp on his, no sign of life to be found.

Two people sit in a car with their hands touching but not holding.
Shiv is used and discarded by Mattson and bested by her husband Tom, who she always believed was her inferior. (HBO)

The final shot of the Succession finale is of Kendall looking out onto the water, a repeating motif that we've come to understand is an association of his relationship with death: the young waiter who haunts him drowned in the water, while Ken himself appeared to be drowning during the show's season three finale. When he finds out his father is dead, he's stuck on a boat.

Here, he's left almost completely alone, isolated from his brothers and sister, his children and ex-wife, his friends and business associates. Fittingly, the only person who trails him is Colin, his father's security detail, best pal and constant shadow.

The Succession finale wasn't about tying up every loose end or offering a neat ending for each of its players. Other finales like Six Feet Under have done that well, but it can be a thankless task; and this show didn't go The Sopranos route either, leaving its audience in the dark (literally!) about its protagonist's fate.

Here, each character's destiny is sealed in a way that completes the trajectory this show has paved for them: Roman is left only with his nihilism, a pathetic worm just as Gerri foretold, but free from the Waystar Royco monster; Shiv — ouch — is simply the CEO's pregnant wife; and Kendall has become all of the worst parts of his father without the empire to show for it. 


Jenna Benchetrit is a web and radio journalist for CBC News. She works primarily with the entertainment and education teams and occasionally covers business and general assignment stories. A Montrealer based in Toronto, Jenna holds a master's degree in journalism from Toronto Metropolitan University. You can reach her at jenna.benchetrit@cbc.ca.