As we head into the final episode of Succession on May 28, there's occasion to look back on the show’s run, if only to see how far (or not) some of these characters have come. A key part of its success has been its incredibly complex and compelling characters — it's so satisfying to watch Succession dig into these characters and their often conflicted motivations. Loyalties shift and then shift back again, along withudience sympathies. Any assessment of the best episodes of the series also raises the question of which episodes best defined each character. Which episode best captured the quintessential nature of a bellowing beast like Logan Roy? Which episodes encapsulate Kendall's wounded-scion vibe, or Shiv's delusions of outsider superiority?
For each of Succession's seven main characters, we selected the one episode that most defines them — not necessarily their best episodes, but the ones that shed the most light.
Episode: "Hunting" (Season 2, Episode 3)
If anything defined Logan Roy (Brian Cox) it was the terror that he struck into the hearts of those who depended on him for their wealth, status, and sense of worth. By early Season 2, Logan had recovered from his stroke and brought nearly everybody who had dared to defy him to heel, including Kendall (with a little help from some negligent vehicular manslaughter) and Shiv (who quit her political career over his promise to make her Waystar CEO). Flush with power and still fixated on dominating the creaky pedestals of old media, Logan set his sights on acquiring PGM. Nobody in his inner circle thought this was a good idea, but neither did they want to tell Logan that.
It was a perfect time, then, for the company retreat at a hunting lodge in Hungary. Getting a whiff of dissension in the air and rattled by the news that a biographer was sniffing around his inner circle for dirt, Logan decided to assert his dominance with a game. "Boar on the Floor" is Logan perfectly encapsulated: It's nasty, loud, barbaric, and ultimately pointless. It only exists to show just how subservient everybody in his company is to him, and it gets everybody to fall in line with the Pierce plan pretty quickly. Logan wins.
Episode: "Too Much Birthday" (Season 3, Episode 7)
The definitive Kendall (Jeremy Strong) episode needs to somehow capture the two warring sides to his personality. One is the tragically hip nepo baby who desperately wants to look cool and smart and serious-minded and edgy, equally in demand at TED Talks and Grammys after-parties. The other is the kicked-puppy, emotionally-terrorized failson beta who absorbs a universe of sh*t from the people closest to him. Both are deeply embarrassing, and both are on full display in "Too Much Birthday."
Kendall's plans for his blowout 40th birthday party started out incredibly elaborate and conceptual, with all sorts of how-self-aware-is-this-really ironic Freudian business (the birth canal entrance; the sad treehouse VIP area). He's riding high, rehearsing Billy Joel numbers, thinking he's gonna land a deal with GoJo founder Lukas Matsson (Alexander Skarsgård). By the end, he's been demeaned by his father with a buyout letter, bullied by his younger brother, and picked the all-time worst moment to become self-aware about the fact that his party made him look like a tool — the rollercoaster that is Kendall Roy from beginning to end.
Episode: "DC" (Season 2, Episode 9)
What defined Shiv (Sarah Snook) throughout most of the first two seasons of Succession (and intermittently since) was a sense of plausible deniability. She was the one who was outside of the family business, working for liberal politicians, willing to play hardball against the interests of her father and ATN. Even after she ditched politics for the shiny bauble that was her father's promise to make her CEO, Shiv remained the Least Objectionable Roy when it came to the world outside the company. Sure, sure, everybody on this show is rich and awful, but Shiv… maybe Shiv really could girlboss her way to the top spot in a way we could feel good about. I mean, look at that haircut!
That all ended for good after "DC," the penultimate episode of Season 2, when Shiv, acting on her father's orders, convinces a whistleblower to back off from testifying against the company in front of Congress. The woman is a victim of sexual assault in the horrid Waystar cruises division, and even an opportunist like Rhea Jarrell (Holly Hunter) balks at manipulating her into silence. But Shiv does it, because ultimately justice means nothing if it means undermining her own position. That Shiv tries to play the Good Roy card even while leaning on this woman to keep silent exposes her as a fraud, no better than anyone in her rotten family.
Episode: "Nobody Is Ever Missing" (Season 1, Episode 10)
Can any single episode encapsulate everything about Roman? More than anyone, he's a character of volatile contradictions. The toxic nihilism, his history of abuse at the hands of his father, his approach to the family business that swings between ruthless and idiotic, his various sexual hangups, his utter spinelessness when it comes to his father, his utter cruelty when it comes to nearly everyone else, his rare moments of family sentimentality, his fascist political leanings, his wicked sense of humor. The definitive Roman episode doesn't exist.
"Nobody Is Ever Missing" touches on a lot of it, though. The episode, on the day of Shiv and Tom's wedding, starts off with Roman in cocky d*ckhead mode, arguing with Shiv about her politics and spewing a ton of reactionary nastiness at her the second he feels the least bit inferior. He then sneaks off to monitor the satellite launch he spearheaded at Waystar (and foolishly rushed to complete). The launch becomes a giant fireball of a disaster, at which point Roman's bravado drains from his body and he becomes a shriveled little weasel, skulking around the reception until Gerri delivers the ass-saving news that there were no fatalities. It may not be the entire Roman Roy experience, but it gets to the consequence-free recklessness of the meanest little rich boy you've ever met.
Episode: "Rehearsal" (Season 4, Episode 2)
Connor (Alan Ruck) has always held a peculiar position in the Roy family. He's the eldest, but with none of the respect that might otherwise confer. He's nobody's favorite, and has always been at an arm's length from the three kids Logan had with Caroline. Sometimes this has meant being ignored and demeaned; other times it's given him the ability to stand back and see the scrum at the top levels of Waystar Royco as the toxic mud pit it is. This peculiarity was brought into focus in "Rehearsal," as Connor must deal with the uncertainty of Willa's pre-wedding freakout, all while his siblings use his rehearsal dinner as a staging area for their latest attempted coup, and Logan skips the party altogether.
Connor pities his siblings and their transparent need for Logan's attention and love. He brags of his ability to live without the love of his father or his siblings. "I'm a plant that grows on rocks and lives off insects that die inside of me," he says in a way that is both clear-eyed and devastating. Connor is a ridiculous person, with his presidential campaign and delusions of grandeur. But he's also the only one of his siblings who can accurately see himself, if only a little bit. "Rehearsal" shows us that.
Episode: "Tailgate Party" (Season 4, Episode 7)
Like Connor, Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) gets his most defining moment in the show's final stretch of episodes. It took a long time for him to get here. Tom's affect was always more than a little off-putting. He was an over-eager toady to Logan, an amoral mentor to Greg, and a wounded husband to Shiv. As the series has gone on, Tom has taken more for himself. He's been operating from a position of weakness and staying one step ahead of the guillotine as the family's designated fall guy. In the process, he lost Shiv, and the fallout of that expresses itself in a blistering fight on the terrace of their apartment in "Tailgate Party."
Tom spends the first half of the episode trying to navigate his way to some dignity, even as he's faced with the ghosts of Shiv's unfaithful past (hey, Nate's back) and the possibility of getting bulldozed by her opportunistic present, in the form of Matsson. Those tensions boil over in his big fight with Shiv, where he finally unloads four seasons' worth of resentment while at the same time being rightly called out for his own servile social-climbing.
Episode: "Sad Sack Wasp Trap" (Season 1, Episode 4)
Greg (Nicholas Braun) is the buffoon of Succession, the jester who is introduced to the show while puking out of the eyeholes of a theme park mascot. He's shredded documents, testified before Congress, and had sex in Logan's cloak room. For somebody who's so tall, he's always been defined by being in over his head. And yet we tend to forget the moments when he makes a move towards self-interest. Yes, he followed Tom’s orders in shredding documents, but he kept some to guarantee his safety and ended up parlaying them into Kendall's good graces. He sold his soul to join Tom's power play at the end of Season 3. He just might have an in with Matsson that could play out in the series finale.
The buffoonery and the low-key sneakiness are both on display in "Sad Sack Wasp Trap." This is the episode where Tom tells Greg all about the history of crimes and cover-ups in the cruises division. Greg's reaction to that is some of Braun's finest work; his "okay… the bad ones" response to Tom laying out the theft, rape, and murder that's gone on in cruises is top-tier Succession understatement. And yet in the same episode, we find out that it's Greg who blabbed to Gerri that Tom is thinking about going public with the scandal to save his ass. You'd never think to call him savvy, but there's always been a bit more underhandedness to Greg than we give him credit for.
The final episode of Succession airs Sunday, May 28 at 9:00 PM ET on HBO and on Max. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.
Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.
TOPICS: Succession, Alan Ruck, Brian Cox, Jeremy Strong, Kieran Culkin, Matthew Macfadyen, Nicholas Braun, Sarah Snook