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Succession's Finale Hinges on the Unavoidable Fact That Kendall Sucks

Almost nobody gets what they want in the end, all because Shiv and Roman couldn't stomach seeing their brother on the throne.
  • Jeremy Strong (Photo: Macall Polay/HBO)
    Jeremy Strong (Photo: Macall Polay/HBO)

    [Editor’s note: This post contains spoilers for Succession Season 4, Episode 10, "With Open Eyes."]

    Now that we've reached the end of the line and Succession's final episode is in the books, we can all exhale and admit one fundamental truth: Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong) sucks. Yes, plenty of other people suck, too, on this show about terrible wealthy Republicans. But Kendall sucks. He sucked last week when he threatened to sue Rava for custody of their kids and flipped out on Jess for wanting to work for someone who didn't just elect a fascist. He sucked when he killed that cater waiter in the pond in Season 1. He sucked when he shuttered Vaulter in Season 2. He sucked when he threw a birthday party for himself in Season 3. He sucks some more in the series finale “With Open Eyes,” whether he's trying to round up votes on the board to kill the GoJo deal or saying "cunt is as cunt does" to his sister in Barbados like the world's filthiest Forrest Gump.

    Kendall's awfulness has always been insulated by an outer layer of sad boy. It was hard to ever hate Kendall too much because he was always getting mocked by his siblings for being a drug addict or cruelly manipulated by his father. But any time Kendall got even a modicum of success or confidence, he became absolutely insufferable. The smug self-regard, the hipster VC-speak, that unsettling smile.

    When it came time for Succession to present its endgame, there was a lot of guessing about who would pull off what kind of maneuver to "win" the series. And yet in the end, the crucial moment that swings the board vote to approve the GoJo deal — thus handing a victory to Lukas Matsson (Alexander Skarsgård) and, of all people, Tom Wambsgans (Matthew Macfadyen) — comes because of the simple, almost childish fact that Shiv simply thinks Kendall sucks. She thinks he'll be a bad CEO. And when he gets a second to reconsider, Roman realizes he thinks so too.

    There is something about Kendall becoming CEO that is just baseline unpalatable for his siblings. Shiv and Roman say as much at the shoreline back in Barbados while Kendall's off taking a swim. Ken's just gotten the intel from Greg (Nicholas Braun) — Google translate for the win! — that Matsson is planning to appoint someone who isn't Shiv as CEO, sending her careening back to her brothers to try to salvage something resembling a victory by killing the deal. As Tellis (Kevin Changaris) explains, the shareholders are going to need an unambiguous and solitary CEO in order to side with the Roys. Kendall is the only realistic option, as Kendall repeatedly and enthusiastically points out. Shiv (who has never been taken seriously by the business community in the first place) just got utterly played by Matsson and would be laughed out of the room as a CEO candidate. And Roman just broke down crying in front of the most powerful people in America, a very human reaction to grief that nonetheless has made him unacceptable in the Ayn Randian world of conservative power brokering.

    So Kendall it is, and Shiv and Roman talk themselves into being okay with it. What follows is a rather lovely bit of fool's gold, with Kendall, Shiv, and Roman, having come together at the 11th hour, horse around in Caroline's kitchen. Shiv and Roman prepare a "Meal Fit for a King" for Kendall, a disgusting blendered concoction of whatever was in the fridge. Roman licks Peter's cheese, and the three of them go into hysterics over their mom's ridiculous new husband. For a few moments, we get to see these siblings as the kinds of kids they might have been before their parents really messed them up. Anybody who's been watching Succession all this time knows it can't last (also anyone who peeked at the time stamp and saw there were 50 minutes remaining in the episode). But god help us all, for a moment, it was nice.

    The idea that their late-hour bonding would unite them in the boardroom proved too good to be true — the siblings have thoroughly poisoned by their upbringing. Despite their planning,Shiv ultimately wobbles. After Tom tells her that Matsson wants to make him CEO, she goes into valkyrie mode, intending to burn her husband down inside the Scandinavian tower he's just inherited. She more than anyone seems to be the most galvanized to kill the deal and leave Tom twisting in the wind. But when it comes time to cast her (tiebreaking, of course) vote and kill the GoJo deal, she waffles. Faced with the choice between crowning her insufferable brother and the husband who just screwed her over, Shiv takes a powder to think it over.

    "Why did Shiv balk on killing the deal?" becomes the central question of the Succession finale — not exactly up there with "Did Tony Soprano get killed?" in terms of lingering series finale questions, but one we can wrestle with for a while. What was the real reason? Strategically speaking, she's not entirely up a creek for choosing to go with Tom over Kendall. Tom's a ridiculous person, but he's cautious where Kendall is reckless. Shiv has exhibited an ability to manipulate Tom in the past (though he's getting better at defying her). She's also carrying his child, which makes it harder for Tom to cut her loose like Kendall might. If she's going to be tethered to this guy via an umbilical cord anyway, might as well be tethered to a seat of power as well.

    Rather than twist ourselves into knots imagining Shiv making some 3D chess move, though, it's possible — even plausible — to take Shiv at her word in that final blowup argument. She's being honest when she says that she thinks Kendall will be a bad CEO. He almost certainly will be! Kendall also immediately lives down to her expectations in his reaction to her doubts. He acts petulant and demanding, calling her stupid and ultimately stomping his foot on the ground yelling "I AM THE ELDEST BOY." (Shiv's "No, you're not!" might be the underrated best line delivery of the episode.) "I love you," she tells him, "but I cannot f*cking stomach you." That may well have been the simple deciding factor.

    It all boils down to Logan, in the end. So much of Succession is about the damage Logan has done to his children, even from beyond the grave. A lot of it we watched over the course of four seasons. Some of it we only heard about through stories from the kids' childhood. Logan abused them, verbally and, in some cases, physically. He manipulated them. He pitted them all against one another, from the time they were children until the day he died, to make them prove that they were worthy of his company, even though he never actually wanted any of them to inherit Waystar. Back in Barbados, Kendall, Shiv, and Roman have a moment where they each stake their claim to CEO because at one point Logan promised it to them: Kendall when he was seven, Shiv back in Season 2, Roman the day before he died. These were the empty promises of a father who trained his children like dogs to fight each other for his approval. Shiv votes against Kendall because that's what her father raised her to do. Truce after truce among the Roy siblings has been broken, and it's always because these kids were behaviorally engineered to not trust each other and to resent each other's successes.

    That final argument is a corker, carried out in the glass-walled office where the other board members can observe these three children of privilege like animals in the zoo. If a series finale is for pulling out the weapons you haven't yet fired, all three siblings pull the trigger on something unspeakable here. Shiv pulls the trigger on "Kendall killed a guy," which Kendall denies, then claims he made up the story to manipulate Shiv and Roman last season, in a moment so ludicrous you almost can't believe he's trying it. Roman then despicably calls out Kendall's children as not being legitimately his (one adopted and one rumored to be the product of Rava's infidelity) and most cruelly says that it's Logan who said this, denigrating Kendall's kids as outside the family's "bloodline."

    And then Kendall breaks the last remaining sibling taboo and attacks Roman, using violence against the little brother who was brutalized as a kid. The abuse that Roman suffered at the hands of his father is something that's been tiptoed around all series. In "Argestes," Logan backhanded Roman hard enough to knock a tooth out, and Kendall reacted angrily in defense of his brother. Even when they hated each other, Roman's abuse was off limits. Kendall crossing the line to perpetuate that violence and intimidation is his last resort.

    Despite all the speculation in the lead-up to the finale, almost nobody "wins" at the end of Succession. Matsson wins in that he gets his deal, though he's really just inheriting an old-media dinosaur that's bleeding credibility by the hour. Gerri wins, in that Tom intends to keep her on, and Karolina definitely wins because she's gonna get Hugo fired. Connor thinks he's won an ambassadorship to Slovenia, and consequently Willa thinks she's won some precious alone time to work on her next play, though the glimmer of doubt that the Wisconsin vote will be overturned and Mencken won't actually be president (just a glimmer, but the perfect cliff to leave the audience hanging on) puts that all into question.

    Roman does win, with a cocktail in his hand and a smile on his face because he's finally free of the business, though he's still in the prison of being a creepy little fascist.

    So many more people lose. Frank and Karl are about to get guillotined by Tom. Greg, after stabbing Tom in the back while making a power play into Kendall's good graces, is back to being Tom's subordinate, claimed with a tag-sale sticker. Tom has "won" Waystar CEO, but if the Wisconsin courts rule in favor of Jimenez, then ATN could be the shattered jewel in Tom's new crown. Shiv is stuck in a loveless marriage of convenience, subordinate to a man she doesn't like or respect and about to have his baby. Kendall is utterly broken, having lost out on the only thing he knows how to do. "I'm like a cog built to fit only one machine," he tells Shiv at one point. "If I don't get to do this, that's it, I might die." And indeed, the series ends with Kendall on a bench overlooking the Hudson, leaving the audience to speculate one last time whether he's going to drown himself.

    That this entire multi-billion dollar business deal with so many fates in the balance was ultimately swung by the sheer pettiness of sibling rivalry is pretty much the only way Succession could have ended. The myriad business deals — the votes of no-confidence, the proxy wars, the inflated stock prices, the board votes — was always set dressing to this story of three siblings ruined in their childhoods, destined to thwart each other's success just because. "He didn't want any of us to have it," Roman says. And so, it’s wrenched from their grasp — this time, for good.

    Succession is streaming 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, Brian Cox, Harriet Walter, Jeremy Strong, Kieran Culkin, Matthew Macfadyen, Nicholas Braun, Sarah Snook