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Kendall and Frank's Alliance Could Bring Succession Full Circle

A last-minute power play threatens to "run it back" all the way to the series premiere.
  • Then and Now: Frank (Peter Friedman) and Kendall (Jeremy Strong) in Season 1 (inset) and Season 4. (Photos: HBO)
    Then and Now: Frank (Peter Friedman) and Kendall (Jeremy Strong) in Season 1 (inset) and Season 4. (Photos: HBO)

    This week on Succession, while Shiv (Sarah Snook) and Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) were out on the terrace eviscerating each other and sending any hopes for their marriage tumbling down to the street below, Kendall (Jeremy Strong) was off in the coat room doing what the people on this show do best: attempting to consolidating power. With Matsson showing weakness for the first time (thanks to his fraudulent subscriber numbers), Kendall’s got it in his head that he could make a real power play. The person he lets in on this plan isn't Roman (Kieran Culkin) or Shiv, but Waystar's put-upon old dinosaur: Frank (Peter Friedman).

    A strategic union between Kendall and Frank to surreptitiously take the reins at Waystar ought to sound familiar, since it was the backbone of Season 1's overarching plot. And it might be the perfect way to close the loop on what increasingly seems like the doomed fate of Waystar Royco.

    Succession's fourth season hasn't been shy about referencing the series’s first. The season premiere kicked off with another birthday party for Logan (Brian Cox), and “Connor’s Wedding” had several nods to the series premiere, when Logan had a stroke aboard an aircraft and nearly died before the show could even properly begin. But a Kendall/Frank power grab probably wasn't on anybody's list of Succession milestones to be revisited on the road to the series finale.

    In the series premiere, Kendall and Frank were the ones most harshly f*cked over by Logan. First, Kendall's planned ascension to the CEO role at Waystar Royco was halted by his capricious father who was unwilling to relinquish his power to his unworthy son. Later, Logan coldly ousted Frank from his role as chief operating officer to make room for Roman — this, just a few hours after Frank gave Logan a glowing, gushing birthday toast.

    These were both scumbag moves, and they set in motion the first season's biggest plot machinations. Kendall and Frank teamed up to mastermind (such as it was) the vote of no confidence in Logan that failed spectacularly and got Frank fired for the second time in six episodes. By the end of the season, Kendall had regrouped enough to join Stewy (Arian Moayed) and Sandy (Larry Pine) in their attempted hostile takeover, and who did Kendall turn to for advice but Frank. That plan also imploded after Kendall accidentally killed the cater waiter and was essentially blackmailed by Logan, but the point is that while Kendall's attempts to align with his siblings have always been uneasy and tenuous, he's historically put a lot of trust in Frank.

    Kendall's fondness for Frank is funny, because nobody else seems to like Logan’s former advisor all that much. His contemporaries on the Waystar senior council like Gerri (J. Smith-Cameron) and Karl (David Rasche) spar and strategize with him in equal measure. Roman has outright despised him since before the series began. Shiv has never really acknowledged Frank's presence. To everybody else, he's a sycophant and a punching bag, but his relationship with Kendall has always brought out what comes awfully close to genuine human emotions like care and concern.

    Earlier this season, just after Logan died and the piece of paper surfaced may or may not have named Kendall as his successor, Frank was the only person Kendall trusted with his genuine feelings of grief and loss. "He made me hate him and then he died," Kendall admitted. "I feel like he didn't like me." Frank was the one there to assure him. "He was an old bastard," Frank said, "and he loved you."

    All that being said, this is no time to get mushy about the avuncular bond between Frank and Kendall. If Kendall was serious in “Tailgate Party” about working with Frank to "go reverse Viking" which is to say make an end run around Matsson and have Waystar acquire GoJo, it also means making an end run around his siblings. "One head, one crown," he says when it comes to the idea of sharing power with Roman and Shiv. Kendall once again has that gleam in his eye, only this time it's to become "bigger than Dad ever was."

    It's a canny bit of plotting by showrunner Jesse Armstrong. As this final season has gone on, the big question about how this is all going to shake out has become less and less about who ends the series in control of Waystar Royco and more about how long the Roy siblings can stick together without destroying each other. There's every chance that the family business will be carved up by Matsson, taken down by the SEC due to Kendall playing fast and loose with valuations, or suffer reputational ruin from whatever role it plays in next week's election fiasco. To borrow an oft-used phrase from another HBO series, by the final episode, whoever is CEO at Waystar may just be ruling over the ashes of a tarnished and greatly diminished media empire whose demise will hardly be mourned.

    Against all odds, this final season of Succession has carved out space — oh so briefly — for the Roy kids to care for each other in the aftermath of Logan's death. That fabric that held them together has been fraying over the course of the last few episodes, with Kendall and Roman shutting Shiv out and Shiv making her back-channel deals with Matsson. But if Kendall reverts to being the paranoid failson he was when the series started, scheming with Frank to take the company for himself and blowing up Shiv and Roman in the process, that might be the end for the siblings. Which might just be exactly how this was always going to end.

    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, HBO, Jeremy Strong, Jesse Armstrong, Peter Friedman