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Kendall Roy Is Once Again at the Center of ‘Succession.’ Is He Ready?

In the beginning, ‘Succession’ was more or less a show about Kendall hustling to succeed his father and in the process earn his ultimate respect. What happens now?

HBO/Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Even Brian Cox thought the death of Logan Roy came “a bit early,” in just the third of 10 episodes in the final season of Succession. “Not that I was bothered,” Cox told The New York Times in an exit interview. Cox, a notable critic of Method acting and a candid but perfectly pleasant subject in interviews, has always emphasized the dramatic distance between him and the unbearable patriarch he plays on TV. Logan Roy is nothing if not bothered. He’d be incensed to see the earth still spinning long after his death in “Connor’s Wedding,” and he’d be too aggravated to stick around the big television in hell to watch his unserious children, Kendall, Shiv, Roman, and Connor, “piss it all away” in the seven remaining episodes of Succession.

In some alternative vision for the series, Kendall Roy might’ve beaten his father in the boardroom fair and square, once and for all. But death always has been the show’s most credible threat to both Logan and Kendall. We’ve watched Kendall circle the drain once and again: in a drug-fueled swerve to the bottom of a bog at Shiv’s wedding in the first season, in a boozy haze on a pool float at a Tuscan villa in the third. And Succession stressed Logan’s mortality from the series premiere, with him stumbling and pissing on the bathroom floor in the beginning of the episode and suffering a stroke by the end. In the third season, Logan slipped into UTI-induced delirium in the critical hours before a potentially ruinous shareholders meeting (“Retired Janitors of Idaho”) and collapsed to his knees, clutching his chest, on an easy hike in upstate New York (“Lion in the Meadow”). By the fourth season, Logan is hip to his fate on some deep, dark level. He spends his last few episodes of the series spouting grumpy, reactionary critiques of America, its demise of course owing to the extinction of men like him. “I’m still here, you know. I haven’t gone,” Logan barks at Gerri, who used to look back at him during such outbursts with bated breath and a shit-eating stare expressing, “Sure, whatever.” This time, though, she looks back at him and, in dread, recognizes a dead man walking.

So of course Logan dies. This is the most beautifully spiteful thing he could’ve ever done to Kendall, really, on the eve of GoJo’s seemingly irresistible acquisition of Waystar Royco. This deal determines Kendall’s (and his siblings’) ability to purchase a key competitor, Pierce Global Media. But more important, it’s a proving ground for Kendall. It’s his big chance to demonstrate some world-class business sense; to live up to his surname. In the beginning, Succession was more or less a show about Kendall hustling to succeed his father and in the process earn his ultimate respect. Even as the show shifted focus to Kendall’s siblings in subsequent seasons, a fundamental question always remained: Would Kendall ultimately succeed? Would he finally make his father proud? We know what he wants. But what does he deserve?

We’re four seasons and nearly five years into this thing, and Kendall is still more boy than man. He’s a savvy saboteur but still not much of a visionary or builder. He still speaks in pitch deck pablum (“high-calorie info snacks,” “from global-global to hyperlocal”) and dares viewers to deny the superior wisdom in even Roman’s—Roman’s!—proposal to turn prime time at PGM’s news network into A Clockwork Orange. While he and his siblings have each launched competing claims to total control of Waystar Royco, Kendall was the one to pursue this end with the zeal of an extremist. Three seasons of varyingly serious competition with his siblings have ultimately rendered them all equally uninspiring and equally likely to wreck the family business. “Connor’s Wedding” was the long-delayed confrontation with this very fact. With Tom holding a phone to the ear of his nonresponsive father-in-law in his dying moments, Roman blurts out the show’s enduring logic, in all its cold comfort, to Logan: “You’re going to be OK, because you’re a monster, and you’re going to win.” But the logic falls apart, and so do the distinctions between winning and losing, grief and relief. “Is he gone? Is he gone?” Kendall stammers on the phone to Frank, as if they’re exorcizing a demon.

At the end of the episode, as Kendall stands across the tarmac and watches medical responders remove his father’s corpse from his private jet, his emotions are still blurred, but his practical focus is clear. Succession has spent the past two seasons inflating the ambitions of Shiv, Roman, Tom, and, lately, even Connor and Cousin Greg. “Connor’s Wedding” lets the final shot linger rather meaningfully on Logan’s no. 1 boy.


The cold comfort is gone, and now we’re left with the lesser monsters of Succession—chiefly, Kendall. Jesse Armstrong wouldn’t insult our intelligence with a happy ending for him, I don’t think, and the sibling synergies of recent episodes seem destined to unravel and somehow isolate him once again. He’s in too deep. They all are. In the event of his father’s death, the Kendall Roy of the first couple of seasons might have taken the time to grieve his father and rethink his priorities. He’d study Hinduism, move to Bavaria, and run a wind farm or something. Shiv would’ve remembered her true calling and slipped back into progressive politics and the presidential primaries. She might have even stayed with Tom and lived happily enough ever after. But now, in Season 4, the siblings seem to be hurtling down the corporate track despite themselves. Shiv can’t stand the thought of Karl, Frank, and Gerri running the corporate communications about her dad’s death. Kendall can’t help but strategize the endgame. “Let’s grieve and whatever,” Kendall tells Shiv and Roman as they sit together in shock, “but [let’s] not do anything that restricts our future freedom of movement.” It’s too late for this, of course: These characters each abandoned the course of self-determination several weddings ago.

In the earlier seasons of Succession, the kids enticed their father with promises to keep him in power to some extent behind the scenes. He’d be a sure sign of continuity, a steady hand guiding the first generational transition of a great American business. This was pandering, of course, but for whose peace of mind? How sharp is Kendall’s business sense without Logan bearing down on him with insults and expectations? In “Connor’s Wedding,” Kendall’s soft-spoken appeal to Shiv and Roman to preserve their business sense in the face of a profound personal loss is his best effort, in the worst of times, to prove he bears some resemblance, where and when it counts, to his father. Kendall spends the whole series imagining that his ascension under any circumstances would of course flatter him. It would reveal a worthiness in him that was always there but underappreciated by his family. It’s a nice story he’s always told himself. Let’s see it withstand the rough ride on that stock price.

“My father’s dead, and I feel old,” Connor tells Willa in his latest confession of insecurity about their future together. Connor is the eldest son, he’s the least invested in the rat race at Waystar Royco, and even he, in his mid-50s, is young, dumb, and existentially undefined. He’s nothing without his father. This is the case for each of these siblings. They have one another, but that’s never mattered, not really, and least of all to Kendall. This is the son who struggles somehow more hopelessly than Roman—Roman!—to invest himself in anything but Waystar Royco and anyone but their father. Logan Roy stepped aside, all right. And now there’s no comparable figure to embrace the middle son at the top of the world. He’s still got everything to prove but no one left to prove it to. And he, too, having survived his own share of close calls with heavy intoxication in treacherous waters, is still living under the credible threat of death as his only way out.