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Number One Man: Kendall Roy Takes Center Stage on ‘Succession’

The Roy family’s punching bag stepped up in the season finale, setting up a power vacuum that could plunge Waystar Royco into chaos

With seemingly every out-of-context screengrab from Succession liable to become meme material, it was only natural that the show’s Emmy-winning theme song would get in on the action. On Wednesday, the comedian Demi Adejuyigbe tweeted his own remix of the theme, which we’ll call “Kiss From Daddy.” (“All the rich white folk are going to argue / And then whoever’s best is going to win a kiss from daddy,” so goes its inspired chorus.) I’m not bringing Demi’s version up just because it slaps—but also: Yes, it does—but because what transpired in Sunday night’s season finale actually became a twisted inverse of those lyrics. Kendall Roy didn’t receive a kiss from Daddy, but he did plant him a smooch—and what initially looked like a dispiriting pledge of fealty was, in fact, reminiciest of Michael Corleone planting a kiss of death on Fredo. (Or pulling a Judas, if you want to get biblical.)

To rewind: We entered the finale, “This Is Not for Tears,” with Waystar Royco in panic mode, after a congressional hearing into the claims of malpractice and sexual misconduct at the company’s cruise lines. With an important shareholder meeting imminent—and the possibility that the board would rather ride with Stewy and Sandy instead of the Roys and their cohorts—Logan ominously warned Shiv that placating the board would require a “blood sacrifice.” (The identity of whom left us anxiously theorizing that one of our favorite idiots, like Tom or Cousin Greg, would get the ax.) After plenty of debate over who should be sacrificed—making an Instagrammable trip to the Mediterranean aboard one of the Roys’ titanic yachts a claustrophobic, tension-filled nightmare—Logan, with Shiv’s critical input, figured that Kendall would make for the perfect fall guy. Not to mention, unlike Tom, he is blood.

Logan delivers the news to Kendall himself—though not before making Kendall boot Naomi Pierce off the boat, which led to Naomi telling Kendall that his dad loves him only when he’s broken, which is both true and heartbreaking. As Logan likens sacrificing his son to how the Inca offered child sacrifices to their sun god, Kendall wears the same defeated look he’s bared all season. He appears ready to take the fall, just as he’s suffered every other indignity this season—including gutting Vaulter, the digital media enterprise he’d personally brought to the company, at his father’s behest. This was shaping up to be a terrible evening for the ardent members of Team Kendall. (We’re always accepting newcomers!)

Watching Kendall, the only Roy with a shred of humanity, this year has been unbearably painful at times—he can be less of a person and more of an emotionally inhibited punching bag for his father to thump around at his discretion. Jeremy Strong’s work has more than warranted an Emmy nomination; it’s one of the best television performances of the year. But Kendall seemed fated for a prison sentence—one he was willing to accept as penance for the Chappaquiddick-like incident from last season’s finale that left a young man dead. And yet, what seemed like the real nail in the coffin was Logan’s insistence that Kendall would’ve never been the best heir to the Waystar throne because he isn’t a “killer.”

Never mind that Kendall literally committed manslaughter—he doesn’t have the kind of instincts to make the ruthless decisions required of the head of a multibillion-dollar company. In Logan’s (morally bankrupt) defense, Shiv and even Roman have impressed this season, while Kendall hasn’t shown much of a backbone to prove otherwise. If anything, KeNWA’s “L to the OG” rap from the eighth episode, one week after Logan forced him to meet the family of the person he killed, was a cringe-worthy exercise in defeatism. With that, however, Kendall kisses his dad on the cheek and prepares to take his punishment. Or so we’re led to believe.

It’s not clear whether Kendall was driven to betray his father because Logan had downplayed his son’s feelings of guilt over someone’s death, but something finally allowed Kendall to fight back. In a callback to the Season 2 premiere, Kendall gets summoned for a press conference in which he’s to offer a statement accepting all cruise lines culpability. In the premiere, Kendall’s loyalty/indentured servitude led to the depressing mantra: “I saw their plan. Dad’s plan was better.” This time, he finally becomes a killer in his father’s eyes—telling the world that Logan knew about everything. These aren’t just empty words, either: Greg accompanied him to the press conference, and is ready to unleash Chekhov’s Cruise Lines Documents to support his homie. (Cut to me, jumping on my couch, tweeting out in all caps “KENDALL ROY IS MY FATHER.”) With that, Logan almost assuredly can’t crawl his way back into the shareholders’ good graces; Kendall, for lack of a better word, killed him. And Logan can’t help but smile—surely, it’s the only time he’s ever been proud of his son.

We’d require a psychologist to unpack all of that—my unprofessional diagnosis: These people are fucked up!—but in the meantime, it seems Kendall might finally have his mojo back. Of course, keeping in line with Succession’s twisted nature, this development becomes a bit of a monkey’s paw. Kendall is easy to empathize with, and while he certainly has more redeemable qualities than his siblings, our dude getting his mojo back may bring back some of his more unpleasant Business Bro/Techno Gatsby qualities. Next season, Kendall, free from Logan’s suffocating hold, could very well become the Number One Douche—someone we’ve seen vestiges of when he hasn’t been stuttering in front of his dad. Just ask the actress who said “awesome” too many times in the presence of the OG.

Meanwhile, the Waystar throne just became an absolute free-for-all for the Roy siblings. (Well, except for Connor, who’s too stupid to function.) If Shiv was willing to let Kendall fall on the sword—lest we forget, he broke down in her arms during the most devastating scene of the season—then she’d do anything to take what she thinks she rightfully deserves. Apparently all you need to do to make Roman take the family business seriously is throw him in the middle of a military coup. And Kendall should be absolutely feeling himself now that Logan is, theoretically, out of the picture. (Though since he can buy the best lawyers on the planet, I suspect Logan won’t spend a single day behind bars.)

If life under Logan’s rule was already in disarray and subject to the occasional round of Boar on the Floor, a kingdom with no clear successor should yield unrepentant chaos. That’s what Kendall has brought upon himself, his siblings, and Waystar with one mic drop of a press conference. It’s dope to see my guy look closer to the person rapping to the Beastie Boys in the back of his car in the Succession pilot than the one crying in his father’s arms at the end of Season 1. But Kendall just won a decisive battle; the war for Waystar is just beginning. Techno Gatsby better bring his sword to the rave.

Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.