Season 4 Episode 4 of Succession left us with some surprising takeaways. Early in its final season, Succession has finally delivered the bombshell it teased in the very first episode. As the dust settled, the contenders are off to the races and there’s a good amount of time left in the final season to finally deliver on the central question the series set up when it began: who will succeed media giant Logan Roy – which of his children (or other inner circle members) will have what it takes to seize power? And has what we’ve seen over the four seasons of the show changed that picture?
Early in its final season, Succession has finally delivered the bombshell it teased in the show’s very first episode. The long-anticipated event somehow came as a shock and reduced Logan Roy’s descendants to weepy childlike states. But as the dust settles, the contenders are off to the races – and there’s a good amount of time left in the final season to finally deliver on the central question the series set up when it began: who will succeed media giant Logan Roy? Which of his children (or other inner circle members) will have what it takes to seize power and follow in his footsteps as a self-described “killer” and “viking”? And has what we’ve seen over the four seasons of the show changed that picture?
Prince Kendall Roy
As Logan’s affairs are being put in order, it’s Kendall’s name that’s discovered on a piece of paper, so the guy who was sure he was out is instantly sucked back into the game. But hilariously, it’s difficult to tell if his name is… [4x4 25:02 Underlined or crossed out?], which metaphorically echoes just how much Kendall has flip-flopped in seeming to be up for this job.
From the beginning of the show, Kendall Roy tried to position himself as the heir apparent to the Waystar Royco throne. Kendall has made repeated attempts to take over the company and metaphorically “kill” his father, but Logan has always managed to crush his son’s rebellions, much of the time through emotional manipulation.
And while Logan keeps strategically torturing Kendall for being responsible for the death of the caterer at Shiv’s wedding, Logan reveals amidst the cruise’s scandal that the true reason he doesn’t believe in Kendall as his successor is because his son doesn’t have the killer’s instinct. So at the end of Season 2, when Kendall turns on his father in the press conference and shows that killer’s power, this actually makes Logan crack a twisted sort of smile.
The problem is that while Kendall has flashes of self-possessed power and moments of lucidity, so much of the time he falls back into his limited “bro” identity, unable to escape the need to ape his father, seek his father’s approval, and sink into the hurt he feels from his father’s long standing pattern of cruelty.
The big difference now, though, is that Logan’s no longer here, so the multi-billion-dollar question is whether, in this new era, Kendall can at last escape his self-sabotaging and letting his father-related baggage still control him. It would seem the obvious answer is no he can’t, because this name on a piece of paper plot is already Logan getting to him and potentially this paper is Logan still intentionally playing Kendall and all the siblings from beyond the grave. Before the paper turns up, Kendall, Shiv, and Roman are getting along, communicating, and unified, but as soon as the idea of one of them becoming CEO drives a wedge between them, they’re back to square one, plotting and turning on each other.
On the other hand, this season could see Kendall finally becoming that killer his dad didn’t think he could be. For one thing, actor Jeremy Strong told GQ that creator Jesse Armstrong told him to have Shakespeare’s Richard III in mind this season- that’s the story of an utterly two-faced and morally grotesque character plotting his way to the crown by betraying, exploiting and killing whoever’s in his way. Succession is fond of bringing in Shakespeare, so it’s worth looking at these comparisons to help us predict where the story could be going – and actually the most important Shakespeare comparison might be Henry IV, Part 1 and 2. These historical plays are about a prince named Hal who doesn’t at all appear to his dad, Henry IV, to be ready to become King. The King chastises his son for his “princely privilege” – because, like Logan, Henry IV also had to earn his power – and interesting, Henry IV calls Hal a “shadow of succession,” (which writer Austin Tichenor paraphrases as “a faint imitation of a king”). This is exactly how Logan, and everyone else, sees Kendall – as a little boy unconvincingly play-acting like his daddy.
Season three saw Kendall sputtering out, not able to follow through on the aftermath of his big Season 2 finale moment because he’s not consistently smart, cunning and strategic enough to play all the details in front of him. He’s pathologically incapable of listening – hiring the best people to shape his public narrative, but interrupting every time they say a word, turning them instead into executors of his half-baked ideas. But in Shakespeare’s History plays, Prince Hal actually does mature into a successful powerful king (Henry the Fifth). And he does that by cutting off his former friends and becoming cold inside.
In season 4, Kendall once again shows his chops in a truly difficult moment –when his father was dying and his siblings were in denial, getting married, or crying, he was the only sibling who tried to pull everyone together with a plan. Even the last shot of the episode ends with Kendall staring off at his father being carted away—he’s the one we’re with, experiencing his vision, as this new chapter starts.
And at the end of episode 4 when he blackmails Hugo to launch a smear campaign on his dad, we see him consciously trying to become the cold king, while appearing however he has to in order to manipulate and coerce everyone around him to obey his will.
The other absurdly funny mystery in Logan’s piece of paper was a scribbled notation “Greg - question mark”. Again, this could be a signal Logan is trolling everyone, or he could be riling Kendall and the siblings up, expecting them all to blow it yet again, leaving the throne so up for grabs that Greg is just as likely a winner as anyone, so why not? There’s a big fan contingent that wants to see bumbling Cousin Greg take the reins- and there’d be a certain poetry to this ending given the way Greg was introduced in the very first episode. Over the four seasons, Greg has become more and more at ease in this world, and while he remains prone to awkward word vomit, he kind of fits in now – like a mini-Tom. Except unlike Tom he’s blood, and he could be included in his grandfather’s will which also includes some stake in Waystar Royco.
Speaking of Tom, if Jesse Armstrong actually has Richard III in his head this season, that could be a clue that Tom shouldn’t be written off. Like that slimy protagonist, Tom is constantly presenting a sweet, “nice” face to everyone, speaking the words he knows they want to hear, while his inner thoughts (spoken by Richard to the audience and by Tom to Greg) are the exact opposite of “Nice”.
Though initially we were to believe that Tom loved Shiv for her, he’s also smartly worked his way into the family through her. And her ongoing emotional abuse and rejection may have contributed to his thirst for power, leading to his turning on his wife and going all in on Logan. Now that Logan’s passed, Tom realized he could be totally screwed,but already Tom is preying on Shiv’s weakness, capitalizing on her emotional dependence to get back into the inner circle. At Logan’s, we see Shiv on the step above him (restoring their classic hierarchy of her above while he pretends to “serve”), yet clearly she turns to Tom when she feels lost and lonely. Richard III plots to kill his nephews, the rightful heirs to the throne, and marries the Queen to have a claim. So like Tom he’s using marriage to push his way in and supplant the more direct heirs, and while everyone’s discounted him, they’ve underestimated just how dirty and effective he can be. Then again, our mini-Tom, Greg, is the one who’s been sucking up to the widowed Queen. And in Shakespeare, even though Richard III becomes King he’s still pretty quickly ousted.
Shiv, likewise, is getting screwed this episode, and she has a new wrench thrown in since she’s pregnant while estranged from the husband she can’t trust. So could being the sidelined woman yet again finally motivate Shiv to pull out a new drive beyond what we’ve seen from her?
With Shiv’s political consulting work for progressive Gil Eaves, her decision to stay less involved in the company early on may have actually convinced Logan that she was the right person for the job. But Shiv can’t taste happiness without blowing it up for herself. On her own wedding night, she told her husband she cheated on him, asking for an open marriage. And she buckles under pressure. It’s understandable when Kendall blasts Nirvana during her big speech. But she also can’t pull herself together and give Logan an answer when he’s deciding who to pin cruises on, and we see her truly fall apart as her father is passing away. She flips through the five stages of grief, denying the reality, getting angry, bargaining for the plane to delay landing (which Kendall points out could potentially even get them in trouble with the SEC), feeling childishly upset and left out, and then falling back on Tom, even though he betrayed her and she says she hates him.
Shiv finally is getting more of the experience she’s always lacked, and she truly can be smart and observant on a deeper level than her brothers, so the question is whether she can overcome her tendency to fumble and self-sabotage when her big moment of opportunity comes.
Of all of the Roy siblings, with his lack of experience, unprofessional attitude, and proclivity for sending inappropriate photos to Waystar Royco staff, Roman may look like the least likely choice – at least at first. You can feel Logan’s worry that there’s just something wrong with his son. Yet Roman is the one who’s changed the most over the course of the show. What Logan might have liked best in Roman was his ability to accurately assess situations and speak truth to power. After the GoJo deal seemed like a no-go, Roman was able to get the two teams to start speaking again. He’s the one who won his dad’s approval by championing a neo-Nazi presidential candidate and right before Logan’s death, he was just about to leave his siblings and come back into his dad’s fold, which reminds us that – even though he has a sweet side – he can also be lot dirtier and more ambitious than he seems.
The battle may just come down to who can summon that cruel, ruthless killer in them. One interesting comparison that might give us some insight into what’s to come is The Godfather, the 1972 classic which Succession alludes to a great deal. That’s the story of reluctant Michael Corleone, who doesn’t want to be part of his father Vito’s mafia business but turns out to be the only competent one. That story also has an overlooked older brother who secretly resents being sidelined. It similarly features a sister in a toxic marriage to a husband who joins the family business.
At first Kendall is set up to be the closest to a Michael stand-in. And Roman is initially framed like the hot-headed Sonny who doesn’t think things through, yet he changes over the years as he develops more insight and complexity. We’re seeing him display something more like the depth and ambivalence that Michael had as he felt sucked into carrying on his father’s legacy. Still, the end of Season 3 also contained an interesting visual reference to the Godfather, as the moment when Shiv realizes Tom betrayed her to her father, echoes the moment in the film when Kay sees Michael becoming the godfather. In that moment, the door is shutting Kay out, and Michael as the godfather proves to be a cold, shut-off figure. And the scene of Tom trying to get back in Shiv’s graces in Episode 4 felt vaguely reminiscent of Michael proposing to Kay in what’s clearly, to him, a business proposition. Is this likewise what, through Shiv’s eyes, we’re realizing about Tom - that he truly does have the cold-bloodedness it takes to go all the way?
Of course there’s also the eldest Connor, who’s been a dark horse this season in terms of revealing he’s a lot more self-aware than we may have thought, so there’s a chance he could really surprise us all further but it still seems a long shot.
It could just end up being someone like Frank in the end after absolutely everyone more flashy and exciting takes each other out. There’s also Gerri, who would probably be good in the role and is much more of a shark than people around her seem to realize. More generally, there’s a theme in Succession of the successful women over a certain age being discounted by or a little invisible to the men around them, but actually proving formidable and not being so easy to get rid of. Just before his death, Logan orders two of the most senior women in his organization, Gerri and Cyd, to be fired, but he dies first, so these two could come back with a vengeance. There’s also Marcia, who’s been gone , but has always been a savvy player. And even Kerry, who everyone assumes can be counted out now since she rose through sleeping with Logan, could still have an impact on the proceedings – and there’s always a chance she’s pregnant with Logan’s baby, as the family suspected Logan was trying for one more heir.
Meanwhile, there’s Lucas Matsson, yet as everyone comes together after Logan’s death vowing to protect the deal, it’s clear it could be a very bumpy road with a lot of personality issues threatening this from ever going through.
So who’s going to win? Right now the frontrunner looks to be Kendall, and in a way it makes the most sense for Jesse Armstrong to stick with that Shakespearean Henry IV-like succession story, to show the tragedy of what the Prince has to do to become like his father – instead of just choosing a random ending to fake us all out. Yet there’s probably a way that “Greg question mark” will end up being important. And if it’s not Kendall, our money would be on Roman proving that he’s the true killer son. Who do YOU think is going to be the true winner of Succession?