Succession’s Ending Explained: How Every Character Sealed Their Own Fate


At its core, Succession is really about bad parenting. As the Roy siblings attempt to grab at their deceased father’s crown, they can’t help reverting to their childhood selves, and they become victims of their own arrested development and undying family conflicts.

The show’s genius is in how it links the family tragedy to a societal one – the Roys are the Kings of our modern era responsible for many of the ills impacting our culture, and they’re decidedly not us. Yet they’re brought down by the same petty BS that plagues so many of the unhappiest families we all know well.

As Succession reached its conclusion, the show completed so many arcs it set up at the very beginning and sent some powerful messages. So where did Succession leave us and what did it all mean?
It’s fitting that, after all, that the women of Succession have been through, it’s Shiv who gets to make the final decision – even if it’s between what are (for her) two pretty bad choices.

It All Comes Down To Shiv

Succession has leaned a lot into illuminating just how much this top corporate world screws over its women – from long-serving superstar Gerri getting fired by petty, petulant Roman to extremely competent Carolina having to put up with Hugo, to all that Logan’s wives and girlfriends have suffered. Shiv voiced at the funeral that the culture that stemmed from Logan didn’t have enough room for fully formed women. And as much as we might assume that’s the old ways, the new world promised by hip-tech billionaire Lukas Mattson is just as wildly sexist.

To be fair, he was kind of upfront about this during their heart-to-heart about how he was harassing his former flame Ebba and he’s openly awful to Ebba in a professional context. But the tiny yet infinitely consequential thing that’s the nail in Shiv’s coffin is the cartoon of Shiv towering over a much smaller Lukas and playing him like a puppet. As much as he denies it, the image obviously gets under his skin, and then he openly admits to Tom that he doesn’t want to install Shiv because he’s sexually attracted to her. He then says that he’s choosing Tom because he’s the person who impregnated her as if weirdly this somehow enables Lukas to dominate Shiv, put her back in her place, and disprove that image where the “baby lady” was somehow bigger and on top of the “small man.” In the end, Lukas opts for a room full of guys hailing him as Jesus.

Shiv did do her usual thing in this episode of getting ahead of herself and gloating too much, but she’s right – she did play it better than the others. As usual, she was smarter than her brothers. She explicitly lost here purely because Lukas didn’t like that she was a woman. Just like she was cut out earlier in the season for the same reason: while her brothers get mad at her for playing them, they were the ones who betrayed her and expected her to just fall in line while offering her nothing. So while she did make a mistake in trusting Lukas, she was again choosing between an array of men who were all just going to screw her, in the end, for being the woman.

The crucial line that Shiv utters when she makes her decision is: “I love you but I can’t fucking stomach you.” Her words, I can’t stomach you, are about their sibling dynamics, but also a repudiation of how her brother promises to continue on Logan’s way. It’s a way that sidelined her and messed her up.

And maybe Shiv not crowning Kendall does ensure at least a slight improvement to the culture: Gerri’s back in, Carolina will get her wish of canning Kendall’s “dog” Hugo, the old guard Karl and Frank are finally out – and they’re the two who probably know the most of Logan’s dirty secrets. There’s the question, though, of whether the fox they just let into their chicken coop – the devil they don’t know – could bring all sorts of new unanticipated darkness. (After all, this hostile outsider beat all of them, and whenever they thought they were aligning with, using, or outsmarting him, he came out on top.)
Instead of Shiv the powerful woman, Lukas went for Tom the “pain sponge”, who’s also described two times in crucial moments as a “suit”. Even his wife describes him in the same episode as “a highly interchangeable modular part.” Yet what does it mean to be a “suit” in this context, in this day and age, and at such a high level?

Tom The Pain Sponge

In some ways, as much as the born Roys strive to be Logan, Tom has most of Logan’s ruthless drive. Tom is the outsider, coming from (relatively) humble origins. His demeanor and “refined” act couldn’t be more different – and Tom’s habit of rambling when Logan makes him nervous is a great source of comedy – yet when Tom’s (rarely) showing his real thoughts and self, usually when he’s talking to Greg and going full bully mode, he’s as blunt, cruel and harsh as Logan could ever be.

Tom pitches himself as the humble, loyal servant, and his whole persona at first is the “nice” Midwestern guy. But he’s perhaps the character in the inner circle who’s best at hiding that true self and so it can be jarring how not-nice Tom is on the inside.

He’s the classic suit in this sense– defined by a pristine, faceless outer shell that hides any ugliness inside. Like a yuppie Patrick Bateman-esque suit, he’s so in love with having money and the nice things money can be, that he identifies with his nice things; he feels defined by them and doesn’t really know who he’d be without them

This is something about him that’s unlike power-hungry Logan. Tom is much more driven by money – as he talks about to Greg early on and as he finally admits to Shiv in Season 4. But the other meaning of the “suit” that emerges in Tom’s and Lukas’s conversation is a “pain sponge” – almost a fall guy, of sorts, who can absorb pain and the “nasty” things Lukas is apparently planning to do. As the head of the Fox News-esque ATN, which is highly reviled in most of the elite circles Tom frequents, Tom’s already used to taking a lot of shit.

So while Tom has taken the prize the Roys have all been striving for, the actual job looks to be a lot more unpleasant, with a lot less real power, than they envisioned.
Season 4 saw Shiv and Tom getting real about what actually tied them together – and these truth bombs were ugly. Then, after all that was said, in the finale, Shiv finally confessed to Tom that she was driven by a fear of the underneaths, but when all’s said and done, maybe she still wants a real relationship. Tom, though, turns her down. There was an important shift that happened in the relationship in these later episodes: previously, it always seemed that Shiv had the upper hand in their dynamic, and Tom was not only her servant but also genuinely more in love. But after Tom betrayed Shiv to help Logan at the end of Season 3, it was kind of an admission that his true first allegiance was to her father and the money and power of it all.

Shiv & Tom, The Miserable Power Couple

Looking back, it was always clear that Tom liked this whole lifestyle and wasn’t just with Shiv for the romance, but in Season 4, Tom is honest about just how much that was a driver for him. A new reality comes into focus: it’s Shiv who wants and needs Tom more – however toxic the relationship actually is for her. So it’s striking that – after Shiv gives Tom the chance to come back to her out of real love, and he refuses (and then betrays her by taking her CEO job) – in the end Shiv finds a way to get Tom back and bind him to her forever. The final shot we see of Shiv and Tom driving away is a Graduate-esque ending – that 1967 film famously ends with a shot of the couple who’ve just run away from their families to be together, in what should be a happily ever after. But the camera lingers a little too long on the pair, so we see their uncertainty grow as a little doubt enters about what they just did.

Similarly, the camera stays with Shiv and Tom as it settles in that they’re now permanently bound together again. Leading up to this moment, it felt like a “win” for both of them – obviously for Tom getting the top job, and for Shiv to at least get to screw over Kendall, and it’s not the worst outcome for her – to be the boss’s wife and secure her future child’s “succession.” In the reality of embarking on this future, though, they look kind of miserable. Shiv took her opportunity to chain Tom to her – but now they know all the underneaths.

What’s interesting is that this is exactly their original plan. In the early seasons, Shiv and Tom are a Macbeth-like couple plotting for him to be CEO (because at that point, she clearly doesn’t think it’s possible that she’ll get a shot, and in the end, it turns out she was right that the people of this world weren’t going to let a female be on top). But she does play her original Lady Macbeth role and get glory through her husband. In their phone conversation, Tom voices that Shiv might be wanting to save their marriage not due to pure love, but out of not wanting to fail. And it’s similar to what drives her brothers – this need to win and succeed at all costs even if the prize isn’t really what you want. Likewise, it turns out that Shiv’s initial goal of making Tom CEO is fairly empty and unsatisfying to her.

In The Graduate, the subtext of the ending is that this couple who’ve tried so hard to escape their parents are now gradually going to become them. And that’s also what’s hinted at here in the final shot of Tom and Shiv. Tom takes the place of Logan – the outsider who rises from humble origins to take on the CEO role, in a marriage with a woman he doesn’t love, thinking already into the distance of the succession for his future child. Shiv – a woman with more smarts and potential – is sidelined out of any formal business role and most likely headed for a future where she feels increasingly sour about that. Incidentally, Shiv saying the worst “underneaths” because she fears that’s what others are thinking is something she’s inherited from her mother. In the finale, Caroline says “it’s nice to see you’ve got something to agree about, besides what a terrible mother I am. Oh, well, we’ll never disagree on that, Mom.”, and it’s the same defense mechanism because – despite the jokey tone all take– Caroline knows she is a terrible mother and the kids genuinely think that.

In the final season, Kendall finally succeeded at the thing he’s been trying to do all along: becoming his dad. Kendall is on top of the world because, after so much struggle, he’s cracked it – he’s gone full Logan. He’s dominating others, blackmailing, playing dirty, riling up crowds. In the finale he reveals that this has basically been his goal since the age of 7. But what pulls the rug out from under Kendall, in the end, is that just copying his father’s game isn’t enough. While the kids think they’re starring in this Shakespearean succession drama about inheriting a kingdom, it turns out they’re actually in the midst of a giant corporate power grab where the family isn’t entitled to anything.

Kendall, With Open Eyes

Kendall has almost played this whole thing perfectly – and once again, he goes into a board vote (arriving on time, this time) believing he has the votes. But at the last second, when Shiv challenges him, his games break down. He quickly loses his composure – reverting to that little boy who’s just trying to play daddy, and thinks he’s owed this.

Yet as Kendall tries to prove some level of entitlement to the throne, his siblings quickly point out the flimsiness of all these claims. Even by the most traditional (outdated) measures, he’s clutching at straws: he’s not even truly the eldest boy, though he thinks of himself that way, and he can’t claim the continuation of the bloodline because Shiv is carrying Logan’s first biological grandchild.

She also voices, honestly, in this moment that she doesn’t actually believe in Kendall’s skills as a manager. And when Kendall emotionally completes his transformation into Logan by denying that he killed the caterer kid. and seemingly believing himself, it’s like in that moment Shiv sees that Kendall has fully lost whatever soul he still had that was preventing him from being as ruthless as his dad and adopting Logan’s whole NRPI philosophy.

Once again, this episode links Kendall to the water. The first time we see him with water is the sequence when he’s being pre-anointed by his siblings: he’s swimming easily, at one with the ocean, relaxed, the heir apparent (as his siblings joke about murdering him but ultimately promise him the crown). Kendall reached his peak point earlier this season after his product launch performance which actor Jeremy Strong compared to Kendall’s flying close to the sun moment – there he’s in a form of ecstasy merging with the waves, floating above the surface, whereas in so many of Kendall’s worst moments he’s submerged, unable to get out from under the weight of his pain.

But in the end, after he’s lost, he’s barred from the water, trapped, as the fence separates him from the water and the Statue of Liberty (a symbol of both freedom and the immigrant dream that’s present in both Logan and the Godfather). The only person with Kendall is Colin, the security guard who was always at Logan’s side and arguably the closest person to Logan in the end. The Colin scene recalls Logan’s walk with Colin through Central Park. But to Kendall, Colin is a human reminder of what he did to the caterer because Colin oversaw the cover-up of Kendall’s hit-and-run that killed the boy. The director Mark Mylod even calls Colin “Banquo’s Ghost,” referring to how Macbeth is haunted by the ghost of the friend he killed. So even though Kendall fought so hard to deny that reality and be totally unmoved by any guilt, shame, or pain – the last shot shows us he can never escape what he’s done.

The finale is called “With Open Eyes,” and it contains a line with Succession’s matriarch saying she doesn’t like human eyes. Like the other season finale titles, the name comes from John Berryman’s Dream Song 29, about someone named Henry who has a crime so heavy sitting on his heart that “if he had a hundred years..” he “could not make good.” The poem goes, “ghastly, with open eyes, he attends, blind,”. Here, too, Kendall is attempting to be blind to those truths, in the way his father conditioned him, yet he ultimately can’t erase the truth. (for others or for himself)

Kendall tells Shiv explicitly that he’ll be suicidal if he doesn’t win which comes off as a play to use their pity in his favor, but is also true – and Colin is seemingly there to make sure Kendall doesn’t hurt himself. Kendall’s being kept away from that water so that he can’t sink - a completion of how he’s attempted to detach from himself ever since he was responsible for the boy’s death.
This episode can’t help but recall the first season’s board vote, which also goes very badly for Kendall, and that time it’s Roman who blows it. So that’s clearly in Shiv’s and Kendall’s minds as the two vie to secure Roman’s vote in their showdown. Both understand how Roman has a tendency to weaken in the moment – and that’s exactly what we see when Kendall has to fend off Roman’s potential rebellion or copping out at the last minute.

Roman, Finally Free

When this happens, Kendall pulls Roman into a violent bear hug that pulls out his stitches. It’s likely an allusion to Logan having been abusive with the kids. There are a couple of moments of Logan physically hurting his family, and the reaction from everyone present is a strangely stiff performance that apparently seeks to reassure everyone Logan hasn’t ever been physically abusive, or not really. Yet it’s a little fuzzy exactly to what extent Logan may have physically hurt his kids (in addition to emotionally destroying them). When Kendall subjugates Roman with the stitches, he’s saying I’m your daddy now, and it works. The masochist in Roman kind of wants –as director Mark Mylod said – for Kendall to relieve him of any responsibility to try to be CEO. But Roman knows how to find Kendall’s vulnerable spots emotionally – later hitting Kendall’s weak point to spur Kendall to even more extreme violence.
There are two key scenes with the three central siblings in the finale – one in their mom’s kitchen, as they goof off while pretending to anoint Kendall as the new King, and one in the boardroom, as Shiv changes her mind and a brawl breaks out as Kendall attempts to force her in line.

Neverending Childhood Drama

The scenes are linked in key ways: the kids making a gross smoothie for Kendall to drink, and Shiv saying she can’t “stomach” Kendall; Roman licking his mother’s husband’s cheese, and later getting at Kendall about his kids not being his biological offspring. Whether they’re at mom’s or in the boardroom, it’s the same constant contest, playing out their childhood squabbles, traumas, and inability to let the other win.

Throughout the show, the siblings come together in key moments, and if only they could unite, keep up healthy communication, and share power, it would help all of them, professionally and personally. But they just can’t do it, because the second it looks like any of them is going to win the crown, they revert to kids that insist the other can’t have the shiny toy, even if destroying their sibling means they lose out too.

It’s important that, amidst all the carnage, all the characters in this episode are thinking about the bloodline. Because as Shiv gets ready to bring a new Roy into the world, fathered by the CEO of Waystar Royco, it’s clear that so much of this toxic drama will repeat.
Meanwhile, the finale sees Greg playing both sides. Greg, throughout the show, has had an aspect of embodying the banality of evil – he seems to be not that bad, or just neutral, yet he’s always there helping carry out the dirtiest work. And in the last episode, Greg makes his big play to become part of the quad. In a way it shows how far Greg has come toward being a big player – he’s live-translating Mattson at the bar, going out on a limb to betray his closest ally and seize his moment. This is probably Greg trying to escape his dynamic with Tom, where he always has to be the punching bag, the support, the unfailingly loyal servant – a role that Tom just calls Greg or, as a verb, Gregging.

Greg, Back To Square One

And it’s interesting that, while Tom can’t forgive Shiv or still summon any love for her after all they’ve done to hurt each other, he quickly forgives Greg and still does clearly love Greg more than anyone else. In fact, it’s his dream because, after this betrayal, Greg is now – always and forever – his. His object to own and mistreat however he so desires. He makes that point by putting one of the stickers from the process to claim Logan’s possessions onto Greg’s forehead.

Greg’s then called out by Lukas as the Judas (to Tom’s Pontius Pilate), and it’s clear that Greg’s back to square One. He’ll get to remain a top insider in this world and reap all its rewards – but he’ll never escape being the “Greg.”
When Kendall is in denial of his loss, the nihilist Roman tells him, “ It’s bits of glue and broken shows, f*cking phony news… We are bullshit… It’s all f*cking nothing, man.”

It’s All… Nothing

All along we’ve gotten hints of the unsoundness of the business– yet as people vie for the control of it, this recedes into the background like it doesn’t matter.

And maybe it doesn’t – Lukas Mattson’s GoJo is also apparently bullshit – given his fake India numbers – just the new bullshit. But Roman is also right that this is all a sort of nothing. The siblings are fighting over a crown that means everything to them because they’ve been raised to fight over this birthright, but none of them really stands for anything more than wanting to win – so whether or not they win doesn’t really matter to anyone else or make any difference to the world.

Ironically, Logan maybe didn’t even care that much which or whether his kids took the crown, in the end, since he didn’t really believe in anyone besides himself.


Succession was TV’s best show in a long time, surpassing the rest both in gravity and levity. And it was ultimately about how difficult it is for adults to escape deeply ingrained childhood dynamics, even if (maybe especially if) they’re in high-powered successful environments. Getting ahead in the world often demands of us to be our most immature, combative, unevolved childish selves. But while the kids view themselves as in this great Shakespearean succession drama, No one really cares what they do – and instead of chasing these phantoms, they could have just taken all that money, left this misery behind, and sought a fresh slate.