Succession’s Pre-Finale Recap: Kendall v. Shiv and Roman’s Fall

After Succession’s penultimate episode ever, the final showdown is coming into sight: it’s Kendall versus Shiv for the crown, while Roman completes his spectacular self-destructive fall.

What Happened in the Penultimate Episode?

A day after the US election, the Roys prepare for Logan Roy’s funeral, and the mood is straight out of a Shakespearean history play – nearing the climax when the plotting villains fear the tides of consequences coming for them and just might be cracking under the pressure. We open on the Roy siblings in ultra-high rises, in these towers where they’re literally far above the rest of the population, removed from the real-world consequences of their actions – in this case, their choice to declare fascist Jeryd Mencken president on ATN news before all the votes are counted, thus giving Mencken’s claim legitimacy and potentially even making him the president. It’s a truly Shakespearean level of villainy: they’ve altered the course of history in a direction that – given Mencken’s ideology and the documented violence of his supporters – endangers people and is already creating scary conflicts around the country. So, like in history plays like Richard III or Macbeth where an ambitious king seizes power through violence, the Roys have installed a false king, and as a result, the world is out of order, breeding chaos and unease.

Typically the Roy siblings have been able to remain fairly insulated in their towers, yet this time we feel the “world” intruding on them more than ever, as ATN news screens report on intense-looking clashes. The isolation of these out-of-touch glass boxes in the sky feels increasingly eerie; there’s a sense of vulnerability and danger. And palpable anxiety seizes the characters as the Roys descend to street level for the funeral, where the protests are right next to them.

How Kendall is Transforming into Logan 2.0

When Ewan says of Logan, we see this same choice reflected in Kendall who’s completely given up trying to be a decent human being and is rapidly becoming the worst version of his father.

As the battle lines are drawn, it’s looking like Kendall is in the best position to be heir apparent, because he’s becoming ever more like his dad by the minute. He’s driving his family away, making business decisions that negatively impact his kids personally, spending no time with them, yet deciding to try to get custody so he’ll get to “win” through his money and power – again repeating his dad’s parenting playbook.

He’s lost his assistant Jess, who was there for the other, high-minded Kendall, and is mastering the tyrant’s art of building a team of obedient underlings that he owns. He’s controlling his brother Roman by degrading and shaming him, just as his father did to him and others.

In his eulogy, the camera looks up at Kendall, emphasizing how powerful he now appears to his audience. His speech pushes aside Ewan’s moral concerns and emphasizes his father’s power and life force instead, riling up the crowd just as we saw Logan do on the ATN floor: and earning the fascist’s admiration. He seems to be completing his Henry IV Part 2 arc, as we’ve discussed, darkly but successfully turning into his dad.

Shiv Scores a Big Move

But just as it seems like Kendall has it wrapped up by copying the Logan way, Shiv makes a final play and gains the upper hand.

To a degree, this showdown might feel like a clash between two different approaches or ideologies – Kendall’s Logan-like dark way versus Shiv’s potentially a little-more-enlightened way. After all, she goes more honest in her eulogy, speaking (importantly) to Logan’s woman problem which has become ever more apparent the more we’ve seen of Waystar Royco. In the previous episode, Shiv seemed to care about not throwing the country away to a fascist candidate who hadn’t won. Yet even then, it was in her personal interest to care because she knew Mencken would block the deal with Matssen, who is her ally. And in this episode, when she has a chance of winning Mencken’s favor to push through the Matssen deal and become American CEO, she eagerly throws away her principles. It’s also striking how she reassures Matsson that he doesn’t have to worry about her being distracted by her coming baby because she’ll be a terrible mother. This makes it pretty clear that, despite her speech, she still doesn’t really care about making a different work culture for women.

Like Kendall is explicitly choosing to expose his daughter to the racism that Mencken is unleashing, Shiv is more than willing to sacrifice her future child in order to become CEO – and they’re both following in Logan’s footsteps through that choice. In other ways, Shiv is acting more and more like her mom. As much as she hates and criticizes Caroline, she tells Tom she’s adopting the same parenting plan and though it may be a joke, there’s little evidence that she has any other model in her head for how to mother.

Meanwhile, we see a different shade to Caroline in the weirdly touching moment where she mends the rift between Logan’s wife Marcia, and his girlfriend Carrie by showing them a window into the past. It’s a brief moment of beauty as all of Logan’s former wives and girlfriends share the front row, united in acknowledging what this difficult man put them all through. In this scene, we can see a connection between Shiv’s and Caroline’s mix of strengths and weaknesses. Caroline, like Shiv, is capable of brighter moments, and she’s likewise insightful – she knows from a single glance that her daughter is pregnant, whereas Shiv’s brothers who spend every day with her are blind-sided. (What’s comical is that Shiv says she plans to tell their mother that day –which is why she has to tell the guys– but we can infer that this means Shiv knows her mother will be able to see it.) Still, Caroline combines this insightfulness with a callous self-centeredness, reacting not with appropriate grandmotherly joy but by saying “And you didn’t think to tell me?”. Again we see signs that this is the kind of mother Shiv will likely be: obviously smart and able to see her kid clearly, but ultimately unable or unwilling to put the child’s concerns over her own. She also seems to be successfully sidelining Tom, bringing him back into the fold but getting him out of her way.

The most important takeaway from all this is that Shiv is not determined to be different from her family. She, too, is about self-advancement at all costs and she’s thrown her lot in with Mencken.

Roman’s Fall From Grace

Roman, in the beginning, doesn’t seem to feel the anxiety that’s plaguing others – he’s way up high like a balloon, believing he’s pre-grieved and set up for success thanks to his In with Mencken. He’s acting like a cartoon villain who feels nothing about his decision to screw the country and grossly trash-talks his sister even during her pregnancy announcement. Yet back on the ground and looking at his father’s casket, under the pressure of having to follow his uncle’s truthful speech Roman –yet again – loses his nerve in the moment.

He’s reduced to that little kid who feels inadequate, and after Kendall takes on the Logan role of shaming him and his embarrassment may be going viral, the masochism in him takes over as he provokes the crowd to trample him. He’s gone literally from the highest point in the sky to the lowest spot on the ground in a single episode – yet it’s the completion of the self-destruction we’ve seen Roman going through all season. He’s turned away from Gerri and the better angel in himself, Roman thinks that by embracing his ego and surface sleazeball persona he can bluster his way to power.

Yet this hasn’t worked because puffing himself up and acting cruel doesn’t erase that other person in him – the one who feels small and inadequate, even more, so the more he fakes being the big man. Sooner or later, however, well we think we’ve killed ourselves off, our feelings return.

Ewan & Rose: Eulogies and Mysteries

Logan’s brother Ewan gives an amazingly truthful eulogy that finally delivers the answer to Logan’s Citizen Kane-esque “Rosebud” mystery – something we’ve seen hinted at before.

Ewan sheds light on why Logan became so closed off – after wartime trauma as a young kid, he believed he killed his sister by bringing Polio home with him from school.

But this also isn’t any excuse – Ewan goes on to speak honestly about what he believes Logan’s impact really was. This meagerness of the billionaire is illustrated through the gaudy mausoleum that no one likes but that Logan got for a steal at 5 million, and which Shiv quips are: “cat food ozymandias”, She’s referencing the Shelley poem (also featured in Breaking Bad) about how the hubris of history’s greats all come to naught: a fearsome ruler’s words “look on my works ye mighty and despair” mean nothing after he’s dead, and likewise the scary Logan is now forever declawed.

The Funerals Touching Moments

Kendall’s eulogy puts an appealing, almost romantic spin on Logan, and on brutish capitalism – he suggests that the desire for money inspires people to push harder and ultimately live more. Shiv likewise shares that she felt this irresistible sun-like force in her father. Yet Kendall’s words about money inspiring the world to improve and empower ultimately feel like dressing up the darker reality we’re seeing push in on the Roys, and the truth they might not be able to escape forever.

The Roys seem to assume that they’re still insulated in their high-rises from any bigger threat of losing power, – yet as they fight for the top job as usual, they may also be missing the bigger picture. All the Roys have now placed their best on Mencken. But what if they’ve truly pushed the country too far this time and their false leader falls? In Shakespeare’s history plays about villainous kings with ill-begotten crowns like Richard III or Macbeth, the out-of-order world can’t last, and the great chain of being has to be restored – so maybe, at last, justice could be coming for the whole Roy family. There could even be a kind of mutually assured destruction in store, where everyone gets wiped out besides a few random survivors. Or if not, the ending will likely drive home just how much the Roys have to sacrifice and destroy their kingdom to hang on to power.

The succession finale’s title is called “With Open Eyes,” taken from a John Berryman Poem called Dream Song 29 – the line goes “Ghastly, with open eyes, he attends, blind.” It has Oedipal echoes – fitting for this drama that’s all about daddy issues and a son who’s striving to supplant his father. But it’s also a reflection of how Kendall and the other siblings are both open-eyed about what they’re doing and blind to so much of what their existence represents and accomplishes in the world. In Episode 8, Kendall’s last line drives home that he’s willing to throw the country under a bus just so he can win a measly deal.

They’re increasingly being confronted with this mirror of the damage they inflict, yet they continue to ignore this as they pursue power. Watching this season’s reminders of precisely who the Roys really are and where they fit into our world, it’s hard for us to be rooting for any of them to come out on top. The question now is less who’s gonna win, as much as how much everyone loses when this is the leadership the world is subjected to.