Succession Reveals That Only One Character Is Ruthless Enough to Succeed Logan Roy
One of Logan Roy's kin on Succession may have finally found the motivation to be a killer after all.
This article contains spoilers for Succession season 4 episode 4.
“It’s what he would do. He’d want this for the firm.”
With those two sentences spoken near the end of Succession season 4 episode 4 “Honeymoon States,” Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong) completely changes the outlook of who could actually be bold enough to succeed his powerful (and now powerfully dead) father Logan Roy (Brian Cox).
Through three seasons of storytelling, Succession‘s title was more of an ironic joke than a storytelling promise. Countless contenders would inevitably come at the king of Waystar Royco and just as inevitably they would always miss. Logan Roy was too strong, too smart, too ruthless to ever be deposed by any mortal creature. In the end, however, Father Time is undefeated and Logan was taken out by something as relatively mundane as a pulmonary embolism on an airplane.
“Honeymoon States,” the first episode of the series that takes place out from under the specter of an all-powerful Logan, therefore brings the topic of succession back to the forefront where something rather interesting happens in the process. Kendall Roy, Logan Roy’s “eldest” son (people tend to forget about Connor) and most frequently-defeated rival, actually makes a pretty compelling play for the top spot. And he gets said top spot alongside his brother Roman (Kieran Culkin) – as part of an implied, but not official, triumvirate with their sister Shiv (Sarah Snook).
Granted, Kendall position as co-CEOs is “temporary” to close the GoJo deal. But the top job is the top job and his sudden ascendance is a shocking development. Kendall has led not one but two unsuccessful coups against his father and was in the process of undertaking a third one at the time of Logan’s passing. Never one to forgive and forget, Logan had all but cut Kendall out of his life and even planned to send his own flesh and blood to prison back in the season 2 finale.
So how did Kendall pull it off? By finally learning a lesson from his father in death that he couldn’t properly internalize in life. Simply put: Kendall Roy became a killer.
The seeds for Kendall’s education in ruthlessness were first planted all the way back in the aforementioned season 2 finale. In that absolutely stellar episode, titled “This Is Not For Tears,” Logan gathers his family and executives on a yacht for a brainstorming session on who will take the fall for the cruise line fiasco (i.e. all the crimes Waystar Royco committed in international waters). Logan has many conversations with many potential patsies but in reality, he appears to have made up his mind from the beginning. There is only person close enough to him to satisfy investors and law enforcement but still not useful enough to be essential: Kendall.
After Logan delivers the news to his son that he’ll be throwing him under the bus, Kendall has a simple question for his father.
“Hey dad, just out of interest, um – did you ever think I could do it?”
“Do what? The top job? Oh I don’t know. Maybe.”
“You can say.”
“Well, you know, I just … You’re smart, you’re good but I just don’t know.”
“What? Come on?”
“You’re not a killer. You have to be a killer. But now-a-days, maybe you don’t. I don’t know.”
Under normal circumstances, telling someone they are not a killer would be a good thing. Here, however, it’s the worst thing Logan could ever think to tell one of his children. That slight, combined with Logan cruelly referring to the man that Kendall accidentally killed as an “NRPI – No real person involved,” sets Kendall down a path to prove his father wrong.
Of course, Kendall doesn’t prove his father wrong while he’s still alive. Because for all of Logan’s faults, he wasn’t wrong about his son’s killer status. In “Honeymoon States” though, Kendall finally realizes what it means to truly be ruthless. Something about seeing a piece of paper with his name on it – either crossed out or underlined – breaks an important firewall within him. Maybe it’s because his father always seemed more real on paper. Logan would do nothing but lie to and manipulate his children in person but a carefully kept document in his safe would always tell the truth. In his heart of hearts, Kendall probably knows that the line was intended to cross out the name “Kendall Roy” rather than underline it. It’s as stark a reminder of his father’s influence on his life as Waystar Royco’s stock price crash is a reminder of his influence on the world.
Left with the unvarnished truth in print, Kendall has no choice to become a killer. And he becomes one in quick, immensely satisfying fashion. After he and Roman come to a joint decision to not besmirch their father’s name by leaking to the press that he was losing his marbles in his old age, he pulls an audible and strong arms Hugo (Fisher Stevens) into releasing the statement because it’s what his father would do.
When Hugo is hesitant to act unilaterally without Roman’s approval, Kendall effortlessly blackmails him about his daughter’s insider trading mess.
“Nah pal, nah. Down low. Just get on it. Unless you want me to pull out the strap on,” he says with a smile.
The moment is so thrilling and cathartic that it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that it’s also bad. As disgustingly rich individuals helping to maintain a propaganda empire, none of Logan Roy’s children are innocent. Still, they are all far better people than their father ever was. If there was any hope for their souls, and really the soul of the country they’re corrupting, it was for them to reject their father’s influence altogether. Kendall was on the path to leaving his daddy issues behind and the destruction that comes with them. Now, thanks to a hastily scratched line on a piece of paper, he’s tragically discovered the one piece of cutthroat malevolence within him and has brought it out into the world.
Thankfully, in the post-episode interview segment on HBO, Succession showrunner Jesse Armstrong sounded noncommittal as to whether Kendall’s killer side would stick.
“I don’t think at that point he has decided that he’s going to push aside his siblings. I think what he finds unbelievably annoying is their unwillingness to face the facts. He’s not super duplicitous at the end when he suggests they go with the more aggressive sort of PR plan. I think the fact that Kendall makes a solo move doesn’t negate the possibility of him and his brother working together.”
It’s heartening that Kendall’s moment of efficient cruelty doesn’t take a fruitful partnership with Roman and/or Shiv off the table. As the trio has come to realize throughout these first three episodes, “together” always feels better. Being a killer can get things done but it’s also corrosive and lonely.
New episodes of Succession premiere at 9 p.m. ET on Sundays on HBO.