From the first moment Succession aired, the trait which most defined the Roy family was dysfunction. They were a broken family more concerned with their individual ambitions than the well-being of the family unit. Sure, they may come together from time to time, as we have seen in multiple forms in this last season, but when push came to shove, you could always count on at least one member of the family to burn the peace treaties and raise the banners of war yet again.
As you would expect, the Succession finale could not end without one last shocking betrayal (or multiple, to be more accurate). Spoilers ahead for those who don’t want the details.
So why did Shiv decide to ruin the alliance she had formed with her brothers, as well as the new familial peace they had achieved, and go along with Mattson screwing her over to install Tom as the new Waystar CEO? The answer to that question is a subject worthy of its own article, and one I may end up writing. It’s simply too complicated to nail down to one specific reason, despite the efforts of much of the audience to do so.
If I had to boil it down to her initial motive, though, I think she just could not stomach losing to Kendall. I think the most honest words to come out of Shiv’s mouth during that final big confrontation between all the siblings was that she may love her brother, but she cannot stand him. Kendall represents much of the privilege denied. He was the handpicked Roy child that Logan kept close and raised to take his place. Shiv’s eulogy during Logan’s funeral revolved around those few moments her father let her into the warmth close to him. Kendall spent his entire life in that warmth, and Shiv spent her own life resenting him for it.
A considerable part of that resentment assuredly had to do with transferring anger towards her father onto the brother who wanted to take his place, which would only become easier as Kendall acted more and more like Logan throughout Succession’s final season. Before Shiv’s sudden decision to side with the sale, the show looked like it would end with Kendall fully embodying his inner Logan Roy.
Arguably the most disturbing scene of the entire episode was Kendall calming Roman and bringing him back in line by turning a hug into a way to reopen Roman’s stitches. If Kendall’s accusatory scene last week was his peak verbal Logan imitation, this was his peak physical limitation. It was a cruel, dark, indefensible moment where Kendall exploited his brother’s emotional and physical trauma in order to win a board vote.
Then, when there may have been some slim chance of winning Shiv back over, Ken most likely solidified her opposition by outright attacking Roman. In that moment, Shiv realized that voting to stop the deal just puts power in the hands of someone imitating all the worst things about Logan Roy, only this is not a father she craves validation from. Kendall is just a petty man she already hates and thinks little of professionally. Shiv may be able to temporarily acquiesce power to her brother, but given time, she will always default back to that feeling of superiority over Kendall.
Is she actually a more competent businessperson than Kendall? That’s certainly up for debate, but I can certainly understand why Shiv feels so strongly that she’s the better successor to the throne.
Again, there are other reasons for Shiv to screw Kendall over. Tom being in charge was her own best chance to retain some form of power. I think she genuinely believes Tom would be better at the job than Kendall. Maybe some part of her recognized the chance to escape the toxic cycle of competing for Logan’s chair. At her core, though, she just hates Kendall’s guts and couldn’t go through with rewarding him.
I think Succession made it very easy to think quite lowly of Kendall throughout this episode. His tantrum in response to Shiv’s no vote was one of his lowest moments. He was nothing more than a ranting, selfish, mean-spirited child screaming for a toy he feels entitled to. Between attacking Roman and trying to take back his confession about the waiter that he left to drown, Kendall revealed his true, ugly self. Every pretense of wanting to save the company for the family or share power with his siblings was gone. He wanted this power for himself, he always did, and everything else he ever said or promised was just a means to an end which fulfilled his ambitions.
Obviously, from an average person’s point-of-view, Kendall is terrible. There is no getting around that. The beauty of Succession, though, has always been its ability to make you understand the lack of self-awareness shared by the entire Roy family.
Kendall’s story about Logan sitting him down at seven-years old and telling him he would be his successor goes a long way in contextualizing the entitlement which made Kendall so terrible. Like I mentioned last week, no one is born this way. Kendall is a product of a father who largely forced him down a certain path. Logan put all his effort and attention into Waystar, and so his children believed Waystar was their path to the parental attention they craved.
Much like how I think Shiv’s most honest statement was that she just cannot stand Kendall, the most honest thing Kendall said was that he has no concept of who he is or what he can be in life outside of being Logan’s successor. In theory, the Gojo sale is an opportunity to escape the patterns that have caused him so much pain and find a new, healthier direction. Kendall doesn’t seem to recognize the opportunity, and to look at him as the episode ended, he’s as likely to kill himself, directly or indirectly, as he is to move on with his life.
Despite being the final vote to move in a new direction, Shiv has also trapped herself in the same bad decisions that plague not only her own life, but the mother she hates so much. I’m sure that in Shiv’s mind, Tom being in charge means Shiv still has a chance to puppeteer the master. Maybe she views this as a way to assure the best chance at power for her and Tom’s child. On a deeper level, though, I think Shiv understands that Tom has ascended past her, the power dynamic has flipped, and she is now the unhappy wife of a powerful man, just like her mother once was.
Much the same way no one is born as cruel and selfish a person as Logan is, no one is born great, either, and in that way Tom is probably the most natural true successor to the path Logan walked to power. Unlike the Roy children, Tom was not born groomed to be a CEO. He didn’t come from as hard a place as Logan once did, but Tom’s still an outsider who actually worked his way through the company, albeit as a gigantic suck-up and piece of trash who enabled and buried all kinds of awful scandals.
Like Tom tells Mattson, he’s the yes man. He’s the punching bag who takes all the blame and scrutiny while making his company money. Everyone in Succession treated him as a joke, all the way through to election day in season 4. No one viewed him as some shrewd genius cunningly working his way to the top. He just kind of stumbled and bumbled by being the right useful idiot in the right place at the right time.
But now no one will remember that. Now he has a newfound power that begins the tale of a new, mythical Tom Wambsgans, who outmaneuvered the Roys to become CEO of Logan’s company, and Shiv is just his wife. Greg will probably go from the biggest dumbass on the show to this wily second who helped Tom ascend to power.
Shiv may view this as a victory over Kendall, even if it’s just a victory of pure spite and petty vindictiveness since she denied Kendall the toy he wanted. I doubt she will be much happier than him, though. She didn’t get what she wants, either, and had some of her worst fears in life come true.
It’s all sort of ridiculous. Even in “losing,” Kendall and Shiv are getting paid more money than they could possibly waste in a lifetime. They still have all the wealth to do whatever they want, but that’s not what they wanted. They both wanted to inherit Logan’s legacy and prove they were the best of his children, and they will never have that now.
The only one of them who seems to understand the benefit of the situation is Roman. While he has half-heartedly displayed his own desires to inherit the crown throughout Succession, his little smile at the end of the show looked like one of pure relief. Roman knows he isn’t cut out for this. He knows how fake and meaningless and hurtful this whole game is. As Logan told them, they are not serious people, and they all proved it here in the finale.
He was also the one to say what they all surely knew deep down; Logan didn’t truly intend for any of them to take his place. That much should have been clear back in season 1, when Logan refused to step down after a stroke rather than let Kendall take his place. Logan has promised numerous people his seat at numerous points throughout Succession, based on who he wanted on his side at that time, and he never truly meant it for any of them. He never looked further ahead than what step secured his own place at the head of the table.
With Logan dead and Waystar out of the Roy family’s hands, Roman seems like the only child who understands the chance to escape the garbage that ruins his life.
(Well, him and Connor, but Connor understood that years ago.)
While the reaction to Succession’s finale has been widely positive, what dissatisfaction exists largely seems to come from those who picked sides among the Roys and feel bitter that their chosen side didn’t “win” in the end. A show like this naturally causes the audience to choose sides, even if choosing sides largely misses the point being made. I can understand why someone would see an ending like this, which is so brutal for the Roy children and such a failure for them all, and be upset that none of them came out on top.
Wanting anyone to win really does miss the point though, and misreads what Succession wanted to say. There were numerous points where Logan and/or any of his children could have come together and ended the conflict right then and there. That was never going to happen because all of these characters were allergic to healthy, selfless decisions. They were a family warped by power and money, who could only be satisfied by things power and money could never give them.
And so, in the end, they all chose one more time to do the toxic, selfish things they had done all their lives. It’s not pretty. It may not be particularly satisfying. This ending was inevitable, though, and damn if Succession didn’t make this drama into incredible television.
Images Courtesy of HBO
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