Warning: this post contains spoilers for the series finale of Succession.
For four seasons, Succession showed us how everyone in Logan Roy’s orbit (not to mention the millions of regular people outside of it whose lives were nonetheless impacted by his whims) saw him not as a man, but as “a force,” as Kendall so eloquently put it at his funeral. He was a powerful, commanding presence — a kingmaker, a tyrant and the central figure in the lives of everyone who knew him, even (or perhaps especially) the ones he slapped around, manipulated or largely ignored during their formative years. Those who worshipped him thought he walked on water, and even those who saw him for the terror he truly was had to question whether his feet ever touched the ground.
It’s fitting, then, that some of the series’s most striking images involve his three children who are actively vying for his crown — Kendall, Shiv and Roman — seated on the floor. Season 3’s shocker of a finale had two of them, the first calling to mind some of the finest Baroque paintings, with Kendall sitting on the ground weeping as he finally confesses his role in the caterer’s death to his siblings, who each place a comforting hand or two on his shoulders in a rare moment of empathy. Later in that episode, after the trio has been betrayed by Tom and cut out of the company by Logan, the image is mirrored, with Roman — reeling from the revelation that neither Gerri nor his father care about him enough to put his interests above their own — swapping places with Kendall and assuming the position of “guy flanked by his siblings, crying on the floor.” In the series finale, however, all three Roy siblings are crying on the floor with their arms gently placed upon each other, grieving together as they watch a video of their father holding court at a recent dinner party. (Okay, technically Shiv is seated in a chair, but she’s pregnant, so we can’t expect her to just pop a squat with her brothers on the ground.)
These are the moments where we feel for them the most deeply, despite the fact that they’re objectively terrible people who have done things like hand the presidency to a neo-Nazi, silence sexual-assault victims and place their business interests over the safety and emotional well-being of their own children. It’s when they’re seated on the ground, not marching into board rooms, that we’re reminded of the cold, hard truth that none of them are Logan. And they never will be, because they have all been irreparably damaged by him — by his abuse, his neglect and, yes, his vast fortune. They’re all horrible in their own ways, but we pity them in these moments because ultimately, they’re sad people who have led sad lives who will never achieve their pathetically simple dream of impressing their father because he messed them up too badly. They are, as Logan so callously told them in their final conversation before his unexpected death, “not serious people.” Roman puts it even more bluntly after a pivotal moment in the series finale: “We are bullshit,” he tells Kendall. “You are bullshit. You’re fucking bullshit, I’m fucking bullshit, she’s bullshit. It’s all fucking nothing. I’m telling you this because I know it. We’re nothing.”
That moment of clarity comes after the brothers once again find themselves on the floor — this time, wrestling and trying to claw each other’s eyes out in full view of the rest of the board — after yet another Roy sibling implosion. Even the most casual Succession viewer knows that any tender, peaceful moments between Kendall, Roman and Shiv will eventually be undercut by another in which they’re trying to destroy one another. This time it’s Shiv who lives up to her name and sticks the metaphorical knife in Kendall’s back, hesitating to cast the deciding vote that would block the deal and hand Waystar to Kendall for good. When Roman and an incredulous Kendall confront her, she tells her older brother point-blank “I just don’t think you’d be good at it.” This causes him to become even more unhinged and desperate, and when Shiv brings up the caterer’s death as an example of the type of baggage that would (or should) prevent Kendall from ever becoming CEO, he tries to claim that he made the whole thing up. He’s totally clean, he insists, and that whole dead caterer thing was just a sob story he concocted to bond with his siblings — a chess move, really. It’s in this moment that he hammers the final nail into his coffin; Shiv and Roman — especially Roman, who has always secretly been the most sensitive, sentimental member of the family — are furious that he would lie about such a thing and hurt by the implication that such an important moment in their relationship with Kendall, one that brought them closer together, could have potentially just been a Logan-esque manipulation. Roman immediately regresses into the cruelest version of himself, referring to Kendall’s children as “total randos” and questioning the parentage of his son, which leads to the pair of them tussling on the floor while Shiv marches out and casts her vote to sell the company.
The show brilliantly leaves some moments open to interpretation. Did Shiv flip on Kendall in the end because she simply couldn’t allow herself to let him win after all these years of battling for the throne, or was it an act of desperate self-preservation? (Is selling the company and being married to Tom, the new CEO, the next-best thing to being CEO herself? She’s been shut out by her brothers enough times to understand that there’s no real place for her in a Kendall-fronted Waystar.) Or is it that she knows that tanking the deal and robbing Tom of his chance to become CEO would kill any chance she has of reconciling with him and raising their baby together? Is she choosing love — or whatever you want to call the deeply dysfunctional arrangement she and Tom have — over her business interests because she’s afraid of becoming her father and inflicting all manner of psychological trauma on a new Roy generation? Was Kendall intentionally grinding Roman’s face into his shoulder to exercise dominance and put him in his place by popping his stitches and literally reopening old wounds — we love a visual metaphor — or simply hugging him too tightly while trying to comfort him? Was he indulging his brother’s masochism and giving him what he needed in that moment (violence masked as affection) or was he reminding Roman why it could never be him at the helm?
The motivations are murky here and there, but ultimately, every main character on Succession gets the unhappy ending they deserve. Shiv, who has spent the majority of the series walking all over Tom and treating him like he’s lucky to even be breathing the same air as her, now finds herself in a position where he wields all the power in their relationship. Roman is once again drinking alone at a bar, forced to live with the knowledge that he’s nothing and has no one. Kendall is destroyed in the same way we’ve seen him destroyed so many times before after failed attempts to take over what he believes to be his birthright; he’s a broken man, gazing out into the abyss. Connor has to pretend to be excited for a possible ambassadorship in Slovenia and a life lived on a separate continent from his trophy wife Willa, who has moved on to gleefully moving gaudy cow-print furniture into his late father’s townhouse. Greg, who tried and failed to sell out his biggest ally for one last shot at “something amazing” with his cousins, is now permanently stuck with Tom — meaning a professional lifetime of verbal abuse from someone who treats him like a glorified intern. Even Tom, the show’s technical “winner,” seems destined for a life of misery; he’s finally been named CEO after all the shit he’s had to eat and swords he’s had to fall on during his Gatsby-esque journey from Midwestern nobody to coastal elite, but he’s told matter-of-factly that he’s only getting it because he’ll be an agreeable puppet. What good is the title when you’re essentially a figurehead, or as Shiv put it, “an empty suit” — and, let’s not forget, to get it you had to sit and smile while your boss told you he wants and intends to sleep with your wife?
Yes, everyone is sufficiently dejected by the end of Succession, forced to lie in the beds they’ve spent four seasons making for themselves with all their greed, deceit and cruelty, but none more so than Roman, Shiv and Kendall, who are all so despondent that it’s easy to forget they’re all now several billion dollars richer thanks to the GoJo deal. That’s the entire point of Succession, though: the money is meaningless. What good is a pile of cash and a house full of expensive trinkets when you don’t have any real reason to get up every morning? Kendall has devoted his entire existence to succeeding his father and taking over Waystar; there’s no amount of money that will soften the blow of losing his life’s purpose. We tend to put the ultra-wealthy on a pedestal because they lead lives the rest of us can’t begin to fathom, but ultimately, they’re just people. They cry and bleed and crave love just like anyone else, and sometimes even the most intimidating ones wind up dead in the toilet of their private jets. The money doesn’t change any of that; you can’t take it with you, even if you spend $5 million on a tacky mausoleum to rot inside. But it’s always been there their whole lives, hanging from the Roy children’s necks like an albatross, giving them a sense of entitlement and the tragic, false belief that they, too, could ever be as important as their father. And so, Succession leaves us with the grim reminder that they could never, that they are — and always will be — nothing more than sad little rich kids, too dumb and damaged to pick themselves up off the floor and make their dad proud.
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