Succession season 1-4 spoilers below
It was all there in the opening minutes of Succession season one, episode one. First the screen opened on Logan Roy, the head of media conglomerate Waystar Royco, who was feeling unwell. Seconds later the camera panned to his son Kendall, who was in the back of a car, puffing his cheeks and whooping out loud while listening to Beastie Boys’ An Open Letter to NYC.
“This is the day we make it happen,” Kendall said to his driver. He stepped out of the car, lit a cigarette, and had one drag before dropping it on the floor and heading off to try and acquire media startup Vaulter.
Now, more than 30 episodes later, and with just one left - ever - the series has come full circle. Logan still looms large as his family reels from his sudden death in the third episode of this season. Kendall is not only still gunning for absolute power, but he’s now in an extremely strong position to go solo and take the helm of the family business.
It’s an extraordinary arc for the eldest sib. Though Kendall’s intentions have been transparent since the start of the show, Jesse Armstrong and the Succession writers did a brilliant job of making us forget his fanatical nature for a number of episodes in the preceding seasons.
Because of course, despite his three major attempts at a coup to depose his father, Kendall spent periods some distance from the seat of power. There was the death he felt responsible for (with good reason) in the first season. He had several breakdowns – one at his mother’s wedding and another at his own 40th birthday party – took a whole roster of recreational drugs, nearly drowned in a pool, and even came full circle to back his dad in certain business decisions.
But Kendall has been back on good form in season four, and we have to say it’s been good to see him winning – even if winning for Kendall means brooding about backstabbing his siblings, fixating over his father and destroying lucrative business deals that would provide retirement packages and job security for his longtime colleagues and family members.
In episode eight, Kendall was torn between choosing power – which would most likely be bolstered by backing Menken – and doing the right thing, which would be supporting Democrat Jiménez, a less radical candidate who would be less likely to play into the major political divisions taking hold in the US. Despite the shocking implications of his decision, Kendall chose power.
This week, everything seemed to be slotting into place for Kendall to succeed Logan: even while mourning his father at the funeral (where he gave a moving and rousing epitaph, seemingly off the cuff) he was still plotting. He asked Logan’s old bodyguard and driver, Colin, to come and work for him; he asked Hugo to join his team; and he asked Roman to back him in the upcoming fight against Shiv and Matsson.
There are several different schools of thought on Kendall’s motivations: some think he is addicted to ‘the game’, some think he’s obsessed with his father (either destroying his father or proving himself to his father by destroying his father) and some think he’s simply a megalomaniac.
But whatever his true motivations, his addiction to chasing power regularly comes at odds with other aspects of his character: he has a quiet loyalty towards his siblings, who, despite all the fights and the threats, remain tied to each other by their difficult childhoods. He practices Buddhism, loves his children, and often does try to do the right thing, such as shouting at his father when Logan hit Roman.
As his character has opened up over the seasons, we not only began to feel sorry for him, but we started to like him, too. His exquisitely complex combination of being depressed, sanguine, driven, traumatised, vulnerable and charismatic (albeit in a sort of zombified way), all at the same time, made him incredibly endearing.
But after revealing to Hugo, “this is an explicit plan to f*** the deal, me rule the world” this week, it seems that an earlier, more zealous version of Kendall may be emerging. And this total mania means he can absolutely win the show, because when he’s in this zone he will do anything – and crush anyone – to get what he wants.
Will this put him on a par with his father – something he’s always wanted? Logan was much more controlled: he was good at what he did, with that killer business instinct that his son so covets. Kendall has blinkers on, and wants sole power and power alone – with whatever consequences that may entail – which makes him far more dangerous.
Succession is currently streaming on Sky and NOW