Logan Roy’s “blood sacrifice” comment at the end of Succession’s penultimate Season Two episode had fans fervently speculating on who would get the ax and take the blame for the failures in the cruises division. It’s a plotline that has been simmering throughout the series, with a coverup orchestrated by Tom and carried out by Greg—a Tom ice cream cone with Greg sprinkles on top, if you will—but its crimes were also indicative of a more widespread toxic corporate culture. And while many of us have tended to focus on the familial relationships and changing dynamics among the Roys throughout Season Two, including the constant jockeying for “who will take the throne?” the real business at stake (the post-Congressional hearing proxy war with the shareholders) was what finally brought everything to a head in “This Is Not for Tears.”
In typical Succession fashion, our own questions about who might take the fall and why played out over a tense meal, where the family and Logan’s highest-level associates sat around sweetly throwing each other under bus after bus before fumbling to explain why they themselves didn’t deserve to die. It was, as far as mealtimes go in Succession, fairly horrific but not exceptionally so. The true horror would come later, in the fallout, as the siblings each approached Logan to ask for favors, pardons, or to accept their fate.
But before that, we saw a complete upending of the social order among the Roys on this “death cruise.” Connor’s ill-advised investment in his “girlfriend’s” (heavy air quotes) play (which probably also deserves air quotes) has bankrupted him, and the only way Logan will give him a casual $100 million—or even consider it—is if Connor finally gives up on his Presidential bid (sorry, ConHeads). Shiv is forced to deal with what a horrible person she has been in her marriage to Tom, especially after failing to defend him in front of the others and even helping to throw him onto the burn pile. Their confrontation on the beach, when he finally has the courage to call her out on the way she asked for an open marriage on their wedding night, and how she has failed to support him in any way (or consider what he might want) was a devastating moment that was so long in coming I assumed it never would. Shiv, it seems, had thought the same thing. When she asks Logan to spare Tom, it’s also about covering up her own sins—and that changed things between them (not to mention her advocating for Kendall’s demise for the good of the company). For someone who started the season with so much potential, Shiv has essentially lost it all. (Also of note: Tom’s chicken scene with Logan was also an all-time great).
Roman had one of the most interesting late-game transformations, thanks in part to his bizarre (yet sincere) dalliance with Gerri, but most especially his Turkish kidnapping. He came back from it actually traumatized, which in turn matured him, as shown in his surprisingly moderated and candid conversation with Logan about the shaky potential for foreign investment to take the company private. It also showed the series’ deft ability to make us care, deeply, about the results of a shareholder proxy war and what, in fact, a shareholder proxy war even is. But Roman has always been a dark horse when it comes to his potential to run Waystar, and in many ways has come further than any of his siblings in terms of responsibility. His gentle, “you ok?” to Kendall was just another example of how, underneath his bluster, there is still someone with a soul—which can easily be forgotten. And in that moment, Kendall looks genuinely proud of his brother.
But back to the speculation of whose head was going to end up a spike: the only person (besides Roman) who seemed completely in the clear was Kendall. Since his betrayal at the end of Season One, which he totally botched because of his night of manslaughter and cowardice, Kendall has been fully back in Logan’s thrall; a dead-eyed bot who just repeats, “because my father told me to,” putting aside all of his personal desires in service of what his father wants from him. Kendall has had a long journey of humiliation throughout the season, most of which was tied to his guilt over what happened to the man he left for dead. And in that, rightfully so. But Logan also consistently used it to tug the choke collar on Kendall whenever he started to get a spark of life back, drifting in and out of drug use again and trying to make plays.
The abject horror, then, of having Logan decide that Kendall would be killed for the good of the family was absolute yet fitting. Kendall tried to kill Logan at the end of Season One, so Logan is killing him in Season Two. And that’s exactly the language that they use. “You’re not a killer,” Logan tells Kendall in regards to why he was never the right fit for CEO of Waystar. In many ways that’s true; Kendall doesn’t naturally have the disposition for merciless destruction and bullying that his father does, and Logan has always seen that as a weakness. It drove Kendall to extremes to try and fake it, but the words cut especially deep here because, of course, Kendall did kinda kill somebody. Or was potentially complicit in their death. Or at the very least, was a scared, self-interested coward who pretended the whole thing didn’t happen because he couldn’t deal with it, so dad cleaned it all up for him.
The final twist came with plenty of questions about how, exactly, Kendall got to the point of turning on Logan. Were the seeds sown when Naomi correctly said that Logan only loves Kendall when he’s broken? Or has Kendall been running a long con? How did Greg and Kendall come to conspire over Checkov’s Unburned Document? Was Logan’s smirk at the end of the episode because he had pushed Kendall into exactly the position he wanted him to be in, or because the game was finally afoot?
Season Three will surely address all of this, but more importantly, Kendall flipping a switch from a blankly staring Number One Boy to Brutus (or Judas, even, with that purposeful kiss on his father’s cheek beforehand) was life-affirming. “Signs of life! Signs of life!” I started cheering at the TV. Kendall is now the first and only child to have completely broken from his father. Will others follow? Will this affect the shareholder voting? (Was Kendall in league with Stewie even before their meeting with Logan, is that why Stewie turned down the deal that was offered?) Friends, in just a few short weeks we went from Kendall’s L to the OG rap to him calling for his father’s reign to end on live TV. It was a thrilling moment. And now, with each of the Roys in a completely different psychological state than we’ve seen them in the past—thanks to groundwork that has been laid since Season One—the show has been able to come full circle while shaking things up for completely new schemes next year.
One common complaint from those who have just started their Succession journey is that none of the characters or likable or people you want to root for. The Roys are all terrible, this is known. But as I wrote about in my piece on having a weird crush on Kendall, each of the characters have relatable if exaggerated flaws that make their individual and collective plights endlessly watchable. The combination of their foibles makes for great acid comedy most of the time—although Kendall with tears in his eyes at the table after being given his Waystar death sentence was excruciating. That’s the kind of wonderful, complicated range that Succession provides, most especially throughout this excellent second season. It is a modern Machiavellian drama, Game of Thrones in business suits, a Greek tragedy playing out across Manhattan skyscrapers and Greek yachts. But as the finale proved, the amazing thing about Succession is not that the show makes you want to hate these people, it’s that sneakily you like them. Or as Cousin Greg might put it, “If it is to be said, so it be, so it is.”
Allison Keene is the TV Editor of Paste Magazine. For more television talk, pop culture chat and general japery, you can follow her @keeneTV