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[This story contains spoilers for Succession season four, episode four, “Honeymoon States.”]
The king is dead. Long live the king, and the other king.
After killing Logan Roy (Brian Cox) in the third episode of its final season, Succession closed its fourth week by addressing a different series-defining matter: Who will lead Waystar Royco in the wake of Logan’s death?
The answer is not one individual, but two: Kendall (Jeremy Strong) and Roman (Kieran Culkin) are the new CEOs, leaving sister Shiv (Sarah Snook) on the outside.
Of course, it’s just an interim position, right? The goal is still to sell Waystar to GoJo, isn’t it? That’s what the Roy brothers are telling everyone. But with six episodes remaining before the curtain call, there is plenty of time, not to mention plenty of paths, for everything to go horribly wrong.
Here’s how Kendall and Roman’s ascension played out onscreen, the rationale behind the storytelling decision and the making of the episode from those involved — and what it means for Succession as it continues barreling toward its inevitably destructive conclusion.
The final season’s fourth episode, “Honeymoon States,” takes place the day after Logan’s death. Everyone gathers at Logan’s veritable haunted mansion to mourn “the old bastard,” raising their glasses to the late Waystar King with one hand and clutching knives with the other.
Various figures in Logan’s inner circle make overtures at the vacant CEO outpost, from Gerri (J. Smith-Cameron) to Karl (David Rasche), with even Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) throwing his name into the proverbial ring, despite being sick with grief and getting his melancholy everywhere.
In the other corner, there are the siblings Roy, grieving their dad’s death (at least Ken and Shiv are; Roman claims to have “pre-grieved” their father long ago) while also knowing they can’t hand the company over to the vultures. One big problem: Even in their healthiest form, the sibs can’t cleanly decide which of them should serve as “team captain.”
The decision becomes somewhat easier, even if still murky, when Frank (Peter Friedman), as one of Logan’s executors, discovers “a worrying piece of paper” stating Logan wanted Kendall as his successor. It’s years old, written long before Ken’s various betrayals, and Ken’s name is either underlined in pencil or crossed out, depending on the literal and figurative angle. But it’s enough to fill Ken’s belly with that old fire, and ultimately, enough to convince various parties to back his play for the top job — albeit with some catches.
For one, Kendall only gets the critical support from his siblings when he offers to share the title with Roman. As co-CEOs, Kendall and Roman are the emergency picks in the case of Logan’s death, so the youngest son’s ascension makes sense on paper. Unfortunately for Shiv, she’s left in the cold, when Ken and Rome agree it would look “flaky” to add her as a third CEO. They promise to include her in every decision they make, but the resentments are already clear as day for all to see.
Beyond the brothers’ relationship with their sister, Kendall and Roman’s relationship with each other faces a huge risk, too. Toward the end of the episode, the new CEOs are offered the chance to craft a media narrative effectively sandbagging their late father, suggesting Ken and Rome were the company’s true masterminds in Logan’s later years. Roman is disgusted by the plan, and summarily shoots it down. Ken agrees in the moment, but in the final scene, he tells comms operative Hugo (Fisher Stevens) to move forward with the plan.
“The bad dad stuff, it’s what he would do,” says Kendall. “He’d want this, for the firm.”
Not only does Kendall make this move behind Roman’s back, he does it by effectively blackmailing Hugo into keeping this move off the books. Earlier in the episode, Hugo reveals to Kendall that his daughter sold Waystar stock after learning about Logan’s death but before the death became public knowledge; Kendall demands Hugo’s hushed loyalty, or else risk obliteration.
And Logan said Kendall wasn’t a killer …
Inside the Fight for the Throne
Was Kendall’s turn toward Logan Roy inevitable? Perhaps. If nothing else, for all creative parties involved, it made sense dramaturgically.
“I don’t even think it’s Kendall saying, ‘I’m going to take the lead here,'” Jeremy Strong says in HBO’s behind-the-scenes feature on making this week’s Succession. “I think it’s Kendall saying, ‘Let’s call this what it is. I am the lead here.’”
Creator Jesse Armstrong doesn’t think Kendall’s choice at the end of the episode means he no longer wishes to work with his siblings, but it absolutely suggests his growing frustration with them.
“Kendall does something quite Loganish, which is he’s keeping his options open,” Armstrong says in the HBO feature. “I don’t think at this point he has decided that he’s gonna push aside his siblings. I think what he finds unbelievably annoying is their unwillingness to face facts. He’s not super duplicitous at the end when he suggests they go with the more aggressive PR plan. The fact that Kendall makes a solo move doesn’t negate the possibility of him and his brother working together.”
Other possibilities still exist on the table, too, as the writing of the episode leaves it deliberately vague as to whether or not Kendall was actually Logan’s chosen successor.
“What I love about the writing is, it’s left for the reader to interpret,” says J. Smith-Cameron. “To Kendall, it looks like, ‘Definitely, he meant for me to take over.’ To someone else, it looks like a grocery list that [Logan] has half struck through.”
Beyond Kendall and Roman’s ascension, the episode meditates on Logan’s loss and how his death impacts everyone in his orbit. As Snook explains: “Logan has been very present throughout this season, as a theme and as a context for all emotion. The center of gravity is sort of gone.”
Tapping into the vein of grief was trying on the actors, including Kieran Culkin, despite Roman claiming he already mourned his father long ago: “In life when you experience death or something as awful as that, there’s a community of people around you that understand and can be supportive. But when I’m putting myself through all the same things emotionally, but then I’m just gonna go home and do the laundry … it feels weird. There’s no way to really decompress.”
“So much has happened at our father’s house that I can’t walk in there without feeling the history of that,” adds Strong. “Our last day on that set was probably the only time I really felt emotionally the sense of loss of this ending.”
Speculating in a Comic Mode
“Honeymoon States” puts several plots in motion that could go a number of different, disastrous ways, including but not limited to:
• Kendall and Rome officially picked “Operation Embalm Lenin” as their PR strategy, but Ken’s choice to clandestinely crap all over his father’s reputation signals the elder sibling’s willingness to become a killer, just like Logan. It’s a far cry from where we saw Kendall at the start of the season, and even the start of this very episode, on the other side of a sleepless, grief-stricken night. It’s a lethal move, but what happens when it comes to light? Kendall risks alienating his siblings forever should word get out. Then again, if Kendall’s really becoming the new Logan Roy, he may be willing to sacrifice anything for the ultimate kill, whether that’s his relationships with his siblings, with his friends like Stewy, or even with something as huge as the GoJo deal.
• Roman’s commitment to his father’s legacy could take him into some wild territory. The show pointedly put Roman and Kerry on each other’s paths, with Rome asking for her private number. “I’m done helping old ladies across the street,” Roman says later when his siblings ask if he’s still aligned with Gerri. Could Kerry end up as Roman’s new ally — and maybe even a new lover? Somehow, Rome going after his father’s former flame feels skin-crawlingly in character.
• Ken and Roman step up with promises to keep Shiv involved in every major decision, but it’s a ceremonial role, not an official one, and an easily violated oath. Shiv can’t even stomach standing around for her brothers’ veritable coronation, opting instead for a trip downstairs. As if these disappointments weren’t enough, Shiv launches into the episode with a huge secret: She’s pregnant, almost certainly with Tom’s baby. Carrying that news without any trusted confidants — not her husband, and now, not her siblings — leaves Shiv in as lonely a place as we have ever seen her, which could make for some dangerous, desperate decisions.
• It’s a rough week for Tom, who pitches his services to Ken and Rome before their official appointment, and even volunteers his own interest in the top job. (Karl’s subsequent takedown of Tom is among the finest character assassinations in Succession.) Worse, Tom offers kindness to Shiv, dredging up their old history, and getting absolutely nowhere for it. All signs point toward the door for Tom, or worse. The silver lining: As the father of Shiv’s unborn child, Tom stands a chance at becoming a true part of the Roy family dynasty, like he always wanted.
• Marcia (Hiam Abbass) returns to Succession this week, after an extended “shopping trip” overseas. Everyone’s surprised to see her back, audience included, with most viewers likely expecting her story was wrapped. But Marcia’s a power player in this world, selling off Logan’s assets with little more than a promise and some spit on a handshake. “Look how far you’ve come,” Marcia tells Willa (Justine Lupe), who replies, “Look at both of us, right?” Game respects game: Willa sees Marcia was always here for this moment, to collect the return on her investment in the Roys. Whoever is smart enough to earn Marcia’s loyalty stands to do quite well in the end — unless she chooses to stab them from the shadows before the curtain falls.
Four episodes down, six episodes to go, and finally, two new CEOs. Game on, Succession.
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