(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 the final season, Succession closed out the fourth week by tackling another series-defining issue: who will lead Waystar Royco after Logan’s death?
The answer is not one person, 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, right? That’s what the Roy brothers tell everyone. But with six episodes left before the curtain call, there’s plenty of time, not to mention plenty of paths, for things to go horribly wrong.
Here’s how Kendall and Roman’s ascension played out on screen, the rationale behind the decision to tell the story and the making of the episode by those involved – and what it means for Succession as it moves on to its inevitably destructive conclusion.
The fourth episode of the final season, “Honeymoon States”, takes place the day after Logan’s death. Everyone gathers in Logan’s veritable haunted house to mourn “the old bastard,” raising their glasses to the late Waystar King with one hand and holding the knives with the other.
Several figures in Logan’s inner circle make overtures to the vacant CEO outpost, from Gerri (J. Smith-Cameron) to Karl (David Rasche), and even Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) throws his name into the proverbial ring, despite that he is sick with grief and gets his melancholy all over.
In the other corner are the siblings Roy, who are mourning the death of their father (Ken and Shiv anyway; Roman claims they “saddened” their father long ago), while also knowing that they can’t hand over the business to the vultures. One big problem: Even in their healthiest form, the siblings can’t neatly decide which one of them should serve as “team captain.”
The decision gets a little easier, even if it’s still murky, when Frank (Peter Friedman), as one of Logan’s executors, discovers “a worrying piece of paper” that says Logan wanted Kendall as his successor. It’s years old, written long before Ken’s various betrayals, and Ken’s name is underlined or crossed out in pencil, depending on the literal and figurative angle. But it’s enough to fill Ken’s belly with that old fire, and eventually enough to convince several parties to back his game for the top job – albeit with some catches.
First, Kendall only gets the critical support of his siblings when he offers to share the title with Roman. As co-COOs, Kendall and Roman are the emergency response in the event of Logan’s death, so the youngest son’s ascension makes sense on paper. Unfortunately for Shiv, she’s left out in the cold, when Ken and Rome agree that adding her as a third CEO looks “flaky.” They promise to include her in every decision they make, but the resentment is already plain on display for all to see.
In addition to the brothers’ relationship with their sister, Kendall and Roman’s relationship with each other is also at great risk. Near the end of the episode, the new CEOs are given a chance to come up with a media story that effectively puts their late father in a sandbag, suggesting that Ken and Rome were the true masterminds of the company in Logan’s later years. Roman is disgusted with the plan and summarily shoots it down. Ken agrees at this point, but in the final scene tells communications officer Hugo (Fisher Stevens) to go ahead with the plan.
“The bad dad thing, that’s what he would do,” says Kendall. “He would like this, for the firm.”
Not only does Kendall pull 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 quiet loyalty or risk destruction.
And Logan said Kendall wasn’t a murderer…
Was Kendall’s turn to Logan Roy inevitable? Maybe. If nothing else, for all the creative parties involved, it made dramaturgical sense.
“I don’t even think it’s Kendall saying, ‘I’m going to take the lead here,'” says Jeremy Strong in HBO’s behind-the-scenes look at making the Succession. “I think it’s Kendall saying, ‘Let’s call this what it is. I am the leadership here.’”
Creator Jesse Armstrong doesn’t think Kendall’s choice at the end of the episode means he no longer wants to work with his siblings, but it definitely suggests his growing frustration with them.
“Kendall does something very Logical, which is to keep his options open,” Armstrong says in the HBO movie. “I don’t think he’s decided at this point that he’s going to push his siblings aside. I think what he finds incredibly annoying is their reluctance to face the facts. He’s not super duplicitous at the end when he suggests they follow the more aggressive PR plan. The fact that Kendall is making a solo move does not rule out the possibility that he and his brother will work together.”
There are other possibilities on the table as well, as the episode’s writing leaves it deliberately vague as to whether or not Kendall was Logan’s chosen successor.
“What I like about writing is that it’s left to the reader to interpret,” says J. Smith-Cameron. “For Kendall, it looks like, ‘Absolutely, he meant me to take over.’ To someone else, it looks like a shopping list that (Logan) has half crossed off.
In addition to Kendall and Roman’s ascension, the episode meditates on the loss of Logan and how his death affects everyone in his job. As Sarah Snook explains, “Logan has been very present this season, as a theme and context for all the emotions. The center of gravity is a bit off.”
The actors, including Kieran Culkin, tried to tap into the vein of grief, despite Roman claiming he’s long since mourned his father: and can be supportive. But when I put myself through all the same things emotionally, but then I just go home and do laundry… that feels weird. There is no way to really decompress.”
“So much has happened in our father’s house that I can’t walk in there without feeling the history of it,” Strong added. “Our last day on that set was probably the only time I really felt the sense of loss from this ending emotionally.”
“Honeymoon States” sets off several plots that can play out in various disastrous ways, including but not limited to:
• Kendall and Rome officially chose “Operation Embalm Lenin” as their PR strategy, but Ken’s choice to clandestinely ruin his father’s reputation indicates that the older sibling is willing to become a killer, just like Logan. It’s a far cry from where we saw Kendall at the beginning of the season, and even at the beginning of this episode, on the other side of a sleepless, sad night. It’s a deadly move, but what happens when it comes to light? Kendall risks estranging his siblings forever if word gets out. On the other hand, if Kendall really does become the new Logan Roy, he might be willing to sacrifice everything for the ultimate kill, whether that be his relationship with his siblings, with his friends like Stewy, or even with something so big like the GoJo deal.
• Roman’s dedication to his father’s legacy could take him into wild territory. The show emphatically put Roman and Kerry on each other’s paths, with Rome requesting her private number. “I’m done helping old ladies across the street,” Roman later says when his siblings ask if he’s still on par with Gerri. Would Kerry end up as Roman’s new ally – and maybe even a new lover? Somehow Rome going after his father’s former flame feels like a skin-crawling character.
• Ken and Roman make promises to keep Shiv involved in every major decision, but it’s a ceremonial role, not an official one, and an oath that’s easily broken. Shiv can’t even bear to stand for the true coronation of her brothers, opting for a trip down instead. As if these disappointments weren’t enough, Shiv opens the episode with a huge secret: she’s pregnant, almost certainly with Tom’s baby. Breaking that news without trusted confidants — not her husband, and now not her siblings — leaves Shiv in as lonely a place as we’ve ever seen her, which could lead to dangerous, desperate decisions.
• It’s a tough week for Tom, who presents his services to Ken and Rome before they are officially appointed, even volunteering his own interest in the top job. (Karl’s later removal of Tom is one of the best character assassinations in SuccessionEven worse, Tom offers kindness to Shiv, dredges up their ancient history and gets absolutely nothing in return. All signs point to the door for Tom, or worse. The Silver Lining: As the father of Shiv’s unborn child, Tom has the chance to become a real part of the Roy family dynasty as he always wanted.
• Marcia (Hiam Abbass) returns to Succession this week, after an extensive “shopping trip” abroad. Everyone is surprised to see her back, including the audience, and most viewers probably expect her story to wrap up. But Marcia is a powerful player in this world, selling Logan’s possessions 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 that Marcia was always here in this moment, collecting the return on her investment in the Roys. Whoever is smart enough to earn Marcia’s loyalty will end up doing pretty 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.