This post contains spoilers for Succession’s Season 3 finale.
In a stunning emotional epiphany during Succession’s season finale Sunday night, the Roy kids finally teamed up against their father in earnest—only to find out they’d been outmaneuvered once more, this time with an assist from their equally self-serving mother. Succession fans know better than anyone that there’s no low to which Logan Roy’s nepotism babies would not stoop—but their collective loss was nonetheless devastating, thanks to tour de force performances from Jeremy Strong, Kieran Culkin, and Sarah Snook.
While Kendall’s breakdown in a parking lot precipitated the siblings’ miraculous reunion, it was Roman’s shattered pleas to his father that drove home their shared heartbreak when their glimmer of hope fell apart. The episode’s emotional stakes can be found in two shots of Kieran Culkin’s face—the first screwed in an anguished mixture of terror and excitement as the siblings decide it’s really time to “kill” dad, and the second childlike, teary-eyed powerlessness when he realizes it’s over.
Logan Roy might not have scarred his children’s backs like his own caretakers did his, but he’s emotionally tortured them throughout their lives. In Waystar Royco, Logan has constructed his ideal family: a powerful unit whose sole organizing principle is his own ego. His executives, unlike his children, live and breathe at his word—and more importantly, they have no claim to his legacy. Kendall, Shiv, and Roman’s mother said it best when she explained to her daughter why she could never keep dogs in the house: anything Logan loves, he’ll kick to see if it comes back.
Kendall and Shiv have slowly, painfully come to terms with their father’s monstrosity in their own ways since Season 1. (Connor, Logan’s only child with his first wife, appears to have accepted it before the series began.) Roman has a harder time seeing through the distorted reality his father has created for him than his siblings do; he’s the only one of Logan’s kids who seems even remotely uncomfortable with the prospect of his death. A small part of Roman clings to the logic of a small, deeply hurt child—one who believes that if he just tries hard enough, he’ll earn his father’s approval. (And inheritance—because let’s face it, hurt or not this is a family of materialistic vipers.)
In other words, the Roys have all slowly, one at a time, been coming to terms with the fact they were raised by an abuser—something many survivors don’t realize until decades after the trauma has ended.
It’s telling that during his siblings’ attempt at an intervention, Kendall called himself Logan’s eldest son. Connor’s used to being dismissed by his family, and his isolation even among his siblings speaks to his father’s success in alienating them from one another to bolster his own influence over them. With Con out of the way, Kendall and Roman have battled for the crown for most of their lives—because as a woman, Logan never treated Shiv as a potential heir until she’d been properly starved to suit his agenda.
As much as Succession explores questions of legacy, intergenerational wealth, and family as an institution, its real concern appears to be abuses of power, both personal and systemic. Its setting—the upper echelons of the media elite—invites the viewer to consider how the two might intertwine. The Roys’ story makes clear the latter can’t exist without the former; abusive institutions only exist because abusive people do, as well.
It’s telling that Logan’s only reaction to receiving a photo of his son’s penis last week—intended for their colleague and Roman’s boss-slash-would-be-lover, Gerri—was to accusatorially ask if his son was queer. On their way to settle a deal with Lukas Matsson this week, Logan told Roman to “straighten himself out” and that whatever it took, he didn’t want to know about it.
The tenor of the conversation crystallizes the argument against the word “homophobia” (even if Roman has not been explicitly defined as queer)—Logan’s remarks do not come from a place of fear but are instead designed to hurt, humiliate, and destabilize his son. The truth of Roman’s sexuality is beside the point; if Logan’s concern were the health of his children’s relationships, he’d need to be worried about all of them.
As much as Connor’s siblings love to denigrate him, he’s the only one of them who’s maintained an even halfway-functional romantic relationship with Willa, a former escort whose patience for the Roys’ dysfunction knows no bounds. Willa has grown more supportive of Connor this season—as seen when she told the coat check girl at Kendall’s nightmare birthday party to fuck off on his behalf. This week, she said “fuck it” and decided to marry him—in large part, it seems, because he was having a bad day. Connor and Willa’s might be an unorthodox arrangement, but when was the last time Kendall, Roman, or Shiv had a relationship that supportive?
It’s no coincidence that all of Logan’s kids, not just Roman, are plagued with weird relationship hang-ups and “sex things.” Their upbringing has instilled an extremely fucked-up relationship with power, so their sex lives are fraught with questions of whether they’re “fucking” or “being fucked.” (To say nothing about the homophobic undertones of that distinction.)
In spite of all the jokes Shiv has made this season at the expense of her brother’s “ricotta dick,” it’s her own marriage that brought everything crashing down in the end. As certain as Shiv seemed that she had the upper hand over her husband, that he was a “safe” outsider who would never overpower or outwit her or even want to, it appears she underestimated good ol’ Tom Wambsgans. How fitting that in the end, Logan has poisoned his children so thoroughly that they can’t form relationships strong enough to prevent even their spouses from pledging loyalty to him instead.
It was Culkin, however, who distilled the episode’s brilliant high-wire act in one moment—when Roman sees what might be his first real attempt to bet on his own power, on himself and his siblings as capable adults, blow up in his face. He dissolves into a child, a moment as comedic as it is tragic. “Dad... please.”
Logan’s disbelief is palpable—especially when he asks what his kids have to offer him in return for his mercy only for Roman to say, “I don’t know... Fucking love?”
“You bust in here guns in hand, and now you find they’ve turned to fucking sausages,” Logan growls. “You talk about love? You should have trusted me.”
With nervously folded hands, Roman asks the question underpinning this entire billionaire shitshow—in the small, timid voice of a wounded child: “Dad, why?”
“Why? Because it works. I fucking win.”
Come next season, Team Succession will have to contend with the fallout of all these betrayals; Shiv will need to suss out just how long her husband has been selling her out to her father, and Roman will have to contend with losing his status as Daddy’s favorite “ratfucker” once and for all. But as long as Logan’s kids continue playing this abusive game—with him or the company he built—he will always win.