Entertainment

What the Shocking Season 2 Finale of 'Succession' Means for the Show's Future

kendall
HBO

Much of the second season finale of Succession felt unnervingly quiet. Nicholas Britell's otherwise staple score wasn't entirely absent, but it was replaced in key moments by the breeze circling the Roy yacht sailing the Mediterranean. As the Roys tried to decide who should serve as the family's "blood sacrifice" in light of the congressional hearings on the company's cruise line cover-up, the serene sounds of paradise added an air of queasy stillness to the proceedings. 

But the crash of keys had to hit at some point, both literally and metaphorically. Sure enough: In the episode's last minutes, Kendall Roy, offered up as the sacrificial lamb to save Waystar Royco in the face of ruin, turns the tables on his father at the press conference that was meant to be his own execution. Instead of dutifully placing his head in the corporate guillotine, Kendall announces that his father had full knowledge of all the crimes committed on Waystar's cruises, and, thanks to Greg, has the documents to back it up. 

Kendall has long felt like the human embodiment of a ticking time bomb, but, aside from his humiliating and catchy rap in the eighth episode, "Dundee," he has been the most silent player this season, following the orders of his father and getting into "psychosexual" romances with the lead in Willa's poorly reviewed play. While Shiv became more of an active presence in the company to prove herself as the rightful wearer of the Waystar crown and Roman tried to save the company with private money by almost getting murdered in Turkey, Kendall was a loyal foot soldier, the broken hound at his father's heels.

succession kendall roy
HBO

Jeremy Strong crafted a portrait of a thoroughly broken man. Emptied of his ambition, Kendall would occasionally break under the weight of his guilt, like when he and Shiv hugged in Waystar's darkened corporate headquarters or Logan forced him to go to the home of the man he accidentally killed to watch his father broker a deal for the grieving family's silence. Strong once again projects dead-eyed acceptance when Logan tells him that he will be the family's scapegoat. But there's a shift in that scene. Kendall presses his father whether he was ever qualified for the top job at Waystar. Logan shrugs, negging his son: "You're not a killer. You have to be a killer." 

But Kendall has actually killed a man, in Season 1's finale, and he's developed a warped sense of honor in light of his actions. He posits that he "deserves" taking the blame as punishment, not for Waystar's ills but for his own, but Logan contradicts him, echoing the company's chilling line: "No real person involved." Kendall kisses his father on the cheek -- a biblical reference to Judas' betrayal -- with shades of The Godfather Part II's kiss of death between Michael and Fredo. It's an embrace that also mirrors the end of Season 1 when Logan hugs a sobbing Kendall and consoles him, "You're my boy, you're my number one boy." Only now, Logan has no idea how fucked he really is. He thinks he's dealing with the Kendall we met in the first episode of Season 2, who would allow himself to be pulled from his corporate rehab mere days after he was admitted, go on TV, and say "my dad's plan was better." Instead, Kendall throws away his pre-approved talking points, and Logan actually seems to relish the challenge, a sly smirk on his face as Kendall feeds him to the wolves. 

As compelling (and surprising) as Kendall's move is, it's not the only thread Succession's Season 2 finale, "This Is Not for Tears," leaves hanging. Here are some of our lingering questions as we enter into the long wait until the confirmed Season 3. 

succession
HBO

What does Kendall do next? 

A better question might be: Is Kendall healed? Over the course of the second season, Kendall slowly started to regain his terrier-like instincts, culminating in his aggressive defense of his dad during the congressional testimony in the penultiamte episode, "DC." But in blowing up his life, there's no clear path going forward. He could side once again with Stewy and Sandy Furness, whose bear-hug takeover of Waystar still looms. But would those two accept Kendall, who previously betrayed them for his father, back into their ranks? On the other hand, he could be hyper-aware that he's digging his own grave, and dragging his dad into it with him. Regardless, he's drawn a very clear line for the rest of his family to start strategically choosing sides.

What does this mean for Logan? 

Logan has a clear move if he wants to fully annihilate Kendall: He can tell the world how his son was responsible for a young man's death. But, aside from that nugget of titillating and tragic information, it's unclear what other cards Logan has to play. And while invoking the killing would certainly take his son down, it wouldn't absolve the elder Roy of the misdeeds detailed in Greg's documents. Prison time isn't a given; the rich and powerful have long circumvented the U.S.'s criminal justice system.

Then there's that inscrutable look on his face in the season's final shot. He looks almost pleased that Kendall decided to fight back, but if he truly wants to keep the company in his control, he's going to have to work some Machiavellian magic. Or, per speculation humming around Twitter, maybe Logan has been pulling the puppet strings all along. But as Brian Cox told Vulture, "The smile is him saying, 'Finally, my son is stepping up to the plate, doing what he needs to do to run a business. Finally, he's the heir apparent to Waystar Royco.' In a way, it's a completion. But there's life in the old dog yet! We've got quite a journey now. Logan has to reclaim himself. He needs to even the odds."

succession shiv
HBO

What did Greg know and when? 

"This Is Not for Tears" calls into question just what exactly constitutes conscience in Succession. Kendall has found a perverted sense of justice for the drowned caterer, but it's still entirely self-serving. He gets to clear his mind in luxury and screw over his father. Greg, in saving his own ass, has enough of a brain to keep some of the evidence of Waystar's crimes. The timeline of Kendall and Greg connecting is unclear, given how creator Jesse Armstrong deliberately doesn't show the moment when the two put their heads together. It appears that Greg is sent back to the U.S. from the most awkward vacation ever to babysit Kendall, but Kendall has long been aware aware that Greg had the cruise papers in his possession. (If you'll recall, the Egg let that information slip during Shiv's wedding.) Therefore, it's likely Kendall requested his company with a plan in mind. But did he fully loop Greg in? Or is it best to keep the most clueless person in the room still a little bit clueless? 

Is Shiv still in line for the throne? 

The big shift going into the second season was which Roy child was the hungriest for power. It was even there in the credits as the vintage images of the family in their tennis whites turned more Shiv focused. The finale, however, refocused on Kendall. So where does Shiv stand? Speaking of conscience: She is also forced to reckon with her personal failings after Tom confronts her about his unhappiness in their marriage. In the face of her own cruelty, her messed-up act of kindness is to go to bat for her spouse, hanging her brother out to dry. It's a strategic move: By eliminating Kendall, she positions herself back as the most likely beneficiary of her father's crown. Logan dangles the job in front of her when asking for her advice on who to theoretically kill, and though she first says that she can't make the choice, she eventually says, "not Tom." She's a killer, yes, but there's a hint of desperation, too. 

Will Roman ever be Gerri's slime puppy again? 

Surely, their kinky dynamic will have some sort of further relevance down the road. But more generally: Where's Roman in all of this? He's been named the sole Chief Operating Officer of Waystar, having won over Logan with his bid for foreign financing to take the company private. He's also the most unsettled by the reveal that Kendall's head is on the public chopping block. After his brush with death in Turkey, a little bit of Roman's impish fuck-all attitude has been leeched from him. Maybe that means he's finally ready to truly throw his hat into the ring. Or perhaps he just has a newfound distaste for the entire Roy charade.

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Esther Zuckerman is a senior entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @ezwrites.