Succession is a show about family. But the HBO series is also very much a show about business: money, power, influence, ego, and the machinations of corporate America.
As such, it’s the perfect show for us at Fortune to recap as the saga of the Roy family and their Waystar Royco media empire unfolds. In the tenth and final episode of the second season: death-sentence vibes, emotional gunships, and Merlot waterboards. (You can read last week’s recap here.)
“You’re not a killer,” Logan Roy tells his son, Kendall. “You have to be a killer.” It’s a label also favored by the sitting president of the United States; Donald Trump’s father, the real estate developer Fred Trump, is said to have deployed it in an almost mantra-like manner on his own children, urging them to be “killers” in matters of business and life. The Donald, for his part, has adopted it in his own vernacular down the years.
Whether Kendall Roy is ruthless enough to succeed in the cutthroat world of high-level corporate dealings has been an ongoing concern over the first two seasons of Succession. Last year, it entailed his dad memorably informing him that, sometimes, the whole thing really is just “a big-dick competition.” Ken tried to play the role of Visionary CEO With a Nasty Streak, but he never fully convinced. He could lob as many imaginative insults and obscenities as he liked, but in the end, he found out the hard way that telling your creditors to “fuck off” isn’t going to make them give you more money.
The version of Kendall who drifted, trance-like, through the show’s second season was a much more convincing “killer.” A guilt-ridden shell of a man in the wake of last season’s tragic finale, he deferred to the role of cold-blooded fixer—doing his father’s bidding whether it entailed shutting down an entire digital media operation or attack-dogging his way through a congressional hearing.
Still, it wasn’t enough to convince Logan. Having been informed that he’ll be publicly taking the fall for the scandal at Waystar Royco’s cruises division, Kendall takes it on the chin and turns the other cheek, just as he has indignity after indignity over the course of nine previous episodes. But before he goes, he wants to know: did his dad ever think he could actually do the top job? It’s that element of foot-on-the-throat ruthlessness, Logan informs his son, that he simply hasn’t got.
Kendall, of course, turns out to be a killer, after all. It is the sublimely satisfying, if somewhat tropey, swerve that caps off the finale of Succession’s brilliant second season: Kendall parades before the cameras and, just before he’s about to fall on his sword, screws his dad in bombshell fashion. Logan can do nothing but watch on TV—admiringly—as his own son kneecaps him in front of the world. Guess the kid actually did have it in him.
Ken had a little help from Cousin Greg, who’s still armed with photocopies of corporate documents implicating Waystar in a coverup of the gross misconduct at cruises. Greg’s been dragged before Congress, grilled by lawmakers, and given up a quarter-billion dollar inheritance for Logan Roy, but he’s certainly not going to jail for this family. Having just witnessed how readily they’d serve him to federal regulators as “Greg sprinkles” atop a Tom Wambsgans sundae, he takes the initiative. Greg the Egg is no more; out of the shell breaks Gregory Hirsch, corporate whistleblower. Watch out.
“NRPI,” Logan reassures Kendall, who’s reflecting on that fatal car accident in the English countryside as the episode nears its end. “No real person involved.” It is a window into the mindframe of the cosmically wealthy and powerful—and a stunning reveal into how the culture and practices at a massive conglomerate like Waystar really can be a top-down proposition.
Being a killer may have gotten Logan Roy to the top of the business world, but as his brother Ewan would note, it may well have also cost him his humanity. It’s certainly cost him anything resembling a healthy, rewarding relationship with his own children. Only time will tell if it ends up costing him his most prized possession of all—his company.
— The kid did great. It’s been rewarding to see Roman transform into a capable businessman and semi-responsible adult as the weeks have gone by. He had that central Asian dry powder, desperately needed by the company, locked up after his trip to Turkey—but he also had the wherewithal to take a step back and realize that it was all probably horseshit. Now if only he can get his siblings to open up about their feelings.
— Stewy Hosseini graced us with an appearance, looking resplendent in the Mediterranean sun as he dined on octopi on the Greek island of Paxos. That’s where Logan and Kendall meet him in an effort to hammer out a compromise that would end this bear hug once and for all. But Stewy pauses, thinks on it, and turns down their Godfather offer without so much as a call to Sandy Furness. Ken can berate him as creatively as he likes—it won’t change the fact that the private equity raiders are persuading more and more shareholders that they’ll be able to make them more money than the Roys can. That, Stewy notes, is all this is about.
— The Maligned Influencer himself, our guy Connor Roy, had a rough week. He’s driven himself to the brink of financial ruin by bankrolling Willa’s “theatrical event of the season,” and now he just needs a little 100 mil or so from the old man to get himself back on track. Logan, as we know, is happy to help any of his kids out—provided that Connor drops his White House ambitions and ends his fledgling presidential campaign. Pour one out for the Conheads.
More ‘Succession’ content from Fortune
—Inside Succession with executive producer Adam McKay and actor Kieran Culkin
—Succession’s costume designer shares the inspiration behind the show’s corporate wear
Fortune’s ‘Succession’ Season 2 Recaps
—Succession S2E9: Dry Powder
—Succession S2E8: Bad Buzz
—Succession S2E7: Rhinos and Hummingbirds
—Succession S2E6: Good Riddance to Bad Rubbish
—Succession S2E5: Money Wins
—Succession S2E4: The Gold Rush
—Succession S2E3: Takeover Defense
—Succession S2E2: Media Matters
—Succession S2E1: Blood in the Water
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