Who will take over the troubled corporation that just helped put a fascist in the Oval Office?
“Succession” comes to an end this Sunday, and we’re all guessing which of the show’s many scoundrels will be sitting on the Waystar Royco throne when all is said and done. But remember: “Succession” is a complex show, and its final position may be complex, too. There may be more than one Roy “winner,” and also there may be no Roy winners.
Odds are, though, that whoever winds up on top probably won’t be there because he or she earned it. Meritocracy, thy name is not Waystar Royco. Here are thoughts on the strengths and weaknesses of some of the players.
KENDALL ROY (Jeremy Strong)
Why he should: His big gestures — like promoting Living+ to investors with fraudulent growth projections and edited footage of his father — can be impressive. When he saved the day after Roman’s breakdown at their dad’s funeral, he seemed downright heroic, and his off-the-cuff justifications for Logan’s horribleness were quite resourceful. Even Logan, when he was alive, was impressed with Kendall’s daring, smirking as his son called him “a malignant presence” on live TV. Indeed, for some time (until his name was possibly crossed out?) he appeared to be Logan’s choice. Kendall has the requisite killer instinct — as well as a growing bond with Jeryd Mencken — and he comes off like a leader, which, in the world of “Succession,” is 9/10ths of what it takes to lead.
Why he shouldn’t: OK, so when he’s not on top of the world, he’s usually in some kind of dark trance, where all of his demons are rapping along with him. He is easily bruised, and quick to bruise others, including his wife and children, about whom he cares little. His Freudian need to replace his father is all-consuming and, perhaps, ultimately self-consuming. And more than anyone, he is legally vulnerable, due to the Chappaquiddick-like tragedy at Shiv’s wedding.
ROMAN ROY (Kieran Culkin)
Why he should: He’s a smartypants, one who is aware, meta-aware, and, if it exists, meta-meta-aware, all at the same time. Also, he is articulate and doesn’t mince his words. Like his siblings, and many others in his level of power, he’s morally fluid; he’ll do what he needs to do without a hint of guilt — to wit, when he pushes ATN to call Wisconsin, and thus the presidential election, for Mencken, his then-partner in striking down the GoJo deal.
Why he shouldn’t: Um, no. Sadly, in his arrogance, entitlement, and volatility, he doesn’t care how he comes off, and he alienates even his allies. His link to Mencken is broken; the humanness he displayed at his father’s funeral, like all expressions of humanness on “Succession,” left him looking weak. The lewd pix he sent to Gerri, which may yet come back to haunt him, and which led his father to call him a “laughingstock,” were only part of his pattern of self-sabotage.
SHIV ROY (Sarah Snook)
Why she should: Compared with her brothers, she is a model of sanity. Her qualms about prematurely calling the election for Mencken were admirable, if temporary. She understands the political world — witness her move on Mencken with Lukas Matsson in the penultimate episode — and she plays her cards quietly. She’s a dark horse, and so a Shiv win might have a rousing effect on viewers.
Why she shouldn’t: She’s a mover and a shaker, but she frequently seems to be a step behind instead of ahead — which is where a leader needs to be. Does she see that Matsson is probably using her? In a world dominated by sexist men, she is at a disadvantage — and, as those men have made clear, even more so now that she’s pregnant.
COUSIN GREG (Nicholas Braun)
Why he should: If he winds up on top, it could be the show’s most ironic statement ever — and there are many in the running. With a Greg triumph, “Succession” would be going full-on “Veep” (remember Jonah Ryan), mocking the failing-up phenomenon within so many businesses. He has squirreled away enough secrets to betray his cousins — which he did most recently to Shiv, who underestimated him — and, if Matsson is in charge, he’d make a perfect puppet. Who else wants to see him as Tom’s boss?!
Why he shouldn’t: Where do I begin? He’s incompetent. He’s tragically awkward, a veritable fountain of faux pas. His most useful role at Waystar — beyond firing employees without blinking — is as comic relief.
TOM WAMBSGANS (Matthew Macfadyen)
Why he should: As we’ve seen during the election, the head of ATN actually knows how to work. How about that. He managed to find his way into Logan’s confidence last season — no easy task — and it was a double-cross for the ages. Sure, he’s a sycophant, but he’s learned that flattery can indeed get him somewhere.
Why he shouldn’t: There’s a point at which being morally unmoored seems more like spinelessness, and ultimately, Tom is certainly that. More savvy people can smell his neediness, a turn-off in places where indifference is power. His disastrous performance before Congress was a farce. He’s no longer got Shiv as his Roy entrée, and he no longer has Logan as his protector.
LUKAS MATSSON (Alexander Skarsgård)
Why he should: The GoJo CEO presents himself as some kind of Zen bro, but he is as ruthless and hungry as they come. He’ll lie when he needs to, and he is clever and manipulative enough to be playing Shiv without her realizing it. Giving the Waystar crown to Matsson, an outsider, would help rid the brand of the toxic Roy clan — although he could keep Cousin Greg around, and possibly Tom, too, all just for vindictive kicks.
Why he shouldn’t: He’s late to this game, so his win might be unsatisfying for viewers. His need to be the top dog has a certain desperation and pathos about it, as does his habit of sending half-liter bricks of frozen blood to the former object of his desire. If that last bit came out, it could make him a laughingstock.
Matthew Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.