‘Succession’ Season 2 Finale: The Roy Family Select a Sacrificial Lamb

After a season of intrigues, double crosses and even foreign entanglements, “Succession” ends its second round with everything coming down to one decision. Beset by committee investigations and exposed corruption, the media mogul every TV watcher cowers before, Logan Roy (Brian Cox), has decided to make a sacrifice. Just who he will offer is the key question that dominates the entire finale. HBO’s latest gem has grown in stature precisely because of the quality of its plotting and writing. The Roy family is a nest of vipers, and us mere mortals can’t help but keep watching.

Pressured by shareholders to offer a “blood sacrifice” to atone for the scandals enveloping Waystar Royco, Logan and the family go on a Mediterranean cruise ship for the finale, titled “This Is Not For Tears.” The purpose of a sacrifice is a simple demand to assure the shareholders publicly that the family is aware of its sins. Everyone gathers around to find out who the patriarch will surrender. But first some heads roll, including Laird (Danny Huston), who departs the boat with the ominous warning that someone will eventually have to go to jail before saying, “good night, sweet ladies, and good night.” Then the family begin prowling around each other. At lunch fingers are pointed to see who Logan should pick, with Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) being an immediate favorite over his lame performance previously while answering questions during a congressional hearing. It is the always vile Roman (Kieran Culkin), who has just returned from a trip to Turkey that resulted in his momentary capture, who singles out Tom. This finally helps Tom be upfront with wife Shiv (Sarah Cook) about his general unhappiness in their marriage, not least because of her cold insistence on sexual escapades going back to their wedding night. When Shiv’s conscience is apparently rattled and she pleads to Logan for Tom, the patriarch’s eye begins to turn towards former prodigal son Kendall (Jeremy Strong). 

There is an almost anthropological deliciousness in watching “Succession.” With its realistic tone and shaky cam, it has the absorbing feel of taking the viewer into a day with its toxic family. Unlike other recent shows about the elite class, this one is not only about its plot but about the very psychology of the characters. The season finale plays like a vicious duel of minds. Everyone knows Logan will throw someone overboard and in this world the most conniving win. What began as a season about the Roys engaging in a bitter proxy war with their rivals while welcoming the once rebellious Kendall back into the fold morphs into a tale of the family beast devouring its own children. Nothing escapes Logan’s eye, early in the episode he essentially tells Kendall to break up with girlfriend Naomi (Annabelle Dexter-Jones), who warns him his father only likes him when he’s shattered. When Tom is fingered for sacrifice even Shiv tells him he’s family but not exactly family, then Roman wonders aloud if they should be tossed in together. Even the always pitiful Connor (Alan Ruck) offers himself in exchange for a decent payoff considering he’s strapped for cash. One of the few truly funny scenes takes place when Logan bluntly tells Connor his whole scheme to run for president is absurd and embarrassing. 

Yet the most memorable scene in “This Is Not For Tears” could be when Tom and Shiv sit on a beach and he opens like a floodgate, beginning with “I am not a hippie,” then describing the emotional torture of being married to Shiv, who asked for an open marriage on their wedding and since then has pulled the guy into sexual arrangements not to his liking. It could be a calculated move since it helps give Shiv the sense he might leave her, and so she asks Logan not to sacrifice her husband for the sake of the company. Much of the brilliance of “Succession” is in how it is in a sense a family show, except this is a family driven by its power and greed. Earlier this season we saw the worst of Logan as he made acolytes crawl and snort like pigs to prove their loyalty. In the finale he is the all observant master, brushing off questions or concerns with shrugs and one-liners. This is surely one of Brian Cox’s great roles, conveying authority, menace and reluctant fatherly love, sometimes all in one scene. 

This complexity to the character comes across most clearly in the end, when he spares Tom and decides to tag Kendall. A recovering addict and former nemesis of his father, Kendall seems like a perversely good choice. In an extraordinary scene Logan breaks the news to his son beginning with a discussion on what he’s read about Aztec sacrifice rituals. There is a realistically jagged force to this scene as Kendall is clearly deflated while Logan details how Kendall will take responsibility for the cruise scandal earlier this season and other Waystar sins. When Kendall asks if Logan ever felt he could have run the company the old man again shrugs, “yeah, maybe” before adding, “you’re not a killer.”

And so by the end the episode takes on Shakespearean dimensions as Logan taps the snarky Roman as his heir at Waystar. Shiv, who earlier this season had been secretly selected by Logan, is now defeated. She made the sacrifice to save Tom. But the greatest twist comes at the end, when Kendall goes before the cameras and turns on Logan, accusing him of being a corrupt bully, detailing Waystar’s criminal activities before promising to deliver documents. 

It’s a stunning climax to a family drama where violence is meted out through words and alliances, where the allure of controlling vast wealth leads to wild excesses. Kendall has returned to where he was in the first season, at war with his father. It begs the question if this entire season his more humble demeanor was but a ruse. “Succession” ends a second season with such promise that we can’t wait to gather around for the next family reunion.

Succession” season two finale aired Oct. 13 at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.