Jeremy Strong won an Emmy for his portrayal of Kendall Roy in HBO’s “Succession,” a show about media emperor Logan Roy’s family and his children’s attempts to become the next Logan in the family. At the family’s helm is Logan Roy (Brian Cox), a cold, calculative, and ruthless businessman who probably loves his company Waystar Royco more than all his children combined. His children from his second marriage include the eldest son Kendall (Jeremy Strong), the middle daughter Siobhan (Sarah Snook), and the youngest kid, Roman (Kieran Culkin). As the series returned this Sunday with its fourth season, we felt the audience of this brilliant show would love a deeper dive into the psyche of one of the most complicated characters in the show, Kendall Roy.
After his attempt to sabotage his father was suspended by Logan, Kendall spent three seasons trying to find his footing in a cutthroat world where his own father was his biggest enemy. Ken suffered horribly from “Succession” Seasons 1 through 3 until the prodigal son of the family finally returned, but with a vengeance. Ken refused to submit to his father’s tyranny, and we saw him join forces with his siblings in the Season 4 premiere to take down his father. Here’s a detailed look at the character of Kendall, a wounded soldier who refused to quit.
A Scared Little Child
It’s very difficult to grow up as the eldest son of three children of a global media mogul and not receive one’s dues when one comes of age. Kendall had prepared to take over the responsibilities of running the second-largest media corporation in the world from his father, the octogenarian Logan, and had finally decided he was tired of waiting. The Roys weren’t the usual family—as can be expected from billionaire entrepreneurs who spent their lives pushing to take their company ahead while ignoring the children. Kendall grows up hoping to step into his father’s shoes one day, but a lifetime of neglectful parenting and a lack of values turn him into a drug addict. When Kendall returns, he’s excited to learn that his father will be stepping down to crown him the next CEO, but the shark of a father, Logan, dashes his son’s hopes and reminds Kendall he’s no more than the head honcho’s errand boy.
Kendall spends the rest of “Succession” Season 1 partnering with Waystar Royco’s rival, Sandy Furness, and a large shareholder, Stewie Hosseini, to take over Ken’s father’s empire, but a freak accident throws a wrench into Ken’s plans. Ken relapses into drug use and makes a waiter from his sister Siobhan’s wedding accompany him to buy drugs, but the car crashes into a lake. The waiter dies, but Ken survives—something the fiendish father holds against his son like a knife against his throat. Logan slowly breaks his son down and makes him admit that he must give up his hopes of overthrowing his father while he weeps like a scared little child and immediately runs to his father’s open arms. Being denied his father’s affection all his life, like all his siblings, Ken finds safety in his father’s embrace, who uses the moment to whisper, “You’re my number one boy” to Ken, thereby capturing him firmly under his thumb. As the frightened son apologizes for going against his father like a truant child, Logan kisses his son on the forehead, and Ken submits himself completely to his father.
The Broken Man
For most of “Succession” Season 2, Ken runs errands for Logan and follows his orders, including destroying Lawrence Yee’s company, Vaulter, which Ken had hoped to acquire in the beginning. Internally, though, Ken is broken into a million pieces as the death of the nameless waiter haunts him, and he’s devoid of any emotions. The energetic and lively businessman from Season 1 is no more than a shriveled-up man with waxy skin and dead eyes, something his siblings Siobhan and Roman aka Rome can’t help notice. His actions are no longer motivated by his own desires and reasons but by those of his father. Every look from his father constantly reminds him that Logan knows what Ken has done and how the old man could destroy his son’s life at the snap of a finger. Thus, Ken spends Season 2 comically appeasing his father and becoming Logan’s biggest ‘yes man’—from the embarrassing rapping he does on Waystar’s 50th anniversary dedicated to his father to dumping his girlfriend because his father didn’t approve of her.
By the end of the second season, when past crimes of Waystar surface, Logan needs to pick a fall guy from his close family and lands on Ken. The “number one boy” asks if Logan had ever considered him worthy enough to step into his shoes, but the father says Ken always lacked the killer instinct needed to run a business like this. Thus, in the “Succession” Season 2 finale, while delivering an announcement where Ken is supposed to shoulder the entirety of the blame for Waystar’s crimes, he breaks out of his emotionally abusive father’s clutches. Ken associates Logan with every malicious activity on the Waystar Royco cruise ships, from sexual assaults to deaths, claiming Logan was fully aware of everything that happened on his ships but chose to remain silent. When Kendall leaves after overturning everything his father had aimed at, Logan betrays a faint smile because, in his twisted understanding, his eldest son has finally achieved that killer instinct, and now he’s going to enjoy tearing his son down.
Kendall plays most of “Succession” Season 3 in high gear, gathering lawyers and online support and poaching people from Logan’s team to gain traction for his own case against his father. He invites his siblings, including his half-brother Connor (Alan Ruck), and asks them to join his side against their “dinosaur” of a father, and he loses his temper when they refuse. He especially goes on a rant against his sister Siobhan, maligning her character. A huge portion of his character is his desire to be well-liked, and he fantasizes about being someone who’s held in high esteem by others. Throughout the series, he does multiple things to curry goodwill, including gifting his cousin Greg a flat and, later in “Succession” Season 3, going on a full Twitter rampage, trying to paint himself as the people’s champion. His desire to be considered a good guy is apparent when he yells an anti-patriarchal slogan for the journalists just so that the reporters view him as a better person than his father. This competition he goes into to prove that he’s better than Logan Roy portrays him as little more than a teenager who wants to attack an established system. He even does a “good Tweet/bad Tweet” session in his limousine with his girlfriend Naomi Pierce and other people who are on his side, and when a pointed Tweet hurts him, he momentarily betrays the pain the words cause him. Ahead of his appearance at a talk show with a host known to verbally attack her guests, Siobhan releases a scathing letter exposing every flaw in Ken’s character. The emotional onslaught overcomes Ken, and he has to hide from the talk show.
Indecisiveness plagues Ken severely, as was clear from the episode where Logan and Ken are invited to meet with a major shareholder of Waystar, Josh Aaronson (Adrien Brody), in Season 3 Episode 4. Josh intentionally makes the 80-year-old man go on a hike with his son to a cliff for a meal so that he can clearly remind the father-son duo that he’s to be taken seriously. This meeting happens during the highest point of conflict between Logan and Ken, and the palpable tension between the two doesn’t go unnoticed by Josh. Logan delivers a speech where he promises Josh that Ken will come through— although Logan doesn’t believe a single word he utters—and manages to earn a temporary truce with the billionaire businessman. While coming back, Logan’s health starts faltering, and Josh constantly asks Ken if they should send for a cart, but Ken can’t decide. Moreover, as Logan realizes he’s on the brink of collapsing and pleads with his son for water, Ken shoots back, “Ask your iPhone”—a diabolically cruel thing to say to an octogenarian who’s having trouble staying on his feet. However, this is exactly what Logan had inculcated in his children, having spent their childhood immersed in his work, so when he pleads with his son for help, the son reminds him of just what the neglectful father deserves. Josh watches the two fail to come to a decision that, indeed, Logan needs help and realizes Ken cannot back his father even when the old man is about to faint. He, therefore, pulls his support from Waystar and joins hands with Stewie as Ken is forced to watch his own failure.
The massive high of being the voice of the abused and downtrodden quickly gets into Kendall’s head, and what started as a firm stand against the autocracy of his father turns into a popularity contest for Ken. However, on his 40th birthday, where he throws a huge party for multiple celebrities and spares no expense to ensure people are positively awed by his grandeur, he’s humiliated and literally falls face first, being unable to handle the immense pressure of being the face against Logan Roy. His tipping point in the third season of “Succession” arrives during his birthday, when he realizes who the people who matter most to him are, and he rummages through all the expensive gifts his ‘friends’ brought him, just for the gift his children gave him—a box wrapped in wrapping paper with rabbits on it.
While the ecstatic feeling of doing something great wears off, Kendall once again starts losing his sense of self like we had seen him at the start of “Succession” Season 2, and he falls off a floater in a swimming pool. A large part of his crash-and-burn is due to his recurring feelings of guilt because he caused the death of a young man, and he never had the catharsis of divulging his actions. When he tried speaking to his mother, she chose to leave the next morning, although it wasn’t surprising given how emotionally unavailable she had been in her children’s lives. After alienating everyone from himself because of his skyscraper of an ego, he finally finds solace when he opens up about his crime to his brother and sister. In a surprisingly heartwarming moment, Siobhan and Roman rally their elder brother’s support and do everything in their power to let Ken know that the siblings have his back. Ken breaks down after admitting his guilt and finally has the much-needed catharsis and is forgiven by his siblings, although the manner isn’t very humane. The three children finally pose a united front and decide it’s time to bring down their tyrant father when they learn Logan plans to sell Waystar Royco to a company named GoJo by Lukas Mattson. The siblings barge into their father’s room and threaten to veto the sale, but their father proves why he has been able to rule for five decades now, thanks to his iron-fisted ruthlessness. After losing to his father yet again, Kendall decides he’s not giving up anymore, and he joins forces with Roman and Siobhan.
The Prodigal Son
When “Succession” Season 4 opens, Ken, Shiv, and Rome collectively oppose their father’s rule and make plans to go after their father’s most coveted project. For the first time, the three of them work together, minus any hatred or resentment against each other, because they realize their need to overthrow their common enemy, Logan Roy. After a rollercoaster of emotions for three seasons that leave his feelings scattered, Ken finally picks up the broken pieces of himself and realizes what he truly wants. He escapes the clutches of his tyrannical father, lets go of the anger against his siblings, and forgives himself for the sin of causing the death of a young man. With “Succession” Season 4 likely being the final season of this award-winning show, we might finally see if the prodigal son, Kendall, manages to sit on the throne of Waystar Royco after Logan falls.