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Succession's Final Scene Gives Kendall The Only Ending He Deserves

A good story never gives its characters what they want, but thrusts upon them the inevitable — and often painful — things they need. There is perhaps no better example of this axiom in the modern television landscape than tonight's emotionally devastating series finale of HBO's flagship series "Succession."

It's easy to get lost in the obvious narrative rewards — the series has been wholeheartedly defined by the petty process of granting and withholding important-sounding titles. Yes, Tom Wambsgans (Matthew Macfadyen) "won" the coveted title of CEO that the Roys have fought and "killed" each other over for four arresting seasons, but the victory itself is far less meaningful for his arc than its nature. Tom didn't "need" to be CEO — he needed to cut himself free of the Roy family shadow, even if it meant risking his career and his marriage. Everything else is merely the logical consequences of a need well met.

The same is certainly true for Shiv (Sarah Snook) and Roman Roy (Kieran Culkin), both of whom needed to be free of Waystar Royco for their own complex reasons. Even Cousin Greg (Nicholas Braun) is spared with a newfound gratitude for his friendship with Tom, though he'll no longer be grossly overcompensated just for having a grandfather on the board.

However, certain rare, challenging characters not only defy happy endings, but practically beg to be handed their tragic, rapturous needs on a silver platter. Such is the fate of Jeremy Strong's Kendall Roy — a man stranded on the shore for the rest of his life.

Kendall was constantly wandering through an endless fog

Of course, Kendall would never be CEO. In a story so comfortably situated in the first half of the portmanteau "tragicomedy," a finale crowning "the heir with the flair" king would feel fundamentally out of place. As such, the question of Kendall's fate has never been "Will he win?" but "How badly will he lose?" Or, perhaps more directly, "Could he survive such a loss?"

Each season of "Succession" has teased Kendall's untimely demise subtly and overtly. Through several lines of dialogue — including his desperate plea to Shiv during their final confrontation — the text makes it clear that Kendall believes his life would be nothing without the chance to lead his family's company. In Seasons 2 and 3, the understanding that his recklessness at Shiv's wedding cost him his only solid shot at the executive chair almost caused him to take his own life. In a grim sort of way, perhaps the logical consequences of Kendall's needs being met would be an almost merciful death — a final release from a world that's brought him nothing but pain.

More imaginative viewers — likely the same ones that believe Tony Soprano finished his onion rings in peace or that Walter White somehow survived and triumphed — may see the final shot of Kendall staring into the water as a prelude to some dramatic death. Perhaps after the frame cuts to black, he hurls himself into the river as Colin (Scott Nicholson) rushes to save him.

It's certainly a tidier ending than the one we got, and worthy of at least a few clicks on Reddit. But it isn't the ending Kendall truly deserves.

Kendall will never escape his life

As we wrote a few weeks ago, water is arguably the most powerful and prevalent symbol across all four seasons of the show — especially for Kendall. For the majority of the series, it represented Kendall's feeling of profound guilt and regret, though this changed slightly in the aftermath of his triumphant Living+ presentation.

With power firmly in hand, Kendall found himself able to swim effortlessly in the ocean, "comfortable in the world" and symbolically freeing himself from that feeling of guilt that once threatened to drown him (almost literally in Season 3's "Chiantishire"). In "America Decides," as the consequence of ATN's election call throws the world — and his family — into anxious chaos, Kendall is shielded from the rain in his company car. He deludes himself into believing he's the "good guy" he told Logan he was a season earlier. 

But now? Kendall stares into the water as empty as he was always destined to be. He will forever be trapped in this moment, gazing into his own sea of regret, haunted by the specter of his father — physically manifested by Logan's former aide, Colin.

Kendall didn't need his perspective of the world validated, but he didn't need to be freed from it either. Instead, he needed to see it for what it is: "bulls***." Empty, empty bulls***. Whatever Kendall does next in his life — whether that's attempting to rebuild his relationship with his children or starting a company — his father will be behind him, and the water will be in front of him. No future, no past, just regrets on all sides for the life he chose and continued to choose at every turn.

He doesn't get to be happy; he doesn't get to be dead; he gets exactly what he always needed — a life on dry land.