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Ranking Succession’s Characters From Least To Most Despicable

Succession’s fourth and final season is upon us. I’ve spent the last few weeks binging the show from the very beginning so that I could review the new season when it landed and I’ve become terribly, hopelessly hooked. Now that we’re in week two of season 4, I thought it was time to talk about the show’s characters in a bit more detail.

I’ve watched so many Succession episodes in succession now that the theme song is pretty much living rent-free in my head at this point. I can hear the piano licks right now as I type this. And along with the song, the Roy dynasty and its hangers-on keeps bouncing around my skull. These are fascinating, deplorable, extremely well-drawn characters played by some of the most talented actors working in TV today.

I have so many thoughts. I’m writing episodic reviews of each episode of Season 4 (see my season premiere review here) but for now, let’s talk about Succession’s wonderful cast of morally bankrupt characters and who we love to hate the most. While my headline suggests that I’ve ranked these characters in some sort of order from best to worst, the fact is that’s basically impossible.

Instead, I’ll open with some of the least problematic characters and move on up the food chain. There’s no straight line here. At any given moment, any one of these rich bastards could be doing something terrible or profound or profoundly terrible. Some even flirt with brief moments of redemption—before plunging back into the swamp.

We’ll begin with everyone’s favorite hapless nitwit, Greg.

Cousin Greg (Nicholas Braun)

“Yes, if it is to be said, so be it. So it is.”

When Succession begins, we join Greg as newcomers to the Roy family. He’s ‘Cousin Greg’ to his older relatives, and a stranger at first. But he’s kin and that matters in a family business. Soon, he finds himself in the thick of things, almost immediately wrapped up in the Cruise scandal with his boss, Tom. The Tom and Greg bromance that ensues is one of the best, most endearing aspects of the entire show.

Greg is a hapless navigator of this world of the rich and famous but he has hidden depths. He knows enough to protect himself when he’s asked to dispose of evidence. He’s not willing to stab people in the back to keep his own skin safe. And while he’s clueless about nearly everything, he does at least want to do the right thing, even if he doesn’t always have the courage to do the right thing.

He also has a good share of the show’s best lines, including gems like his proposed slogan ‘We Hear For You.”

Tom Wambsgans (Matthew Macfadyen)

“I’d castrate you and marry you in a heartbeat.”

Tom is probably the most surprising—and surprisingly sympathetic—character in the entire show, and a good deal of that is the masterful performance by Matthew Macfadyen. In a show with some of the finest actors on the planet, Macfadyen still manages to stand out. Tom comes off as a royal douchebag at first, and then as a bumbling doofus out of his depth, and occasionally as a massively petty middle-manager desperate for approval.

But beneath all of that is a man who genuinely thinks he can do good, who loves his wife and wants to be faithful to her, who values his friends and, in his bromance with Greg, shows a vulnerable side that only rarely comes out with Shiv.

The scene where this really clicked for me was when Greg tried to switch departments and told Tom it would be like an “open relationship” at work. Tom was fresh off the heels of this conversation with his new wife, Shiv, and his reaction shocked Greg. Tom took all the hurt and pain and anger and jealousy from his marriage and channeled it into his relationship with Greg.

It’s not until later that Tom is able to really confront Shiv about all this, in one of the most profoundly moving scenes in the entire show (pictured above). “I wonder if the sad I’d be without you would be less than the sad I get from being with you,” he tells her. Damn.

Connor Roy (Alan Ruck)

“Connor Roy was interested in politics at a very young age.”

The eldest of the Roy children, Connor is also the least awful of the four. Sure, he’s basically useless, having never worked a real job or had any real responsibility, coasting on his father’s wealth (while suffering his father’s neglect). But he’s also kind. He is a genuinely nice person who isn’t always trying to one-up everybody else all the time. He may be astonishingly empty-headed at times, but he makes up for it with a heart that’s at least partially intact.

His bid for the presidency is as silly as his hodge-podge grab-bag of political ideas (including a flat tax that will eventually drop to zero and a fervent belief in free markets that he seems to understand only in the abstract). I loved the scene where he’s looking down from his hotel suite ranting about the “elites” and Shiv points out that if you’re literally looking down on the elites that says something.

I think perhaps the most important thing about Connor is that his relationship with Willa (Justine Lupe) is actually the most functional romantic relationship in the entire series despite her being an escort. The two are far more loyal to one another than anyone else on the show, emotionally supporting one another and their dreams and remaining faithful as a couple. They’re mocked early on as having a ‘transactional relationship’ but in many ways, it’s the least transactional in the entire show.

Gerri Kellman (J. Smith-Cameron)

“You disgusting little pig.”

I’m including Gerri here because she is an important character in the show even if we don’t get nearly as much of her as many of the others. She’s a competent manager with a good head for business. She’s reliable in that sense, but not trustworthy in the least, going whichever way the wind blows in the endless struggle for succession. Right from the first of Kendall’s bids for power, she abandons her allies and leaves them out to dry. Her relationship with Roman—if that’s even the right word for it—is fascinating. I’m still not sure what to think about all that.

Roman Roy (Kieran Culkin)

“Guess who didn’t kill anyone but maybe only lost a couple of thumbs?”

I’ve been thinking about Roman a lot lately because he may be the most surprising of the Roy children. In the first season of the show, he comes across as the young spoiled brat. He doesn’t care about anything, has no business sense, exists just to talk crap and make zingers. He’s a playboy without a care in the world.

Only, no, none of that is actually true (except the zingers bit). He’s not a playboy at all. He barely has sex with the beautiful women he dates because his deep-seeded issues cause all sorts of bizarre sexual hang-ups, which eventually leads to the Gerri stuff. Lots to unpack there.

He’s also actually pretty business savvy. He has good instincts coupled with a willingness to learn and a surprising well of humility. He’s much better at it than his sister, who lacks both instincts and experience, or his brother, whose experience can’t make up for a lack of instincts. Roman has it all and he’s always willing to play ball with his father, unlike his siblings.

If I had to pick a successor, it would be Roman. Age will chip away his rough edges and what he lacks in experience he makes up for with business sense.

Shiv Roy (Sarah Snook)

“One thing is, people don’t change. You know, a candidate can’t change. You can primp and plump and repackage, but if you want to change someone fundamentally, forget it.”

At first, I thought Shiv was an okay person trying to be better and more ethical than her father and brothers. Two things disabused me of this notion. First, she began having an affair right before her wedding to Tom. She was so remorseless about her cheating that she proposed an open marriage—on their wedding night! It quickly became apparent that Shiv was not interested in anyone but herself and her own feelings and ideas. Tom’s feelings? Irrelevant. Shiv only pretends to have values. At the end of the day, she’s only looking out for herself. Even in the open marriage, she’d find ways to dissuade Tom from partaking while freely sleeping with whoever she fancied.

The second big tell for Shiv was when she revealed that Logan wanted her to be his successor during the dinner with the Pierce family. Right in the middle of the negotiations, she broke her agreement with her father and played her hand, embarrassing Logan and sinking whatever chances she had to take over Waystar RoyCo in the process. Not only is Shiv self-centered and callous, she’s not all that bright and her business savvy is even worse than Kendall’s.

Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong)

“Tasty morsels from groovy hubs.”

Speaking of Kendall, I’m not saying he’s worse than Shiv by placing him here in this list. I think they tie, actually. But let’s face it: Only one of them is responsible for someone’s death. Jeremy Strong is phenomenal in this role, and I think most of the empathy I feel for Kendall is thanks to Strong’s performance, lending the spoiled eldest child (not counting Connor) a depth that almost forces you to relate to him even though you know he’s a garbage human being.

Kendall is an alcoholic and a drug addict and he clearly suffers from some sort of bipolar disorder that leaves him in pits of despair one moment and then walking on cloud nine the next. While I find Kendall enormously sympathetic during his lows, during his highs he’s almost intolerably cocky. He interrupts everyone. He’s wildly impulsive. His god complex makes him act deranged. And he’s almost as disloyal as Shiv, barely spending time with his kids, using women and discarding them just as easily, and spending most of his waking hours plotting ways to stab his dad in the back.

Of course, unlike the other victims of Kendall’s neglect and mercurial behavior, Logan deserves it. Speaking of which . . . .

Logan Roy (Brian Cox)

“F*$* off!”

I admit, I kind of have a love/hate thing for Logan Roy. Brian Cox is just so delightfully horrible as the Waystar RoyCo patriarch. He’s the kind of supervillain you know is relentlessly wicked, but you admire regardless. Logan is the killer. He’s the unbeatable business tycoon who always has a trick up his sleeve. Whenever his enemies (or children) think they have him backed into a corner, they realize that there are no corners. That was just what Logan wanted them to think. He’s already mapped out the next five moves on the corporate chess board. And he’s willing to do whatever it takes—including screwing over his own kids—to win.

Logan Roy is a vile, selfish, manipulative, faithless scumbag who only cares about destroying anyone who opposes him, who uses people like chess pieces, and who thinks of human beings as “economic units” but my god does he make for one hell of a great antagonist.

Who do you love to hate in Succession? Let me know on Twitter or Facebook.

As always, I’d love it if you’d follow me here on this blog and subscribe to my YouTube channel and my Substack so you can stay up-to-date on all my TV, movie and video game reviews and coverage. Thanks!



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