Succession Season 3 Ending Explained: A Tragic Twist Befitting The Bard

While the Roy family of "Succession" have mirrored plenty of other famous families over the show's three seasons, including the fictional Bluths of "Arrested Development" and the real-life Murdochs of the Fox News empire, none are as close as the tragic family at the center of Shakespeare's "King Lear." "Succession" has always been a Lear story, following an aging, possibly mad patriarch as he tries to determine how to split his kingdom among his children. Logan Roy, much like the aging and narcissistic Lear, plays games with his children's hearts and minds in order to determine who is worthy of the throne. While the first two seasons were a slow simmer of the Roy family in-fighting with a mostly capable patriarch at the helm, the third season has led each of his children toward their own tragic downfalls. Each is a Shakespearean tragic hero in their own right, their lofty ambitions, unrelenting guilt, and desperate need for approval all a result of dear old Dad's machinations throughout their lives. 

"Lear" isn't the only literary inspiration "Succession" draws from; the season finale's title, "All the Bells Say," comes from the poem "Dream Song 29" by John Berryman. The full line is "all the bells say: too late." As it turns it, there are many things the Roy siblings have done that have led them down a path towards destruction, and now, it is indeed too late. As they gather for the wedding of their mother, Lady Caroline (Harriet Walter), the siblings begin to realize that all they have left is one another. 

Spoilers for the season 3 finale of "Succession." 

'It's Just Business'

"Succession," at its core, is a show about cycles of abuse. There are four Roy children: firstborn but oft-ignored Connor (Alan Ruck); prodigal son Kendall (Jeremy Strong); Lady Macbeth in Marc Jacobs' latest, Shiv (Sarah Snook); and idiot youngest child Roman (Kieran Culkin). Each has their own hang-ups with their father, who has berated them from the moment of their birth for not living up to his impossible standards. Over the past three seasons, they've each tried to find their own way to impress their father and either gain his love or his respect, whichever they can manage. Connor wants to make a run for President of the United States. Kendall tried to best his dad at his own game time and time again. Shiv tried to use secrets and backstabbing to get ahead. Roman mostly self-imploded every time he was given a chance, ending with the penultimate episode's horrifying accidental dick-pic to Logan during a board meeting. 

It looks like Logan is going to give Roman another chance as they go to visit with tech giant Lukas Mattson (Alexander Skarsgård), but on the way he questions Roman about his sexual hang-ups. He accuses him of a variety of things before telling him to "get it straightened out." Instead of offering love or support, or even listening to what Roman has to say, Logan only gives him the option to do things his way. Logan always gets his way, and if he doesn't, it can be dangerous for those around him. This is a man who hit a child across the face with a can of cranberry sauce, remember? We've seen him manipulate and belittle each of his children repeatedly as adults, so there's no telling what kind of childhood they had. (We know Roman was locked in a dog crate sometimes, but apparently he liked it? There aren't enough therapists in the world to unpack that one.)

Connor, Kendall, and Shiv have all cut ties emotionally from their father in some way, but Roman was the remaining loyalist. When people discuss Logan's eventual death, the idea shocks Roman to his core. Mind you, Roman makes jokes at everyone else's expense regularly and he has a pitch-black sense of humor, but thinking about Daddy dying is just too much. After that last little jab about "getting it together," however, even Roman might be done with Logan's abuse. 

Questioning Loyalties

Logan and Roman meet with Mattson, who rightly points out that Waystar Royco is a dinosaur in the media industry. Though Roman is quick to defend both his father and the company, Logan seems disenchanted with all of it. When Mattson says he's looking forward to the future and Logan agrees, Mattson questions him on if he's really looking forward to it. Logan has sort of checked out, his passion for business having become an annoyance that won't seem to buzz off. Mattson floats the idea of his company absorbing Waystar Royco and Logan doesn't immediately shut him down the way he might have even a season ago. Logan, for all his bluff and bluster, is tired. On good days he's the boisterous boar of old, destroying egos with a well-timed barb, but those days are becoming more rare. Instead he's constantly worried about his diet, remembering his medication, and appearing on top of things. Add onto that the fact that all of his children are supreme disappointments, and Logan is just done with it all. 

A Marriage Built on Giving Up

Speaking of being done with it all, Connor finally had enough of his half-siblings treating him like the odd man out. He decides to leave the wedding festivities for Kendall, Shiv, and Roman's mother, telling girlfriend Willa (Justine Lupe) that his whole family hates him. After his painfully awkward attempt at a proposal in last week's episode, he's convinced that Willa is destined to leave him too. Instead, she decides to throw caution to the wind. "F*** it," she tells Connor, and the two begin repeating the phrase back and forth to one another semi-joyously. They get into their car and Willa's face shows her immediate regret, but she's already in too deep. Their entire relationship has been built upon Connor's delusions of grandeur and Willa's desire to live comfortably, so it makes sense for them to join together in solidarity of sorts. Maybe they'll even put "f*** it" on the wedding invitations. 

Oh Mama

The reason for this whole gathering in a gorgeous Tuscan villa is the wedding of Lady Caroline, mother to Kendall, Shiv, and Roman. One has to wonder what kind of woman could marry Logan and have his children, and Caroline is just as challenging of an individual as her ex-husband. While we haven't seen much of her interacting with either of her sons, the relationship between Caroline and Shiv is competitive at best, and downright ruthless at worst. Both are intelligent, cutthroat women in a patriarchal world, and instead of working together they see one another as only potential enemies. When Shiv gives a toast, she can barely say anything nice about her mother. Many of her barbs come off as lighthearted jokes, but to those who know, Shiv sent daggers straight at her mom on her mom's big day. The children haven't been supportive of their mother's marriage choices, and now they're even failing to support her as a person. In this family, everyone seems to be out for themselves.

United in a Time of Crisis

Season 3 has been a long, torturous breakdown for Kendall, who accidentally killed a young man in a car accident at Shiv's wedding and has been plagued by guilt ever since. Now that he might actually face repercussions for his irresponsible actions, he needs to share that burden of guilt with someone else. Logan knows, but has used the incident as leverage against his son at every turn. Finally, Kendall breaks down and reveals the truth to his siblings, confessing his horrible deed in blubbering bursts. Shiv is obviously shaken, while Roman uses his trademark gallows humor to try to alleviate some of Kendall's pain. There have been moments throughout the series where the siblings unite and show that they do have love for one another, despite all of their bickering and backstabbing. They are united not only by blood, but by their shared trauma growing up as the children of Logan Roy and Lady Caroline Collingwood. 

Remember the poem from the episode title? It tells the story of a man so haunted by his past that his days are filled with bleak despair. Sound familiar? Kendall has hit rock bottom, telling his siblings that he's "come all apart." The next line in the poem, following "too late," reads: "This is not for tears; thinking." The time now isn't for Kendall to mourn his mortal soul with tears, but instead to find a way forward in the face of his titan of a father. 

For once, the siblings come together in a shared goal: take down Logan before he can sell the company. They need their family in charge of Waystar Royco to continue the comfortable lives they've gotten used to, and they're not going to give it up without a fight.  

A Deal With the Devil

The two big underdogs of the Roy family hierarchy are Tom Wambsgans (Matthew Macfayden) and Greg Hirsch (Nicholas Braun). Tom is Shiv's husband, and though he loves her with all of his heart and he has thrown himself over the coals for her multiple times, she treats him like dog poop on the bottom of her Louboutins. She informed him that she had cheated and wanted an open marriage on their wedding night, wants to freeze embryos instead of conceiving a child the old fashioned way, and she told him during "dirty talk" that she didn't love him. Meanwhile, cousin Greg has been mostly used as a lackey or a punchline, never given a chance to shine in his own right. Sure, he's kind of a doofus who thinks suing Greenpeace is perfectly acceptable behavior, but he's also been learning to navigate the cutthroat world of the Roys. As of the wedding, he's looking at even bedding a Contessa and ending up in line for royal titles. 

Throughout the seasons, Tom and Greg have relied on one another. Their friendship is troubled but impressively strong, and this season Tom even told Greg that he would "castrate and marry [him] in a minute." Now he's asking Greg to join him in a "deal with the devil." Greg, his Sporus, is ready to damn himself with Tom, replying: "What am I gonna do with a soul anyways?" 

Tom and Greg have mostly retained their "souls" despite being part of the Roy family's machinations. After being treated too poorly for too long, they're ready to play just as dirty as the family they're stuck with. I still think they should go into witness protection, throw the entire family under the bus, and live somewhere in rural Idaho with Mondale, but this is the next best thing. 

'You're Playing Toy F***in' Soldiers!'

The three musketeers of mutiny make their way to where Logan's meeting with his business partners, ready to shock their pop with a united front against him. Instead, he's ready and waiting. He tries each of his typical tricks to try and split the kids or play them against one another, but even Roman has had enough of his father's bullying. Shiv explains that the three of them will vote against anything their father does, and that a legal clause requires a majority shareholder vote. Logan, backed into a corner, lashes out with everything he's got, telling them that they're just playing with toy soldiers. He's right, too, as he's outwitted them at their own game already. 

Logan gets Caroline on the phone, and mommy dearest drops a bombshell: she and Logan have renegotiated their divorce agreements, and the protections for the kids have been removed. After Shiv's appalling wedding speech, it's no wonder that she's fine throwing her kids to the wolves. She's not exactly mother of the year and they haven't been loving, doting children, so there's not much love lost between them. The real shock is that Kendall, Shiv, and Roman might be left without any money or any power, and that's their ultimate nightmare. 

This is where our "Lear" comparisons come full circle: in "Lear," the king separates his kingdom among his three daughters, but the youngest daughter Cordelia refuses to play his games of flattery and tells him she will give him nothing but her love. Likewise, Logan asks Roman what he brings to the table and Roman meekly replies "love?" Roman has always been the series' Cordelia, seeing their father as an unsinkable titan, his love for the man blinding him to the realities of his cruelty. Logan laughs in his face, mirroring Lear's response to his youngest: "Nothing can come of nothing, speak again." Lear later bemoans his ungrateful children, saying, "how sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless child!" Logan sees his children as grasping, greedy, and ultimately thankless. He sees their loss of power and money as an opportunity for growth, while also being befitting punishment. 

'How Does It Serve My Interests?'

Terrified, Roman begins to beg Gerri (J. Smith Cameron) to help him. He spouts off the usual complaints about his father, that he's going mad or isn't in his right mind, and Gerri ignores the sniveling Roman. They've had a complicated romantic entanglement for the past few years, but after Roman stepped over his bounds again last week, ignoring Gerri's request for him to not send any more lewd photos, it seems like Gerri is tired of playing to his childish and inappropriate fantasies. She's tried to teach Roman how to survive in the business world, but he ignores her advice every time. It's fitting that when Roman crawls towards her, pleading for her to help him stop what's already been set in motion, she repeats the same advice to him that she gave at the beginning of the season: "How does it serve my interests?" She told Roman to keep that in his mind at all times, and now that his ignorance has come back to bite him, she's going to remind him that he had a chance to be on top and he threw it all away to be an immature playboy. 

The siblings have been abandoned. Connor has written them off. Their parents clearly don't want to support them any longer. Even Gerri has turned her back on Roman, which means that they might truly be alone.

A Betrayal Seasons in the Making

Perpetual sad boy Tom Wambsgans finally got his moment. After offering to throw himself at the mercy of the Department of Justice for Logan, helping the old man out in the bathroom during his spells of delirium, and nearly going to prison, Tom has proven himself loyal to Logan Roy. So when it's revealed that he's the one that tipped Logan off about Shiv and co.'s plans, it's a perfect bit of justice. "Terminal Tom" came out on top because he finally decided to play the game just as dirty as it's been played around him. Wambsgans wins, for the first time ever, and boy howdy is it satisfying.

Tom has slowly been ingratiating himself towards Logan, whether it's his season 2 "thanks for the chicken" show of ferocity or his moments of tenderness when Logan was ailing. Logan told Tom that he would remember, and it looks like the time for remembering has finally come. Tom has finally cashed in completely and sold his soul to Logan, even at his wife's expense.

Undone by Her Own Cruelty

Shiv is clearly aware of Tom's betrayal and is shocked by it, but she tries to keep on her game face. Her breath hitches as she realizes that even Tom, kicked-puppy-who-comes-back-for-more Tom, has forsaken her. After everything she's done to him in their short marriage, her brief moment of angst is somewhat refreshing. Shiv started "Succession" as a dark horse, the sister who was ignored because of her gender. Much like Shakespeare's Lady Macbeth, she plotted and planned to overthrow the king (Logan) using her often unwitting husband. In "Macbeth," the power-hungry wife tells her husband the way to sneak in and kill the king: "Look like th'innocent flower, But be the serpent under't." Shiv herself is the serpent beneath the flower, a woman who appears to be thoughtful, progressive, and good-hearted, but who truly only cares for herself. Her repeat cruelty to Tom taught him to use the same sneaky tactics that she herself uses on everyone. She created her Macbeth, and now she has to live with him. 

'I Always Win'

There's something that Logan tells his children before leaving them to wallow in their own self-made destruction: "I always win." Though he has stumbled and struggled with his health, Logan Roy does indeed always win. The secret to his success is that he doesn't give a damn who he hurts along the way, and he's not bothered by such pesky concerns as truth or consequences. He's on a first-name basis with the President, can lie through his teeth about anything, and always manages to come out on top. His children betting against him again was the final straw, and he had to prove to them just how inadequate they all are once and for all. 

Season 4 of "Succession" will see the power dynamics completely shaken. Where will Kendall, Shiv, and Roman land if their positions at Waystar Royco disappear with the buyout? How will Tom and Shiv's marriage continue now that she doesn't hold all of the power? Can Logan Roy retire, or would that force him to wither up and die because he doesn't have anyone to yell at? 

We'll have to wait until this brilliantly cruel series comes back, but one thing's for certain: Logan always wins.