SPOILER ALERT: This piece contains a deep dive into crucial plot points from HBO’s “Succession,” the series finale of which airs Sunday night.

At the beginning of this final season of HBO’s billionaire family melodrama “Succession,” I joked to my editor that I should have done a weekly quiz called “Are You a Better Parent Than a Roy?” The joke would have been that, no matter what the scenario, the answer would always be, “Yes, of course you are.”

God help you if you’re not.

Vicious media mogul Logan Roy (Brian Cox) was a terrible person, and so are his children, Connor (Alan Ruck), Kendall (Jeremy Strong), Roman (Kieran Culkin) and Shiv (Sarah Snook), the scheming, flailing subjects of the titular succession to his empire. Just awful. The whole lot of them. While much has been made of their competitive power games, betrayals and, most recently, a willingness to support fascism if it’s lucrative, I think the root of all this treachery comes down to parenting, or a hideous lack of it.

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Logan didn’t raise children. He raised competition. And his entire parenting philosophy seemed to be finding cruel ways to crush it.

“There’s an old saying in Hollywood: ‘Nobody wants a story about the village of the happy people,’” said Marc May, a screenwriter and assistant professor in Towson University’s Department of Electronic Media and Film. “So, with a show about any family’s succession, it wasn’t going to focus on the good parenting in the family but the bad. This was inherent in the idea. But since all shows are driven by conflict, it doesn’t make ‘Succession’ any less fun — how you do it is what counts.”

For me, part of the fun of the show is that the Roys’ ridiculously moneyed and nearly all-white lives have seemingly absolutely nothing to do with mine — Logan’s so rich that he owns a house in Malibu and doesn’t remember it! It’s escapist, except when it’s not. This family, like the Murdochs on whom they are based, control the world from their very expensive bubble, from covering up Kendall’s involvement in the death of a waiter during Shiv’s wedding to making the call on ATN, their right-wing news channel, that evil presidential candidate Jeryd Mencken (Justin Kirk) was the winner even with the question of uncounted and burning ballots.

And at the heart of those dramas is Logan, who blackmailed Kendall for his silence in the fatal accident, and whose love Roman was attempting to win, even from beyond the grave, with the call for Mencken in an attempt to prove he’s like his dad. And he is. In the worst ways.

“The focus is on Logan, and how he views his children,” said Carmen Shamwell, who, like the Roys, worked in political media, but for a liberal talk radio network. “That’s the motivation behind everything on this show. He operates from a place of either respect, like or usefulness. He respects Shiv because she went out and forged her own path in politics, even if he doesn’t share them, but he doesn’t like her. He likes Roman because he tells a lot of dirty jokes, but he doesn’t respect or find him useful. Kendall is the only one who took a very keen interest in his business, so he’s useful. But I don’t think he likes him. [Kendall’s] neuro-divergent. [Logan] thinks he’s a weirdo. And he doesn’t respect him.”

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As for poor goofy Connor, the only child from Logan’s first marriage to a woman who wound up in a mental institution, and who the family keeps seemingly forgetting exists: “He doesn’t check any of those boxes, so Logan doesn’t have any use for him,” Shamwell said. Ouch.

That certainly tracks with the speech that Connor gives at his bachelor party about how having a family that doesn’t love him is his “superpower,” because while his siblings are “needy little love sponges” who are “all chasing after Dad saying ‘Love me, please love me,” Connor is “a plant that grows on rocks … Because I don’t need love.” Isn’t that the most proudly pathetic thing you’ve ever read? I mean, Connor’s an idiot who runs for president because he’s rich and thinks that qualifies him, but he seems to have at least some moments of self-awareness. “Oh, man. He never even liked me,” he blurts upon hearing that his father has dropped dead in the plane he was taking to broker a deal and not to Connor’s wedding, which his death has upstaged.

Jean Hannah Edelstein, author of the memoir “This Really Isn’t About You” and daughter of the late William Edelstein, a distinguished professor of radiology at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, said the show is about “generational trauma” that’s stunted each generation of Roys, denying them that love their little hearts crave.

At Logan’s funeral, for instance, his estranged brother Ewan (James Cromwell) explains how they were treated harshly as kids, and how Logan never got over the guilt of believing he’d brought home the polio that killed their younger sister. This maybe explains the shutting down of his heart, even with his children. What’s gone down is more than bad parenting, though — it’s no parenting at all. At Logan’s funeral, his second wife, Lady Caroline (Harriet Walter), jokes about dropping her kids, Kendall, Roman and Shiv, off with a nanny when they were young and never seeing them.

“Scottish people are very warm, in their way,” said Edelstein, whose mother is Scottish. “But Lady Caroline is an aristocrat from that whole old money British culture of sending kids away to boarding school when they are very young. It’s very much a class thing, outsourcing the work of child-raising.”

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There are plenty of sketchy pop culture parents at every income level (the working-class Bundys of “Married... With Children,” anyone?). But May said the displays of extreme wealth on “Succession” are part of the draw. “Bad parenting might be interesting to watch if the Roys were poor, but it’s a lot more interesting to watch if they are rich. So if they had been parented well and were rich, there wouldn’t be much conflict and little reason to watch. The writers know what they are doing.”

The result: three adults who have desperate ambition where their hearts should be and act like robots who suddenly become human and freak out because they can’t compute having feelings. It’s how Roman, who sees himself claiming the throne with his planned eulogy of his father, breaks down like a normal person would but feels ashamed for so basic an emotion.

“We all have these rituals around death that require people to perform their grief, but Roman thinks, ‘I’m so humiliated, too humiliated, and my father’s in a box,’” Edelstein said.

As the last episode looms, she said the question is whether “any of the descendants will be able to step away from the trauma as parents” themselves, and, honestly, it doesn’t look good. Kendall tells himself that he’s an absentee parent only in service to securing his kids’ futures but berates his ex-wife when she explains the weight of his network’s politics on their Asian daughter. And Shiv, who’s been drinking while pregnant to piss off her estranged husband, isn’t looking great either.

I wonder if the Roys may have been better people if they had been parented better. I tell you they sure make me feel better about my own parenting.


Leslie Gray Streeter is a columnist excited about telling Baltimore stories — about us and the things that we care about, that touch us, that tickle us and that make us tick, from parenting to pop culture to the perfect crab cake. She is especially psyched about discussions that we don't usually have. Open mind and a sense of humor required.

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