Succession Is a Game of Monopoly

Did the finale finally flip over the board?

Tom and Shiv from Succession
Graeme Hunter / HBO / Charlie Le Maignan / The Atlantic

The finale for HBO’s third season of Succession opens with a family session of Monopoly, a game that offers the perfect summary of the show: Players fight to be the last one standing—trading advantages and risking jail—going around the board over and over without a clear end in sight. But with the season’s exhilarating ending, has the game of Succession finally changed?

So far, each season has followed a different Roy sibling as likely successor as head of the family business: first Kendall, then Shiv, and now Roman. With that third season now over, how does Roman’s time as the Number One Boy stack up? And with Kendall as the show’s bloodied, beating heart, is every season fundamentally about him?

Sophie Gilbert, Hannah Giorgis, and Megan Garber discuss Tom, Shiv, and all the players in the Game of Roy. They also answer which Succession character they’d want to be stuck on a desert island with. Listen to their conversation here:

The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity. It contains spoilers through the ninth episode of Succession Season 3.

Sophie Gilbert: How is everyone? Have you been waiting three quarters of an hour for a gin and tonic?

Megan Garber: (Laughs.) I can’t say that I have, thankfully.

Gilbert: This is a reference, of course, to the epic line between Roman and Kendall in probably the most emotional scene from Sunday night’s season finale of Succession. I’ll start with you, Megan, but I wanted to ask you both: What did you think of the finale and of this season in general?

Garber: Oh, I really loved the finale. I thought it closed so many doors, but still left a lot open for further exploration. I mean, the Monopoly game that they played at the very beginning of the episode, that was genius. I agreed with you, Sophie, as you wrote in your early review, the show did feel stuck at the beginning of the season. It felt like we were just seeing a lot of the same plotlines and interactions happening over and over.

But by the end of the season, I felt that they had really resolved a lot of those issues, and made a point about what I think is the structural elements of the show’s satire, which is: So much happens, and yet nothing meaningfully changes. Despite all of the bombshells in the final episode, we’re fundamentally still in the same universe. There’s so much narrative propulsion, but very little structural change. And that felt satisfying to me as a viewer, but I also felt that it served the show’s satire.

Read: A perfect—and cyclical—Succession finale

Hannah Giorgis: Absolutely. I mean, the moment I finished the finale, I wanted to rewatch it, which is the highest compliment I can give anything I’m watching. I want to appreciate all of the dialogue—like, good Lord, every single line—but there was also something so beautiful to look at about this episode. I almost wanted to replay it just on mute and just sort of appreciate all of the incredible composition. That really emotional scene where Kendall’s on the ground and his two siblings are flanking him...there’s a drama and a gravity to the visual composition of this finale.

Gilbert: Yeah, that trio of Roman, Shiv, and Kendall looked like a corrupted heart or like a sculpture. All three season finales have been directed by Mark Mylod, and they’ve all had this gorgeous cinematic quality that is just stunning. And I think that’s maybe part of what I’ve been missing throughout Season 3. Maybe that’s the pandemic’s fault, and they probably weren’t able to go on location as much as they did in Season 2, when they were always popping around to hunting lodges and mansions in the Catskills. It was constantly one location after another, which was very gratifying for me as a viewer because you have the gorgeousness of the locations. But also, I found it interesting for the characters because they were constantly thrown into unfamiliar situations in a way that made them tense and fractious. And so when I previewed Season 3, I was given the first seven episodes out of nine, which is a little unfortunate because all the good stuff really happens in the last two, right?

Giorgis: It sure does.

Gilbert: If Season 1 was Kendall’s season and Season 2 was Shiv’s turn as heir-apparent to the Waystar Royco fortune, Season 3 seemed to be Roman. He was the one who was closest to his father. But after the well-crafted and beautiful Season 2, I found Season 3 frustrating through the first seven hours just because it seemed like nothing was happening. But what I’ve come to realize after the finale’s Monopoly-board scene is that this show is essentially a game of Monopoly. We’re just going round and round the board. People go up and people go down, and people go to jail and people come out. It’s the perfect metaphor for what this show is trying to do. And I do still kind of hate that they leave all the great emotional drama and pathos to the finale every single season. But at the same time, it’s so powerful when it comes.

Kendall is one of the great TV characters of all time—and we can talk more about Jeremy Strong and his Method later—but, to me, he is the bloodied, beating heart of the show. And at the end of the penultimate episode, when Kendall seemed to sink into his pool lounger and possibly drown, I was fascinated by the idea of what that kind of disruption might do to the show. How his death might realign in the sort of drama that it would introduce. And then ultimately, the show feinted away from that.

Garber: I think the formula is a big part of the satire in some ways. All the hints at Kendall’s death somewhat mirror the hints at Logan’s death from the first season. The whole show starts with the idea that this man is probably going to die, so what happens when that takes place? Everyone’s trying to shuffle themselves around that inevitability. And yet it never happens. He quickly recovers and then everything’s back to normal. And it just seems like, again and again, we see: What happens if this major change takes place in this world? And then the change never comes. And I think the show is trying to write that into its storyline.

In an interview, one of the writers of the show talked about how they’ll use the phrase “un- Succession-y.“ A writer might pitch an idea, and then someone else will say: “Well, that’s not Succession-y“ because the plot being pitched has too much consequence for a character. It ends with too much direct effect for their actions. And part of the point of this show is that they can’t face too many meaningful consequences. And I thought that was a really interesting point that you see being played out again and again on the show.

Gilbert: Yeah, that’s really revealing. There was a New Yorker piece earlier this season that compared it to Seinfeld. It’s a show where nothing happens. You’re watching for the dynamics between the characters. But at the same time, especially with Kendall, one of the tidbits from the much-discussed New Yorker profile of Jeremy Strong was that he thinks he’s in a drama, whereas the rest of the cast think they’re in comedy. And there’s been this great debate since Succession debuted: Is it a drama or is it a comedy?

I interviewed Frank Rich, one of the producers, about it once, and he said they try not to categorize anything. But there is also kind of a disconnect where the scenes with Kendall are just, to me, more riveting and more rewarding and more intense than anything else in the show. And I sort of miss them when they’re not there. It makes me wonder if the show would do better to lean toward drama a little bit more. Or do you love it as this amalgam of both?

Giorgis: I love both, because it’s messy. And I love a messy TV show. And while this has been thought of as Roman’s season, I think that every season is fundamentally a Kendall season. He is the emotional anchor of this show. Even when Shiv or Roman are cozying up to Logan, what keeps the show grounded is Kendall and the intensity of his inner turmoil compared to everyone else.

Gilbert: I would agree with that. Though each season does seem to have a character pegged as the successor, right? And it did kind of feel like Roman this season. And I think next season it’s going to be Tom. What did you think of his arc this season?

Garber: One of the things this show does so well is appreciate the way that circumstance can affect the way people act. Different elements of themselves manifest in different environments. One of the tragedies of Kendall is that you could imagine him—not in this world, not the son of Logan Roy—but you could actually imagine being kind of an amazing person. He’s an idealist. He can be extremely sensitive and caring. He has wonderful qualities embedded in him. And yet they’ve just been sort of systematically beaten out of him by his father and the world he inhabits. That’s just one of the great tragedies of the show, despite all the comedy that comes from it. He could be so different under different circumstances.

And I mentioned that in relation to Tom, because I think actually Tom is another great example of that. On the more comedy side, Tom will be completely sycophantic and obsequious with Logan or Shiv. But when he relates to Greg, he’s this unhinged cruelty monster. And I think that’s a really smart thing that the show observes. According to circumstance, he’s completely different. And for the first two seasons we saw the obsequious Tom, and now we’re seeing the monster Tom, and I’m loving the drama of it.

Gilbert: And we also—and I think we see this a lot in different workplaces—see the way that leaders lead trickles down. And so, one of the ways that Tom gets Greg on board with his plan to betray his wife and the other siblings to Logan is to promise him “20 Gregs.“

Garber: (Laughs.)

Gilbert: Everyone just wants someone to be a butthead to.

Garber: Twenty Greggs for the Tomlette!

Gilbert: What did you think of Tom up this season?

Giorgis: I find Tom to be an incredibly difficult character. A lot of what he’s done this season obviously is just fundamentally treasonous in the context of his marriage. But also, since when was Shiv actually ever really in it or loyal to him to begin with? And so, I found it satisfying to watch him push back against that, even in this big, dramatic way—even though I have a soft spot for Shiv, despite her being a tyrant.

Gilbert: It’s interesting because Shiv and Tom are the only real romantic relationship that you see play out in the show. But at the same time, everything in it is defined by business and ambition. It’s all one-upmanship. It’s all power. And so it’s not it’s not a real marriage in that sense, which maybe makes what Tom does to Shiv more understandable, and maybe more defensible.

Giorgis: I mean, their whole relationship feels like a case against marriage.

Gilbert: Maybe the real marriage is just Tom and Greg. They’ve had some sweet moments. Tom was going to take the rap so that Greg didn’t have to go to jail. They are, of course, Sporus and Nero. Tom made that sick and terrifying analogy about Nero having one of his slaves castrated so that he could marry him, and he likened his relationship with Greg to that. Sweet? Romantic?

Garber: There’s such an interesting chaos on the show when it comes to relationships in general. So many nods to incest among the siblings. Roman and Gerri. All these different examples of relationships that refuse to cleave to traditional pairings, and traditional ways of just being humans to each other. There just simply aren’t a lot of relationships that we would recognize as real in this show, and that’s part of the satire. They just simply can’t love each other. They don’t know how to. They don’t even have the dialogue for it, the definitions for it. Everything is emotionally chaotic in this world.

Gilbert: Caroline Collingwood, the siblings’ mother, said of Logan: “He never saw anything he loved that he didn’t want to kick just to see if it would still come back.“ And I think we saw that dynamic play out with different characters this season. Shiv going back to Logan. Tom was so depressed this season, I kept wondering if he was going to break. He sees how poisonous this family is. What is his end game? And then in the end, he seemed to think that he could still win the Game of Roy. And I don’t know that anyone ever does except Logan.

Giorgis: Tom said it himself: Logan’s the only person he’s ever seen come out on top. So it’s an interesting choice to have made, knowing that. I also just keep thinking about all of the scenes earlier in the season where he talks about his prison consultant. And when you think about the level of studiousness he brought to maybe going to prison, and how he could bring that to this grand gesture of betrayal if he decides to—that’s a deeply dangerous and calculated person in a way that I don’t think we had seen before.

Gilbert: Yeah, it implies that Tom has sort of evil depths that we haven’t seen yet.

Giorgis: Even with the Nero and Sporus thing: Castration and marriage to Sporus is entirely dependent on the fact that Nero first pushed his wife down the stairs. It’s such a visceral way of harming somebody. And then we see what happens in the finale.

Gilbert: If the show has a mission statement—and the writers have said this—it’s about exposing how unchecked wealth and power corrupts everything it comes into contact with. And if Logan is the kind of centrifugal force in the center that everything else revolves around, you’ve seen this season how people tend to get darker the closer they get to him. And I think Roman’s arc this season was really interesting, because he was really awful. I’ve enjoyed him as a character in the past, and I think one of the first times I really got on board with Succession was the Season 1 episode where Kendall goes on a meth binge in New Mexico and Roman goes to rescue him. It was the first time you see characters in the show genuinely care for one another. That made me think that maybe there is something here that hasn’t always been revealed. But then all of Season 3, Roman has been the most toxic and awful to everyone, making constant incest jokes to his sister, sending pictures of his penis to Gerri. It’s just interesting to see how Logan’s influence does seem to corrupt not just things, but people. And it makes me wonder what’s going to happen next.

We should talk about that Jeremy Strong profile in The New Yorker. It came out a couple of hours before last week’s penultimate episode dropped, the one where it seemed that Kendall may have kind of drifted into the bottom of the pool. The piece got quite a reaction on the internet. It was a fascinating profile that explored the ways in which Jeremy Strong is a very intense method actor. The details were fascinating, and it got a response from the internet afterwards from friends of Jeremy Strong. Aaron Sorkin released a long statement about the piece via Jessica Chastain’s Twitter page. To me, it seemed like a massive overreaction from actors who seemed to want to defend Jeremy Strong, and I don’t know that he needed defending. The piece was great, and it also pointed out that his work makes the case for itself. And certainly the finale we just saw, you really see that, while everyone on the show is a tremendous actor, he is working at a level that I think is above anyone else.

Giorgis: I definitely agree with that. I also appreciate the meme started by Jessica Chastain posting the letter where people would say “Aaron Sorkin doesn’t have social media, so he asked me to post this letter“ with all sorts of random content. So I, for one, was amused by that result of this profile. As to the celebrity reaction, I think that in one of her tweets, she referred to it as “snark.” Clickbait, snark... these are words celebrities use to, not to be sensitive about it, but use to denigrate journalism that is the least bit critical of them.

I don’t actually think the piece was nearly as unflattering as she and Sorkin were suggesting. They made it sound like a hit piece, when what was conveyed in the profile is that he’s a prickly, overcommitted person who maybe isn’t nice to himself when he’s working, and as a result, isn’t always as kind to the people around him. That’s what Brian Cox said about him: “It’s the cost to himself that worries me. I just feel that he just has to be kinder to himself, and therefore has to be a bit kinder to everybody else.” Even in the moments where people he’s worked with communicate frustration, there’s always an undercurrent of knowing that, when he’s on screen, it pays off.

Garber: That profile actually felt very consonant with what Succession as a show is trying to do. We have, in the culture right now, a lot of questions about how much can artists and geniuses and people we put at the top of our various hierarchies get away with. Can they play by different rules than other people? I think this profile was asking similar questions.

Gilbert: Yeah. Part of it is the debate about method acting writ large. We ran a piece a few years ago by Angelica Bastién about the ways in which Hollywood has ruined the idea of method acting. But I do think the finale made the case that Jeremy Strong should do whatever he wants to do because he’s so good. That said, I don’t have to work with him.

Giorgis: Yeah, it’s easy for us to opine on that as people who only interact with Jeremy Strong via this HBO show. There is a big related question at the core of the story about work and what an obsession with work does to an actor. And that’s also a question that Succession itself is getting at.

Gilbert: Guys, I want to talk about Shiv. And Hannah, you and I might fight on this because I don’t like her at all. But tell me: Why is she your favorite character? What do you like about her?

Giorgis: I don’t like her, either.

Garber: (Laughs.)

Giorgis: I don’t really like any of the characters on the show. I find her compelling, because I enjoy watching the ways that she is terrible play out on screen. She’s a sort of Girlboss Gatekeeper Gaslight meme. I enjoy watching—not rooting for—but just watching a bad Girlboss, like an evil Girlboss character. I love it. There’s just something about weaponized femininity that I find entertaining to watch.

She serves as an interesting foil to her brothers. She’s the only sister, so there are certain ways that she attempts to weaponize that which lends interesting narrative contrast. Shiv and Tom has been fascinating to watch. In earlier seasons, I was amused by her treatment of him, but now I’m like: “Girl, you got to stop. You have to stop.” That scene where she says “Let’s have a baby,” and they do all of that market-talk about what to do with the embryo. That was dark, and dark in a way that is different because we’re talking about life. We’re talking about family in a way that is different from some of the ways that family gets discussed on the show.

Gilbert: Back in Season 1, she was wearing all these crazy colors. She had scarves and chunky sweaters. She worked in politics, but she dressed much hippie-er and much more casual. And then in Season 2, as she got closer to the seat of power, suddenly, everything was beige. Her hair was cut short. She was in all these neutrals. I’ve noticed recently that, in lots of episodes, her outfits are almost identical to Gerri’s. And so you wonder: Is she modeling herself on Gerri? Is this what’s confusing Roman? (Laughs.) It’s really fascinating to see how her outfits portray a kind of bloodlessness in her.

Garber: None of her outfits seem comfortable. Sarah Snook plays her with her posture always just a little too good. You feel her awareness of her own presence in the room, that slight physical discomfort with what she has chosen to put on her body and how that choice both allows her and doesn’t allow her to move through the world. In particular, the finale scene we talked about before—the triptych of the three siblings with Roman and Shiv trying to comfort Kendall—Shiv is wearing these chunky high heels in the dusty, hilly Italian landscape. You can just tell it’s very uncomfortable. It’s not practical. She tries to lean down at one point to comfort Roman, and it’s a physical feat to actually do it because of what’s on her body. The clothes function as a metaphor for constraint in that moment, where even if she might want to be a better sister to Kendall and actually give him a hug and be at his level, she physically can’t because of the clothes.

Giorgis: Right, there’s a way that her foot leans at one point that I, as a person who has worn heels before but not anytime recently, immediately recognized and cringed at. I could almost feel it through the screen. And so much of that element of constraint is interesting to think about in terms of body type. So many of the other younger women on the show are incredibly thin, and thin in ways that are associated with wealth, for all of the reasons we know them to be in the American imagination. And here we have Shiv wearing these tight dresses and pantsuits, but whose body sort of is outside of the bounds of what we think of as acceptable for a certain kind of moneyed, white, young-ish woman. And I wonder to what extent they’re trying to telegraph a bit of that as well.

Read: The bodily horrors of Succession

Garber: Yeah, there’s one episode where Gerri gets out of an airplane with a Shiv-style bob. It feels like the show is trying to suggest, with the two main women on the show in dialogue with each other: What does it mean to be a girlboss in this world? Are they going to be pushed together simply because they are women? Are they going to be torn apart because of that?

Gilbert: I think you see the answers to both in two scenes. One is that scene in Season 2 where Shiv goes to basically do the Waystar Royco dirty work and talk to one of the women who’s come forward about being assaulted out of testifying. And she does it in the most insidious “I am taking your side, I just want to make sure that you know what this is going to mean to you“ sort of way. “Your life is going to be upended, and I’m just trying to protect you.“ It’s really despicable.

And then she does the same thing with Gerri in Season 3. When Gerri receives dick pics from Roman, Shiv has this really smarmy conversation with her that is such a good example of weaponized femininity and how the idea of sisterhood can be twisted into something so poisonous.

But to get back to the big question: Do either of you think that Season 4 will be meaningfully different from 1, 2, or 3? And, if it’s not, will it matter? Is the cyclical repetition what we love it for?

Giorgis: I have moments where I feel frustrated by it. Even if Season 4 is Tom’s season, we’ll hit certain beats and all these tensions we’re used to in the Succession Cinematic Universe. But, also, everybody is going to be batting a hundred, right? I’m going to be sitting there rapt the entire time. So I am not particularly inclined to complain. I’d love to see a fundamental shakeup, but I don’t suspect we’ll get that.

Garber: I’m very interested in this notional new baby from Logan and what a new heir for the Roy family could mean. I can’t decide if that feels like a cheap way to add drama without fundamentally changing the setup of the chessboard, or if it’s something that will cause meaningful change in the lives of this family. One of the takeaways from the finale of this season is that Logan has effectively given up on his genetic family as they currently exist, right? He’s chosen other people to fill that slot. Maybe the presence of another child might change that, but it also seems absurd to imagine how that would be when we’re talking about a notional infant compared to actual adult humans.

Gilbert: There are a couple of things that didn’t fully play for me this season, and one was the idea that Logan would willingly give up power of his company for money. I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything in his personality that hints that he would do that, especially to a person who called him old to his face. We saw Shiv get voted off the island for that in Season 2 for her “dinosaur“ comment.

Garber: That was Marcia’s downfall too.

Giorgis: Marcia, who we’ve seen, like, once this whole season!

Gilbert: That’s the other thing: Marcia negotiated this very expensive divorce settlement at the beginning of the season after Logan’s Sarajevo excursion. So the idea that, suddenly, after doing that and knowing how much money he would lose, he would be willing to commit to a new baby with his admittedly sexy assistant. It just feels like there are unanswered questions, or things being done to serve the plot that aren’t necessarily entirely true. And I’m interested to see what happens with Season 4.

We’ve seen the Lukas Matsson character played by Alexander Skarsgård tell Roman that he’s interested in catastrophic failure. And I think Logan will find playing second fiddle extremely hard. And so the business part of this is very interesting to me and will probably end up at the end of the season with Kendall crying about something and everyone pretty much back in the same seats that they were in before. But I don’t know that I mind if that’s the case.

Gilbert: As we usually do, I think we should conclude with a game. And my question for you both this time is: If you had to be stranded on a desert island with a character from Succession, which one would you pick?

Garber: Oh, my goodness, is my goal survival or entertainment?

Gilbert: This is the American question, Megan!

Garber: Well, I’m an American, so I’m going to choose entertainment. (Laughs.) In which case, my answer would probably be Roman Roy. We would die within a day, but we’d have some good one-liners going down. And once you’re stranded, I think that’s all I’m going to ask for.

Giorgis: Well, as a child of immigrants, I’m going to go with survival and choose the other side of that same coin, which is Gerri. She’s probably the only person aside from maybe Lisa who I would trust to forage, hunt, and really do anything of value to keep us alive.

Garber: Everything will serve her interests somehow.

Giorgis: Correct, and if the interests are staying alive, then I’m good. What about you, Sophie?

Gilbert: I’m really torn between Greg—because I do think he has parts of his soul that are still nice deep down—and, for the same reason, Willa. I guess, for entertainment value, she could make plays...

Garber: Can she though?

Gilbert: One of the great agonies of Succession for me is we’ve never even seen a single scene of Willa’s play. I’m just dying for it.

Garber: But the play was The Sands, so she may have a deep knowledge of material workings of desert-island sand, and the mites that lurk therein.

Gilbert: Yeah. (Laughs.) And her play was kind of toxic, as in that’s where Greg got his foot fungus. So yeah, I’m going to pick Willa.

Giorgis: Ever the critic.