Shakespeare would have loved Succession‘s ending.
The show’s final episode was in all ways a tragedy, bidding a devastating farewell to the Roys and finally crowning a new, unexpected CEO — Tom Wambsgans (Matthew Macfadyen). But within Succession‘s dramatic last hour were a string of moments simmering with symbolism and painfully jarring insight into how much the Roys have undone each other. One particular standout moment that has the internet at wit’s end is Kendall (Jeremy Strong) and Roman’s (Kieran Culkin) incredibly unsettling “hug” right before the conclusive board meeting inaugurating the new CEO.
The scene is a painful watch that starts with Kendall hugging Roman to comfort him, and then spirals into Kendall forcefully pushing Roman’s head onto his shoulders to undo the stitches on his forehead. On a second watch, it feels like Roman wanted Kendall to do that and was digging his head into Kendall’s shoulder purposefully. In either scenario, the hug was a twisted, torturous look into the brothers’ relationship, demonstrating why Roman could never have been CEO so long as Kendall was his big brother. Let’s dive in.
What are some ways we can interpret Roman and Kendall’s hug?
Credit: Macall Polay / HBO
Everyone has a different take on what was really going on with that hug. We know that Roman was abused as a child, and we know that’s led him to becoming a masochist, which Kendall is aware of. It’s possible that Roman needed to feel pain to be comforted because that’s how he defines affection, and Kendall was willing to give him what he needed.
On the other hand, there’s the possibility that Kendall was using the hug to overpower Roman and remind him what he’s capable of. Roman’s been Kendall’s punching bag since they were kids; he literally used to lock Roman in a dog cage as part of a game. Roman spiraling about being CEO was an opportunity for Kendall to reassert his dominance and remind his younger brother that he knows exactly how to undo him.
There’s the third possibility that Roman wanted to look tougher ahead of the board meeting, and what better way to look cool and collected than showing up to a meeting with a bleeding scar on your forehead? The hug could have played into all these scenarios at the same time! Kendall was comforting his brother the only way he knew how. He was overpowering him. And he was helping him get emotionally ready for the board meeting. But the real symbolism of the hug emerges when we remember that Roman only needed one because he saw Gerri (J. Smith-Cameron).
Why did Roman panic after seeing Gerri?
Credit: Macall B. Polay / HBO
After seeing Gerri walk around at Waystar, Roman starts panicking and begins asking why he isn’t CEO, how could it not be him when his stitches are healing (we’ll get to the symbolism of that in a bit), and expressing his concerns about people thinking he “pussied out.” Why did seeing Gerri trigger all of that?
Well, Gerri is a living embodiment of everything Roman’s been doing for the past four seasons to get the CEO spot. Despite the dick pics and kink talk, Gerri was still Roman’s main accomplice, with the pair regularly scheming against Kendall and Shiv (Sarah Snook). But Roman ultimately failed Gerri when he fired her this season and left her with no choice but to threaten him and remind him of all the ways she could have helped him — lest I remind you of her incredible burn at the tailgate party.
Through Gerri, Roman sees all the mistakes he’s made this season — mistakes he thought would be validated as soon as he was CEO. And despite his denial of it, Roman actually cares what Gerri thinks of him and doesn’t want to look weak or wrong in front of her. When he sees her at Waystar right before the board meeting, it’s like he realized how much he failed this season, but more importantly, how much he doesn’t want it to look like he’s failed — which gets us to the hug.
What was really going on with Kendall and Roman’s hug?
Before the hug, Roman was hyper-fixating on his stitches, repeatedly mentioning that they “look fine.” The latter echoes something he’s been ceaselessly saying since his father’s passing — he’s fine and doing OK. But Roman isn’t OK. Out of all his siblings, Roman’s been hit with grief the hardest.
I apologize for sounding like an English lit teacher, but the scar on Roman’s forehead is a metaphor for all the wounds he’s been feeling this season. Although it’s stitched up, it can easily be popped, because it’s not done healing. Roman isn’t done healing. He’s arguably broken beyond repair and isn’t doing anything about it, which Kendall realizes.
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Kendall opening up Roman’s stitches was as much a reminder of his dominance as an older brother as it is a reminder of Roman’s mental state. It’s like Kendall was acknowledging how fragile Roman is, how easy it is for Kendall to break him, and how, because of his fragility, he can’t be CEO. Roman breaks and Kendall does the breaking. That’s been their dynamic since childhood. It continues to be their dynamic as adults, and the hug was a reminder of that.
In a strange way, Kendall was comforting Roman by reminding him that he could never be CEO, not solely out of his own faults, but because Kendall exists as an infinite obstacle. In Kendall’s eyes, CEOs should be the ones untangling the stitches, not the ones being stitched up. The hug also saw Roman accepting that his wounds haven’t healed, proudly wearing his scars (both physical and metaphorical) to the board meeting. And by opening his stitches, Kendall was giving him a salve or an excuse — you aren’t CEO because you’ve got a lot of emotional baggage that hasn’t healed yet. And maybe that’s an easier pill to swallow than accepting you were never right for the job to begin with.
Whether or not the hug was against Roman’s will doesn’t really matter at the end of the day, because it doesn’t take anything away from its intended symbolism. It was an assertion of power. It was an embodiment of Roman’s fragility. It was a twisted saving grace for Roman to ultimately find comfort in. He’s the baby brother who needs a lot of therapy, and you best believe Kendall will always be there to remind him of that.
All seasons of Succession are now streaming on Max.(opens in a new tab)