Kendall Roy – Truly ORIGINAL CHARACTERS Series: Part 12

Welcome to Original Characters, an ongoing series of Industrial Scripts’ articles examining the most original characters to appear in both TV and film. This article will focus on Kendall Roy from Succession.

What is an Original Character?

It’s a character that sticks with you even when they’re long gone from your screens. It’s a character that serves as a reference point in casual conversation or a character that sums up a behavior or generation.

original, adjective

“not the same as anything or anyone else and therefore special and interesting…”

— from The Cambridge English Dictionary

Most importantly, in screenplay terms, an original character is a character that shines through in spite of any other weaknesses within that screenplay. 

For a Screenplay Reader or Development Executive, an original character is an element of a script that stands out. No matter how busy they are or no matter how much work other elements of the script need, the original characters steal the show. 

Great characters are at the very heart of great screenwriting and original characters can help elevate great to superlative. 

Whether plucked from real life, an amalgamation of real people or just simply a genius stroke of creativity, these are original characters…

The twelfth in our original characters series will look at one of HBO’s most tragic, complex and compelling characters – Kendall Roy from Succession.

*The following article contains spoilers for Succession*

Who is Kendall Roy?

Kendall Roy in Succession

Many despise him and very few love him, but Kendall Roy’s name is known to all.

Kendall Roy is the second-eldest son of Logan Roy, the CEO of media conglomerate WaystarRoyco. He is arrogant, foul-mouthed and the epitome of a billionaire tycoon’s son.

Kendall is on a never-ending quest for a seal of approval from his father. Recognition from his family is his absolute motivation for everything he does. He seeks to pursue a life as an individual, and away from the name of his family – in his words “I’m not a Roy, not really”.

But Kendall can never escape the name Roy, no matter how hard he tries. This is evident from the very first scene, where a crucial deal fails to be successful and an employee asks Kendall if he’d like to call his father. He is constantly reminded by others that he’s little more than his father’s son and will always be playing second fiddle.

His constant battle with drug abuse has caused the loss of his marriage and his relationship with his children is distant. Work has consumed so much of Kendall’s soul that his family (ex-wife and kids) are only briefly in the background for much of the show.

Kendall will demolish any and all relationships if it means his father will respect and approve of him. With each relationship he tears down, he grows lonelier and lonelier. But this addiction for approval and his ego continues to motivate him, despite driving those who love him away.

What Makes Kendall Roy an Original Character?

Succession Opening Credits Theme Song | Succession | HBO

The fascinating thing about Kendall, and in fact, most of the characters on Succession, is that they are wholly unlikeable and in most cases, downright detestable. They’re the very definition of capitalist greed, the perfect example of billionaires sitting in their ivory tower looking down on those working to survive. On paper, nothing about the Roy family should be even remotely likeable or relatable.

Yet as viewers, we follow Kendall and his journey through the world of the 1%. Through season 1, Kendall is effectively our protagonist (or antagonist depending on how you look at the story). In a weird sort of way, we begin to root for Kendall against his foul-mouthed and arrogant father, Logan – he’s the lesser of two evils.

Although we shouldn’t like Kendall and everything he represents, we innately do. He has these small moments of redemption, such as standing up to his father striking his son in episode 1. This helps us see glimpses of humanity in him that keep us engaged and even sometimes, make him relatable.

Kendall is complex and compelling. His motives at the time are never completely transparent. But at the backbone of every decision he makes is a constant – the will to appease his father, or to spite him. Kendall Roy is such an unpredictable, compelling and original character, that it’s difficult to tell what version of himself he is going to be on any given day.

Despite things obviously being very easy for Kendall literally speaking (money has afforded him every single opportunity life has to offer), things always seem hard for him. And this makes him a great character, constantly struggling for something he will never get.

Kendall’s Relationships

Kendall and Logan Roy

Kendall Roy and Logan Roy

The core of Kendall’s character is his constant need for acceptance from his father. He has this void of neglect and love from his father – both in his work and his personal life. He knows his father is a bad man (maybe putting it lightly) but he still aspires to be like him and better.

Logan knows he has this mighty grip over Kendall. He will forever dangle him around to pursue his own selfish needs over his son’s. Ultimately, he will never give Kendall the satisfaction of his respect, because then Kendall will have no drive, no backbone, and will stay forever docile and at the mercy of his father.

The irony of Kendall Roy’s character is that he wants to be his own man – outside of his father’s shadow and their family name – yet is aspiring to be the CEO of the family company. He’s forever trapped in this world that he tells himself he’s not part of. His arrogance constantly blinds him from seeing the truth of his world – believing that he is the right person to inherently change it.

Kendall and the Roy Siblings

Kendall and siblings

To sum up the relationship the Roy siblings have is almost impossible – it’s very very complicated.

Kendall and Siobhan have this mutual respect for each other’s intellect. They see themselves as the smartest of the family, so there’s this constant battle to try and prove themselves as individuals more than each other. It’s petty but it drives both of them to work harder.

Roman Roy on the other hand is confused, reckless and psychopathic at times. But again, even he has these small moments of brilliance that almost keep his siblings from totally ignoring him. Roman thinks he’s the most charismatic out of the bunch, but deep down knows his position is only ever because of his money and name. Everyone sees right through this facade and his outlandish attitude, so no one really has any expectations for him other than the worst.

Kendall feels like he has to make up for Roman’s carefree attitude to Logan. He uses it as hyperbole to show how great he is and how great the work he’s doing in comparison to his younger brother is.

And as for Connor, he’s just kind of there, doing his own thing trying to run for president and minding his own business. But he’s also another way that Kendall can feel good about himself, knowing that Connor will never have what it takes to take over as CEO.

Kendall Roy’s Season 1 Character Arc

Kendall Roy Character Arc

Kendall goes from euphoric highs to monumental lows in just season 1 alone. Almost every episode feels like something affects him. And every episode contributes to this journey of appraisal Kendall craves in order to be his own individual. But all the episodes shape him to become the complex and layered character that he is.

Episodes 1-6

  • Kendall believes becoming the next CEO of WaystarRoyco will be the logical next step for him. He can finally prove to his dad that he can run the family company.
  • When he self appoints himself CEO after Logan falls ill, Kendall sees this as an opportune moment to display his intelligence, tenacity and ferocity that his father doesn’t believe he has – or does believe and just won’t show it in order to keep his children docile.

Kendall plots a vote of no confidence against his father after being kicked out as CEO by him. It’s an incredibly tense moment in the show, and it ultimately fails for Kendall. However, it reveals so much about Kendall’s character in terms of his complexity and motivations:

  • It signifies that Kendall does in fact have the courage to go against his father, which we’ve seen very little of before.
  • Kendall uses his personality to convince people to be on his side against his father. Although it’s more because of a hatred for Logan than it is a liking of Kendall – the lesser of two evils.
  • Not only does it split the company apart, but also the family. It creates a rift and causes tension between every sibling and family member (including Logan’s subtly menacing partner Marcia).

At first glance, it appears that Kendall has broken free of his father’s grip. In reality, all it does is prove to his father what he’s been trying to do all along. We see this again in the season 2 finale. Logan’s shadow will forever linger over Kendall.

Episodes 7-10

As Kendall’s life spirals back into the world of partying and drug abuse, his life feels pointless, unmotivated and without direction. He has nothing to contribute to his dad or the company. And therefore subsequently, his Father has no reason to really interact with him in any meaningful way.

The season ends with Kendall walking home soaking wet, as he and a waiter who got high together crash their car into a river and Kendall fails to save the waiter. He showers off, puts on dry clothes and acts like nothing has happened.

Kendall is at his most vulnerable by the season finale. Although we’re shocked at what we are watching, we are never that surprised. The characters are so well established in the show that nothing ever feels that outlandish. After Logan reveals he knows what happened, he now has this tightly wound grip back over his son. Kendall is significantly less free than he was at the beginning of the season.

Kendall Roy’s Season 2 Character Arc

Kendall hugging child

Season 2 sees Kendall at his most numb. After the tragic accident of the season 1 finale, Kendall is traumatised and Logan continues to control his every move.

Kendall is barren of emotion. Even though he’s killed someone, we still have sympathy for him. We can see the trauma through these subtle emotions. He has genuinely switched off from life. Jeremy Strong‘s fantastic performance here paired with the brilliant writing is a reason why critics and audience love Succession so much.

“Look at you, you broken robot. Can’t even hug your own kids”

Roman Roy to Kendall Roy in Season 2, Episode 2 of Succession.

The season sees much of Kendall reflecting on the death of the boy he killed. His cold numbness is perfect for his father’s every wish in all the ruthlessness that business entails. He becomes his father’s puppet in this way, easily shaped and directed because of what his father holds over him.

Season 2 sees Kendall’s arc focus more on how his complete faithfulness to his father is affecting his family and his relationships with others – who still don’t know the secret he holds about the boy’s death.

The Kendall We Know

We are eagerly awaiting the moment he becomes the individualistic and foul-mouthed Roy we all came to know over season 1. It keeps his character from ever growing stale, because we are constantly waiting for that snap back to normality for Kendall.

That moment finally comes in the very last scene of the finale, although the tension never fades. Kendall is scheduled to take the full blame for cruise line scandals that have been plaguing the company. Instead, Kendall blindsides everyone by telling reporters that his dad is a “malignant presence, a bully and a liar” who was in full compliance with every wrongdoing at the company.

Logan’s only retaliation is a sinister smirk, as in a twisted way, his son has finally proved to him he has the courage to be his own person. Now it’s Kendall Roy vs Logan Roy, whereas before it felt like the latter always had the upper hand.

Kendall’s Strengths and Weaknesses

Kendall reflection

Kendall’s strengths and weaknesses are continuously being challenged, depending on who he is speaking to.

When talking to those he doesn’t necessarily aspire to be, Kendall is:

  • Persuasive, as seen through the ability to gain votes from the board for his no-confidence vote.
  • Blunt and abrasive, which we see through the series as he fires people and shuts down entire companies.
  • A genuine intellect who has care for the company. He believes he can run Waystar better than his father with a forward-thinking vision for the company that Logan simply doesn’t have.

However, when Kendall has to interact with Logan, he crumbles and everything that is a strength with others becomes his own worst enemy. Logan has an answer to shut down his son at every moment, even when Kendall is at his most courageous.

  • His persuasion only comes from being the son of Logan Roy and being part of the Roy family. They respect the family more than the man.
  • His general abrasiveness comes across as unintelligent to Logan. He can never truly be ruthless in business until his father gives him the okay to be that.
  • Logan disagrees with Kendall’s vision and doesn’t even think he can do the CEO role. Logan explicitly states this in the season 2 finale…

“I, well, you know, I just. You’re smart, you’re good, but I just don’t know.”

Logan Roy in response to Kendall asking if he thinks he would have ever been CEO.

The Crux of Kendall and the Crux of Great TV

The crux of Kendall Roy is that the life he’s been given because of his father’s success is ultimately his downfall as an individual. He will never escape this bind and he will never escape the need for his father’s approval.

It’s what makes Succession such a compelling TV show to watch. And it’s a great example of what makes a great TV series tick in general. Will anything ever fulfil the void that Kendall is (knowingly or unknowingly) seeking to fill? Well, the short answer is probably no. And in this, the series has an engine that will potentially never stop running.

The series feels that it could run for endless seasons with Kendall forever chasing his father’s approval. This is what makes tantalising TV for both studios and audiences – the sense that there is a near-endless well of drama to pull from.

There will always be that push and pull between the thing that Kendall wants and him not getting it. This is the motivator for great drama and great TV in particular. Kendall Roy’s want (approval from his father) is at the core of his existence. And therefore, it’s at the core of the series’ existence.

Succession (2021) | Season 3 Official Trailer | HBO

In Conclusion

Kendall Roy, and in fact his entire family, are largely despicable people. They represent the super-rich at their worst – destroying everything in their path for their own personal gain. But Kendall is so undeniably compelling due to his many complexities and motives, which never appear clear at first glance.

Forever seeking to fill that void for approval from his father, Kendall will stop at virtually nothing to get it. It’s what drives and motivates everything he does. Yet at the same time, Kendall wants to be separate from his family and everything the name Roy represents.

Every decision is influenced by, or is in service to, his father, Logan Roy. If it appeases him – great; if it spites him – even better, he’s proving to his father that he has the ruthlessness to be his own person in this business. There really is no win for Kendall, until he finally betrays his father’s wishes. And even then, Logan is proud in a weird, twisted way.

But Kendall Roy is still relatable and has these small moments of humanity that keep us engaged with him, despite what should be a largely irredeemable character. It’s the fantastic writing of Succession that makes Kendall Roy such a compelling, complex and wholly original character unlike anything else on TV right now.

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This article was written by Shey Wade and edited by IS staff.

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