SPOILER ALERT: This post contains major spoilers for the Season 3 finale of “Succession” (“All the Bells Say”).
The moment Logan Roy (Brian Cox) realizes his children are attempting to overthrow him, he sizes them up and snarls with disdain. “You bust in here, guns in hand,” he says, “and now you find they’ve turned to sausages.” It’s a devastating blow made more devastating by the fact that Logan has, once again, somehow found his own gun where there should have been a black hole. But the line also recalls an earlier, equally brutal “Succession” scene that proves especially crucial in “All the Bells Say,” which sees the Roy kids bested by the two men they never thought had it in them.
In Season 2’s “Hunting,” written by creator Jesse Armstrong and Tony Roche, and directed by Andrij Parekh, an especially paranoid Logan goes on a tear during a work retreat. Convinced there’s a mole in his midst, he gets his employees drunk and berates them with hostile questions about their loyalty. Eventually, inevitably, he identifies the weaker members of the herd — hapless cousin Greg (Nicholas Braun), bland lackey Karl (David Rasche), and son-in-law Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) — and makes them “boars on the floor,” forcing them to oink for their sausage supper just because he says so. As “Succession” has shown time and time again, Logan Roy didn’t become Logan Roy without first conquering the game of Boar on the Floor. Born into a family that left his back criss-crossed with scars to this day, Logan learned early that in order to best his bullies, he himself had to become the most fearsome bully of all. And thus, as Emily VanDerWerff has written for Vox, the stories of Logan Roy, his company, and his children become stories of how abuse can shape and twist a person into starting the cycle all over again just to get some level of control over it. Why be the scorned peasant when you can be the tyrannical king choosing who lives to serve you and who dies trying to stop you?
Season 3 underlined the terrible potential of a boar evolving into a bully in bold. One of the season’s sharpest and hardest to watch threads saw Roman (Kieran Culkin), the Roy who may or may not have asked his family to lock him in a cage for fun as a kid, realizing how much more fun it is to be a monstrous winner than a sore loser. The second Logan deigned to show him an ounce of respect — or, dare he hope, even affection? — Roman hardened his heart to match his father’s. He mirrored Logan’s tone and bombastic approach, mimicking his methods to remain in his good graces. He positioned a true-blue fascist to become the Republican Party favorite, both because he didn’t care to consider the actual consequences and because he saw a way to impress Logan with his ability to separate emotion from business. When he finally, literally pushes his brother Kendall (Jeremy Strong) in front of a laughing crowd, even his ruthless sister Shiv (Sarah Snook) can hardly believe just how completely Roman’s embraced the belligerent armor that their father has wielded against them time and time again. Once forced to look up at his betters (both literally and physically), Roman’s stature grows in both the narrative and meticulous directing as he transforms into the man who so forcefully put him in his place. Having spent most of his life belittled, dismissed, and physically battered by the one person he so desperately wants to please, of course Roman would jump at the chance to flip the script given the chance.
Still: Roman’s a Roy, and as such, will always have protection and higher status that others can’t claim. As the bookends of “Hunting” and “All the Bells Say” make excruciatingly clear, the Tom Wambsgans and Greg Hirschs of the world have to fight harder, dirtier, and craftier to get off the floor and dangle sausages for the unlucky losers below.
The entire series has led to the ultimate point of no return in “All the Bells Say” (written by Armstrong and beautifully directed by Mark Mylod), but Season 3 laid the groundwork for Greg and Tom’s betrayal with masterful precision. Bonded as brothers in Roy-adjacent arms, Tom and Greg took all the family’s abuse until they could find a way above it. But in the Roys’ grand tradition, abuse isn’t a tunnel but a cycle. Both Tom and Greg had outs — a divorce, a golden parachute — if they truly wanted to take them. Instead, they doubled down, bet the house, and shocked the hell out of everyone but themselves.
There’s no such thing as an “Everyman” on “Succession,” so Tom and Greg are about as close as it gets. Macfadyen and Braun are the tallest men in the cast, and yet the show constantly portrayed them as constantly cowering and capitulating in front of the more figuratively commanding Roys. Tom folds himself to fit Shiv’s needs; Greg’s stature becomes a joke in and of itself. The moments when directors let them stand up straight and truly look down on a Roy, as Macfadyen does so effectively in the diner parking lot to raise a skeptical eyebrow at Kendall, are as rare as they are purposefully jarring. Tom and Greg are both close enough to the Roys without being considered part of the family, and when they allow themselves to feel the weight of their ambition, they’re more formidable than even they know.
Crucially, Tom and Greg also formed the show’s most steadfast alliance early on. What began as a weird taunting banter became something more during “Hunting,” when Tom chose not to expose Greg and joined him on the floor for everyone else to mock and dismiss as useless nothings. Since then, they have been the closest this show has to true blue friends, keeping each other safe as bigger power players blustered above their heads.
As Shiv refused to take Tom seriously and Kendall took Greg for granted, both did their best to get up every time they were kicked down — and every time one did, they found the other extending a helping hand. It was Greg who told Tom about Shiv’s cheating in Season 1, and Tom who covered for Greg in Season 2. It was Tom who did his best to keep Greg out of jail when both of them seemed primed for the sacrificial slaughter, and Greg who enthusiastically joins Tom’s team minutes after Shiv shrugs him off as an afterthought. Seeing the two of them shake hands in the finale, thus cutting the other Roy kids off at the knees, recalls the episode’s early warning words from tech giant Matsson (Alexander Skarsgard. Here, two “plebes” recognized a kindred spirit in the other, and worked together to bring down the oblivious masters who assumed they were harmless.
Tom and Greg’s victory isn’t yet complete. As Tom told Greg while enticing him to “make a deal with the devil,” they’re now in a solid position at “the top of the bottom.” But the Roys, Logan included, would do better to pay more attention to the boars on the floor who have more incentive than anyone to blindside careless tyrants.