Warning: major spoilers ahead for “Succession.”
This past Sunday, the “Succession” finale was, well, a meal fit for a king. After the show’s glorious four-season, five-year run, the final episode had just about everything: drama, betrayal, a boy’s t-shirt from Walmart, a new CEO of Waystar Royco and even a hint of a Jewish story.
What follows may be a stretch, but hear me out.
In the episode’s climax, Kendall begs his sister Shiv to let him take the helm of their late father’s company, shouting, “I’m the eldest boy!” The moment is hilariously pathetic on numerous levels — including that it is not factually correct — and many online commenters have since made some pretty good jokes about it. Yet at the time, as I later tweeted, I couldn’t help but think of the biblical story of Jacob and Esau.
In Bereshit, or Genesis, the first book of the Torah, Jacob and Esau are fraternal twins born to Jewish patriarch Isaac and Jewish matriarch Rebecca. Esau, a hairy, red-headed hunter, is slightly older than Jacob and thus is supposed to receive Isaac’s birthright as an authority over his family and the Jewish people. However, one day, Jacob asks Esau to buy his birthright from him for a pot of lentils (yes, lentils) and Esau agrees. Later, when Isaac fears that he will die soon, Rebecca helps Jacob deceive Isaac, receive his father’s blessing and ultimately become the next Jewish patriarch upon his father’s death. Then, fearing Esau’s vengeance, Jacob flees.
In the aforementioned scene of the “Succession” finale, Kendall makes for an equal parts disgusting, pathetic and sympathetic Esau. As the Roy sibling with the most business experience (a business psycho, if you will), and one of Logan Roy’s older sons, Kendall has long been positioned to one day take over Waystar Royco (or at least, his father told him so at age 7), much like Esau had been promised to become a Jewish patriarch. But now, as Kendall pleads with Shiv to vote against the GoJo deal, a move that would cement his role as CEO, he realizes that his birthright will be stolen and sold to someone else. “Shiv, don’t do this. You can’t do this, Shiv,” he says desperately, before invoking their late patriarch and family empire. “It mattered to [Dad]. He wanted this to go on.” Ultimately, however, his grasp of the company is gone and he knows it. Channeling Esau, an aggressive and violent hunter, Kendall wrestles with Roman and tries to push Shiv before she storms out to sell away the company.
Granted, I know this is not a perfect analogy. Despite his protestations, Kendall is not actually the eldest boy like Esau (that would be Connor, who just wants to move to Slovenia). Nor can the character of Jacob be mapped cleanly onto any one “Succession” character — though I think the argument could be made that, in the final episode, Shiv, her husband Tom and new Waystar Royco owner Lukas Matsson could be a composite Jacob figure. (And yes, I do realize that means the Jewish people are Waystar Royco in this scenario.) Plus, both the Roys and Matsson have platformed ideas that at best are insensitive and at worst are white supremacist and antisemitic ideology. (In episode six Matsson tweets a Holocaust joke and in episode eight Roman uses his power as co-CEO of Waystar to help a Trump-like politician potentially win the U.S. presidential election.)
Even so, the comparison has helped me look at both the Torah story and the “Succession” finale from new perspectives. With the part of me that felt bad for Kendall upon losing his birthright, I found a new sense of sympathy for Esau. As a child, I remember learning the story of Jacob and Esau during Sunday school and thinking that Esau didn’t deserve to be a Jewish patriarch. And while Esau is not necessarily a good person (like Kendall, he’s also killed someone… or was that a false memory?), it must’ve been painful for him to realize that he had been deceived by both his brother and mother. Conversely, the imperfect nature of Jacob and Esau is an important reminder that, even though I may enjoy watching “Succession,” there is a part of me that hates all the characters for their bigotry, greed and lack of ethics.
In the end, one can only hope that, like Esau later in his life, Kendall Logan Roy’s unwritten future will include a sense of peace and forgiveness.