Film and TV

Who is actually the worst character on ‘Succession’?

Every episode of “Succession” poses two questions: 1) Who’s winning in the rat race to lead Waystar Royco; and 2) Who’s the worst, most evil, most hateful person on the show?

On Sunday evening, the fate of the Waystar Royco corporation and its leadership will be revealed (one would hope) - and, no doubt, some characters will sink to new moral lows. But before we get there, let’s take the long view: Who will be remembered as the worst of the worst, overall?

We asked two philosophy professors, a business-ethics specialist and an heiress turned philanthropist to weigh in.

1. Logan “Boar on the Floor” Roy

Kate Moran, a professor of philosophy at Brandeis who specializes in the work of Immanuel Kant, took a two-pronged approach to the question of which Waystar Royco Machiavelli is the ultimate villain. First, she assessed whether a character’s behavior was simply selfish or something worse. Then, she asked whether the character has been shown to take actual pleasure in being cruel. “That is, they don’t just treat others as mere means, as Kant would say, because it serves their interests,” Moran says, “but they also derive some satisfaction from treating people this way.”

A handful of characters seem to find power in inflicting pain on others, such as Roman (teasing the groundskeeper’s kid with a million-dollar bet in the pilot, for example), Tom (see: Greg) and Shiv (see: Tom). But, for Moran, the worst character is obvious. While the others have occasional redeeming qualities, Logan “abuses his children and takes pleasure in demeaning others,” she says, “and I really can’t think of a scene where we see the slightest flicker of empathy or concern for anything but himself.”

2. Gerri “How Does It Serve My Interests?” Kellman

Brent Turman, a Texas-based trial attorney who also serves as outside general counsel for companies, has been teaching a course since last year called “Ethics Lessons from HBO’s Succession” to bar associations and law firms around the country. It’s an ethics course, but it also highlights how some of Logan’s negotiation strategies - the less despicable ones, Turman notes - might be applicable in courtroom settings.

Turman didn’t name Logan the show’s worst character. Instead, he takes particular offense to his right-hand woman at Waystar Royco, whose decades of institutional knowledge at the company have curdled into something like complicity. “Gerri was the backbone of the institution,” Turman says. “She has a pretty good idea of where the bodies are buried.”


As general counsel, Gerri is probably well aware that she owes certain ethical duties to Waystar Royco, Turman points out. It’s an American Bar Association rule, for example, that when an attorney represents an organization, the attorney’s decisions must be made in the organization’s best interest, not that of its executives or founders. Still, Gerri manages to tip the scales in her own favor anyway.

“She determines which outcome in a business situation would benefit her personally, then reverse-engineers an argument to support her desired outcome,” Turman says. “She ensures that she’s able to ‘wet her beak,’ as Logan would say. She knows better, but she chooses to reduce herself to the level of the Roys.”

3. Tom “Break Some Greggs” Wambsgans

The polite Midwesterner from a nice-enough family who got himself entangled, through marriage, in the Roy family may strike some as harmless. But it’s precisely this lack of psychological damage that leads Stephen Neale, a professor of philosophy and linguistics at the CUNY Graduate Center in Manhattan, to believe he’s the show’s most morally rotten character.

The show makes clear, Neale says, that Logan Roy and his kids are as awful as they are because they’ve weathered trauma, abuse and manipulation. Tom, on the other hand, “wasn’t born into it, dumped into it, like Roman, Kendall and Shiv,” Neale says. “He chose to join this mob.”

And Tom readily absorbs his in-laws’ ugliest traits: “Anyone he fears he sucks up to. Anyone he doesn’t fear he s---s on. He’s abusive. He’s cruel, he’s a bully. Especially to poor old hapless Greg,” Neale says.

Socrates, Neale adds, believed in teaching younger generations to think independently. Tom does precisely the opposite. “He takes a perverse pleasure and pride in corrupting Greg, and training Greg to be like himself,” Neale says. “For a philosopher, that’s dreadful.”

4. Shiv “My Dad Was Flexible, I’m Flexible” Roy

Shiv begins the series as the black-sheep daughter whose career in progressive politics is in tension with her family’s conservative media empire. Four seasons later, having tossed her politics career aside in favor of trying to finagle a powerful role in said that empire, she closes out the series battling her brothers for control.

For Abigail Disney - a documentary producer, philanthropist and granddaughter of Disney co-founder Roy Disney - the idea of an heiress putting her family’s company’s interests ahead of the greater good is particularly repulsive.

“The thing about Shiv,” Disney says, “is that she tricks you into thinking that she might just be the renegade, the independent thinker you’d have to be to land anywhere near decency in that exceptionally horrible context.”

Memorably unsettling was Shiv’s heel turn in the episode titled “DC,” where she persuades a victim of sexual misconduct from testifying against Waystar. “I simply cannot let Shiv off the hook for the way she reaches into the faux feminist’s bag of tricks when it benefits her, while kicking her sisters to the curb without a second thought when they present any kind of challenge to her climb,” Disney says.

5. Kendall “Who Says I Never Killed Anyone?” Roy

Kendall’s tragic attempts to simultaneously match his father’s cutthroat successes while also cutting his own, more morally upstanding path give the series some of its most compelling dramatic moments. But they also create hypocrisy within Kendall, who can swing wildly between shouting “F--- the patriarchy!” at a public event and threatening his ex-wife when she wants to whisk their kids upstate for their safety.

Many of the characters, Kendall included, “have a tendency to try to dress up their selfishness as a kind of virtue,” Moran says.

Disney, meanwhile, notes Kendall’s capacity for “gymnastic feats of moral flexibility.”

Also, lest we forget, Kendall is the only Roy known to be directly responsible for another person’s death.

6. Roman “A Night of Good TV” Roy

Roman, callous and shockingly vulgar in virtually any and all situations, earns the dubious distinction from Neale of being “almost solipsist.” “He’s his own audience. He doesn’t actually care about anybody else,” Neale says. “All his jokes are there for his own amusement.” It would be easy to use Roman as justification for a sort of nihilism toward the Roys: If a whole mean family causes harm to themselves and one another, “Just let them f--- themselves over, who cares,” Neale says bluntly.

“America Decides,” however, zoomed out and gave audiences a rare look at the real-world ripple effects of the Roys’ selfishness and cruelty. In the context of a contested presidential election, Roman’s desire to pull little stunts for his own amusement end up having potentially huge social consequences.

“It’s Roman having his jollies,” Neale says. “He wants to see if he can pull this off.” It’s both true to his character, the CUNY professor says, “and it is evil.”