Succession Series Finale: While nothing has really been spoilt, but still a spoiler warning for the whole show and the series finale, especially.
There isn’t a set framework to construct the Succession series finale of a long-running narrative story. But ordinarily, the series finale always echoes moments from the first “The Pilot” episode. If we look at the Jeremy Armstrong-created “Succession,” the basics of “Succession” become abundantly clear. It is Kendall Roy’s battle to succeed and take control of what is essentially his birthright. But his contentions are against his manchild of a brother and his sister, who believes herself to be a shark against a man’s world of more giant sharks but, as the show progresses, becomes more of a minnow.
There are also the sycophants, the new threats, but perhaps the biggest danger would be a man well past his prime whose ego makes him believe he can stay alive forever, and somehow that is bolstered by his brush with death. The arrogance of the children in a world wrapped by the fire and brimstone-filled attitude of a father ensures that the kids are always attached to their father via an unseen umbilical cord. Their personalities, responses, and every move have been tailored either by imitating their father, in response to their father, or to please their father—a validation that Logan Roy is not built to give them in any conceivable fashion.
So what happens when Logan Roy is taken off the board? For one thing, it calls back to the inciting incident of the pilot episode, except this time, the admonishment comes true. The umbilical cord is finally cut, and the kids are finally free to venture out of the uterus. But how can kids judge what is an original choice and what is the residual thought process when their entire perspective revolves around that incandescent destructive force?
So they imitate, they play moves, they talk and insult, they maneuver, they backstab—anything and everything except being honest with one another and staying as a united front. Because the one thing Kendall, Roman, and Shiv have learned from their father is to never care about the collateral damage left in their wake but to walk away from the destruction of it all. The primary difference here, and which is one of the reasons why Roman Roy collapsed into a blubbering mess at the funeral, was learning what Logan Roy was before he became Logan Roy—a hardscrabble man built by trauma and having the experience to know poverty up close and personal.
Thus, when he finally has capitalism in a vice, he is not going to let it go until he squeezes through its last drop because, as Jordan Belfort would proclaim in “The Wolf of Wall Street,” “I have been a rich man, and I have been a poor man, and I will choose to be rich every time.” It was always a war for Logan Roy. It was always a game for the Roy children, safely ensconced by the privilege of wealth, that they could never completely suffer any consequence. That is precisely why they could gamble the future of a country because it makes for “good TV.”
Like most of the episodes of Succession dealing with decisive events, the Succession Series finale is written by Jesse Armstrong and directed by Mark Mylod. However, the first act of the finale was a red flag because, for a brief period of time, it felt like the writers were trying to convince you that the three siblings were finally coming together to stand as a “united bloc.” Roman, to recover from his slump, has taken a sabbatical at their mother’s estate, where the three siblings finally meet.
Taking time to recover from his slump, Roman was ironically the only sibling whose armor had been dented enough that he was now like a raw nerve, and for the first time, the barbs of his siblings generally started to affect him. Kendall and Shiv, on the other hand, are laser-focused and yet at guard, trying to ensure and maintain their maneuverability. For a brief moment, we felt that everything was slowly going right for Kendall.
He gets information about Mattson talking with other people and managing to acquire a new CEO, Shiv coming to terms with being shut out of the entire process, and both Shiv and Roman finally realizing that Kendall might be the “lesser of the two evils.” Thus, for a brief moment, almost as if stuck outside of time, everything goes right for Kendall, with his siblings even managing to anoint him with a smoothie “fit for a king.”
But again, at the end of the day, this show needed to stay true to itself. And the thesis statement of the show has always been that none of the Roy kids is capable of running this empire because, as Logan so eloquently put it, “you aren’t serious people.” As it turns out, Shiv’s learning that Tom is the new CEO puts her on the back foot again. This season showed us that Shiv is one of the few characters who can carry secrets of her own, and her decisions finally evolve to working something out for herself irrespective of her programming as Logan Roy’s daughter.
But having said that, she couldn’t escape her programming either because her indecisiveness cost Kendall the vote to block the GoJo deal. And this indecisiveness finally puts Kendall on edge, and his spiraling out felt like an inevitability waiting to occur as a consequence of all the events throughout this season.
But what truly struck out was how deeply that blocking of the vote hit Kendall, a man so deeply ingrained with the idea of being the “true successor,” “the eldest boy,” that he had based his entire identity around it. So the spiral out felt like a reaction to the ground almost opening up and pulling him deep into the abyss. Him trying to hold on, even risking alienating his relationship with his siblings.
It doesn’t help that the siblings’ only method of communication has always been barbs and outright cruelty. Dysfunctionality amidst a family couldn’t be solved by one night of revelry. Within this episode, Jesse Armstrong shows the vicious cycle all of these characters will ultimately always go through until they choose to walk away. The tragedy is that they are unable to, just like their father, who only attained peace 10,000 feet up in the air, away from it all. These kids are so far beyond the effects of the real world around them that even the harshest crucible—the death of their father—couldn’t change them.
Yes, it made them self-aware to a certain degree; it made them finally grow up and perhaps take stock, but it also made them completely flail about and unable to change or walk out of their father’s shadow, even after being repeatedly informed that they are different and that they are not their father.
Tom Wambsgans becoming the successor also feels like a curious mix of validation of Tom’s slithering nature and an abject moment of disgust. But that had always been the perspective of Tom as a character. He is sympathetic because he wasn’t born into this dysfunctionality, but he is also a horrifying character because of how easy it is for him to be cruel and vindictive. But Wambsgans “winning” the game isn’t some sort of decisive victory here.
If “Game of Thrones” taught us anything, even in its atrocious final season, it doesn’t matter who sits on the Iron Throne if the Iron Throne is ultimately melted. There is a world in which this show could go on for five more seasons. The war of the Roy children against Tom, or Tom’s inevitable conflict with Lukas Mattson, is ripe for continuation.
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But ultimately, Jesse Armstrong wanted to tell a story about these three kids and their father. With Waystar Royco finally not being their birthright anymore (at least directly), Armstrong chose to end the show, not subjecting us to that vicious cycle of backstabbing again, however entertaining it might have been. He has spoken about the one-percenters in a nutshell, with the anger, sarcasm, and bite completely seeping through, and it wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t beautiful, and it wasn’t a happy ending.
It was an ending of compromise and acknowledgment of a world that can never truly change. Kendall would be back in the battle for the throne to try to regroup himself because that is the only way he knows how to survive. Shiv chooses to stay with Tom because being a kingmaker is always a much more suitable option than being the king. And Roman chooses to drown his sorrow in a bar, too complicated and lost in his demons. Perhaps he could choose to walk away, or perhaps the lure of wealth and power is too much.
Armstrong chooses to leave us with an ending that conventionally doesn’t end. Still, he takes the viewers’ hands, looks at them, and says, “That’s quite enough of that.” As the camera looks at Kendall looking into the sunset, one can’t help but remember Michael Corleone at the end of Godfather II, alone and contemplative, with the burden of the course of action he had chosen always haunting him. Thankfully, Armstrong doesn’t make the same mistake Coppola does. We didn’t need a sequel to The Godfather Part II, and we don’t need a sequel to this now.