Succession is over, and so too are the CEO dreams of the Roy siblings, whose quest for power collapsed in a boardroom showdown of almost perfect (by which I mean, wholly inevitable) dysfunction. It was an ideal conclusion for Jesse Armstrong’s seismic HBO hit, which offered glimpses of its protagonists’ pitiable humanity and then stark reminders of their greedy, desperate, me-first ugliness.
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To the end, it was a series that slyly sought to inspire sympathy for its devils. In doing so, it made its viewers complicit in its characters’ madness, as well as no different, really, than the Roy kids themselves with regards to their (pathetic, needy, misbegotten) love for their rancid paterfamilias, Logan (Brian Cox).
In many respects, the Succession finale resembled any other preceding episode, with Kendall (Jeremy Strong) striving to solidify support for his bid to block Waystar RoyCo’s sale to Lukas Matsson’s (Alexander Skarsgård) GoJo, Shiv (Sarah Snook) trying to secure her own spot at the head of the table, Roman (Kieran Culkin) acting like a sniveling, damaged creep, and Tom Wambsgans (Matthew Macfadyen) groveling at the feet of anyone who might throw him a crumb—all as his sycophantic minion Greg (Nicholas Braun) feigned fealty while angling to improve his own spot among this wretched lot.
With a conference-room face-off looming, everyone worked the phones and their contacts to guarantee that they had the votes necessary to achieve their goals. In the decisive tally, it turned out that Kendall was short a single ally—or, really, two, given that after Shiv expressed wariness about handing the keys to the kingdom to her eldest brother, he melted down, thus also alienating Roman and allowing Matsson to purchase his prized global mega-corporation.
Kendall ultimately shot himself in the foot by dishonestly telling his siblings, mid-boardroom meeting, that he hadn’t been responsible for Andrew Dodds’ death—a lie that cast his season-three-finale confession as a deceptive maneuver, and proved to Shiv and Roman that he couldn’t be trusted. It was one more imprudent tactic in a lifetime full of them for Kendall, a pretender who was always far smaller than he yearned to be, and downright tiny when compared to Logan, whom he pitifully emulated and whose approval he craved.
As for Roman and Shiv, their own fates seemed equally fitting, with the former rendered a spineless loser drowning his little-man sorrows in boozy solitude, and the latter sticking as close as possible to Waystar RoyCo’s new monarch, “pain sponge” Tom, her husband and the father of her forthcoming child—despite the reality that she loathes him and their own amour (if it ever existed in the first place) was recently shattered beyond repair.
Armstrong’s closing episode didn’t drop any last-second surprises; Kendall, Roman, and Shiv weren’t going to one-up each other to seize CEO control of their father’s empire, and the fact that it was Tom who bested them was, relatively speaking, the least stunning outcome for a show rife with bombshell betrayals.
There was never going to be a happy ending, and Succession never suggested that one might come to pass, the proceedings perpetually barreling toward confrontations (as the siblings’ mom Caroline mocks, there’s always a super-important boardroom meeting) that conclude in disaster and disappointment. In that regard, the episode was of a piece with everything that had come before it, and that was especially true when it came to the game it’s been playing from the start: eliciting empathy for its villains, only to subsequently highlight their inherent villainy.
The most memorable scene of the Succession finale wasn’t its climax but, rather, Kendall, Roman, and Shiv gathering late at night in their mother’s kitchen following their agreed-upon decision—however painful—to let Kendall become the CEO of Waystar RoyCo. With a joy so rarely seen from any of the three (was that Kendall, gasp, laughing and smiling?!?), Roman and Shiv set about making an everything-in-the-fridge concoction (dubbed “A Meal Fit for a King”) for their newly anointed brother, in the process exhibiting the playful camaraderie of kids happy to be in each other’s company, and comfortable in their own skin.
It was a fleeting snapshot of the Roy siblings as the children they always longed to be and, in some respects, never grew out of being, and the warmth of this get-together was affecting—as was, to some extent, their later, teary viewing of a video of a family dinner with their father.
As was so often the case, however, Succession’s pulling at the heartstrings resonated as a critique—not only of its characters, but of an audience willing to feel something for these despicable individuals. It was only two episodes ago that Kendall (who should be in jail) and Roman (a detestable deviant) were selling out America to white-nationalist fascists for personal gain, and three installments since Shiv was once more nastily laying waste to her (avaricious, self-serving, amoral) spouse and endeavoring to stab her brothers in the back.
That they all get along when they think they have everything they ever wanted (which is everything), and that they miss their democracy-wrecking brute of a dad—arguably the worst person who ever lived, no matter his impressive force of personality and titanic achievements—is of no consequence considering their abject awfulness. Hitler loved his dogs too, after all.
As a result, Succession’s final shot of Kendall staring sadly at the river was less a heartbreaking sight of a man bereaved than a vision of a wannabe destroyer of worlds suffering his just desserts.
Like all complex dramas, Armstrong’s series understood its characters in three dimensions, plumbing the depths of their upbringing-inspired hang-ups, compulsions and desires. Yet its greatness came from its refusal to let one forget that no amount of bad parenting, terrible role models and psychological and physical abuse could ever excuse the hideousness perpetrated by Kendall, Roman, and Shiv, a cretinous trio (surrounded by likeminded scumbags) willing to do anything, and everything, to amplify their fortune and influence.
As such, it was a show peerlessly of its moment, casting an enthralled eye at the Roys in the same way that the news media (and in particular Fox News, the inspiration for Waystar RoyCo) lavished, and keeps lavishing, obsessive attention on Donald Trump—and, in doing so, damning us all for finding this 21-century monstrousness so irresistibly, appallingly entertaining.
Source: The Daily Beast
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