After Seeing the Series Finale, I Might Have Completely Misjudged Succession
Last night, to say the least, was an epic night for television. Three series that will be among the major contenders for many of the Emmys for Best Comedy and Best Drama came to end, two of them airing their series finales. It was one of those nights that Peak TV, every so often even in the age of streaming, is still capable of. Speaking of streaming, I spent much of last night finishing off a Limited Series that is very likely to be a major contender for Emmys this year as well.
I intend to give fair coverage to all of these shows, and I think it’s fitting that I do so with the one that I had the least connection with but will likely resonate the most. I had no intention of watching the series finale of Succession last night because despite my recent discovery that it is a better show than I have given credit for, I still felt it was immensely overrated. However, even in all of my disparaging comments about it the series of articles that I have written in the last several months, I admitted I might be willing to reconsider my opinion if, like Ray Donavan and Scandal managed to do in their final episodes, they could somehow redeem themselves in the final episode.
And the thing is, even as someone who could not stand the series even as I admired some of its better qualities, I think the series finale did. And I also have to admit watching the last half-hour, I sort of got why so many people have been watching the series even though it had none of the things that most great TV have had.
No one who has ever watched Succession would dare say that any of the Roys were likable people or even competent ones. They were horrendous from the moment we meant them, emotionally stunted by their wealth and the abuse that Logan had spent their childhoods and adulthoods forcing on them, completely unable to relate with even their own family on anything but a transactional level. None of the Roy children ever deserved to run Waystar Royco because none of them had the ability to do it: they were also just children of privilege who had no moral compass or even the competence to run their own lives. In a way Logan acknowledged as much in what would be his final conversation with them when he told them he loved them all “but you are not serious people.” And everything we’ve seen during the series fully demonstrates that. The death of their father showed that, if anything, they had no capability to rise to the occasion: as we saw in America Decides, they were willing to essentially destroy America if it meant gaining a momentary advantage to help their own immediate interests.
No one thought any of the characters on Succession was capable of any great realization by the end of the series. But maybe in his own way Logan had. Perhaps that is why he sold the company to Gojo in his final betrayal of the children: he knew that at the end of the day, none of them were qualified to lead his c0mpany. Maybe it’s too much to think that a part of him realized just how poisonous a father he had been and how much he had destroyed his family, and the only way for them to be free of him was to get rid of it. Given their last conversation that’s probably giving Logan to much credit; there’s a good chance that to the very end he still wanted to manipulate them and selling Waystar was the only way he saw to protect his legacy.
But it is clear in the final episodes of the series that all of them did, in their twisted and messy ways loved their father and will be empty without him. The problem is, they have focused all their lives on winning their father’s approval and the only way they knew how was to handle his company. (There is one exception which I’ll get to at the end of the article.)
Now let’s not kid ourselves. No matter how Succession ended there were never going to be any winners or losers in the traditional sense. The Roys are all still wealthy and powerful people; they are still as emotionally stunted at the beginning of the series as they were at the end. Indeed, they’re all worse off then they were at the beginning of the series as they have all basically burned and destroyed every one of the emotionally healthy relationships they ever had, and that includes the bonds between them as siblings. (Again, there is one exception.) The idea that they would ever get what they deserved seemed impossible at the beginning of the finale as it was at the end.
Except, in what may be the most surprising twist of all on Succession, that’s kind of what happened.
After spending the better part of an hour maneuvering themselves so that they could kill the merger with GoJo and set things up with Kendall running Waystar it came down to a final board vote. With the vote tied six to six, Shiv who had promised to kill the merger…walked out of the room. Kendall and Roman frantically followed her. Shiv spent several minutes trying to figure out why she couldn’t carry out their plan and finally just said it: “I don’t think (Kendall) would make a good CEO.”
What followed was as close as the three Roys could to realizing just how horrible they truly were. Shiv reminded Kendall that he had confessed to killing a man. Kendall told them he’d been lying and then said it didn’t matter. Kendall and Roman got into a shouting match when Roman told Kendall, whose family has been deteriorating and is on the verge of imploding, about his children. The two of them tried to beat each other up and like everything the Roys do, they couldn’t even do that right. Shiv continued to realize that this was just who they were. Kendall pleaded with her, telling him that he had been raised to be CEO of Waystar — “It’s all I know how to do.” Roman, resigned told the truth: “We’re shit…we’re nothing.” And Shiv walked out the room and voted to go forward with the merger. None of the Roys get to run Waystar.
The cynical among the viewers might think that Shiv did this because Tom, still her husband, is now the CEO of the company and as long as she is married to him, she still might have a seat at the table. I think anyone who was watched the last season, never mind the whole series, knows that the marriage between Tom and Shiv by now is in name only. They are bonded by the child Shiv is carrying and little else (and God help whoever that child is when they are born) and even then, there is no indication that Tom will stay married to Shiv even after this. At this point Shiv needs Tom far more than Tom needs Shiv — and he’s spent enough time in the Roy family to know better than to care for people who are supposed to love you.
At the end of the day, the three Roy siblings are still as rich and miserable as they were at the start of the series, but without Waystar and their father, they are essentially powerless. No one will ever pretend to take them seriously any more. All of the influence they had was tied to Logan and now that he’s gone, no one will listen to them: they’ve spent the last several years proving how incompetent they are. All of them are, in a sense, in their own private hells. Roman is even more wrecked emotionally than he was at the start of the series and will probably end up spending the rest of his life in bars like this. Shiv has burned all her bridges with her liberal friends as a part of the family business and for being part of helping Mencken become President, no matter what the final result of the election story that will not be forgiven. Her marriage is emotionally empty and being a mother is something she just can’t do. And Kendall, whose entire path since the end of the first season has been bent on both self-destruction and running Waystar, now has nothing. I am told there was an alternate ending discussed where Kendall tried to kill himself in the final shot but Jesse Armstrong decided against it. It would have been superfluous. Kendall has been barely been existing for much of the series run and death in a way, would have been the easy way out for him — and something he doesn’t have the courage to do. He seemed emotionally dead in the final moments of the series anyway; regardless of what happens, he will probably remain so.
Was there a winner at the end of all this? For those of you who might think that Tom came from behind and managed to outsmart the Roys to climb to the top, I don’t believe it for a second. Tom is a survivor, nothing more, and I don’t think he’ll survive as long as he thinks.
Remember how Tom casually mentioned how the new ownership was planning to get rid of the old guard? Tom doesn’t realize he’s part of the old guard himself. He’s a holdover from the Logan Roy era. The merger succeeded despite his incompetence, not because of it. He tells Tom in the last exchange he has with Cousin Greg on the series that he’ll be safe. Tom should be worried about himself. I think the highpoint of his career as CEO will be the photo-op of him signing the papers. Everything else will be downhill.
That doesn’t mean there wasn’t a winner at the end of Succession. We just didn’t notice because his character was only in this episode in a recording.
Connor Roy was never considered seriously by anyone, either by the world, the Roy family, or even viewers of Succession. Perhaps that was to be expected as it seemed to be his fate in life to be tangential to the Roy family. He was never seriously considered as a potential CEO of Waystar Royco and really never considered it as an ambition of his. His entire arc on Succession was a completely foolhardy and doomed run for President where even Cousin Greg mocked him for how poorly he was performing. When the Roy siblings staged their intervention, Shiv started it by saying to Kendall: “You’re the eldest son” and Connor indignantly reminded them: “I’m the eldest son” and then stormed off. In the final confrontation, Kendall repeated those same words and no one still corrected him. Connor Roy spent the entire series little more than a joke and would always be unimportant and it is for that very reason, I think he may very well have emerged from Succession as if not with the possibility of a happy ending, then at the very least, with the potential for happiness.
Regardless of what might actually come of Connor’s marriage, the fact remains that he is the only Roy sibling to have anything resembling a healthy relationship with a significant other at the end of Succession. One of the images that will stay with me (albeit considering I have less experience with the show than most viewers) is the final shot of ‘Conor’s Wedding’ where Connor kisses his wife in front of a nearly empty ceremony. I remember it because it was one of the few times I’ve ever seen any major character on this series look genuinely happy or free. I don’t think it’s a coincidence it took place in the aftermath of Logan’s death.
During the disastrous bachelor party, Connor made a concerted effort to try and get his father to reconcile with his half-siblings. It ended in disaster, for obvious reasons, but no other character would have been capable of the effort. I also remember the heavily drunken monologue Connor gave in the aftermath in which he made it very clear that his siblings were doomed because they were so determined to win Logan’s love and he could live without it — or indeed any of it. Given the series finale, it’s kind of hard not to see that he was correct in that assumption.
Alone among the Roys, Connor emerged with his reputation intact. You can argue he never had one to really lose but since he never had any real connection to Waystar the way his siblings did, it’s hard to argue that he’ll have the same odor as the rest of them going forward. Maybe he won’t necessarily have a happy marriage but now that his political ambitions are done with, I think there’s an easier path to healing for him than any of the rest of his half-brothers. Some have compared Succession to King Lear, and I would remind you the Fool basically survives when the rest of his children are destroyed. If there is any hope for the Roy children healing their wounds, it will come through Connor, and if it doesn’t I think he’s self-aware enough to know he can survive without them. In the world of Succession, that has to count for a happy ending.
It looks inevitable that Succession will win its third Emmy for Best Drama this year, and while I will not be thrilled with it I can live with it more than when I started this series a couple of years ago. There will no doubt be Emmy nominations for every single Roy sibling — since Jeremy Strong and Kieran Culkin have moved into the Best Actor category, I’m relatively certain that Alan Ruck will get his due as a Best Supporting Actor nomination. I imagine at the very least ‘Conor’s Wedding’ and the series finale will receive nominations for Writing, ‘Church and State’ will certainly be nominated for Best Director (I can’t say which others will) and many of the other actors, including J. Smith Cameron and Nicholas Braun will compete in the Supporting nominations.
As for actual awards, that’s a different story. Culkin and Strong will split the vote, and Bob Odenkirk was a heavy favorite for Best Actor for Better Call Saul anyway. I understand why Sarah Snook submitted herself for Best Actress in a Drama, but it’s really looking like Melanie Lynskey will win for Yellowjackets (as I’ll write in another article, she basically locked it up with the season finale last night). Snook would have had a much better chance of winning if she’d stayed in Best Supporting Actress. Matthew MacFayden may very well repeat last year’s win for Best Supporting Actor, but it will depend on how crowded the field gets. Braun will get nominated, Ruck is very likely to be there as well, and it is very possible Alexander Skarsgard could emerge as a dark horse. The irony of a divided field costing MacFayden the prize is an irony that would not be lost on him; beside he has an Emmy.
I don’t know how the Emmys will handle Brian Cox; if he were to be nominated for Best Guest Actor, he’d finally get the Emmy he’s been owed since the series started, but I don’t think anyone would dare to consider Cox a guest actor. If Cox were to submit himself for Best Actor, he might very well get crowded out: I’m pretty sure that at no point in the history of the Emmys have either lead category had three nominees for Best Actor or Actress. Besides, it’s going to be a crowded field even with his two sons. In addition to them and Odenkirk, it is a near certainty that Pedro Pascal will be nominated for The Last of Us, Jeff Bridges for The Old Man and Diego Luna for Andor. Then there’s a deeper bench of nominees: Matthew Rhys for Perry Mason, Dominic West for The Crown and Kevin Costner for Yellowstone. The Roy bloodline only carries so far.
All I know for show is that Succession may have been a far better series than I was willing to give it credit for being. And who knows? Now that it has ended, I might be wrong about the rewatch value too. Maybe all the time we spent with these miserable people will be worth it for the viewer. Now you’ll get to enjoy them all suffer even more, knowing that the misery they’re living through will end with none of them getting what they deserved. For the viewers who’ve watched them be miserable, they’ll get a happy ending.