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Saturday, May 18, 2024

Everyone Got What They Deserved in the Succession Series Finale

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This story contains spoilers for Succession.


Succession began with the promise of its title: an elderly media mogul must choose which of his children will succeed him when he dies. It took four seasons — and the unexpected death of that media mogul, Logan Roy (Brian Cox) — for the show to deliver on its opening gambit. When it came to who would take the throne, the internet had theorized, the pundits had suggested, and viewers had furiously argued over just how the show would end. And in the series' searingly bleak feature-length finale the show not only gave viewers the shocking answer they'd been waiting for, but it also gave each of the Roy children exactly what they deserve.

Succession Season 4 Photos

The finale hinged — as far too many important events in human history do — on a board meeting and the vote of its members. After a season filled with ridiculous and convoluted betrayal, installing a literal Nazi as president via their news network, and the death of their father, the Roy kids Shiv (Sarah Snook), Roman (Kieran Culkin), and Kendall (Jeremy Strong) came together to try and block a sale of their family's legacy media company, Waystar Royco, to Lucas Mattson (Alexander Skarsgård) and his upstart Swedish tech empire, GoJo. That plan blows up, though, when Shiv has the tie-breaking vote and decides to vote to sell rather than let Kendall rule it all with an iron fist like their father. It's a choice that leaves Shiv's power-hungry and often beleaguered husband, Tom (Matthew Macfadyen), as the CEO of the combined new company, meaning he was the one to truly succeed Logan.

While it might have looked like he was about to finally become king of the castle, at the last moment Kendall had his dreams demolished by Shiv voting to push through the GoJo deal. A man defined by his own arrogance and self belief, Kendall has always felt that the crown belonged to him and he's committed more back stabbing than Ghostface to manifest it. As he tells Shiv in the episode, "this" is all he can do. Though, he clearly doesn't really understand what "this" is, he just knows desperately that he believes he's entitled to doing it. Ripping that away from him is a fitting punishment, seeing as he's wealthy enough that he'll never face any real accountability for his crimes, including his involvement in the death of a young waiter at Shiv's wedding. But he's not the only sibling left demolished by Shiv's choice.

Thanks to Kieran Culkin's deeply human performance, it can be easy to forget just how awful of a person Roman actually is. Abusive, cruel, and morally corrupt, he's just as awful as his siblings but he's also their constant victim. His journey this season has been one centered on embracing nihilism as a way to pretend his actions have no impact. The finale offers him a fitting end to that story, leaving him with nothing that matters (aside from the billions of dollars, of course). No friends, no family he can trust, not even a Gerri (J. Smith-Cameron) he can flirt with and harass. It's one of the bleakest outcomes, as we've seen Roman slowly slip into a deep mental health crisis since his father's death and there's no one in his life who cares enough to help. As Kendall constantly showed this season, he sees Roman as nothing more than a physical and emotional punching bag, a pawn to move around a board. And Shiv just turned her back on both of her siblings in order to cash out and tie herself to the most powerful person in the game.

Speaking of which, if there's one person who truly embodies the ethical void of the Roys and the way they relate to each other in the finale, it's Shiv. The first time that she was given any true power to wield over her brothers, she uses it to betray them. But that is far from out of the ordinary. In fact, in that choice, she simply does exactly what they've done to her time and time again. It's the never ending cycle of the Roys. Betrayal, promises, betrayal, promises, and on and on it goes.

What drove Shiv to choose the GoJo deal is ultimately left vague, though it could be seen as her choosing her husband over her brothers. Or maybe she could see that Kendall was already recreating the abusive behavior of her father — as we saw when he kept physically assaulting Roman this episode — before he'd even gotten the keys to the kingdom. Whatever the truth, she's now trapped herself into a loveless marriage with the man who stole her CEO role thanks to Mattson's deep-seated misogyny. That latter part was, of course, deeply predictable, seeing as she figuratively jumped into bed with an admitted abuser who makes holocaust jokes and hates women. So, though Shiv apparently chose the winning team, it's a success that comes with a soul crushing cost — and, of course, billions of dollars.

While it might seem like Tom "won" the game that the Roy kids have been playing their entire life, the reality is that his quest for wealth has led him into a life of agony. That's not even being hyperbolic. When Mattson sells his pitch to Tom, he tells him he'll be his "pain sponge," a puppeteered front man for GoJo who will be doing nothing more than taking blows for his boss. This entire season we've seen Tom losing his sanity to lack of sleep, anxiety, stress, and a near constant tiredness that has wrought havoc on his existence. He's now in a role where that will be his daily reality in an even more intense and painful way. But, taking heat for and from a sociopathic tech overlord pales in comparison to the new nightmare that is his personal life since he had to betray his wife — and sometime mortal enemy — to make his CEO role happen. And now, thanks to Shiv's choice, the pair is trapped in a toxic marriage of convenience and discomfort. Neither trust each other, neither like each other, and they have a baby on the way.

The chips fell equally as hard for the rest of Succession's players. Gregg (Nicolas Braun), Tom's usually loyal footsoldier, betrayed him at the last moment after trying to align with the siblings. Tom "saved" Gregg, but promised him that he can stick around but only because Tom now owns the young man, and yet another of Succession's most toxic relationships continues on. With the presidency of the nazi Jeryd Mencken (Justin Kirk) being questioned in court, Connor Roy (Alan Ruck) likely won't get his dream democratic job and his young trophy wife Willa (Justine Lupe) will likely be stuck living with him in their cavernous New York home as her plans for "long distance" fall apart. Even the elders Karl (David Rasche) and Frank (Peter Friedman) live to see a man they despise in Tom taking power, knowing their golden parachutes are secure but their legacy no longer is.

As the deeply uncomfortable final shots of the Roy family roll, it's clear that no matter who ended up in charge of the company the outcome of Succession was inevitable: each of the major players would be miserable. Not because it's absolutely what they deserve (though that’s true too) but because miserable is what they’ve always been. There's rarely been a moment of happiness or joy they've experienced in the series that hasn't come from someone else's misfortune. The Roys are terrible people and they end the show as they began it, exceptionally wealthy and deeply unhappy.

While some viewers may have wanted a more obviously cathartic ending more in line with the current trend of "eat the rich" stories — like Ready or Not, Triangle of Sadness, and The Menu — the choice to finish Succession in a fittingly depressing yet realistic way is the right one. It feels true to the series for the cycle of wealth and toxicity to continue even with the children no longer in power , just as the fact they still made billions out of the deal feels depressingly akin to the hyper-capitalistic reality of our world that inspired the show.


Rosie Knight is a contributing freelancer for IGN covering everything from anime to comic books to kaiju to kids movies to horror flicks. She has over half a decade of experience in entertainment journalism with bylines at Nerdist, Den of Geek, Polygon, and more.

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