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  • Writer's picturePaul Gainey

Succession

There was, in the end, no joy for the Roys. The backstabbing siblings exited the final ever episode of "Succession" much as they had entered four seasons ago: broken, brittle brats, fuelled by entitlement and consumed by spectacular daddy issues.


Kendall, Shiv and Roman had gone into the concluding series of Jesse Armstrong’s boardroom blockbuster, desperate to stop creepy tech mogul Lukas Matsson walking away with the family silver.


But walk away with Waystar Royco he did in an epic last episode that revisited all of Succession’s strengths.


Betrayal has been the show’s recurring theme from the outset. Up to his death Logan Roy repeatedly double-crossed his kids by leading them to believe they would inherit his media empire – though, in his heart, he knew they weren’t up to the job. History was repeated as Shiv (Sarah Snook) garrotted heir apparent Kendall (Jeremy Strong) when the Matsson deal went to a final boardroom vote.


She had already been knifed by Matsson (Alexander Skarsgård), who changed his mind about making her the company’s US figurehead – telling her estranged husband Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) that Shiv essentially was too much her own woman. Matsson didn’t want someone who knew their mind. He needed a lackey – a part Tom was born to play.


Despite the 90-minute run-time, the instalment clipped by and had some breathtaking moments. When Shiv wise-cracked about killing Kendall at their mother’s retreat in Barbados, there was a heartbeat when you wondered whether she was joking (perhaps she wondered too). Instead, she bonded with Kendall and Roman – after the Roys had learned, via Cousin Greg (Nicholas Braun), that Matsson was going to exclude Shiv from the new regime.


The Roys’ downfall was ultimately rooted in Shiv’s inability to share Kendall and Roman’s delusions. True, she was blinded by her own ambition to succeed her late father. Yet she also saw too clearly that Kendall was the emptiest suit in a show filled with ghastly parodies of functional human beings.


One of Succession’s greatest strengths has been its willingness to leave space for ambiguity. Before his death, it was unclear whether Logan was taking advantage of the vulnerable Roman – or whether he wanted his son to become his closest ally. Perhaps both were true at once.


In the finale, the same dynamic was at work with Shiv when she flunked out of the board-room meeting at which Kendall expected to be named CEO. She wanted the job – and knew she was better suited. At the same time, she understood what a disaster Kendall would be as CEO.


“I don’t think you’d be good at this,” she said – and meant it. She brought up the drowned waiter from series one, and Kendall flat denied involvement in the death. He couldn’t sell the lie, just as he could never sell himself as his father’s successor.


Victory, in the end, went to Tom. Betrayed romantically by Shiv, he calmly and cooly extracted the worst possible revenge and took up Matsson’s offer to be the new head of Waystar.


She had lived in her father’s shadow, and now the sun was blocked by the man she had settled for and whom she had never viewed as an equal. The unhappy couple drove away, their sham marriage even more hollowed out. Elsewhere, a broken Roman drank alone. And Kendall sat on a bench, staring at the waves.


It wasn’t quite as Shakespearean as we may have hoped for and the show suffered from the absence of Brian Cox’s molten Logan but he did get a farewell bow when Logan popped up briefly in a home movie. It was a satisfyingly devastating closing act. From Mattson to Tom, everyone was a winner. Except for the Roys – the poor little rich kids for whom life was, in the end, revealed to be one long succession of disappointments.


This cringingly comedic, dynastic drama has been a televisual dark horse; an ever-growing, word-of-mouth phenomenon that has become an obsession for many.


It’s a brilliant, miserable ending to a brilliant, miserable-in-the-best-way story. Yes, this is a series mostly made up of conversations in conference rooms, business talk you don’t really understand, and characters that are objectively terrible people.


But it’s also gut-punchingly emotional, impeccably performed, shot with boundary-pushing excellence, and as hilarious as it is dramatic. It is one of the best ensemble casts in television history, delivering some of the best lines ever written. It’s a tale that is the highest of stakes, all the time; both thuddingly relevant and thrillingly escapist. It is, quite simply, one of the best TV shows ever made, standing proudly alongside Sopranos, Breaking Bad and Mad Men. Succession: we love you, and we’re so, so sad to be saying goodbye.




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