September 20, 2023

The Roy Family Saga ended in a breathtaking blindside

[This story contains major spoilers for the Succession series finale, “With Open Eyes.”]

Whether or not you “grieved beforehand,” the time for mourning has finally arrived: Succession is over, and with it the story of the Roys.

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On its way to its 90-minute series finale, creator Jesse Armstrong’s Emmy award-winning drama faced the daunting task of resolving countless individual and interconnected character arcs, all in pursuit of one big question: Who will Logan Roy (Brian Cox) ) at the head of Waystar Royco?

Entering the finals, there were countless possible answers. Would Kendall (Jeremy Strong) embody his middle name and transform into the killer his father always said he would never become? Would Shiv (Sarah Snook) be the tip of the spear for a successful GoJo deal with Lukas Matsson (Alexander Skarsgård), and where would Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) end up in that?

What about Roman (Kieran Culkin), who was so deeply haunted by his father’s death that he had to walk into an ocean of political turmoil (thanks, Jeryd Mencken!) to feel anything but pure grief? Can this story end a la Game of Throneswith an unlikely candidate for the Iron Throne — like Greg (Nicholas Braun), as an oft-repeated theory in the Succession fandom? Which skeletons from the closet (or in Logan’s “cat food Ozymandias” tomb, so to speak) would dance out for one last fright?

It is no longer necessary to speculate about all those questions. Ahead, here’s how the finale shook for all the main characters and storylines. Look away or else look for massive series ending spoilers for “With Open Eyes,” written by Armstrong and directed by Mark Mylod.

Who won Waystar Royco?

“Shiv, you should probably know: it’s me.”

So says Tom, the new presumptive CEO of Waystar Royco. In a daring episode where the momentum swings from hand to hand more than a few times, it’s the outsider Tom Wambsgans who ends up at the head of the table.

Here’s how it happened.

Matthew Macfadyen and Dagmara Dominczyk in Succession Season 4

Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) and Katrina (Dagmara Dominczyk) in ‘Connor’s Wedding’.

The path to the Waystar throne

“With Open Eyes” opens the day before the board’s vote on the GoJo sale. Shiv thinks she’s locked in with Matsson as his choice for an American CEO. Turns out, not so much. Over dinner with Tom, Matsson confesses that he is over Shiv and her ideas, and doesn’t want to get into a messy situation given his attraction to her. Tom takes the news on the chin, especially when Matsson says he wants to put the crown on Tom’s head as an alternative to Shiv also wearing the Roy cloak.

Meanwhile, Shiv and her siblings reunite in the Caribbean at their mother’s tropical home. Kendall learns that Matsson is moving away from Shiv and informs his sister of the crushing news. Shiv and Roman reluctantly agree to Kendall as king. Over time, the reluctance turns to mania, as the three siblings celebrate by pouring a disgusting smoothie on Kendall’s head, which serves as a liquid crown of sorts.

From left: Kieran Culkin, Sarah Snook and Jeremy Strong

From left: Roman (Kieran Culkin), Shiv (Sarah Snook), and Kendall (Jeremy Strong) in the final episode.

When they return to New York for the vote, the siblings go to Logan’s old apartment, where Connor sells his father’s wares. Kendall, Shiv and Roman receive one last visit from their father’s ghost through a home video recorded at a recent dinner before Logan’s death. It’s a terrifying moment for the siblings, one that would seemingly only serve to unite them further, especially after Tom tells Shiv that he’s the one who wants Matsson as CEO; that news goes over as well as you’d expect.

But when it comes time to cast the votes, it’s a six-six tie, with Shiv’s vote on the line. She retreats to consider whether or not to support Kendall or Tom,
though it’s not a discussion at all; Shiv chooses Tom. Saying Kendall is devastated doesn’t do justice to the fallout, as the three siblings almost literally tear each other apart over old wounds, from Kendall’s role in the death of the caterer at Shiv’s wedding (which he says was never actually happened, in a sign of Ken’s humiliating condition), to the fact that Kendall’s children are not his by blood. Ken and Rome get into a fight, and as they fight, Shiv goes and casts the winning vote for GoJo.

The episode ends with a very confident Tom waltzing into Waystar Royco like he owns it, because in fact he does. Shiv drives off with Tom in a private car and takes his hand when he offers it coldly. Roman ends the series alone at a bar, sipping a martini, perhaps freed once and for all from his father’s shadow.

Sunset for Kendall

The final image of the series: Kendall Roy, walking through a park, with bodyguard Colin (Scott Nicholson) close behind him. Ken walks to a park bench and stares at the water as the sun sets. We hear the sound of waves as Kendall stares out, his next steps uncertain – both for him, and certainly for us, who will never know what happens to “the eldest boy” now that he’s lost the only thing that ever mattered to him was: the electric chair his father promised him decades earlier in a candy store when he was 7 years old.

Kendall’s crossed-out ending is underlined by a powerful foreshadowing from Jeremy Strong, who cleverly teased his sunset of an ending in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter after the final season premiere: “We finished filming on location, somewhere I’m probably not allowed to say… then I flew to Denmark, where I have a house near the ocean. I went straight to my house from the airport, took a long walk, sat on the beach, watched Kendall set with the sun and said, ‘Adios.’”

Goodbye Kendall, indeed.

Jeremy Strong in 'Succession' series finale

Kendall (Jeremy Strong) in the last episode.

The name of victory

Even if we don’t know the next steps for Kendall, Shiv, and Roman, we at least know who’s at the head of the table: Tom, whose victory has been seeded in various ways throughout the series.

In his first scene, Tom buys Logan a watch for his birthday; a sign of the man who bides his time. In season three, while helping Logan through an illness, Logan refers to Tom as “son.”

Then there’s the Wambsgans surname, which is linked to baseball player Bill Wambsgans, who pulled off a legendary triple play — a move Tom made at the end of season three when he outsmarted the siblings, and one he recreated. has done, this time with help from Matsson’s misogyny, as well as Shiv, who lives up to her name in her own way and shits her brother when it matters most.

“It has always been a tragedy”

In the official “Succession: Controlling the Narrative” post-episode feature, Armstrong and Mylod talked more about ending the show the way they did, and ending the show, completely.

“It feels very perverse to end it,” says Armstrong. “I love this cast, I love working with the crew, my fellow writers, I’ve had some of the happiest times of my career in this writer’s room, working with them. I’m kind of a softie. I like the family atmosphere we have on this show and the relationships.

That said, he adds, “One of the few things I can be really hard on is protecting the show and its integrity. The more and more we discussed it in the room, the more and more it became clear to me that this sequence of Logan’s death, the contest to sell, crossed an election, and his funeral ended with the end of the show. Once that was clear, I had no real doubts. I had a lot of emotional sadness, but it felt like, ‘Okay, this is how this show is going.’”

According to Mylod, Succession has “always been a tragedy”, an idea he hoped to emphasize in the part of the finale set in Barbados, where production ended. He points to the scene where the siblings pour a celebratory smoothie crown on Kendall’s head the night before his supposed appointment. Mylod says the scene has “a sense of innocence recaptured, kids are kids.

“Every moment of hope is so cruel,” he adds, “because you’re just waiting for that shoe to drop and waiting for their essential nature to be exposed and your heart to break again.”

What does the future hold for the Roys?

Armstrong, for his part, has strong thoughts about what happens next with Roman, Shiv, and Kendall, and the rest of the Succession cast.

“They don’t stop,” he says of the characters and their stories. “They will continue. But it’s where this show loses interest in them because they’ve lost what they wanted, which was to succeed, this prize that their father held out to them.

He says Roman’s final scene, set in a bar, shows how “he could easily have been a playboy jerk with a bit of nasty instincts and some pretty funny jokes. He could have stayed in a bar, if that man, and this has been a bit of a detour in his life.

Matthew Macfadyen and Sarah Snook in the Succession series finale

Tom and Shiv at the end of the series finale.

For Shiv, Armstrong thinks she’s in “a pretty frightening, frozen, emotionally barren place” following her big move to support Tom. Tom’s victory, according to Armstrong, had been won a long time ago: “That’s something that I thought was the right ending for a while. Even if he’s not the most powerful monarch you’ll ever meet. His power comes from Matsson. Those figures who float upwards and make themselves receptive to powerful people are there.” Armstrong believes Tom and Shiv will struggle to progress given all the cards they’ve laid on the table: “There’s a lot of that game to play out, but we’ll leave it at that.”

And then there’s Ken, the number one boy. Is his last look at the water and the setting sun a sign that he is about to turn a new page and build his ‘own deck’ apart from his father? That’s an optimistic way of looking at things, and Armstrong isn’t looking optimistically at Kendall’s end.

“This will always be the central event in his life,” says the creator. “Maybe he can go ahead and start a business or do something, but the chances of him getting the kind of business status his father achieved are very slim. I think that will characterize his entire life.”

Armstrong, for his part, feels deeply Succession will mark his entire creative life. “I don’t think I’ll ever be able to write anything this good again,” he says. “It feels really scary and silly, but feeling like it has to end, so that’s what I hold on to.”

Succession now streaming on Max. Read THR‘s Succession final cover.

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