***SPOILER ALERT IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE SUCCESSION FINALE***
The Shakespearean saga of the Roy family ended tonight in top fashion.
It was never going to be Kendall.
Not if you really think about it. He was too desperate. Too clingy. Too erratic. Too hungry to be his father. And, oh yeah, complicit in a covered-up death late in Succession‘s first season. If you think about where the heart of the series beats, then you’ll see that writer/creator Jesse Armstrong has increasingly taken a side against Logan Roy (Brian Cox). Roy was always, of course, the villain of the piece. The pathologically emotionally distant father who raised four deeply disturbed and broken children. A victory for Kendall would have endorsed that behavior, extended the Roy line into a new era of Waystar RoyCo.
But, as with everything Succession, it’s not that easy.
The series finale gave us lost to chew on. Sensing near-victory, Kendall (Jeremy Strong) travels to his mother’s (Harriet Walter) island estate to shore up a distraught Roman (Kieran Culkin) to ensure a “no” vote on GoJo’s purchase of Waystar RoyCo. He’s beaten there by Shiv (Sarah Snook) who wants to convince Roman to vote “yes,” mostly because she has a tentative deal with GoJo CEO Lukas Matsson (Alexander Skarsgård) to serve as the US-based CEO of the resulting company. However, things start to unravel as word seeps into the family retreat that Matsson is perhaps rethinking selection of Shiv as a potential CEO. We know this to be true because he tells Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) that he doesn’t want to complicate the new company, largely because he’s sexually attracted to Shiv. Ultimately, Shiv is the one to “shiv” Kendall’s dreams by voting “yes” on the GoJo deal.
While I think reactions to the episode are going to be near unanimously respectful, I do think there will be a lot of complicated emotions reacting to it, mostly around Shiv Roy. Shiv was the least experienced of the Roy children, but she was, in my opinion, the smartest. She understood how to play the game, and she mostly avoided entanglements or irregularities that cast her in a bad light. Perhaps she worked it too hard. Perhaps she would never have landed on top in a male-dominated business world. As awful as it may have seemed to many, her story was the most realistic, the real heartbreak of the episode. Not only was she denied the CEO role she so badly wanted, but she also seems to have reluctantly chosen to remain aligned with the man who won the job.
If you see Shiv and Tom’s last moment in the series as anything but a devastating loss, then you don’t understand body chemistry. Just look at how Snook lays her hand in Macfadyen’s. There is no connection, no embrace, no entanglement of fingers. It’s a rote, by-the-numbers motion filled with a depression resignation to her ordained future.
She could have stopped it, but she made the right choice.
Not only would Kendall have been a terrible CEO, but it would have been, as I’ve mentioned earlier, a full endorsement of the Logan Roy way. And clearly Jesse Armstrong and team did not want to go that route. By denying Kendall and selling the company, the Roy children (for better or for worse) have severed their relationship to their emotionally distant father. They’ve chosen (or in Kendall’s case been thrust upon) a new path in life, a path outside of the Waystar RoyCo umbrella. In a way, it’s the final “fuck you” to the memory of Logan Roy, ending his legacy by selling everything to a foreign entity.
The brilliant episode, which I am still processing of course, offered more of what has proven to be some of my favorite moments in the series. At their mother’s island home, the Roy kids re-engage as siblings. Yes, they initially fight amongst themselves but, at that time, settle on Kendall as the heir apparent. There’s even a sly nod to Succession‘s penchant for avoiding predictable or melodramatic plot twists. As Kendall jumps into the ocean for a light-night swim, Shiv and Roman jokingly (?) toss around the idea of killing him, which I’ll admit is exactly where my head went when he started swimming out to a floating deck. Of course, Armstrong would never, has never, stooped that low. This isn’t Dynasty, of course. But we’re then treated to a sweet and genuinely funny scene in the kitchen as Shiv and Roman prepare a “meal fit for a king,” essentially a toxic concoction of spoiled foods found in their mother’s kitchen. The moment, as the best of this season did, reminded me that these are still brothers and sisters above all else. No matter how many times they double cross each other, they do eventually come back to each other. At least once in a while.
There’s a sadder sequence later in the episode when the Roy siblings are presented with a video of Logan and others laughing at dinner. Not much information is given, but we are reminded that these are still human beings, reeling from a terrible loss, and capable of human emotions. Loved that moment and loved seeing Brian Cox again. I’ve been back and forth on whether or not Cox’s departure was too early, but ultimately, this is what we’ve been given. It was nice to see him again.
As I’ve said before, I’m stilling processing my thoughts on what I feel was a suitable end to a great season of Succession. I wanted more Gerri (J Smith-Cameron), for one thing. I loved the last shot of Roman sitting criss-cross applesauce on the boardroom table, but I’m left incredibly uneasy with Kendall’s sense of aimlessness at the end, staring out into the water mentally lost at sea. And does my heart ache for Shiv Roy? Yes, it completely does, but not more than my heart ached for Daenerys Targaryen at the end of Game of Thrones. At least Shiv’s “crazy female emotions” didn’t cause her to lash out and kill Kendall at the end. Succession‘s ending may have been darkest for women hoping to see a woman rule at the end, but at least it wasn’t a total embarrassment. It was a realistic turn of events that, sadly, reflects much of our own industry and history.
But I’m pretty sure Sarah Snook will be able to comfort herself with a golden Emmy statue next September.
And she won’t be alone…