Breaking Down the Succession Finale: Who Came Out On Top?

It was always going to be Tom. Well, and Shiv, too. At least, that’s what I thought, again and again, since seeing Mr. Wambsgans slither his way around the Roy family back in Season One. But did he win in the never-ending quest for succession at Waystar Royco? That’s for you to decide.

The last episode of the current last-great-prestige-television show was, like so many other episodes of the saga, frenetic. Creator and writer Jesse Armstrong has always been more interested in characters sometimes at the expense of closing loose ends. Succession worked because it was less concerned about telling us how it worked out in the end; instead, we were often showed how it worked out in that moment. The finale was no different.

The Roy children—sans Connor, natch—find themselves, of all places, on island time in Barbados, at an aging but still opulent home belonging to Caroline. Caroline has always been an intriguing character, mostly distant, yet able to get close enough to deliver a sharp bite to her children’s respective egos before receding into her secondary role. Roman is hiding at her place after the events at Logan’s funeral, and Caroline easily coaxes her elder children to meet there for an impromptu summit. Both Shiv and Kendall arrive and do their best to persuade Roman to vote in their favor re the Gojo Deal. Roman is visibly shattered, back to the version of himself we met in the early seasons before he went corporate bro.

Back on the ranch, Matsson is still discerning whether Wambsgans will pass the vibe check. It was clear to everyone but Shiv that Matsson was playing Shiv like a fiddle during her quest for CEO post-closing (or, like a pregnant cello, according to Roman). Tom finds this out first hand when Matsson floats the idea of Tom as CEO. Mattson says other horrible things about his attraction to Shiv, but Tom, ever the shapeshifter, takes it quietly and then proceeds to tell Mattson why he would be perfect for the role. Which begs the question: is Tom a sociopath or the ultimate survivor? Is there a difference?

Later at the bar, as Mattson celebrates by ordering shots with Oskar, Greg in full millennial mode uses a translator on his phone to pick up on Mattson’s plan to ditch Shiv. Greg unsurprisingly uses this information to his advantage—though it’s not clear what advantage, exactly—and soon enough, the Roy children are squabbling over the news back in Barbados. Tom and Greg share a delightful penultimate moment in the bar bathroom when Tom learns that Greg spilled what he knew—which is only that Shiv is out, not that Tom is in. Tom uses his brute force on Greg, a la Season One, but this time Greg strikes back. That scene could have lasted longer.

Meanwhile, Kendall sees an opportunity and he takes it. Shiv is somehow shocked at the news and is pissed. Kendall makes the case that the company should remain with the Roys under his tuteledge before going for an on-brand swim. Shiv and Roman have a quick side bar on the sand where they seemingly (and reluctantly) agree that it should be Kendall. The siblings then enjoy a poignant yet devastating scene where they scour Caroline’s empty kitchen to make a Meal Fit for a King. As they blend it together, they laugh in way they shows they have done this before, perhaps with less corporate drama hanging above them. Kendall, the ostensible King, drinks the blended concoction before it’s poured over his head. (Strong apparently actually drank it during each take.) Seeing the Roys happy together, like children, truly smiling, felt both special and unsettling; tragedy seems to follow moments of elation in this series. That this was the last scene filmed for the show makes it even more striking.

The next day the Roys depart their private jet and make one last stop at Logan’s old apartment, where Conner and Willa (but especially Willa) are bent on making it their own. According to Connor’s well-organized method, they are labeling the things they want before Willa redecorates the place. (But not the medals—Connor already claimed those for himself.) We learn that Connor and Willa are already planning to do the long-distance thing, which is not at all surprising to any of the Roy siblings (Roman calls it the “second-week itch”). The siblings stumble into a parlor where Connor is playing a version of a home movie, but instead of their family, it’s Logan, Kerry, Karl, Frank, Gerri, and Conner (?!) singing, joking, and exchanging dirty limericks. Interestingly, Connor is among that select group—not Kendall, Shiv, or Roman—where he does a spot-on impersonation of Logan as a little teapot. Seeing the ostensibly oft-forgotten Connor among the select group only added to the enigma that was Logan Roy. One can’t help but wonder whether Connor may have been closer to the top than we thought, our viewpoint constrained by the nearsighted lenses of the other Roy children. We also see a softer, relaxed side of Logan, and the children grow treacly. Was this the father they remembered or the father they always wanted?

Later, at the tail end of this very busy day, the Gojo-Waystar vote draws near. The Roy siblings saunter around and end up in Logan’s office where Kendall awkwardly takes his seat behind the desk, propping his feet up. Some could say that moment—the now-real image of Kendall at the helm—could be the straw that broke the camel’s back. Or Shiv’s back, in this circumstance. And by that I mean the eventual final vote on the Gojo-Waystar deal, where each person voted along party lines (even Roman, who voted against Kendall in the crucial vote of no confidence back in Season One). That leaves Shiv, who, visibly apprehensive, votes for the deal to pass. A shocked Kendall follows her out of the boardroom where the Roy siblings have their final row, their blows reducing them to a child-like argument. Kendall pleads his case by attempting to bully his siblings into submission, which gave another insight into what things could have been like with him at the top.

Vicious insults are hurled in quick succession. Shiv admits to Kendall that though she loves him, she can’t stomach him. Kendall claims (read: shouts) that he is the eldest boy! Shiv reminds him that he is not. Kendall says that without this, he will die. Shiv reminds him that he killed someone (remember how dark the first season was?). Kendall, somewhat convincingly, says he didn’t—that it never happened. Shiv and Roman, but especially Roman, are aghast, the true depths of Kendall’s depravity now laid bare. When Kendall goes on about the importance of family guiding the company, Roman, in perhaps the most lethal blow, tells him that his kids aren’t bloodline—a belief held by Logan himself. Kendall physically attacks Roman, and Roman then stops Kendall from blocking Shiv’s escape, resulting in a truly pathetic scuffle. Roman, perhaps almost too-succinctly, summarizes what we’ve known since Season One: “We are bullshit.” After that, Tom is welcomed to the floor where he smugly shakes hands and subtlety starts giving instructions. When Greg nervously approaches Tom to offer his congrats, Tom acknowledges Greg’s betrayal but also usefulness. Tom then places a sticker (that Connor handed out back at Logan’s apartment) on Greg’s forehead, insults him, then tells him, “But I got you.” The Disguting Brothers remain an item.

And so this chapter of the Roy children saga ends with the company out of their hands—just like Logan wanted—and into the tentacles of oddball Mattson. Roman is forced to take a photo signifying the closing with the man who not only owns his family’s company, but who took pleasure in watching them suffer. We last see Roman smirking at a bar, alone. It’s clear that Roman is free from the pressure to be a corporate cog, but it’s not clear whether he is in a better mental place at the moment.

The last we see of Shiv is her stoically riding away in a car with Tom, the new Waystar CEO. As always, Shiv is close enough to touch the power, but not close enough to wield it. She still has the name, the pedigree, and the ear of the CEO—and now she has the bloodline—but her ending is bleak just the same. Tom and Shiv’s relationship truly drove the show, in my opinion, and it’s interesting to think of the new shift of their power dynamic, and whether Shiv will truly be happy in a world where she remains on the sideline.

That leaves Kendall, not so much walking as he is meandering through lower Manhattan. He is drawn to the water, this time the waves of the Hudson. Collin, Logan’s former bodyguard, is calmly trailing him, of course. Kendall’s expression is one of true loss. Indeed, he has perhaps lost the most here: his father, his family, his lifelong quest of becoming CEO of Waystar Royco. Kendall has the money, but no purpose. He will probably try other ventures, perhaps philanthropy, but this blow dealt by Shiv will leave a lasting wound. Kendall looks to the heavy, choppy waves beckoning him to jump, and for a moment there it looks like he wants to. But instead, he takes a seat on a park bench to think about everything—or perhaps nothing—as the series fades to black.

Though I didn’t make time to regularly write about this show, I thoroughly enjoyed watching and dissecting it each week. It’s always a little sad when such a show ends, but I think it ended at the right time, and on the right note. Are you a fan of all-things Succession? Let me know your thoughts on the finale, or on the show generally, in the comments below.

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