Succession has a knack for last-minute betrayals and earth-shattering finales. I expected no less going into the last night's episode - the final send-off for HBO's hit comedy-drama.
After four incredible seasons, the Succession fandom became ripe with inside jokes as we all took sides on which of the four Roy siblings should come out on top. Whether you were a Conhead or a loyal member of Shivnation, the series finale likely left you with a hole in your heart.
Though we can tend to forget it while singing along to "L to the OG," Succession is, at the end of the day, a tragedy. Its Shakespearean roots in King Lear are no accident, and the emotional politics of one highly-dysfunctional family make for some truly gut-wrenching television. This incredible tableau of "bloody, complicated life" surrounding one cruel patriarch had one devastating send-off that reminded us all that it was futile to choose sides in the first place.
"You Are Not Serious People."
Admittedly, in the past, I was a loyal groupie in the sad boy Kendall fan club. The inherently troubled, drug-addicted "eldest boy" (Sorry Connor), whose entire life and identity are tied up in succeeding his father, went through devastating highs and lows. Many Kendall Roy apologists were ready to stand their ground through the storm in hopes that, in the end, the number one boy would take the crown. At the final board meeting showdown, it seemed like Kendall might be able to do just that. However, Shiv suddenly steps out, and chaos ensues in an adjacent, exposed conference room.
At the height of said chaos, Shiv brings up the dreaded dead waiter fiasco - to which Kendall haphazardly deflects, saying that he had just made that up. Roman and Kendall eventually come to blows, and as they scrap like children, Shiv walks away to cast the tie-breaking vote. From then on, I could already smell the Shiv-hating parade on the way.
Though I wholeheartedly understand wanting Kendall to wear the crown, I think these final moments were indicative of a much deeper truth and takeaway than just sibling v. sibling dynamics. One that Roman seemed to be the most in tune with. His recent nihilism, punctuated by grief over his father's death, made him the first, perhaps, to see "with open eyes."
Whether Shiv acted out of jealousy, resentment, or malice regarding Kendall's skeletons in the closet is entirely beside the point. As far as I'm concerned, they were all screwed the second Logan cut them out (with the aid of Tom's betrayal) in the Season 3 finale. In many ways, Season 4 was just a compilation of desperate power grabs and failed tactics by the all-too-unserious siblings. The New Gen Roys moved rapidly and childishly between love and hate, reconciliation and deception, each drawn by their own self-interest. Without their father to set the stakes and play favorites, they were all set on a collision course for self-destruction.
As Kendall walks somberly to the elevator after losing what was promised to him as a child, I couldn't help but try and frame it as a good thing. Kendall will not become his father. He will have a chance to break the cycle. Just last season, as he sat with his father over dinner in Italy, he said, "Let me out. I don't want to be you." Even more telling, "I'm better than you." The unending struggle of Kendall's life to either spurn his father or transform into him could finally cease. We can only hope that this core chapter of great loss in his life does not destroy him.
Along these lines, the water motif that followed Kendall throughout the series is either tied to destruction or renewal. I'm going to choose to believe that, in this final instance, it's the latter.
The Poison Drips Through
Breaking the cycle of abuse has been a big topic of discussion amongst the Succession fandom this whole season, and rightly so. Each of the Roy siblings is distinctly scarred, or, rather, cursed by their "dear, dear world of a father." If there's one character who definitely did not break the cycle, it's Shiv. Now tied by marriage to the corporate circus, with a child on the way, she is destined to become her mother. She is the Roy bloodline. The poison drips through.
It's a harsh and bitter end for a character I absolutely loved to watch onscreen. This final betrayal with the Tom-CEO switcharoo has already garnered some vicious Shiv hate on the Internet (mostly by men). The Shiv slander ironically reinforces the misogynistic territory of the Waystar empire instead of calling it out. The world Logan Roy created is inherently hard on and disdainful of women -- "My father couldn't hold a whole woman in his head." It is built on abuse. It leaves no room for tears. (Note that all of the happy, wholesome sibling bonding moments happen away from Waystar headquarters).
In order to stand toe-to-toe with her brothers and navigate her inheritance, Shiv has to learn to be cold, callous, and composed. The fact that she's a woman is used against her at every turn. As a byproduct of her hostile environment, she becomes a weapon (hence, the telling nickname) and guts Kendall's last chance to take over Waystar. However, she doesn't do so for her own gain. She's doomed either way. The boss's daughter or the boss's wife, she's left in a "frozen, emotionally barren place," as creator Jesse Armstrong phrased it.
So, there you have it. Tragedy all around. And, what else were we expecting? Of course, it would have been nice if number one boy Kendall was crowned king with a row of happy, supportive siblings by his side. But that would not have been true to the story of Succession.
In fact, sometimes a story can only perfectly and honestly end when the characters lose everything. When that central goal - the source of conflict - is finally and forcibly removed. Whether that harsh, decisive sort of ending entails freedom or destruction, or a little bit of both, is left for us to configure.
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