[This story contains major spoilers for the Succession series finale, “With Open Eyes.”]
Whether you’ve “mourned before” or not, the time to mourn has finally come: the succession is over, and with it the Roy’s story.
Heading towards its 90-minute series finale, creator Jesse Armstrong’s Emmy-winning drama faced a daunting task of solving numerous individual and interconnected character strands, all while addressing one big question: who will succeed Logan Roy ( Brian Cox) line up at the top? by Waystar Royco?
As the finale began, there were numerous possible answers. Would Kendall (Jeremy Strong) take his middle name and become the killer his father always told him he would never become? Would Shiv (Sarah Snook) spearhead a successful GoJo deal with Lukas Matsson (Alexander Skarsgård), and where would Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) end up in it?
How about Roman (Kieran Culkin), who is so saddened by the death of his father that he has to navigate a sea of political turmoil (thanks for that, Jeryd Mencken!) to feel anything other than pure grief? Could this story end a la Game of Thrones, with an unlikely candidate for the Iron Throne – like Greg (Nicholas Braun), like an oft-repeated theory in the Succession fandom? Which skeletons from the closet (or Logan’s “cat food Ozymandias” tomb, so to speak) would dance out for one final scare?
There is no longer any need to speculate about these questions. Here’s how the finale played out for all the major characters and storylines. Look the other way or face the series’ massive 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.”
That says Tom, the new presumptive CEO of Waystar Royco. In a rollicking episode where the momentum switches hands more than a few times, it’s underdog Tom Wambsgans who ends up at the top of the table.
That’s how it happened.
Matthew Macfadyen and Dagmara Dominczyk in Connor’s Wedding. Macall B. Polay/HBO The Road to the Waystar Throne
“With Open Eyes” begins the day before the board vote on the GoJo sale. Shiv thinks she’s committed to Matsson as his pick for an American CEO. It turns out not so much. During dinner with Tom, Matsson confesses that he is over Shiv and her ideas and doesn’t want to put himself in an awkward situation given his attraction to her. Tom takes the news head-on, especially when Matsson says he’d like to put the crown on Tom as an alternative to Shiv, who also wears the Roy mantle.
Meanwhile, Shiv and her siblings reunite in the Caribbean at their mother’s tropical home. Kendall learns that Matsson has left Shiv and shares the devastating news with his sister. Shiv and Roman reluctantly agree to hire Kendall as king. As time goes on, the reluctance turns to mania when the three siblings throw a disgusting smoothie on Kendall’s head to celebrate, which serves as a liquid crown of sorts.
Returning to New York to vote, the siblings head to Logan’s old apartment, where Connor sells his father’s merchandise. Kendall, Shiv, and Roman are visited one last time by their father’s spirit in a home video recorded recently at a dinner before Logan’s death. It’s a poignant moment for the brothers and sisters that would only seem to unite them more, especially after Tom told Shiv he’s the one Matsson wants as CEO; This news is about as well received as one would expect.
But when it comes time to cast the votes, it’s a six-to-six tie, with Shiv’s vote at stake. She refuses to consider whether or not she wants to support Kendall or Tom, although that’s not much of a debate at all; Shiv chooses Tom. To say that Kendall is devastated doesn’t do justice to the aftermath, as the three siblings almost literally tear each other apart over old wounds, starting with Kendall’s role in the waiter’s death at Shiv’s wedding (which he says never really happened). a sign of Ken’s degrading condition), to the fact that Kendall’s children are not his blood relatives. Ken and Rome get into a fight and while they argue, Shiv casts the winning vote for GoJo.
The episode ends with a very confident Tom bursting into Waystar Royco as if he owned the house, because he actually does. Shiv drives away with Tom in a private car and takes his hand as he offers it coldly. Roman ends the series alone in a bar, sipping a martini and perhaps freed from his father’s shadow once and for all.
Sunset for Kendall
The final image in 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 waves crashing as Kendall stares out. His next steps are uncertain – both for him and most certainly for us, who will never know what happens to “the oldest boy” after he lost the only thing that was ever important to him: the power seat he had his father had promised decades earlier in a candy store when he was seven.
Kendall’s crossed-out ending is punctuated by a haunting foreshadowing from Jeremy Strong, who deftly alluded to the sunset of an ending in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter after last season’s premiere: “We finished filming in a place that I’m probably not allowed to go to Tell me… then I flew to Denmark, where I have a house by the sea. I walked straight from the airport to my house, took a long walk, sat on the beach, watched Kendall go down with the sun and said, ‘Adios’.”
Goodbye Kendall, indeed.
Kendall (Jeremy Strong) in the series finale. David Russell/HBO The Name of Victory
While we don’t know the next steps for Kendall, Shiv, and Roman, at least we do know who sits at the top of the table: Tom, whose victory has been determined in numerous ways throughout the series.
In his first scene, Tom buys Logan a watch for his birthday; a sign that the man is biding his time. In season three, while helping Logan get over an illness, Logan refers to Tom as a “son”.
Then there’s the surname Wambsgans, which is associated with baseball player Bill Wambsgans, who pulled off a legendary triple play – a move Tom made at the end of season 3 when he outmaneuvered the siblings and he did it again this time has done, aided by Matsson’s misogyny, as well as Shiv, who lives up to her name and cuts her brother just when it counts.
“It’s always been a tragedy”
In the official post-episode feature, “Succession: Controlling the Narrative,” Armstrong and Mylod talked more about ending the show the way they had and ending the show for good.
“It feels very perverted to end it,” says Armstrong. “I love this cast, I love working with the crew and my fellow writers. I’ve had some of the happiest times of my career in that writer’s room working with them. I’m really kind of a softie. I like the family atmosphere we have on this show and the relationships.”
With that in mind, he adds, “One of the few things I can be really hard on is protecting the show and its integrity.” The more we discussed it in the room, the more clear it became to me that this sequence of Logan’s death , the competition over whether or not to sell was interspersed with an election and his funeral ended with the show ending. Once that became clear, I had no real doubts. I was emotionally very sad, but I was like, ‘Okay, that’s how this show goes.'”
According to Mylod, “Succession” has “always been a tragedy,” a thought he wanted to emphasize in the portion of the finale set in Barbados, where production ended. He points out 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 regained, kids are kids.
“Every moment of hope like this is so cruel,” he adds, “because you’re just waiting for that shoe to fall and for its essence to come out and break your heart again.”
What does the future hold for the Roys?
For his part, Armstrong has clear thoughts about what will happen next for Roman, Shiv and Kendall. He says Roman’s final scene, set in a bar, shows that “he could easily have been a playboy jerk with slightly evil instincts and some pretty funny jokes.” As that guy, he could have stayed in a bar, and that was a little detour in his life.”
For Shiv, Armstrong believes she’s “in a pretty scary, frozen and emotionally sterile place” following her big step in supporting Tom. According to Armstrong, Tom’s win was assured a long time ago: “It’s something I’ve 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. There are characters like that that drift up and make themselves available to powerful people.” Armstrong believes that given all the cards they’ve laid on the table, Tom and Shiv will struggle to move forward: “There’s still a lot to play , but we’ll leave it at that.”
And then there’s Ken, boy number one. Is his last glimpse of the water and the setting sun a sign that he will turn a new page and start building his “own bunch” separate from his father? That’s an optimistic view, and…