‘Succession,’ ‘Better Call Saul,’ ‘Westworld’ and More: Bidding Farewell to Some of Our Favorite TV Dramas

TheWrap magazine: While these modern classics are leaving the airways, they will never leave our hearts

"Succession" (Credit: HBO)

The past year has seen the series finales of many of our favorite dramas. Here, our writers pay tribute to a few. (There will be spoilers.)


As surreal as it may seem to its audience, “Succession” has really up and gone. With a mere four seasons and 39 episodes, the Jesse Armstrong-led series was a drop in the bucket when stacked against the length of similarly acclaimed dramas in HBO history, including “The Sopranos” with 86 episodes, “Game of Thrones” with 73 and “The Wire” with 60, respectively. And yet, with its fourth season arguably the show’s pinnacle, delivering a finale that was both narratively satisfying and emotionally devastating, it’s hard to argue with Armstrong’s decision to end the series on his terms, while the show was still at the height of its powers. But that doesn’t take much sting out of the loss.

Detractors of “Succession,” of which there are a few, are quick to point out that its characters are spoiled and incompetent, bad at life and just bad in general, but in truth, that’s the point. Antiheroes have been a dominant cultural touchpoint since long before Taylor Swift started singing about them. There has been no shortage of complicated men with dark pasts, but with enough humanity to hook an audience: a mob boss, but he’s got anxiety; a suave ad man, but his entire identity is a lie; a meth-dealing chemistry teacher, but he has cancer.

“Succession” is the natural progression of these forerunners: a show pushing those boundaries, ramping up the character flaws, ramping down the humanity and still daring to ask the question: “Can we make you care about the worst people in the world?” And further: “Can we make you care about the worst people in the world while their real-life analogues are threatening to undermine democracy itself?”

And it did. But how?

It began on the page, where Armstrong and the show’s writers have crafted reprehensible yet recognizable characters, who may live lives very different from our own but still suffer from decidedly familiar shortcomings. The Roy family had wealth beyond measure but was still primarily undone by a legacy of parental abuse and neglect.

Sarah Snook, Jeremy Strong and Kieran Culkin in “Succession” (HBO)

The fourth season cemented Connor, Kendall, Roman and Shiv’s trauma bond with their father, Logan, a man who would dangle love and validation to his children only to yank it away time and again. That dynamic was perhaps best represented at Logan’s funeral when Shiv stands to say something to bolster her father’s reputation and the best she can come up with is a story about how the kids used to play outside of his office and he would come out to scream at them.

Even if you cannot relate to that kind of fractured foundational relationship, its depiction is so keenly wrought that you’re able to glean insight into why these characters are the way they are. Maybe you can’t feel pity or empathy for these spoiled children, but you can begin to see the deleterious effects of decades of toxicity that go deeper than simple affluenza.

The performers themselves, so many of them relative unknowns or supporting players, became towering figures living rent-free in our heads. As the primary Roy children, Jeremy Strong, Sarah Snook and Kieran Culkin were particularly transcendent and terrifying during the show’s final season, adding complexity and nuance to characters that could otherwise be one-note. Their performances were captured by a sterling crop of directors, in particular Mark Mylod, who deployed long takes that allowed the show’s ensemble cast to interact naturally, resulting in scenes that are both evocative and intimate.

“Succession” was brief but glorious, flourishing as it tackled the impossible task of making horrible people compelling and inspiring audiences to feel anything beyond revulsion. It will not be easily succeeded. —Libby Hill

“Better Call Saul”

Bob Odenkirk in "Better Call Saul" (AMC)
Bob Odenkirk in “Better Call Saul” (AMC)

Heading into 2022, “Better Call Saul had everything to lose. Its predecessor, “Breaking Bad,” had already concluded with one of the greatest series finales of all time. Even the most fervent fans of exec-producer Vince Gilligan wondered if he could make lightning strike twice. Yet that is exactly what he and “Saul” showrunner Peter Gould did. Bidding farewell to Slippin’ Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk), Season 6 managed to accomplish the near impossible and deliver a finale that was as good if not better than “Breaking Bad’s.”

A huge part of Season 6’s success owes to its pacing. Fast, action-heavy episodes like “Rock and a Hard Place,” which ends with the gut-wrenching death of Nacho (Michael Mando), premiered amid slower, more subtle episodes like “Hit and Run,” in which Jimmy realizes his legal reputation is shot. The result was an overwhelming sense of dread that seeped into every pointed pause and lingering camera angle. As a viewer, you knew something terrible was lurking beyond the Albuquerque horizon. You just didn’t know what.

This tension perfectly mirrored the emotional state of Jimmy and his ex-wife Kim (Rhea Seehorn). By the final episode, “Saul Gone,” the audience knew that when Jimmy is boxed in with seemingly nowhere to go, he breaks out his most imaginative schemes. For a while, that’s how the series finale unfolds: Jimmy negotiates his prison time down to a measly seven years. But then, when he learns that Kim confessed to the death of their former boss (Patrick Fabian), he’s no longer interested in beating the system.

Jimmy doesn’t go to prison because he gets caught. He goes because he chooses to, confessing to every heinous deed and sacrificing a life he built on manipulation and ruse for the woman he loves. Because of this, he enters prison not as just another inmate but as a felonious king.

Rhea Seehorn in "Better Call Saul" (AMC)
Rhea Seehorn in “Better Call Saul” (AMC)

It’s a pitch-perfect ending for a character who always defied expectations. Yet “Better Call Saul’s” final moment is its greatest. Shot in black and white with the only source of color the orange from a cigarette ember, the end finds Jimmy and Kim sharing a smoke. They exchange few words. None are needed. In roughly two minutes, Odenkirk and Seehorn communicate several lifetimes of emotions — the happy marriage they could have had, the ways they nearly died, the crimes they could have committed. Jimmy trades all that for 86 years in prison and a perverse sense of peace. It’s one of the happiest endings this universe has ever known. —Kayla Cobb


Evan Rachel Wood in “Westworld” (HBO)

It feels odd to say “Westworld” was gone to soon — the expansive sci-fi series ran for four seasons over six years and traversed the Wild West, near-future and far-future in 36 episodes. But thanks to a premature cancellation by HBO, we never got to the end of the maze. We got an ending, but not the ending. From the beginning, creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy teased a complete story of AI’s evolution from theme park attraction to dominant species — an arc that seems even more prescient in the short time the show has been off the air. That journey was long and winding, with more than a few questionable detours, but even when it was “off” “Westworld” was always compelling.

Nudging at questions of morality and philosophy — What makes a person a person? Is it time for us to cede the planet to a robotic life-form? — “Westworld” could get a little muddled at times. But by golly, you had to admire the ambition, and when it clicked it really clicked. What a joy it was to see this show wrestle with Big Ideas on a massive canvas, buoyed by a stellar ensemble that often got to play multiple characters in one.

And the twists. Oh, the twists! Surprise! We’re in a different timeline. Surprise! This dude’s actually a robot. Surprise! This character has actually been that character all along. “Westworld” could aptly be described as “peak puzzle box TV,” and indeed a draw for many was trying to figure out what in the world was actually going on. But through it all, the show maintained an unmistakably human center that grounded the storytelling. Even as it became clear the “robots” were the heroes of this tale, the question of how much they owed to their human creator always lingered.

By Nolan and Joy’s admission, “Westworld” would have ended with a fifth season in which Evan Rachel Wood’s Dolores ran “one last game” to determine once and for all if humanity (or even robots) deserved a place in the new world following an extinction-level event. That we’ll never get to see the definitive end to this wild, weird, wonderful — and, yes, messy — show still smarts. —Adam Chitwood

“Star Trek: Picard”

Gates McFadden as Dr. Beverly Crusher and Patrick Stewart as Picard in "Vox" Episode 309, Star Trek: Picard on Paramount+. Photo Credit: Trae Patton/Paramount+. ©2021 Viacom, International Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Gates McFadden and Patrick Stewart in “Star Trek: Picard” (Trae Patton/Paramount+)

The first two seasons of “Star Trek: Picard,” which was introduced in 2020 as a spinoff. of sorts of the 1980s and ’90s series “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” were fascinating and odd as we caught up with Patrick Stewart’s Picard, now a retired Starfleet admiral 20 years removed from the events of his last appearance in the 2002 movie “Star Trek: Nemesis.” Picard was a man enjoying his quiet life until he was sucked into adventures with a mostly new cast of characters. Season 1 was vaguely “Blade Runner”-ish and Season 2’s time travel storyline seemed at least partially inspired by “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.” (You know: the one with the whales.)

It was only when the show was in its third and final season that “Picard” went full “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” The storytelling grew more assured and Stewart showed us sides to the character we had never seen before, including shades of paternal vulnerability. In some ways, the delay in embracing the earlier show made you appreciate the stylistic and tonal detours of the earlier seasons more. Without them, we would never have gotten to such a satisfying conclusion. The voyage, as we are often reminded in “Star Trek,” is the whole point.

Against all odds, the third season of “Star Trek: Picard” succeeded triumphantly. It wasn’t just the best season of “Picard;” it was one of the best seasons of any “Star Trek” series, ever. Under the stewardship of Terry Matalas, who joined the show in season 2, “Star Trek: Picard” blossomed into something both familiar and surprising — characters or situation you hoped you’d see again returned, but with a unique spin or at a time when you weren’t expecting them. Picard was also introduced to the son he never knew, adding further emotional complexity. And when the final battle began and the gang was forced to commandeer the old Enterprise (last seen in “Star Trek: Generations”), it was deeply cathartic — one of those stand up and cheer moments, full of visual majesty and sentimental pop. You didn’t know how much you needed it. Not only was it essential for the show’s storyline, it transcended nostalgia, free of cynicism or subterfuge. Its earnestness was revolutionary. “Picard” boldly went there. And it was joyous. —Drew Taylor

Read more from the Drama Series issue here.