Note: This story contains spoilers from the series finale of “Succession.”
The series finale of “Succession” brought the story of the Roy family and the fate of their company to an end, placing a new and not entirely surprising heir at the helm of Waystar Royco.
The episode, titled “With Open Eyes,” dropped a satisfying — if not all that unpredictable — twist on viewers after Tom Wambsgans (Matthew Macfadyen) once again betrayed his wife, Siobhan Roy (Sarah Snook), and partnered with Swedish corporate shark Lukas Matsson (Alexander Skarsgård) to become U.S. CEO of the company. A tense board meeting led to Matsson’s internet conglomerate GoJo’s acquisition of Logan Roy’s (Brian Cox) company right from under the Roy siblings’ grasp.
But that only happened because Shiv acted on her bone-deep knowledge of older brother Kendall’s (Jeremy Strong) personal and professional weaknesses — mixed, perhaps, with her own resentment at being repeatedly squeezed out of the top dog position in their sibling triumvirate by him and their other brother Roman (Kieran Culkin). Whatever was going through her head during the shouting match with her brothers after Shiv left the tied board meeting before casting her vote on the company’s fate, she mostly dropped truth bombs on not-wanting-to-hear-it Kendall. Compromised as Shiv’s often been (or often tried to be) over four seasons of “Succession,” she’s always been the Roy sibling with the somewhat active conscience.
It was totally in character for her to vote with that in the clinch and hand over Waystar to Matsson and Tom, the husband she has every reason to hate but just can’t quit.
Showrunner Jesse Armstrong and director Mark Mylod smartly finished what may be HBO’s all-time best written series with reminders of things more important than Waystar that the Roys had to lose. On the eve of the board vote, Roman, Shiv and Kendall all wind up at their mother Caroline’s (Harriet Walter) house in Bimini. Rome’s there recovering from the wounds, physical and emotional, inflicted on the day of Logan’s funeral. Shiv, totally convinced that Matsson will give her the U.S. CEO position, goes there to lobby Rome to break with Kendall and vote for GoJo. Ken shows up to make sure Rome comes back to New York, on his side, for the board meeting.
There’s massive recrimination among all three until Cousin Greg (Nicholas Braun) calls Ken with info that Matsson’s going to stab Shiv in the back. Despite her disbelief when Kendall informs her — she knows he’s not above trying to play her with lies — Shiv realigns with her brothers when others confirm the story. The rest of the evening is a very Roylike display of fraternal fun, even if it starts with Shiv and Roman discussing how to kill their brother (they reluctantly agree to make Ken their CEO pony). The mess they make in their mother’s kitchen feels like the happiest they’ve ever been together since they were all children.
Kendall’s lust for power will soon wipe out any such memory. More appalling than the wrestling match the brothers get into while Shiv’s wavering about her board vote is a scene just before that meeting, in warrior businessman Logan’s office. Ken embraces his brother, who’s having his own second thoughts about making Ken CEO, as if to comfort him before Roman suffers another meltdown like at the funeral. But then Ken won’t let go of his brother’s head, grinding Roman’s brow into his shoulder until the wound there reopens and bleeds. Sure, Logan was ruthless and could lash out physically. But even he wouldn’t have done something like that.
In fact, “Open Eyes’” one flashback to Logan depicts him as uncharacteristically affable. It’s in a video his eldest son Connor (Alan Ruck) plays for family and other mourners at the old man’s fancy apartment, which Connor’s paid through the nose to own and is hoping to auction off much of what’s inside. The video features a dinner with Logan where Connor and Waystar executives sing, laugh and even make a little fun of the terrible old man, who appears to enjoy all of it.
But that’s all gone now, along with Waystar, and apparently the chance for any Roy to enjoy another’s company ever again. There are certainly a number of loose ends “Open Eyes” fails to tie up. What’s happening with the presidential election? All we get is a throwaway line from Shiv about a Wisconsin court putting some kind of roadblock in the way of Jeryd Mencken’s questionable win.
Gerri? Frank? Karl? Matsson appears to like the old Waystar “Eggs,” Tom not so much. The new CEO, who got in a slap fight with his whipping boy Greg in a bathroom at Logan’s apartment (could anything sum up their relationship better?), seems to still want to keep him on at the end — or is that just Tom’s final mind game? Doesn’t Logan’s third wife and widow Marcia (Hiam Abbass) still have some say in the company’s succession? What’s gonna happen with that stupid robot movie and Living+?
What Armstrong and company realize, though, is that “Succession” has always been about the three children of Caroline and Logan, and the final episode leaves them where they’ve destined themselves to be. Roman’s alone at a bar, sipping a martini while smiles and frowns fight for control of his face, a drop of blood coagulating on his de-stitched brow. Shiv, who told Matsson earlier that she didn’t want to look like “Lady Macbeth, Part II,” is last seen in the back of her husband’s limousine, placing a hand atop Tom’s open palm but not grasping it.
And Kendall walks in silence to the river’s edge, Logan’s longtime bodyguard Colin (Scott Nicholson) shadowing him from a close distance. Ken doesn’t jump in — too often, being alone in the water has represented trauma or triumph — but sits on a bench. Nicholas Britell’s familiar, iconic theme music crescendos louder than we’ve ever heard it, then stops. All that’s left is the sound of gently lapping waves.
If that’s an intentional reference to the greatest humanist filmmaker of all, Japan’s Yasujiro Ozu, bravo.
Would the finale have been more satisfying if some plausible, left-field event had been dreamed up? Perhaps. Was it how it should be, though? No use bothering to think of any other way.
All episodes of “Succession” are now streaming on Max.