Spoiler alert: don’t read on unless you’ve watched the finale of Succession season four.
When the hurly burly’s done, a battle can, it turns out, be lost and won.
After four coruscating seasons, the end of Succession is upon us. Rumours and predictions have flowed thick and fast but never overwhelmingly in one direction. There were simply too many possibilities in the Roys’ world of treachery, deceit and ambition – to say nothing of the darker forces at work in the siblings’ psyches, formed during their materially rich, emotionally impoverished childhoods and which may prove Logan’s most enduring legacy. Perhaps the success of an ending can best be judged by how much it seems, as the credits roll, that it could have turned out no other way. In which case, Jesse Armstrong’s 90-minute conclusion to his brilliant creation – soap, satire, Shakespearean tragedy all in one – ranks among the greats.
It was a crucible of an episode. We opened with the Roys in fairly normal circumstances – entrenched on opposite sides of a deal, trying to get their board numbers together. Shiv (Sarah Snook) was with Matsson (Alexander Skarsgård), assuring him his purchase of Waystar would go through and putting the boot into husband Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) as she went: “He’s just a highly interchangeable modular part [but] will also suck the biggest dick in the room.” “Love is in the air,” noted Matsson drily.
Kendall (Jeremy Strong), meanwhile, was having trouble making his numbers stand up and looking as unsure as we’ve ever seen him. And Roman (Kieran Culkin) was missing, after being caught up in the riots Waystar’s effective election of a fascist president had brought about. When Shiv and Kendall discovered he was with their monstrous mother (Harriet Walter) – a woman for whom eyes are not windows to the soul but “face eggs” – you could only feel more worried for him. The embrace of the mob, though it left him with a head wound, was likely more tender.
They all converge on Mommie bleakest, but what begins as a horror show turns – thanks to an epic act of betrayal by Matsson in a show where you really have to work to earn such an accolade, plus a helping hand from Greg (Nicholas Braun) – into an almost loving family gathering. The siblings – after a bitter trading of claims to Logan’s throne – reunite and plan to vote against the deal together. Crucially, they agree (after the younger two decide not to kill him because it’d “be so annoying if it went wrong, the murdering”) to let Kendall rule. “We anoint you,” says Shiv. “You can smile,” she says to her notoriously intense brother, “bitch.” He does. It’s a lovely moment. In what is clearly one of the few family traditions, they whiz up in the blender “a meal fit for a king” and make him eat it then wear it. Even if we weren’t only halfway through, you would know that this unprecedented joy cannot possibly last. But though they are terrible individuals, time and again choosing business and money over loved ones and, ultimately, country, they are not terrible children and you cannot help but hope for a last-minute redemption and happy ending after all. Ah well.
Matsson invites Tom for dinner and – after checking Shiv was right on that dick-sucking mentality in the most exquisitely humiliating way possible – makes him an offer that changes everything. The screws tighten. There is one last “light” scene, as the family gathers in Logan’s old apartment to put stickers – in accordance with Connor’s (Alan Ruck) strict allocation system – on the things they would like to keep. Connor plays a video of Daddy at his best and brightest, and we are allowed another moment to hope.
Then Shiv, Roman and Roy make their way to Daddy’s office to wait while everyone gathers in the boardroom for the big vote. The sight of Gerri (J Smith-Cameron) sparks another collapse in Roman, an even deeper grief than the funeral caused, born of self-knowledge welling up from within. Even the family’s greatest masochist can’t bear this sort of pain. Kendall hugs him so hard it opens up Roman’s head wound again.
More and greater agony is to come, as the players head into the third and final act and the King Lear plot starts shading into Macbeth. Everything that has ever been depicted, hinted at, joked about, every betrayed alliance, moment of vulnerability, coverup over the past 40 hours we have spent with these despicable, broken, compelling people is here. The essence of them all is distilled, every loose end tied up, a credible future posited (or, in one case, stuck very firmly on) in the final scenes for each.
The finest of fine touches lace the entire thing – those popped stitches, frozen “nobbies”, the cowprint couch, second-tier mourners, the half-handhold, the furious fight that still doesn’t amount to more than slaps, Colin silently trailing his boss, the glittering grey waste of water from the bridge and hundreds more. It was Succession at its finest. And that, slime puppies, is saying something.