Which wounded nepo baby would succeed Logan Roy, the founder and CEO of Waystar Royco, as the ruler of an evil empire that includes cruise ships, theme parks, and ATN, a fear-mongering media conglomerate, has been the topic of billion-dollar speculation for nearly five years. As it happens, none of them. His younger sister, Shiv, betrayed him on Sunday night as the second son, Kendall, was prepared to accept everything. Tom Wambsgans, Shiv’s husband, would take over as CEO after the business was sold to Swedish digital anarchocapitalist Lukas Matsson.
The show’s followers were reassured that Willa, the wife of Connor, the eldest Roy scion, planned to refurbish Logan’s townhouse with a cow print sofa even though the mystery of who had won the presidential election was left unresolved.
Less than half as many people watched “Succession” in its last season than watched “The Sopranos” or “Game of Thrones,” across all platforms. The water was filtered if this was a water cooler show. Nevertheless, its audience was significantly impacted by its nauseating, biting mockery of the super-rich. If your heart was already hardened, or if it was, it provided for a mutinous form of comfort viewing where pleasure, enmity, and outrage might intertwine.
You could have sipped your morning coffee out of a mug bearing the message from Tom’s email, “YOU CAN’T MAKE A TOMLETTE WITHOUT BREAK SOME GREGGS,” or you could have worn a black Waystar Royco baseball cap to watch the finale (though the characters prefer the $525 logoless Loro Piana version).
Memes, GIFs, drinking games, and remixes of Nicholas Britell’s mesmerizing, brittle theme are all available for “Succession.” A section of Reddit is dedicated to rumors and false sightings. A typical post explains the rumor that Kendall has tiny feet: “Small little tiny feet.” The “Saturday Night Live” comedy “Black “Succession” was a satire, however it was shortened due to time constraints. On Twitter, people have either expressed gratitude to HBO for scheduling the finale on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, ensuring most workers would have a full day to recover, or they have vehemently criticized the network for upsetting their vacation plans.
Almost every episode since Season 2 has sparked related thought pieces. According to authors, the reasons why we love “Succession” are due of what it says about America, class, money, family, trauma, and abuse. These people are just like us, too. They are not at all like us. They’re phony. They are actual. We despise them. We cherish them. We are supporting them. Are we or were we? Why?
Because we now know that some of the richest people in the world received exactly what they want. Others didn’t. All of it didn’t really matter.
But there was no denying the draw. The show may draw a viewer into the orbit of a single character for a brief period of time, or even for the entirety of an episode, but then a remark or a look would shatter that gravity, leaving that same viewer lost in space.
Perhaps you ever sided with characters like Connor, the libertarian dingbat from Alan Ruck, Kendall, the rap-loving Narcissus from Jeremy Strong, Shiv, the knife-wielding girlboss from Sarah Snook, or Roman, the youngest son and still-dreaming-of-becoming-a-real-boy Pinocchio from Kieran Culkin. All of them had wounds. All of them were in pain. They were all generally quite bad.
In contrast to Midas, they hurt anyone they touched unless that person was also protected by their own privilege and money. Another show might have provided naive, genuinely decent individuals to counter this. but not this one. Everybody was a thief. Everybody was up for grabs. Every connection was essentially a business deal. Altruism died here, according to this theory.
In the same way that the plotting did not reward close attention, neither did the characters inspire loyalty.
The show had absolutely no plot at all, despite some episodes—the season finales in particular—having more switchbacks than an Alpine mountain pass. When it originally started, Kendall was ready to take over as CEO from Logan, but Logan shatters that plan in the first episode. Four seasons of plot twists, deceptions, betrayals, and reconciliations followed, yet none of them altered the characters or furthered the plot.
The fact that the finale started with Kendall’s attempts to rouse the board, an intentional Season 1 repetition, highlighted this. The mother of the three youngest Roys, Lady Caroline, Harriet Walter’s character, joked, “Huge board meeting.” “Never has that happened before.”
The Roy children chase after the treasure until they run directly off a cliff in “Succession,” which has a lot in common with a Looney Tunes short despite its sophistication. Again. Again. Again.
The show’s not-so-wily coyotes had been outfitted with trusts and parachutes made of something more valuable than gold, which is why there were billions at stake and those zeros tallied up to so little.
No matter what happened, they would still have those billions, or at the very least, many hundreds of millions. No one would be required to work as a governess. Nobody would go hungry.
The fact that “Succession” retained a bone-deep ambivalence about the value of that reward, despite having stock options and private asset management in its very DNA, set it apart from 1980s wealth-porn shows like “Dynasty,” “Dallas,” and “Falcon Crest.”
Even though “Succession” was set and shot in stunning locations, such settings were frequently made to feel antiseptic and lifeless. Few of the characters appeared to enjoy their custom-made suits and sky mansions. To enjoy the accouterments, one must be an upper-middle-class aspirant like Tom, played by the smiling, boneless Matthew Macfadyen. And that joy is momentary, much as the morning after he consumed too much edible gold. Will he remain happy in his position of authority for even the duration of his wife’s frigid Escalade ride?
There is a well-known anecdote about a possibly fictitious conversation between F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway: Hemingway responds, “Yes, they have more money,” in response to Fitzgerald’s statement that “the rich are different from you and me.” Was that the sum of “Succession”? That appears to be a substantial amount of stuff.
“Succession” gave its primarily middle-class audience a behind-the-scenes look into the lives of the ultra-wealthy while also reassuring them that, perhaps, despite the pricey adornments, such lifestyles weren’t very pleasant. The notion that the wealthy aren’t any happier than the rest of us has recently come under scrutiny, thus “Succession” is just a comfy fantasy. These characters were nonetheless inconvenienced by dead raccoons in their opulent vacation homes or were caught in traffic in their gigantic town cars.
They were dismissed, abused, and humiliated.
But because the writing and acting were so good, viewers couldn’t completely ignore them. These characters might have been reduced to caricatures in worse scripts, but “Succession” insisted on complexity. Even when the siblings and their retainers were at their shallowest, the performers were still able to reach midnight-zone depths. The fact that Culkin, Snook, and Strong were all able to reveal flashes of stunning weakness just below the cashmere plate mail showed that these were bad people, but they were also broken people.
Comedy and suffering were intimately intertwined. Boar on the floor, anyone? Rap by Kendall? Greg, the cousin of Nicholas Braun, is puking out of a theme park costume. A show could only be supported by Schadenfreude for so long. Instead, viewers were forced to vacillate nauseatingly between pity and disdain. It all went down as easily as a glass of 20-year reserve thanks to the opulent beige interiors and expansive drone panoramas.
The show ultimately promoted a type of happy nihilism, a gleeful yearning to see what they might destroy – democracy, one another — in each new episode by making these characters amusing to watch and challenging to dislike. Underneath the Shakespearean jabs and the Upper East Side penthouses, “Succession” has a hollow core.
Yes, this was reassuring because it allowed viewers to believe themselves—and me—that our lives were richer regardless of how much money we had. However, if you watched too many programs back-to-back, you might experience what Ewan Roy claimed Logan did to his ATN viewers during his eulogy at Logan’s funeral: fuel a vile, malicious flame in their hearts.
We witnessed sister turn on sibling, brother on brother, husband on wife, and Greg on Tom in the series finale on Sunday night, just as we have on countless previous Sunday evenings. These exchanges reinforced and sucked in the notion that human nature is empty, grasping, and void. I think four seasons was sufficient.
The burial incident was maybe the best representation of such desolation. Following the funeral orations, Logan’s body is transported quickly through Manhattan’s traffic in a cortege of town cars to a mausoleum that was purchased from a former pet food tycoon. All that wealth and luxury is being used to transport an embalmed meatsack to an endless wasteland.