Spoiler Warning – This article contains massive spoilers for the Succession finale and the show in general
Supposedly the final words of Alexander the Great when asked who should inherit his empire were “to the strongest” and in a succession battle that has been as fierce as the heirs of Alexander fighting (albeit with fewer people being trampled by elephants despite how much they deserved it, looking at you Hugo) HBO drama Succession has come to an end. Over four seasons we have watched Jesse Armstrong’s superb drama play out, with the characters fighting to be the successor to Logan Roy and control his vast business empire. So who is the strongest…or as Logan Roy might put it, who is the killer? In this final season, Logan died and a brief union of three of his children Kendall, Shiv and Roman saw the two brothers elevated to co-CEO with Shiv a supposed equal but unofficial partner. However, the company was being sold to tech billionaire and possible sociopath LuKas Matsson, if they wanted to actually run this company they would need to halt the deal. Eventually, it came down to Kendall and Roman versus Shiv and Matsson.
As Shiv’s plan to have Matsson make her CEO collapsed the three siblings agreed to support Kendall as sole CEO as the only alternative. And then in the board meeting, Shiv changed her mind and supported the sale, Mattson bought it, and her estranged husband Tom was installed as CEO, but very much Matsson’s puppet.
Conference Room Conversations
The finale was a fitting end for the show, the company left family control and Logan’s three children (as usual his eldest son Connor is forgotten) are at odds, possibly hating each other whilst possibly still loving each other. As Shiv delayed her vote the three siblings went into one of the many glass conference rooms; still in sight of and audible to everyone. With this episode and the last one (Logan’s funeral), we saw just how broken both Kendall and Roman are.
After building himself for what he imagined his effective crowning, Roman crumbled into tears and panicked sobbing as he tried to give a speech at his father’s funeral and while dealing with powerful emotions is entirely normal and understandable in this situation it didn’t impress some of his allies. More telling to his damage was that his only way to deal with this was to head out into the masses of protestors on the streets of New York, provoking them to attack him, which they did. Roman vanished and actually sought comfort from his mother Lady Caroline, the same woman who had walked around Shiv’s wedding and asked how long they thought the wedding would last and when Kendall was on the edge of a breakdown and asked for help she fled the home. Roman begrudgingly agreed to support Kendall as CEO, clearly heartbroken that it wasn’t him and moments before the board meeting he broke down into tears, hugging Kendall tightly, both brothers giving off equal feelings of love and contemplating whether they could murder the other.
In the conference room, Kendall quickly comes apart, screaming about logic and Shiv’s decision making no sense, roaring at one point that he was the eldest boy and so he deserves the multi-billion dollar business empire. Worse yet the emotionally devastating end of season 3 saw Kendall confess his role in the death of a waiter in a driving accident to Roman and Shiv and their various rivalries were forgotten while they comforted him. When this is brought up Kendall quickly says he had made the story up (he didn’t, it was completely true) and so that shouldn’t stop him; completely destroying one of the precious few moments in the show of genuine sibling care. This breakout discussion descends into violence as Kendall and Roman come to blows while Shiv goes to cast her vote.
In Kendall’s conference room pitch to Shiv he declares that he is “a cog built for one machine” meaning CEO of the company and without it he has nothing. It’s worth bearing in mind that Kendall has two children and will continue to be exceptionally and ridiculously rich and at previous points Kendall has mused about stepping away from the company to live his own life.
In an earlier scene in the finale when trying to work out which of the three of them should be CEO they each give examples of when their father had promised them the job. All three of them at various times had been lined up to be the successor…or had they? A recurring theme in the show is that Logan clearly couldn’t stand his children to have their own power or threaten his pre-eminence. Considering Kendall says that their father promised it to him when was seven (one wonders what insightful opinions this little boy had that convinced Logan he was suitable) it’s entirely possible Logan wasn’t always acting in good faith with these declarations.
Shiv (and to a lesser extent Tom)
At the beginning of the finale, Shiv was working on securing the sale of the company and being named CEO by Matsson and then when it turned out the man who literally confessed to sending bricks made of his own blood to one of his employees he had a relationship with wasn’t completely dependable, teamed up with her brothers to stop the sale. Quite what drove her change of mind is debatable – was she tired of the fighting and bile and pain that being part of this company (and family) had brought her? Was it because as she said in the show she loved Kendall but couldn’t stomach him? Was it spite that it wasn’t her getting the job? Right now, and this may well change, my opinion is a mix of she thought Kendall would be a disaster and it wasn’t her. Roman would be a different disaster, and she would have been a different disaster again, but had it been her to run the company she would have risked that disaster. We learned that it would be Tom, her estranged husband, who would become CEO if Matsson bought the company and while this was the plan Shiv and Tom had originally crafted it wasn’t meant to be like this. The fact that Shiv is pregnant with Tom’s child is perhaps a complicating factor in this decision, but despite one of the final shots of the episode being Shiv and Tom awkwardly half-holding hands, it’s virtually impossible to imagine the two of them building a happy family life.
Already the show is being lauded as one of the greatest television shows of all time with a finale worthy of that status. Personally, I think it best to give it some time before declaring something one of the greats but undoubtedly this show combined spectacular writing, directing and acting; a show so full of acting talent that it could bring in Oscar winners Adrien Brody and Holly Hunter as guest stars.
Throughout the show fans, critics and more speculated on who would and who should succeed Logan Roy, in fact, none of the characters did succeed him and none of them could. In fact, the outsider Lukas Mattson, a character only introduced at the end of season 3, most matches the criteria of Alexander the Great and Logan Roy. We were not watching a titanic succession battle for a business empire but a damaged family hurting each other.