Here’s What Happened in the ‘Succession’ Series Finale


Toward the end of the penultimate episode of Succession, “Church and State,”  Kendall says to Hugo, the public relations lapdog who moments later will pledge his blind loyalty, that “life isn’t nice—it’s contingent.” This is part of Kendall’s pitch to undermine the GoJo deal that he and Roman landed in Norway and from which Shiv now stands to benefit at their expense. “People who say they love you also fuck you,” he continues. Minutes later, he’ll pull his dad’s old body man—one of a handful of people who know about his role in a caterer’s death—out of a psychiatrist’s office and into his service; that evening he’ll pull Roman in close to him, by the back of the skull, and tell him the new order of things. If Waystar is going to stay in Roy family control, it’s going to be Kendall at the helm, a team of subordinates in neat rows and at his disposal.

In the series finale, “With Open Eyes,” Kendall learns just how contingent those alliances can be. We begin in competing war rooms: Kendall et al. in the Waystar offices, Shiv and Matsson in a hotel suite, each faction and support staff trying to line up votes for the next day’s shareholder meeting. Roman, who at the end of “Church and State” is picking fights with passing protesters, is missing; when he surfaces it’s at his mother’s Caribbean estate, where she had previously invited all the children to “clear the air,” a pair of ugly gashes above his left eye. Given the way Roman’s dressed (a t-shirt with striped sleeves that your own mom might have brought home from Kohl’s), his outward emotionality at his father’s death (and even the offscreen baggage Kieran Culkin brings to the role as one in a family of sometimes tortured child actors) he seems less like an adult man convalescing than an overgrown kid, broken and past its prime. Both Kendall and Shiv fly in to recruit him.

What follows is a series of negotiations—squabbles, really—between the siblings about who should be CEO of Waystar. At first, Shiv’s accession would require the GoJo deal to go through, Kendall’s (or Roman’s) for it to fail at the board meeting. But when Greg calls Kendall with the information that Matsson is planning to pick another American executive instead of Shiv, the siblings are realigned as a voting bloc, though not on the internal power struggle. All of this is familiar; at one point Roman comments on the futility of yet another round of negotiations while the shot widens to include all three Roys, stuck, exhaling. What’s new is the sheer joy they exhibit after settling on Kendall as the successor. Not even their group hug way back in season 1’s “Pre-Nuptial” shows so clearly the functional, playful dynamic that would have intermittently existed before this year of constant maneuvering.

Other alliances are even more tenuous. Matsson is in fact looking for someone to replace Shiv, and offers the role to Tom in an excruciating conversation that includes the admission that he’d like to sleep with Shiv (“No, no, we’re men,” Tom says when Matsson asks if he’s making him uncomfortable), calling the ideal candidate for the CEO job a “pain sponge.” As for Shiv and Tom: when she goes against her near-fatal vanity early in the episode,and asks if Tom would like to give their relationship a sincere last try, he demurs. Even then, Shiv is unable to avoid citing convenience as a benefit of that reconciliation—or keep from turning around, embarrassed, to see if airplane staff was within earshot.

Elsewhere there are flickers of sentimentality amidst the picking over of bones. Logan’s apartment, which was passed through Marica, to Connor, and now to Willa (who Roman accuses of having the “seven-week itch”),  is full of mourners who lay claim to various items while they watch video of one of Logan’s last meals. The moment of reflection is punctured by Tom’s revelation to Shiv that he’s replaced her in Matsson’s plan—and Tom’s turning on Greg over having tipped off the Roy kids that something had changed.

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