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REVIEW: 'Succession' series finale drives home how greed warps human desire

By Karl R. De Mesa Published May 30, 2023 4:09 pm Updated May 30, 2023 4:19 pm

Legs paddling while anchored on a buoy in the ocean that fronts their sprawling beach house in Barbados, the trio of Roy siblings finally anoint Kendall as their chosen “king,” the CEO to front their refusal and takeover of the family empire.

“It’s haunted, cursed, and nothing will ever go right but enjoy your bauble,” said Roman Roy to his elder brother Ken, as middle sib Siobhan looked on in wry amusement. 

Throughout the four seasons of the HBO Original’s run, Roman’s best lines have always been delivered in casual drollery, like the court fool that ate a prophet’s ayahuasca but can’t help the snark because “no one ever listens” to him anyway.   

Fans of the series have been glued to their screens every Sunday UTC -5 EST, or Monday morning PST to see how the final season will develop. Series creator Jesse David Armstrong and crew never disappointed its viewers—and they’re not going to start now. 

When the king is dead  

The three major events that defined the season include the death of Logan Roy in episode three, the courtship and eventual landing of a benchmark purchase deal with Swedish tech imperator Lukas Mattsson, and the squabbling of the siblings over who should “win” the whole caboodle. 

Roman’s blighted item remark hits true in this final episode because that’s what their father’s company is, the sprawling businesses under the Royco Waystar umbrella. Logan Roy expanded like an old-time Caesar, eating up media, property, and cruise line fields by marauding other corporations or cutting off the other armies’ supply trains through buying of politicians and subsequent lobbying in their favor. 

What their father created was a machine that needed constant care and attention. That it also tended to devour the caretakers didn’t make the Roy scions want to sit upon its helm any less. Exhibit A: The emperor died on a plane when he was going to see the guy buying said machine. Only Logan’s son-in-law Tom and his executive minions were around to see him depart this earth. Sad doesn’t even begin to crack it.

The Roy scions at their mother's Barbados beach house

But as in all fin de siècle events, when the king is dead, the kids will squabble. When Episode 10 begins, it does so on a note of panic. It’s the eve of a crucial board vote to determine whether they will sell to Mattsson’s GoJo. There’s about one day to go and everyone is trying to consolidate their position by shoring up board votes and thinking how they could possibly turn others to poll their way. 

Axis of Evil 2.0 

It’s the “cursed bauble” in full effect and when the Axis of Evil 2.0 that will be Royco Waystar GojoGo matures, only the winner can determine the shape of things to come. Their impressive influence over the flow of the American presidential elections and politics in Episode 8 drove this home, especially when they called it early for the crypto-fascist conservative Jeryd Mencken. Something echoing the events of the Fox News debacle with Tucker Carlson.

With Eyes Wide Open, the title of Episode 10, is the coup de grace to the epic of how internal familial stresses can more effectively rip it all apart more than any outside force. 

That touching moment mock-crowning Ken at their mother’s Barbados beach house? A sequence fraught with hope and good vibes. It was fun to see the sibs doing just normal things like normal people. What this series has always been about though is subverting and betraying those Hallmark moments. 

To drive the emotional dagger deeper, we are presented with more moments of vulnerability from the Roy scions. Siobhan and her estranged husband Tom Wambsgans (also the head of ATN News) trying to reconcile as Shiv dangled “a real relationship” over poor Tom. Moments of grief shared between the Roy siblings as they watched their father presiding at a dinner where only their eldest, Connor, was present. Shiv, Ken, and Rome ecstatic and sharing laughs when their plane from Barbados landed in New York for the day of the board vote.

Roman, Siobhan, and Kendall Roy

All those touching moments are given the scorched earth treatment. Normal operations that fans of the series will be familiar with. Shiv was actually craptalking Tom to Mattsson just moments before she called him, describing him as someone who will "suck the biggest d*** in the room." And the board vote that Ken was so confident they’d win? Well, he really should have seen the traitor turning on a dime when they were at an impasse at 6-6.

His one and only sister, Shiv, started to hyperventilate and then stormed out of the meeting. “I love you but I can’t f**king stomach you” was her coup de retort. To which Kendall barked and shouted and implored in a manner absent of all business decorum. Ken should really have seen this defector. Unable to physically abuse or touch the pregnant Shiv, Ken instead attacked Roman. In full view of the board members they brawled like tantruming children. Shiv got out, dropped her vote in favor of the Gojo deal. Such chaos. Such an awful backstabbing family. 

In the end, the Roy scions were their own worst enemies. They lost the board vote at 7-6. 

The bureaucrat also rises  

Who won the Royco throne? Tom Wambsgams, the dark horse and, as a moral lesson for best business practice success, the interchangeable cog an outsider could play like a corporate fiddle. He is installed as the US-based CEO by Mattsson, who planned to tinker with the décor and wallpaper of the empire while safe in Stockholm. 

Nobody can deny that the most apt ending was for a bureaucrat to take over—to install someone to carry on through hell and high water, who can simply run the thing without burning out, preferably someone with “a high pain threshold” as Tom described himself to Lukas Mattsson on their second vibe-meet. Lukas does agree, saying he needed a “pain sponge” while he took the business apart like an analog toy. 

Tom was no genius. He was not anointed but married into the family name. He did make his desires abundantly clear. What helped tremendously was that the Roy scions, as Logan dismissed them, really weren’t serious people. So nobody saw Tom coming, right up until he was literally being paraded for the cameras.

Kendall Roy contemplates the aftermath of the landmark GoJo acquisition.

One of the most pivotal and yet for me mystery scenes of betrayal is when Roy's cousin Greg, a long-running ally of Tom, backstabbed him. He did this by using a translation app to eavesdrop on the Swedish language discussions between Mattsson and one of his colleagues, reporting to Ken how he overheard them say that Shiv will be out of the CEO race. This eventually led to the crowning of Ken at the beach house, but it also led to Shiv betraying them at the board vote. On the surface, Greg seemed to back the Roys winning, but he didn’t count on the fact that Tom would be favored by Mattsson. Did he not think this through? Was Greg the Egg that stupid?

In the aftermath, Greg’s pay is decimated but Tom opts to keep him on as an employee. In all likelihood, he would continue on as an object of abuse when Tom needs someone to keep quiet and just take it all. It’s something Greg has been proven expert at since he first appeared on the Roy orbit.  

We are thankful we are not them 

Kendall takes it the hardest among the sibs. We see him staring out at the vast ocean contemplating his metaphoric death as his father’s bodyguard (now his) watches on, observant for any sign of attempted suicide. Roman realizes that he really is better off without the business as he nurses his facial wounds. Shiv and Tom share a ride together and, now that their power dynamic has shifted, he offers his hand to be held and she lays her hand on top with all the enthusiasm of a whipped woman. 

Shiv’s story strikes me as the saddest of the bunch. She did say at her father’s funeral oration that Logan simply “couldn’t fit a whole woman in his head.” She was painfully aware that her dad never took her seriously. Now she realized that none of the men around her actually could either—not her husband Tom, not her supposed ally Mattsson. Especially not her brutish brothers. 

The Roy siblings grieve their father, Logan Roy, as they watch him preside over his birthday dinner.

With all the peaks and valleys of the series, this swan song episode drives home how greed warps human desire. We watched entranced at how absurd are the desires of the rich and elite. Even as we wanted to be like them with all their wealth and privilege, we were thankful we are not them. 

I will miss these feel-bad hits of Succession’s episodes yet am sincerely pleased that I do not have their gargantuan, farcical dilemmas and cursed baubles. Take your optics—I’ll have none of that. 

The final season of Succession is now showing on HBO Go.