At The Big Issue, we are pre-grieving the end of Succession. The Roy family may be a world away from day-to-day life at the vanguard of the fight against poverty, but they have caught the imagination like no TV family since the Sopranos.
Jesse Armstrong’s series is a phenomenon. And it is going out on a high, with season four producing new highs of writing and acting.
So we asked some of the Succession fans on our team to share their thoughts and their favourites and their theories ahead of the final episode of a modern TV classic…
Right, so what actually made Succession just so good?
Isabella McRae: I’ve found Succession a really hard watch at times. I’m ashamed to admit I wasn’t sure I could watch it because they were all just so nasty. But I’m so glad I stuck it out because it really has been some of the best television I’ve ever seen. The script, the acting, the incredibly grey wardrobe, I’ll miss it all deeply.
Adrian Lobb: I also nearly didn’t watch Succession. Roman Roy offering a young kid filling in for Kendall at a family softball game a million dollars if he hit a home run just seemed too hateful. The rich kid playing with the lives of others? Too gross. But they draw you in, these bastards.
Jane Graham: These didn’t seem to be sympathetic characters but right from the start the dialogue and the acting was exceptional. So at the very least I knew I could expect some kind of delicious pleasure from it, even if that was an evil, sadistic pleasure with a kind of Dante’s Inferno vibe – even watching a man having his eyes pecked out can be fun if the torturer is throwing out some great one liners about saving on contact lenses. What I didn’t expect though was how invested I would become in the fates and emotions of the Roys and their cohorts.
Marc Burrows: I actually came late to Succession. I didn’t watch it at all until after the third season was done. Not out of any particular reason. There’s just SO MUCH TELEVISION. It’s called Peak TV for a reason. I’d been warned by a few people that episode one and lots of the first season weren’t that representative and it needed some time to warm up, but honestly, I was hooked from the word go. From Jeremy Strong’s rich white boy listening to Hip Hop in the back of his limo to Roman’s utterly foul mouth to Logan’s gruff “fuck off”, it was just … there.
(Cousin) Greg Barradale: Succession is quite a hard sell. You can’t tell someone how good it is, because that’s always going to lead to disappointment. But you also can’t really just describe it. Boardrooms! Caps! PJs! The bare facts hardly get the corpuscles flowing.
JG: How did I come to care so much about what was going to happen to some terrible people? I suppose that’s the magic of great dialogue, mesmerising performances and the sad story behind what made the Roys the people they were – how your mum and dad fuck you up basically. Also – that music! Nicholas Brittell’s contribution to the depth and emotion of very scene is incalculable. Oh yeah, and it’s as funny as hell.
GB: It’s really a dark, dark British comedy. That’s what it is. It does the soul-affecting drama, the tragedy – the stuff podcast hosts call Shakespearean – but then makes it you laugh at something horrible a couple of seconds later. What an achievement. You’re pointing and giggling at these morons, yet find yourself in tears when their scumbag dad dies.
AL: Yep, ultimately, Succession is about family. Sure, they are super rich. But the complexities of the relationships are what draws us in. Nothing happens for great stretches of Succession. At least when it comes to the big question of who will succeed Logan Roy. Everyone had schemed with and against everyone else – it was almost getting repetitive before Episode Three of the final series threw the cat amongst the pigeons at the perfect moment. Setting such a Shakespearean family saga against the backdrop of a global media conglomerate was a genius idea.
From Logan’s pride in his terrible kids to Kendall’s hip-hop head journey: What were Succession’s best moments?
AL: Logan’s pride when his kids are awful has been a favourite recurring theme. And Brian Cox played it to perfection every time. The smile at the end of season two, after Kendall had ripped his father’s reputation to shreds in front of shareholders and the global media was just sublime. For all that nothing happens for long periods of Succession, the big plot twists are beautifully timed.
MB: I became a #Connhead in season two, at the exact moment Alan Ruck took the slow, stately walk to the podium at Uncle “Mo” Lester’s funeral to deliver the eulogy Willa had hastily just rewritten. It was the straight-faced sincerity of his delivery that got me: “Lester has died. When a man dies, it is sad. All of us will die one day. In this case, it is Lester who has done so”. An-all time peak in awkward, dark TV comedy, and one of those beautiful sidebars the show does so well off the beaten path of the main story.
IM: The moment that really stands out for me is when Kendall confessed to his siblings that he killed a man. Him on the ground with his head buried in his knees. For the whole of season three, Jeremy Strong was invincible. There’s also the scene where Logan forces Tom and Greg down on all fours and demands they grunt like boars in a horrific but hilarious spectacle. Or Tom and Shiv’s wedding. Or the entirety of season four, episode three. I could go on.
JG: I agree, the development of Kendall’s character, partly as a result of the waiter’s drowning in Season One, was hypnotic television. The vulnerability at the heart of Kendall, the tragedy of his neediness and the total absence of aid or affection. That terrible scene when he broke down in tears in Logan’s unyielding arms. The panicked conscience which led him to push ‘compensation’ through the letter box of the dead man’s parents. Long dark moments of the soul when he was haunted by the regret and horror of what had happened. It brought a new profundity to the show.
MB: There’s a few points in it that got a little real for me. I’ve worked in tech media so watching Kendall laying off the staff of Buzzfeed-like Vaulter felt pretty close to home. I was at Twitter when the Elon Musk takeover happened as well, so there’s some PTSD about a lot of this.
AL: “If it is to be said, so it be, so it is” – Cousin Greg at the congressional hearings was a masterclass. A deeply serious occasion meeting a deeply unserious person with deeply funny consequences. Surely he can’t win – imagine the memes…
JG: My very favourites scene – perhaps my favourite scene of American TV – was the L to the OG rap. It had everything. It was extremely funny – the utter shock of it, so badly judged, the greatest cringe on TV ever, even Kendall’s ridiculous ghetto outfit. And it was brilliantly performed, without a hint of irony or slapstick. Lesser writers would have played it for broad laughs and made Kendall a terrible rapper, but he was actually not bad – as a student of hip hop he knew the moves and he could do the rhymes. But it also had a curious pathos. Kendall really believed that it would impress and raise feelings in Logan. He’d worked hard on it, he was confident and expectant. It was like watching a little kid proudly and exuberantly ‘treating’ his parents to the musical show he’d secretly been working on for months.
GB: Kendall’s L to the OG rap wouldn’t be anywhere near as funny if it wasn’t a perfect character moment. I want to know how the writers felt when they realised how well it’d work.
AL: The final series has produced moments of such depth. Logan’s death on a plane as his kids scrambled brains tried to process their emotions while positioning themselves as his heirs was stunning. But the episode in which they wielded their power, calling the election for Jeryd Mencken as Roman reveals himself as a full-on fascist enabler while Kendall decided far right leadership for the country and the world was worth it to for some potential personal gain and to stop Lukas Matsson. That was when the sheer scale of this series and why it matters became fully apparent.
Which Succession character is the best? Connheads, reveal yourselves
IM: It’s got to be Shiv for me. Maybe it’s just the feminist in me who enjoys watching a woman outwit her brothers. Did you know women CEOs only recently outnumbered CEOs called John? I also think Sarah Snook, who plays Shiv, has been phenomenal at building a complicated character who is both emotional, empathetic and deeply unkind (particularly to her own husband). It’s Shiv for the win all the way for me.
JG: Kendall has always been my favourite. If the show has a soul, I think it’s Kendall’s messed up, desperate, insecure one (I didn’t say it was a good soul). The moments of greatest darkness and humanity/inhumanity have been Kendall’s. Shiv is a close second, especially in the final series, when her fragility, so long buried below that sharp, cold exterior, has come to the fore. Tom has also come into his own, partly due to the writing and acting in those surprisingly moving break up scenes with Shiv. And Macfadyen is so funny in the scenes with his ‘Gregging’ staff.
AL: Harriet Walter was already my favourite actor (and remains the greatest Doctor Who we’ve never had). Walter has elevated every scene in every appearance as Lady Caroline Collingwood. And she may have saved the best until last. At Logan’s funeral, Walter produced another (beautifully written) tour de force, uniting Logan’s wives and lovers in awkward solidarity in the church. While every moment she is on screen with Sarah Snook as Shiv has been so illuminating, full of exquisite detail and devilish putdowns.
MB: The elder Roy sibling is the most overlooked of the four. The fact we tend to think of “siblings” as a trio says it all, really, and the character is ridiculous, a deluded libertarian eccentric with a Napoleon fixation. Over the four seasons, both the writers and Ruck have gradually added layers to Connor. His relationship with Willa, the high-class call girl marrying him for the security of his billions, is weirdly sweet, his naive run at the presidency oddly endearing (completely with that Father-Ted-style “and now we move onto the liars” concession speech), and those glimpses of the pain he hides (his reaction to the “looney cake” served at his wedding) show a far more complex character than the buffoonish comic relief he could have been.
The key moment comes in the karaoke booth scene in season 4’s second episode – the last time he sees his father alive. “The good thing about having a family that doesn’t love you is you learn to live without it”. And suddenly, we understand Connor Roy. As with everything with Succession, there are always more layers to the looney cake.
GB: Who has actually improved their position during the four seasons of Succession? From a striving and parochial Minnesota family, the Wambsgans has interloped his way into a pretty good situation. Who needs a soul, anyway? There’s the heartbreaking trauma of the sham marriage, yes. But after a fashion Tom manages to work with it. It’s all meaningless and you’ve got to do what you can with what you have – welcome to existence, bozo!
He knows when to eat shit – hell, he’ll go to prison for you – but he knows when to get his sweaty palms around the handle of the knife. Logan has barely gone cold before Tom is making moves, spinning his narrative. Matsson needs a pliable US CEO. Tom can do pliable. Boy, can he do pliable. You just wonder: is the sad he’d be without the suits and the watches less than the sad he’d get from being Matsson’s gopher.
How will Succession end? And what did it all mean, anyway?
MB: Can they stick the landing? With a cast this strong, scripts this good and a team this smart, it’s very possible they can pull off one more all-timer. I have no idea what’s going to happen. I love it – but I have a horrible, creeping feeling that everything is pointed to the weird accession of Greg. He’ll be a terrible CEO, but a very useful stooge for someone.
IM: Shiv on behalf of all women, but I don’t have high hopes. I’d also like to see Greg in charge and a spin-off comedy series with him and Tom running ATN.
AL: I’ve been Team Kendall since Season One, episode one. The sense of unfairness when he was denied his moment at the very start, as Logan Roy opted not to retire, has never left. Sure, he killed a man, self-sabotaged every opportunity (the stuck-in-traffic missed meeting being the most frustrating), produced moments when we cringed ourself inside out, and has frequently shown himself to be indecisive and clueless. But he is the least unserious of the Sibs. Has done his homework. Knows the business. And, after Logan’s funeral, he is clearly heir apparent – even if he has had to compromise all his remaining morals to get there. Go Kendall. This is your time to shine. Seize your moment, sweet prince…
GB: How do you win at Succession? Get out! Escape! Leave these weirdos behind, go be happy on a beach. The top job at Waystar isn’t the prize at the end of the emotional obstacle course. As the show has gone on, we’ve learned why these people are the way they are. We always talk about who is the most similar to Logan, just as they talk about what he would have done. It’s his world. The consequences of things done to him, yes, but his actions too. Do any of us have any choice in how we turn out?
I think we saw that with Ewan’s eulogy – the penultimate episode is always the real finale. Logan couldn’t leave behind all the terrible things that happened to him. He was shaped by them. Maybe what his kids endured wasn’t as bad, maybe it was, but we finally understood what was happening all along.
JG: I think (hope?) that the speech by Ewan, Logan‘s brother, at the funeral was a game changer. The kids, for the first time, saw their father as fallible, vulnerable, a victim rather than an omnipotent king. They also saw a man who needn’t be admired, in whom awe might be misplaced. And that Logan, in an efforts to survive, had long ago made the conscious decision that the only way he could succeed would be to adopt an unremittingly, ruthless attitude. And he chose to live the rest of his life like that, and to make his children victims of his choice, believing only that way their lives could lead to success.
I think that’s what fuelled Kendall’s genuinely powerful and insightful following funeral speech. It wasn’t funny or contrived or rehearsed. Nor was he simply second-guessing his dad. He just might have developed an independence of thought which could see him the new ‘successor’. If this time he actually gets a majority supporting him, he will finally have achieved something on his own, and be liberated from just trying to be/impress his horrible dad.This could potentially be the end of the beginning. If it all goes tits up again and Greg ends up in front I’ll feel a bit cheated!
GB: Succession doesn’t rely on big reveals or plot twists. So maybe we already know where the sibs are headed. But that’s the real payoff here: can any of them become something else, someone other than who their dad made them?
JG: The final credits should be a slow mournful alt-country version of L to the OG sung by Phoebe Bridgers.
Succession ends on 29 May on Sky and NowTV (but will stay in our hearts forever)
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