Blood, guts, and one last chance for glory: saying goodbye to “Succession”

Zoe Leone, Arts & Life Editor

“Ghastly,/With open eyes, he attends, blind/All the bells say: too late. This is not for tears … Often he reckons, in the dawn, them up./Nobody is ever missing,” reads the lines of the poem, “Dream Songs 29,” by John Berryman that contains the titles of the four season finales of “Succession.”

The most recent episode, “With Open Eyes,” brought the HBO mega-hit to an awe-inducing close. The tumultuous finale was a gorgeous end to the fourth and final season of the show. While the series started with what seemed like the ultimate Roy sibling team-up, things quickly spiraled after the unexpected death of their tyrannical father, Logan Roy (Brian Cox), in the third episode.

The choice was bold, to say the least. Cox has a larger-than-life screen presence and the idea of a “Succession” without his bolstering trademark “fuck off”s seemed near-impossible to pull off. Yet as the narrative started to turn away from its previously business-heavy storylines and into the grieving Roy family, showrunner Jesse Armstrong and the genius writers’ room proved that their judgment was (rightfully) not to be questioned.

Kendall (Jeremy Strong), Roman (Kieran Culkin) and Shiv Roy (Sarah Snook) begin to deteriorate as the guiding (and more often than not, abusive) force in their life is suddenly gone. Whether it was fighting for or against their father, the overarching presence of Logan Roy left a visible hole of complicated grief and ravenous desperation in the trio. 

As they ripped each other apart and formed new alliances in the wake of the board vote that would decide the sale of American Television Network, the family company, it become unsettlingly clear that no matter how much we rooted for these characters to break out of the cycles their parents had sunk them into, “Succession” was fated to end with bloodshed.

The finale showed the three youngest Roy siblings at their hungriest and most distressed. This desperation forces them into camaraderie, an alliance balancing delicately on the flighty temperaments of the people with the most to lose. The closer and more childlike with each other they get, the more intense the sinking feeling in your stomach gets. As any “Succession” watcher knows, nothing good ever lasts for the Roy siblings.

And yet it doesn’t just come to an end, but a spectacular explosion of fists flying and nasty insults. In the final twenty minutes of the series, Shiv, Roman and Kendall Roy bloom into the kind of hurt they were trained by their father to endure: the kind that cuts close to the bone, bearing only the deepest weaknesses and insecurities. It’s like watching a car crash happen right in front of you, completely horrifying and painfully riveting.

With the world at their feet and the remains of their family company at their fingertips, everything turns to dust as Shiv Roy makes the ultimate sacrifice, both for herself and her brothers. Maybe it’s selfless, a final attempt to free her siblings from the corporate clutches of their father, maybe it’s all in vain as she clings to the only stable security she can rely on, her estranged husband and the father of her child. Regardless, the Roy siblings fracture into broken pieces of each other.

Roman Roy, signing away his father’s company and staring down a martini glass, wandering aimlessly without the directions of his father and his fists. Kendall Roy, the prepped prince who’s been trained since age seven to be the head of the company, forever lost now that his prospective job title is. And Shiv Roy, doomed to live forever three steps behind her CEO husband, forced out of necessity to be the wife and mother she never wanted to be.

Connor Roy, the oldest and perhaps most normal of the Roy siblings, will be taking some form of governmental role in Slovenia, though as always, his story matters a little less to everyone around him.

The twisted journey that brought us to the end of the series is heart-wrenching and sickening to watch, yet it still manages to be remarkable. The reality of the situation is that these characters we’ve grown to love and root for over the years are privileged, self-serving people who exist in a world of obscene amounts of money and glass cages made of years of abuse. And so in their final attempts for power, it slips through their fingers, forever sentencing them to carry out the generational traumas that have defined their lives since birth.

While the characters may be entering a life of entitled and eternal suffering, their actor counterparts are surely in for a sweeping award season. With Variety confirming that Snook, the mastermind behind Shiv Roy, will be submitted to the Emmys as a lead actress, there’s almost no doubt that she will be walking away with the trophy after her stunning performance this season.

After a five-year run, “Succession” comes to a brilliantly-written end, further cementing its status as one of television’s all-time bests. As Kendall Roy once said: “All bangers all the time.”