One of the best series of the 20s closes on a realistically somber note, where even winning feels like losing.
So it was a tragedy after all. Any idea we ever had over the four seasons of Succession that the Roy children could pull this off on any successful level was hilariously misplaced. This was always how these un-serious people would end up: broken, defeated, cursed to the end of their days (or, in Roman’s case, sipping on a martini, alone in a swanky bar).
A great series finale feels both surprising and inevitable. “With Open Eyes,” written by Jesse Armstrong and directed by Mark Mylod (it had to be these two finishing off this opus), pulls it off with Shakespearean ease. We could have guessed our boy Tom Wambsgans (Matthew MacFadyen) would make Minnesota proud one day and take the Waystar corporate throne, but it’s harder to guess the path it took, and how empty the victory would ultimately be for him.
The episode starts with one of several full circle moments: Kendall (Jeremy Strong) stressing in the back of a limo on his way to the Waystar offices. No Jay-Z playing this time, but he’s ready to “carpe the diem” and grab his father’s company from Lukas Matsson (Alexander Skarsgård) who’s trying to finally close the deal for GoJo to take over Waystar.
Ken’s immediately told they don’t have the board votes to block this from happening, but never tell Ken he’s out until he’s brutally lost. He vows to get Stewy and the gang on his side by the next day when the board meeting goes down.
Meanwhile, Shiv (Sarah Snook) is in Matsson’s war room counting their numbers. They also believe they have Stewy on their side (and hilariously, everyone assumes they got Frank). They bring up what to do with Tom after the merger and of course, Shiv throws him under the Swedish bus. She calls him a “highly interchangeable modular part” which may seem like a dunk on Shiv’s part, but is actually another classic self-own. If anyone likes the sound of a CEO they can change and mold easily, it’s the blood mailing Matsson.
But one crucial question right now is, where is Roman (Kieran Culkin)? Shiv gets a concerned call from her mother, Caroline (Harriet Walter), from a broken down vacation palace in the Caribbean. Roman is there with her, and not in a good place. It’s hard to know if it’s a selfless act or wanting to juice their numbers at the board meeting, but Shiv decides to make the trip.
Then Kendall tracks down Roman, but Caroline doesn’t let them talk over the phone. Is he actually worried about his brother’s fragile state following his breakdown at their dad’s funeral? Not really, but Ken needs those numbers to block the deal so he makes the trip too, setting the stage for one last exotic Succession locale, and one more chance for the kids to realize they need to burn Waystar down and run for their lives.
Because they’re destined for ruin, of course that doesn’t happen, but it’s still lovely to see them be a cohesive family unit for a brief moment. It’s also incredible to see Caroline be on her best behavior and appear to show actual warmth and concern for her children. After coming in hot and bullying his siblings, Roman tells Ken a truth he hasn’t accepted this whole series. He’s a clown living in a fantasy world. He doesn’t have the juice, and he never did.
While the Roy kids work their stuff out, Tom is busy getting acquainted with Matsson, but is tired of all the hanging out. “More hanging than a dictator’s birthday,” he says to Greg (Nicholas Braun) in exasperation. Later at dinner, when he’s asked to “sing for his supper” and defend his place in the company, Tom gives the most important (and saddest) pitch of his life by telling Matsson he’s great at “following the boss” and he has a “high tolerance for pain and physical discomfort.” You got the job, you pain sponge!
Then a bomb goes off in the middle of the episode: Greg overhears (via a Swedish translator app) that Matsson is planning on shiving Shiv and going with another CEO. During a presentation on some sketchy business opportunities from Peter and his probable criminal friend, Ken gets a call from Greg that Shiv is out.
Ken gathers his siblings and tells them Shiv is being screwed by the Swede and convinces her to come back to his side and form a voting block. But he has a harder time talking her and Roman into making him the CEO. Roman tells them Logan promised the gig to him right before he died. Ken counters with a revealing story that Logan promised him the job when he was just seven years old at the Candy Kitchen in Bridgehampton (a real ice cream shop in the Hamptons). It’s a perfect illustration of how Logan has used his power to manipulate and gaslight his own children their whole lives. Was he shocked they turned out this way?
While Ken takes a swim (pay attention to all this water imagery), Shiv and Roman come around to the idea of their big brother taking over the business and keeping it in the family. They anoint him King, which leads to a bittersweet and gently rendered scene where the Roy kids act like a real family for the first and last time on the show.
They prepare a “meal fit for a king.” Mylod shoots the scene in intimate close-ups, with the Roys bantering back and forth like normal, functioning siblings as they gather ingredients (have we even seen them open a fridge before?). Caroline walks in to shush them as they sing silly songs and eat Peter’s cheese. It’s like watching teenagers fuck around the kitchen late at night, trying not to wake up their parents.
Shiv and Roman make Ken drink their disgusting concoction (Jeremy Strong actually drank all those gross ingredients, because of course he did) before crowning him by pouring the remnants on his head. It’s the nicest, purest moment for them in the show’s run, bittersweet because it’s about to be another rocket ship exploding before takeoff.
We’re geared up for the second half of this two-hander. The Roys are back in New York, talking business on their phones, heading to the Waystar offices for one more swing at the throne. Nicholas Britell’s soaring score tricks us into thinking this time, they might pull it together.
Tom even tells Shiv he’s going to be the new CEO like it’s a done deal, but that just makes her more determined. After alerting Matsson, Tom freaks out at Greg in the bathroom for telling the Roys about Matsson’s plan, which leads to a hilariously puny slap fight between the two. They can’t stay mad at each other for long, but it’s a great illustration on how our world is run by children and small, petty men.
The final act of the episode ends up where it should: at Waystar’s offices, the castle Logan built. It makes sense we would have a final “War of Winterfell”-type battle in the Roy kingdom. It’s also one final, extraordinary sequence that pays off everything the show has built towards.
Ken sits, uncomfortably, in his father’s chair while he tries to gather the rest of his army, starting by offering Stewy (Arian Moayed) a sweet deal if he joins them. He responds with the perfect Stewy line: “Guys? I like weird sex. I like bad drugs. I’m a very complicated individual.” Stewy is the GOAT.
Roman’s ex, Gerri (J. Smith-Cameron), walk into the officer, setting him off. He obsesses over his stitches from getting punched in the streets and can’t even raise his head to look at Ken. Rome then goes full Fredo, asking Ken why it couldn’t be him. Ken hugs him so tight his stitches come undone. Was this Ken’s way of showing his little brother love but also comforting him with their love language, which has always been pain and torture? Queue up the Matsson quote one last time: ”Cool cool family.”
We get to the board room and everyone is here. Ken makes one final pitch to keep them in charge of Waystar, saying the GoJo deal is bad (even though he was the one who made it). They go directly to a vote and Frank immediately pops the balloon by voting to sell. Thanks to Stewy and Ewan, and a very apprehensive Roman, the vote is a 6-6 tie before it gets to Shiv as the tiebreaker.
The weight of the moment falls on her and she can’t commit to it. She walks away and the siblings meet in a conference room for some Steppenwolf play-level catharsis. Shiv tells them she’s changed her mind, causing Ken to melt down, revealing the sick little boy underneath. Being the CEO of Waystar is the only thing he wants, and without it, he’s nothing. He pleads with his siblings to “let him have it,” like this major media empire is a skateboard.
When Shiv tells Ken she doesn’t think he’ll be good at leading Waystar, the show makes it painfully clear how Ken was never ready for this. Of course the guy who installed a giant birth canal for his 40th birthday does not have the emotional maturity to lead a huge corporation. Logan’s poison has dripped through, leaving him with no tools besides lashing out.
This useless pursuit at being his father has also taken his soul. When Shiv brings up Ken’s darkest secret of leaving the waiter to drown at her wedding (the same secret Logan used against him), Ken outright denies it ever happened. He lies that it was just a move to get them on his side. The real tragedy here is that Ken seems to actually believe this. He’s taken this human and made him a NEP (non-essential person) in his memory. This is the last straw for his siblings — they don’t know who he is anymore, and they are for sure not giving him their dad’s company.
Ken explodes with a childish “I’m the eldest boy!”, completely forgetting about Connor’s existence. Shiv laughs him off and Roman makes things worse by pointing out their dad saw Shiv as the bloodline since Ken’s kids are either adopted or “half Rava, half some filing-cabinet guy.” This reveals some crucial back story we never got before: Kendall can’t have children of his own, making his daddy issues a little clearer.
They fully turn into the petulant children they’ve always been. Ken tries to push his pregnant sister when she tries to leave and Roman gets into a shoving match with him. There’s no coming back from this.
Even though things don’t end well for Shiv, she actually gets to be the hero here. It’s the one selfless thing she does in the series, and it’s stopping her brother from being the mad king. A defeated Ken slowly walks to the boardroom, where Frank (Peter Friedman), the only man who treated Ken like a real son, tells him it’s over. Their father’s entire empire is now the property of a Swedish conglomerate. It’s a haunting Strong performance as he walks out of the office, surrounded by people staring at him. When Ken got on the elevator, was I the only one who thought he was going up to the roof instead of down?
But now, all hail King Wambsgans, lord of the Midwest. He’s now the CEO of Waystar, and it’s the perfect ending for this lovable but gutless social climber. All he wanted was money and power, and now he gets it, sort of. He may have the title, and a nice office, but he’s owned by Matsson.
Greg congratulates him, and the real love story of this show comes together with a genuinely sweet “I got you” from newly crowned Tom. He puts one of the stickers from Logan’s mansion on Greg’s forehead for good measure. It’s a beautiful last moment for one of the sweetest, most fucked up friendships in TV history.
In the final moments, the tragedy of it all comes full center. None of the kids get what they want. Shiv is literally doomed to be her worst fear, her own mother. She rides away with Tom in the back of their limo in complete silence. They can barely touch each other’s hands as they look like a portrait of a sad King and Queen.
Roman may have the most hopeful outcome, but it still feels very empty. This whole series was essentially the rocket explosion from season one. He messed around, tried to be powerful, and it all blew up, but here’s a reminder that there are no real consequences for these people. Don’t forget this dude toppled democracy, and now he’s sipping on a martini, still rich and still alive.
We end on Kendall, as we should. He’s the central force of the series, and it was always about his downfall, and oh, how the mighty have fallen. Like an actual curse, Ken walks around the city as a ghost, trailed by Colin. He has to spend the rest of his days paying the man who knows his deepest darkest secret to follow him. He’s literally punished by being hounded by his past.
Ken walks up to New York Harbor at sunset. The Statue of Liberty, that symbol of American opportunity, is barely seen in the background. Britell saves up all the amazing work he’s done scoring the show into one final, epic, gorgeously sweeping piece of music. The last image is the specter of Colin stalking Ken as he stares at the water. Not since The Sopranos finale has there been a more definitive cut to black. Tony Soprano’s death may have been up for interpretation, but the haunting sounds of water that end the show makes Kendall Roy’s death already predetermined.
Boars on the Floor:
- “You’re my #1 (show of all-time?)”: Let’s get to it. We already know Succession is a pantheon show, but the graceful way they land the plane this final season firmly puts the show on another level. Even The Wire had that weird serial killer plotline in the final season. It may not be the greatest show of all-time, but Succession is definitely the greatest show of this time. A century from now, when our great-grandchildren are living in The United States of Amazon while living in their Apple Home Pods to escape the horrors of climate change, they’ll look back at this time in American history and can watch this show to know how it all went wrong. It’s the most effectively brutal piece of social satire since Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal.
- In another unintentional self-own, Shiv tells Matsson that Tom “will suck the biggest dick in the room,” to which Matsson replies with a cold “Love is in the air.”
- Tom and Shiv have a great conversation when she’s about to take off for the Caribbean. Tom says they should go to “Czechoslovakia and go our mutual ways,” before Shiv asks him if they should go through with their loveless marriage anyway. The scheduling opportunities are just too good! Since they already said the worst things to each other, how can it get any worse? It’s a brutal reconciliation, and sets the stage for one of the saddest hand holdings ever.
- Caroline on human eyes: “I don’t like to think of all these blobs of jelly rolling around in your head…face eggs.”
- Another full-circle moment, we hear Lawrence, former CEO of Vaulter and Ken’s first white whale of the show, being thrown around as another American CEO for Matsson. Wish he could have made a cameo!
- Caroline: “I’ve never had my plans ruined by a big board meeting before.” She’s the best.
- Greg gets $200K as an assistant. Good gig!
- I really thought Matsson telling Tom he has a lot of sexual chemistry with Shiv would push Tom to screw him over somehow. But no, this show has to keep reminding me how cynical it is. Tom took this from his new boss and happily swallowed it to get to the next rung of a broken ladder.
- Greg, trying to cut a deal with Ken: “If I give you something incredible, would you give me something amazing?” What a snake you’ve become, Cousin Greg.
- Love the Ken impression from Roman and Shiv as they fake plot his murder on the beach. “Did you just try to murder me? That is so not actually what you meant to do.”
- Happy Ken’s smile is haunting.
- Our final Connor appearance features him breaking down the sticker system to claim Logan’s belongings. Willa needs to make room for that cow print couch.
- We never learn the results of the election, but we get a hint when Shiv mentions the “court thing in Wisconsin,” and tells Willa she can look forward to having Connor around since he won’t be ambassador to Slovenia. I’m gonna miss this insane couple, and I hope Willa’s next play is more successful than the last one.
- What a lovely moment when the Roy kids watch footage of their father playing party games right before his death. He counts back every presidential election loser, starting with Al Gore, putting into question what happened in this fictional world during the Obama era? It’s a humanizing moment for a monster, and also a sly call back to the season one Thanksgiving episode “I Went to Market,” where Logan had trouble memorizing a simple game following his stroke. He still had some sharpness in him until the very end.
- Good for Karolina, making an in with Shiv while throwing Hugo off the cliff at the same time. Team Karolina forever.
- Frank running away in the office is the hardest I laughed during this episode.
- During the scene when Ken denies killing the waiter, Kieran Culkin puts so much grief, anger, disappointment and fear into one “Dude.” It should be studied in acting school.
- Ken goes into full addict mode when he loses at the end and Roman finally tells him the truth with “It’s bits of glue and broken shows, fucking phony news. It’s just nothing. We are bullshit.” I love the camera slowly focusing on Roman as he comes to peace with it all.
- Frank on new CEO, Tom: “We should have slit his throat in the cradle.”
- What a joy it was writing about the final season for such a momentous show. Thank you for reading these increasingly long recaps, and I leave you with one final, happy “FUCK OFF!”