“Succession” closes with a dramatic downfall

Sept. 29, 2023, 2:59 a.m.

This review contains spoilers.

Satire-tragicomedy “Succession” dominated the 75th Emmy Awards with 27 nominations for its fourth and final season — well-deserved accolades for a show that successfully concluded before it dragged on and stunned audiences with a jaw-dropping and satisfying finale. 

The season starts with the three Roy siblings teaming up against their father Logan (Brian Cox) to create their own company and prove themselves as worthy rivals to their patriarch. The plan is successful until the siblings hear that their father has died on his way to Norway, where he intended to sell the family business to a Swedish corporation.

Kendall (Jeremy Strong), Roman (Kieran Culkin) and Shiv (Sarah Snook) roll up their sleeves and decide to finish their father’s last deal: a decision that serves as a catalyst for backstabbing betrayals, secret negotiations and changing directions that irreparably damage the siblings’ relationship.

The season included many tour de force performances, especially notable from Snook, Culkin and Matthew MacFadyen, who plays Shiv’s husband Tom. Tom and Shiv’s brutally honest fight after a tailgate is nearly Shakespearean in its writing. 

Another top-tier performance is found in Roman’s efforts to make a speech at the funeral. Before the scene, we see a confident and careless man who even considered making jokes at his father’s funeral. During the funeral, however, Roman transforms into a scared boy who was physically and mentally abused by his ruthless father and now can not speak in his presence — even that of his dead body.

In both performances and script, “Succession” is one of the best shows on HBO, and realizing that the opening theme song would no longer grace my Sundays really upset me. If there is one thing audiences agree on, it is that prolonging shows because of high ratings usually ends up disappointing the fans (as happened with “Game of Thrones”). But that’s not the case with “Succession.”

One word that describes the grand finale? Brilliant. All three Roy siblings betrayed each other to seize power, only to get betrayed and lose it — an ending that was impossible to predict.

Viewers see Kendall revolt against his father at every opportunity in an effort to prove himself worthy of his love and respect. Yet, he fails time and time again. Even though I was rooting for Kendall all along, ending “Succession” with Kendall’s success would be too traditional, with a predictable succession of the presumptive heir.

For Shiv, seizing power does not go as planned. While she wants to become like her father and make her own name, she ultimately cannot escape her mother’s fate: being valued only as someone’s wife. In her case, she becomes the wife of Waystar Royco’s CEO rather than a business mogul, paralleling how Tom assumed his CEO role via marriage too.

Roman may be the only sibling to emerge content after his father’s death. At the end of the finale, viewers see him drink a martini with a smile on his face. He seems to accept the fact that the siblings will never be like their father (to quote Logan, the siblings will never be “serious people” or worthy of his respect) and realizes losing the company may be for the best.

The winner of the fierce fight for the CEO position, Tom, is ultimately the perfect choice. No one in the show works harder, plays the game more strategically or knows their position better than him. Tom reveals himself as a character who values the opinions of those in power, including Mattson (Alexander Skarsgård), the owner of the Swedish tech company Gojo and the buyer of Waystar Royco. Tom is an underdog from the start, as he marries into a family of heirs. Yet, he orchestrates the real succession. 

Jesse Armstrong, the show’s creator, wrote an amazing script that was undeniably influenced by Shakespeare. Logan was portrayed as a greedy and ruthless patriarch like King Lear and Tom’s ascent to the CEO position mirrors Albany, who married Lear’s daughter and ended up with the kingdom.

Shiv and Tom resemble the Macbeths, a couple who fiercely betrayed each other in pursuit of power, and Othello and Desdemona, a couple who loved each other despite their differences. Kendall’s experience in season four reminded some of “Richard III,” a play in which characters cross many emotional, ethical and moral lines to reach the throne. 

“Succession” is the pinnacle of a modern masterpiece, uniquely portraying every character’s development and building on drama from previous seasons. Despite the characters’ greed and viciousness, many viewers ended up empathizing with different siblings, an impressive feat that merits the show’s record-breaking Emmy nominations. 

Editor’s Note: This article is a review and includes subjective thoughts, opinions and critiques.

Aslıhan Alp is a high schooler writing as part of The Daily’s Summer Journalism Workshop. Contact them at workshop 'at' stanforddaily.com.

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