Succession is over and with it the story of the Roy family. After watching the final episode of the four-season long TV series, I was stunned and drained. With millions of others, I had been following the fortunes of Logan Roy (played by Brian Cox), a Rupert Murdoch-like media magnate, and trying to guess who would eventually take over Waystar Royco.
The series was an emotional journey that followed characters played by a virtuoso cast, brilliantly scripted by Jesse Armstrong and masterfully directed by Michael Mylod. The super-rich, entitled characters seemed to have an almost real-life existence. It was not unusual to talk to other fans and have them ask questions like, “What do you think of Shiv telling Tom on their wedding night she wants an open marriage?”
The script tracks second generation Roys — Kendell (Jeremy Strong), Roman (Kiernan Culkin) and Siobhon (Sarah Snook), nicknamed “Shiv” — the offspring of Logan’s second marriage. Each episode had unexpected twists and revealed more about each sibling’s love-hate relationship with their odious dominating dad. Kendell believes Logan promised him that he’d be the successor; Roman had his moment, exploring a deal with GoJo run by Swedish entrepreneur Lukas Mattson (Alexander Skarsgard), and Shiv briefly was placed in charge of Waystar. Logan called his daughter “Pinky,” noting that of his five children, she was the last, his little finger.
Amstrong’s script introduced fans to dozens of others in the Roys’ orbit, including Shiv’s ambitious husband Tom (Matthew MacFadyen), obsequious cousin Greg (Nicolas Braun), and the gatekeepers at Waystar: Gerri (J. Smith-Cameron), Frank (Peter Friedman) and Karl (David Kasche).
Early in the fourth season (the third episode), the saga exploded with a devastating twist: Flying off to Sweden, Logan dies of a heart attack (you knew it was coming, but so soon?) The sudden death upped the ante over succession. As if it were reality, you could pick up prime news sources (New York Times, the Guardian) and read headlines about Succession’s impending outcome alongside the war in Ukraine, the battle over the U. S. deficit, and Trump’s latest legal peril.
Theories ran rampant. A few samples: Of course it would be Kendell and, midway through the final episode, the three sibs agreed Ken was “the one.” Or maybe it would be Roman, the son who loved Logan best. No, Shiv, true to her name, had knifed and outsmarted the boys. But, wait, it could it be second-banana Greg who had buddied up to Mattson; or then, surprise, maybe new flame Kerry is pregnant with Logan’s child. Worst of all: Could Logan not really be dead, only seemingly entombed in a pet-food mogul’s $5-million-dollar mausoleum?
As the series was coming to an end, critics cited Shakespeare’s influence on Armstrong’s story: King Lear fading into Hamlet, with shadowy MacBeth overtones. But there were more contemporary models: The Hearsts in “Citizen Kane.” More up to date is Rupert Murdock’s empire and its unresolved succession. Will it be Lachlan or could James and even Prudence return after the costly Dominion settlement?
Only in the final 20 minutes did fans learn Succession’s ultimate outcome: Tom Wambsgan, Shiv’s ever-hungry husband, takes over as American CEO, a subsidiary of Mattson’s GoJo. Victorious press conference and happy signing of papers follows. It’s a done deal. Turns out that there always was an ending, the clue from Tom Wambsgans’ last name. In 1920, Cleveland’s Bill “Wamby” Wambsganss hit an amazing unassisted triple in the World Series. The ending, according to producer Frank Rich, owes its resolution to sports.
The drama, so long in unfolding, ends by watching each sibling’s denouement: Roman romancing a martini; pregnant Shiv in the limo’s backseat extending a limp hand to Tom. Then comes the very last scene with Kendall walking through the waterfront park, followed by his father’s former bodyguard. In the dying light Ken settles on a bench staring at the bitter cold, roiling Hudson River just beyond the railing. The scene goes black.