Succession shocks and touches in a powerful final season | Review
HBO series ended its 4 seasons with an engaging plot and a brilliant cast
The buzz on social media makes it hard to remember that Succession spent a good part of its existence under the radar. On the air since 2018, the HBO series had its loyal following, but it never reached the almost football-like anticipation levels of a Game of Thrones. Perhaps that's why the show carved out its own space in the world of drama, away from high expectations and the need for hooks and plot twists, focusing on something more complex and challenging than any of those things: people.
Yes, beneath all the gossip, ostentation, drama, and discussions about stock prices, Succession is about people and their (complicated) relationships. It wouldn't be an exaggeration to imagine that, stripped of the glamour associated with HBO productions, the show would work perfectly as a tragic and delightfully cheesy telenovela (without any discredit). That's why it's commendable that the series stays true to its essence, remaining addictive and incredibly well-produced in its fourth and final season, without falling into the traps brought by its well-deserved (albeit belated) popularity.
The fourth year brings together the Roy siblings Kendall (Jeremy Strong), Roman (Kieran Culkin), and Shiv (Sarah Snook) in a rare moment of unity against their father's mismanagement, media mogul Logan Roy (Brian Cox). The family feud arises from the possibility of the patriarch selling his own company to an ascending and eccentric streaming businessman (Alexander Skarsgard), threatening the inheritance and prestige of the Roy offspring.
What we see is the succession (pun intended) of conflicts and betrayals expected from the sharp script led by Jesse Armstrong, but taken to another level by the performances of the main cast. Each in their own way, Strong, Culkin, and Snook embody everything that is worst and pettiest about rich people yearning for more money and power, while occasionally allowing small moments for the audience to empathize with the characters. And yes, it may seem ironic to say that "the rich suffer too," but stripped of luxury suits and watches more expensive than my apartment, the heart of the entire series, especially in the final season, is the children's quest for their father's approval, with Brian Cox delivering one of the most solid TV performances in recent years.
Without affection, empathy, or any trace of what we know as "goodness," Cox still manages to make the despicable character lovable, causing a twinge of guilt in viewers for delighting in the old Roy's grumpiness. From afar, the actor dominates every scene he's in, often conveying with just a glance or a grunt who truly holds the power in the family (and the series).
A more skeptical perspective might point out a sense of repetition from what we've seen in the previous three seasons, with new situations. But if the reader allows a bit of bar philosophy: that's life. Big moments will come, losses are part of life, but we won't always be present for everything.
It is courageous, then, that Succession ventures out of its comfort zone by allowing a single major plot twist in the season, right in the third episode. The turn comes as a rug pull, not only for the cast and the story but also for the viewer. The episode "Connor's Wedding" is the turning point for the entire Roy family in the series. While a more conventional production would milk the drama and anticipation, the blow arrives unexpectedly, yet also naturally. It generates endless discussions on Twitter and gives the audience a good push without feeling gratuitous.
Freed from its biggest anchor, for better or worse, Succession navigates the final episodes in a melancholic manner. Even the victories are ultimately defeats in the characters' lives, in a beautiful and bittersweet season. Episodes like "America Decides" and "The Pre-Election Party" are good examples of how major events (in this case, a presidential election) end up serving as a backdrop for the pains and conflicts of the Roys.
If only the family dynamics were enough to sustain the entertainment, supporting characters orbiting the main core, such as the cunning Tom (Matthew Macfadyen), the opportunist Greg (Nicholas Braun), the always forgotten older brother Connor (Alan Ruck), and the executive trio Gerri (J. Smith-Cameron), Frank (Peter Friedman), and Karl (David Rasche) remain enjoyable to follow, providing a breath of fresh air and a relative sense of sanity while parents, siblings, and children strive to tear each other apart.
Macfadyen's character, we dare say, has the most interesting journey among the cast throughout the 4 seasons, climbing the ladder with a wonderful dose of cynicism and audacity, reaching Tom's pinnacle, unexpected for some but entirely consistent with what we've seen in the past 5 years.
The tragedy of Kendall, Shiv, and Roman is that they can never fully escape not only their father's shadow but also their own demons, no matter how hard they try. Each in their own way, the three end up reinforcing that they are more like their father than they would like to admit, even when they strive to stand out as individuals.
While Kendall spent the previous 3 seasons trying to prove himself better and more humane than his father, Shiv and Roman accept, with some resignation, the roles assigned to them by lives of luxury. It is significant, then, that it is the greed of the "older" Roy, an unreal title that Kendall insists on highlighting, that backfires in the series' finale.
It's "a" ending that may not be exactly "the" ending, but perhaps that doesn't even matter. Succession joins the ranks of series that managed to deliver satisfying endings without necessarily succumbing to anyone's expectations. After all, life goes on in an eternal succession.