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Abe Beame would never wait three quarters of an hour for a gin and tonic.
Jayson Buford hopes your life is as rich and happy, rewarding and fulfilling as his.
Welcome back, for what I’m crushed to report is the final time this season. We open on Logan reading a children’s story, Goodbye Mog with Iverson. It’s a head fake. He refers to Kendall in the past tense (“Your Dad was ok”). The story contains explicit death imagery, but Kendall is not dead. Logan can’t get on the same bandwidth as his grandson, a neural atypical adolescent calmed by a children’s story (he questions his grandson’s taste in the same manner he questioned Roman after the dick pic incident). Logan requests that Kerry, an increasingly large looming player in this story, finds him something to read with more action.
The kids are playing Monopoly across the pool where Kendall almost died, and this is where we get our big reveal: Comfrey saved Ken from drowning, costing herself the $100 Roman would’ve paid her for letting him sink. The death scare amounted to an overnight for observation in the hospital. Tom has to leave the game for a Forbes profile, asking if he can offer his properties up to Shiv. Tom’s selflessness, his deference to his wife for perhaps the last time, is incredible, and tragic misdirection on episode writer Jessie Armstrong’s part.
Ken comes back downplaying his flirtation with death. He’s bringing the energy that seems like it will be what sets the verve and tenor of season four, as he grapples with the consequences of what happened with Andrew Dobbs at Shiv’s wedding. He’s talking to new lawyers and discussing putting all his communications from the last five years up on Instagram.
Logan is on the phone for business – storming through the board game gathering as Ken dissolves – shocking us back into the world of Waystar. The DOJ is coming down with a historic fine as a result of the Cruises scandal, and as a result of Hans Christian Anderfuck’s Twitter maneuvering, GoJo’s market cap has exceeded Waystar’s: the runway is being paved for something dramatic. Roll credits.
Logan takes Roman to a meeting with his boy Mattson. There’s an interesting exchange on the boat where Logan both 1) feels out his son as a pervert who needs to get his shit figured out offscreen, without Logan’s involvement and 2) re-establishes his connection to Kerry, something that feels like it will have an increasingly large roll to play in season four.
We finally get the meeting of the big dick old school media baron and the autistic weirdo tech magnate. It doesn’t play out as you might expect. Logan showed a somewhat surprising flexibility in the last episode when he entertained a merger, and now is shockingly receptive to the concept of a straight buyout. Mattson plays the role that Stewy has in the past, the uncomfortably blunt truth teller rubbing Logan’s nose in his own shit. In this instance, the problem is Waystar’s data collection apparatus is woefully insufficient and hurts the overall value of the company; but Waystar does have the content to horse-trade. It’s not a one-for-one facsimile, but was reminiscent of the parameters of Amazon’s MGM acquisition.
What’s fascinating when you get a glimpse at Logan’s characteristically veiled thought process in conversation with Mattson, this self-described slab of gravlax, is Logan seems to be selling on the proposition of America itself. That industry has turned its backs on the evil old bastards that once had their gilded fists clutching the throat of this nation, and it’s given way to apathy, hedonism and wokeness (“meth or yoga”). He’s not just selling his company, he’s selling the country he adopted, and the children he produced here.
The first sign of alarm is Logan dismissing Roman to carry on negotiations with Mattson, but Rome somehow doesn’t see it. He runs back to what is maybe the most jarring and discordant aspect of the episode, an intervention with Kendall. Their attempt to simply acknowledge of familial bonds and concern, love and care for one another is here, is hilarious and heartbreaking. It’s a spoof, it’s a farce: the layers of perceived agenda by Kendall, a wondering aloud of what has to be behind what at least appears to be an act of concern on Shiv and Roman is endlessly fascinating, horrible, hysterical.
At one point, Ken defensively says, “You don’t have any standing”, injecting corporate power as a way to dictate familial concern and compassion. The question it invokes is if his dad was at the table, would this intervention have more weight because of equity in the family business? It’s a testament to the show that a sentiment as sad and deranged as it may be, is logical in a way this show has established.
This is as close as we get to a Connor episode this season, a season that has taken one of the show’s great pieces for granted. At the intervention, he tells some of the hardest truths and stakes a claim for himself as a person, literally, as a person who exists in the way the other kids have been conditioned not to acknowledge. The most interesting language this show uses is corporate autonomy is described in life or death terms. If you’re trying to remove Logan from his perch, you’re trying to “kill Dad;” when you’re outside of the company, you’re dead, you don’t exist. Connor finally calls this absurdity out and explains his very tangible reality to his asshole siblings. He’s rewarded, finally, by Willa recognizing his gentleness, and agreeing to marry him. Time will tell, but I assume with this show, even good Connor will be punished for this admission of love into his heart.
The kids begin scrambling and panicking once Rome is dismissed, and this is the first time the prenup is mentioned. It’s been reopened because the Lord Seat Sniffer wants a London flat. Last episode there was mention of a favor that Peter wanted from Logan, and it was more or less dismissed as a gag about what a fucking loser this guy is. But it’s so fitting that this eventually becomes the season’s real, lasting Chekhov’s gun. There are so many guns at this point, so many objects of destruction, a bit of sleight of hand and misdirection is necessary, and this was a masterful one. Peter Onions and his bullshit ends up being what destroys the kids, just Faust, Mozart, Shakespeare, incredible, gut-wrenching shit.
Then the episode is suddenly, and pretty violently hijacked and changed in tenor. We get to this back alley, dirt road conference where Ken directly confesses to his original sin, and the scene carries a lack of subtlety, an on-the-nose directness that I’m not sure we’ve ever seen from Succession. It will carry through the rest of this finale (waiters are literally throwing out trash as it’s happening). Strong probably turns in his single greatest performance, but there’s a lazy convenience in the timing of this moment, as the breaking point, it’s a weird wedge point that is telegraphing the coming crisis next season. And I think it worked, and we love seeing these incredible characters and actors congregating with a level of intimacy the show never gives us. However, I’m not sure on revisits, years from now, how I’ll feel about the note it strikes.
In the chalky clay, we finally get into Ken’s crime. I wonder what read is correct. We get Ken’s first, which was essentially dictated by Logan immediately after the tragedy, the one that Ken has lived with and lacerated himself for repeatedly, over and over again since it went down. And then there’s Roman’s, the defense lawyer/little brother charitable reading of the event. And perhaps this is a decent place to pose the question: Besides leaving the scene, is Ken a murderer? How much could he have actually done? He dove into the site multiple times attempting to save Dobbs; if his telling is to be believed, Dobbs was apparently incapacitated and stuck in the car. The closest comparison we have for this is Ted Kennedy’s Chappaquiddick incident, which derailed his presidential ambitions, but resulted in a two-month suspended jail sentence. And you could argue we live in a time in which a Kendall Roy is more bulletproof, and difficult to convict by a system more bought and paid for by the conservative super rich than the one Ted Kennedy faced 52 years ago. My personal feeling is that it was a weird and murky circumstance, and one we’re discussing again now because it appears it will have an outsized role next season. What is the real sin here? Ken’s inebriated failure to save Dodds or report his crime? Or Logan’s threadbare morality, the power he used to easily cover Ken’s tracks?
Then the episode pivots again and becomes a heist? An episode of 24? It’s a credit to just how high the tension is ratcheted as the kids finally connect and find a common enemy. Again, it’s a little shocking how explicitly the terms are made, but we see what a great team they always could’ve and should’ve been. It’s Ken’s innate handle of corporate legalese and strategy, Shiv’s command and sense of purpose, and Rome’s human touch. You see the more humane empire that could’ve been. It echoed the season three finale, “Shut The Door. Have a Seat” from Mad Men, a thrilling episode of a much more hopeful and generous show that reconfigured and reset the series in an exhilarating way that took all the restrictions off what we thought was possible. But of course, the Roy kids are a beat too late.
I had that sinking feeling when the kids were let into the inner sanctum where Logan is waiting (I specifically thought of Keanu Reeves’ final descent into Al Pacino as Satan’s penthouse in The Devil’s Advocate). You just knew it was the avatar, dazed and swaying in Mortal Kombat, waiting for a fatality. This show has conditioned us to understand there’s no winning, and there wasn’t. What is harrowing and crushing, is you could argue the one, real true act of growth and courage we’ve seen this season is Rome stepping up to his father in a way he’s never been able to his entire life (Including the vote of no confidence in season one, when all of this would’ve been made moot). The kids finally arrive, united and prepared to save each other, and their fates have already been sealed. Astonishing brutality.
There’s a lot of work to be done in excavating how and why Lady Caroline felt so abandoned by her kids, why she felt the need to marry the seat sniffer and betray her children rather than the ex-husband who presumably fucked her over so many times. A lot to be inspected in the Shiv wedding speech with all the echoes from Caroline’s speech at her wedding, but ultimately it all checks. These are slimy and self-interested people with no loyalty. Caroline made the move that made the most sense for her. She fucking won, and so did Logan, again.
But in the end, it’s so obvious that I’m furious with myself for not seeing the train barreling down the tracks. This is and always was Tom’s story, his season. He gets the last word in his betrayal. His Judas play shares overt similarities with Ken at the end of Season 2. We saw it in the family very comfortably preparing to send Tom to jail, in his conversation where Ken fails in an attempt to flip him, in his bizarre foreshadowing conversation with Greg centered around Nero, Sporus, and the emotional death of his marriage.
On the first watch I didn’t understand why they detracted from this nearly unbearably tense moment with the kids in the car, finally united, to have a Tom and Greg aside back at the wedding, but again, this is why this show is so much smarter than I am. When Tom sits Greg down, with Greg thrilled to have a shot at the contessa and whatever obscure available path to the throne of Luxembourg, there’s a sudden gravity to Tom’s demeanor, and his words. In retrospect, it all makes sense. It has the feel of a mid-season episode of Survivor for a reason – he is rallying his forces and preparing for all out war. Last episode, I had suggested a dark and gritty Greg reboot, but it was actually and obviously Tom, grabbing the wife that shudders at his touch. The devil dressed in white and cream linen that we never saw coming.
The episode ends with an overwhelming aria. It’s opera, it’s melodrama of the highest order. The kids have been betrayed by everyone in their inner circle, their father has revealed himself to be a bully who thinks they’re morons and pedestrians, dismissed, cut off and left out in the cold. All his hopes have suddenly shifted to an unborn child he wants to have with his young assistant, it’s Greek, it’s relentless.
I frankly have no idea where we go from here, but after last week I’m more or less out of the prognosticating business (and as a nod to our bother Brian Josephs who told me in the middle of this week if I was wrong I need to address it, I owe the entire internet an apology for calling what I thought was Ken’s obvious demise). So to discuss the future of this insane and incredible series, as well as how exactly we’re going en route to the obvious conclusion with Greg atop his throne as the fresh count of Luxembourg, I invite, for the final time this season, the one shot voodoo guy who kind of holds this whole thing together, Jayson Buford. Ended up being quite a season Jay!
Jay: Hello brother. As I pointed out in the previous episode, criticisms of the show were based on the plot. A lot of that is binge culture. We no longer have the ability to watch all at once, and when that happens, you’re forced to go through things real time. It can be a letdown if – to you – the episodes could have been done in a shorter time frame than what was happening. If I had to change anything that Armstrong does throughout the season, I would have put the first episode and the second episode as one.
Once the season stopped being about Kendall vs. Logan and the aftermath of Ken’s shocking speech at the end of the second season, it became the best event television show since Mad Men though and I am grateful that we got to watch it as a family. The acting, which all year has been the best there has ever been, was in rare form in this finale. Every actor has such range, including Snook and Culkin who were specialists before the season began but now do some disciplined work within their characters. It’s not a show concerned with making you like it, or whether you feel like you know the character. It simply is empathetic, relatable, and unnerving because the writing is the best on television and the spectacle is Shakespearean, rendering every character like a foil or a tragic hero.
Succession is a show about demons, and what happens when those begin to come to light slowly but surely. This episode – while undoubtedly heartbreaking if you’re invested in the siblings – is a reckoning for the Roy kids. Kendall’s vehicular manslaughter and manic depression, Connor’s want to finally feel love in his own home, Shiv’s lack of love for her husband, and Roman’s inability to get a hold of his sexual depravity is smack dab in the middle of every move, tic that the character has, and the man at the center of the daily who holds their fate in their hand. What a towering finale from a show that has become the epicenter of TV culture on the internet and beyond. What says you, Beame?
Abe: So yes, everyone but the most hardened contrarian cynic I think has to double back and acknowledge many of us were horribly wrong. This season was backloaded, and lulled us into a false sense of complacency before absolutely flattening us with its final third. But can we talk nuts and bolts of the acquisition? Because at the moment it’s bothering me like Mattson sleeping on the floor because he can’t have the world’s greatest mattress.
So what’s wild and really against character, but possibly a recognition of the shifting sands of markets and capital, is Logan is capitulating to a market value powered by a few idiotic Tweets which took advantage of a rumored deal with Waystar – and those then turned GoJo into a company evaluated as more valuable Waystar. I’ll briefly play four-dimensional chess and try my hand at an English major deciphering post-modern stock evaluations, and wonder aloud, is this a commentary on the illusory value of companies that is no longer tied to any real world return, but perception, as is the case with Tesla? I have trouble figuring out what Logan sold for (It’s $5 billion, but is that just his return, what the kids get, do the kids get anything?), are the kids protected, at least financially? It seems wholly un-Logan to take a momentary shift in market cap and undercut the position he’s guarded like a knife in the mud for decades, but now he’s a sell-first pragmatist?
It feels like for the show to continue, at least with this dynamic, there’s a punch being pulled. Logan’s instinct is to double down and re-fortify. This GoJo deal can’t be so simple and straightforward. Is Logan basically going to take himself off the board? Are we going to see what a meritocracy looks like with GoJo’s tech infestation of Waystar? Did the kids fuck themselves by “not trusting Logan” before trying to play the trust card, which they couldn’t have possibly ever considered? I’m lost.
Jay: That is not why the kids fucked themselves. They were always going to get fucked. Although through this season he had Logan and Ken hanging below a cloud that could create Hurricane Sandy, Tom told Ken as much in Virginia when Waystar Royco/ATN started winning the war handily.
When they went into that meeting after Ken’s confession and with Shiv on the phone with Laird, Roman realizes that finally his siblings have his back in a way that makes sense for his future (plus, I think even Roman – the least self-serious person on the planet, knows that he took it a little too far with Gerri last episode). Roman has so much to lose: He embraced fascism, he bullied his brother, and continued being a slime ball. What has happened to the kids feels like parallels that we forgot to talk about. Tom, bringing up Nero – who killed his wife by pushing her down the stairs – turned out to be the scene that best exemplifies how confident the writers are while writing this show.
Everything they think is going to happen at the end is lightly talked about in the beginning of the season, as if I already know what they are going to write when they’re brainstorming. The humiliation was perfect tonight, but what’s truly impressive is the blueprint was drawn from the beginning. Greg’s choice to go with Tom was all but sealed when you realize that he started off the season in Rava’s apartment, where eventually Ken started to treat him just like everyone else has: like a leash. Wambsgans, although he frequently makes Greg uncomfortable – lets him in on every move and every feeling he has. That’s enough for the Egg to make the move with him.
Abe: Don’t forget Tom also was ready to allow Greg to hang his sin from his tree with an agenda, possibly the only pure and innocent gesture this show has ever offered us, which now obviously is paying back strategic advantages in spades. I guess my question to you would be: what does the world look like next season if the kids are under Tom? Is Greg going to be his evil henchman torturing the kids from on high? How does this dark Tom turn look? Will it be unwritten and erased like other seemingly devastating and world altering plot points as quickly as it occurred?
Jay: Similarly to Kendall last season, something tells me that Tom made this move with no thought to it, and on a whim. The right play is probably to roll with the children, but seeing that he no longer trusts his wife and thinks that nobody in the family wants him around anyway, he goes with Logan, one of the few characters who has treated him with any kind of dignity this season. It’s a tough move for Tom to do this though – one of those deals where you better hope you’re correct. Shiv, seems to know what he did considering her body language. Her sink to the floor being a level of gut punching we haven’t seen her react to in the entire series. What do you make of Shiv?
Abe: Yeah, I mean it was her ultimate betrayal, her worst nightmare, her just desserts. All the unfair shit she’s piled on her husband, she always considered as an accessory below her, has bitten her in the (bite your covetous tongue) ass. It’s again, nearly a direct quotation of Kendall fucking his own ambitions with his car ride into the country for drugs at the end of season one, of Rome’s dick pic last episode. This show is going to find ways to draw and quarter the kids for showing even remote weaknesses. Although in this case, all three are glaring, and understandably crippling.
But Mattson. I mean if you gave me odds going into this season with an announced cast list, Skaarsgaard would’ve been my last choice for 6th Man of the Year, and yet he may have just walked onto series regular. There’s something I love about Ken being the architect of this deal, tech-eating-legacy media, an antisocial squirmy algorithm with arms and legs taking over for a martini and steak dick on the table asshole like Logan. Are you prepared for a season in the Skaarsgaard-verse? Are we going to walk this back in the Season Four premiere at Connor’s wedding? Where do you see this heading?
Jay: I’m not a huge fan of Skaarsgard. Not yet at least. He’s a talented actor, an unnerving man with an intimidating physicality to him that has played out in shows like Big Little Lies. He doesn’t quite have that same level of presence here and I wonder if he is being used incorrectly. Where I see this heading is a different story. Anything can go down, but I get this overwhelming feeling that, for the first time, despite treating everyone else as cattle still, finally the siblings are not doing that to one another, sans Connor. If Shiv, Roman, and Ken can finally see eye to eye – or be in cahoots long enough to begin having a healthy relationship – then they have a chance of getting through this together.
The show tells you that has never happened. When Ken makes his confession, it is in Roman’s first nature to begin working jokes, because he was trained mentally to do so and has a hard time taking anything seriously. Somehow, that was Ken’s first real moment of a smile all season. Roman is a jokester but that’s him, and some well-written jokes about how long it took to get a drink is what Ken needed to begin to have a bit more of a pep in his step. Despite him hating himself and what he did, he finally was able to tell his siblings – whom he genuinely loves – just how he feels on a daily basis.
They answer the call, for the most part, holding him and telling him that he is with them. Ken is the one who handles the moment of Logan letting the kids know that he has made a deal with Caroline (who increasingly gets more evil by the season) with the least amount of shock. He’s been here before and he knew he was going to get fucked. It was Roman, who wanted to show his Dad the love and loyalty that he had for him, who has the hardest time understanding what is going on. What do you make of Roman?
Abe: Yeah, it was Roman’s deflowering and devastation – not just with Logan, but Gerri, always the consummate survivor –who goes flat and by the book, just as she did with the vote of no confidence. This is where you can really see his spine ripped from out his back. I think any sort of hope that there is anything awaiting these characters besides further disappointment and devastation is a utopian and naive wish, but I respect your youth, and capacity for still believing in utopian and naive possibilities.
But it’s 4 o’ clock in the morning in New York, and as we’re writing I’m only accumulating questions and losing gently sketched answers I thought I had, so why don’t we approach our final thoughts on this season, as well as our hopes and dreams for the next.
I think it was an obvious masterpiece. A challenging and expertly constructed double black diamond trail that knew exactly when to throw us the slopes and slaloms. I assume next season will also hold us firmly in its grasp as a culture, as one of the last cultural products we all have to tune in for at the same time and discuss the same night as a collective, but maybe this next one will fail where season three succeeded, and this will be the final moment we have for some time that in this landscape, with our attention so thoroughly divided and atomized, nothing will again approach the glee, the thrill, the high wire act of content living up to astronomical, impossible expectations. The week we all spent debating if Kendall was dead, the Jeremy Strong profile, the timing and crescendo of it all, just absolutely fucking perfect. It just ended, and I already miss it.
What I would implore armchair critics, ourselves included, is next season, whenever it arrives, please just let it breathe. Let’s be as patient and generous as this show is, before we start slinging dirt on its pine box, as we were so eager to do this season. I think this show has earned our respect, and the benefit of the doubt. And as a final sign off Jay, I just want to say it’s been an absolute pleasure doing this with you, and I hope we find ourselves back here, wading into the water with these monstrous and wretched, beloved casualties of legacy late capitalism next season. Goodnight sweet ladies, good night, goodnight. I leave the final words to you Jayson.
Jay: It’s been a pleasure. This was a communal experience. We live in a cynical world, where like the Roy family itself, we can’t seem to agree on what we want. To congregate every Sunday and watch this show, where people are backstabbing, teasing, yet begrudgingly loving one another is exactly the show that Americans deserve. And the age-old take that we’re watching bad people is trite but true. But the beauty of watching something together is in the memes being shared, theories being tweeted, and wine being drunk at the same volume as Wambsgans would.
Succession is peak event television that you throw extravagant parties for. We have a deceptively long time here on Earth, but if you take precious moments like every Sunday night on HBO Max for granted, then you can miss the moments that lift your soul out of your body or take your breath away. Friendships have been gained from this show. The fanbase works inverse of what the show is. The moments are lived in together. Our family is not isolated. In fact, it’s become appointment viewing in a unique way; everyone sharing their opinions and views on the plot dynamics on Twitter. It’s a fun show to be a part of.
The writers definitely do know how big the show has become on social media, but by no means are they writing it for the no context succession account. They’re just good at what they do, with a level of snark and savviness that endeared the show to people of all stripes. The hardest thing to do in art is to be great and ubiquitous. People like different things, have different sensitivities, and often go against the grain. Succession has avoided that.
Like Mad Men before it – despite you not being in the same social structure as the characters – it contains universal truths of the mind, body, and soul, which makes you relate or empathize with the darkness or the internal strife that you’re seeing on camera. Whether it is Jeremy Strong’s pants being caked with dirt, Roman’s face breaking down when Logan tells him that his love is not enough, or Shiv buckling to her knees, this show is something specific, personal and universal; it holds a mirror up to one and all. The Roy family is our id, and watching them is the biggest communal bond we have in American culture right now. We can’t wait to see you back here next season, to do it all over again.