Review by Brian Lowry, CNN
(CNN) — The Roy children took a pleasant swim together in the “Succession” finale, which turned out to be a perfect prelude to the show’s parting demonstration of the perils of swimming with sharks, and the fact their imperious father left shoes, ultimately, that they couldn’t fill. In the process, fans were treated to laughter, tears, and two of the lamest fights in the history of television.
All the key relationships played out in ways that felt perfectly attuned to where the show had been building over the course of this extraordinary season, down to the haunting final shot of Kendall (Jeremy Strong) alone and from behind, an echo of his father without the status and family around him. If that met skipping a few things – like spelling out the fate of the presidential election – the show’s focus has always been on the family dynasty, with politics and democracy as just one of the precious resources in which it traffics.
The finish was set up in part by the realization that spouses Shiv (Sarah Snook) and Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) were both willing to throw the other under the bus in order to gain the US CEO title at Waystar Royco from Lukas Matsson (Alexander Skarsgård), with Shiv dismissively referring to her husband and the father of her yet-to-be-born child as “a highly interchangeable modular part.”
For his part, Tom sat through an uncomfortable (OK, cringe-worthy) exchange with Matsson regarding Shiv before readily agreeing to serve as his “front man,” the smiling face of the company who would operate as a figurehead in order to secure approval of the deal.
Matsson’s betrayal ultimately helped put the three Roy siblings in alignment in an effort to block the GoJo acquisition, paving the way for a scene in which they laughed and joked together in their mother’s kitchen that recalled the bond they shared, fleetingly, after their father’s death. Those interactions represented one of those occasional moments when you realize they’re siblings with lifelong ties, despite having grown up in the most dysfunctional and ruthless of families.
Then there was Greg (Nicholas Braun), using his translator app in order to learn that Matsson intended to betray Shiv, peddling that information in the hope of saving himself, and triggering the first of the night’s two hilariously awful slap contests with Tom.
Everything built, ultimately, toward the boardroom meeting to approve or vote down the GoJo deal, which featured a sequence packing the kind of punch that went far beyond any of the tepid fisticuffs between Kendall and Roman (Kieran Culkin): Shiv balking at anointing Kendall as CEO, flatly telling him, “I don’t think that you would be good at this,” before reminding him that he was responsible for the death of the young waiter that called back to the first season.
Realizing he was having his victory – and his “birthright,” as he put it earlier – snatched out from under him, Kendall blurted out, in almost childlike fashion, “I am the eldest boy!”
Yet if “Succession” has demonstrated anything over its four seasons, it was the fact that the Roy name only went so far, and the children could never fully escape their father’s oversized shadow.
That left Shiv and Tom in what appeared to be an alliance of stated convenience – with all the affection of a corporate merger – and Kendall a broken man, rich, surely, but never to rule his father’s kingdom or anything close to it. As he had said, in a rare instance of self-awareness, “I am like a cog built to fit only one machine.”
Unlike some great TV shows, “Succession” didn’t have to stick the landing to cement its legacy. But it did anyway.
That didn’t mean answering every unspoken question, perhaps, but delivering a level of drama and humor that stands among the best shows ever made. And as Tom observed early on regarding Shiv, series creator Jesse Armstrong clearly doesn’t like to fail a test.
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