SPOILER ALERT! This post contains spoilers for the series finale of HBO’s Succession.
It’s the end of an era. Succession wrapped its final season on Sunday, revealing once and for all who would prevail as the new CEO of Waystar Royco.
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Episode 10, titled “With Open Eyes,” opens with Kendall (Jeremy Strong) still trying to tally the board votes needed to block the GoJo acquisition, Shiv (Sarah Snook) collaborating with Lukas Matsson (Alexander Skarsgård) to seal the deal, and Roman (Kieran Culkin) nowhere to be found. But there are still a few chess moves left to play before all is said and done. While Shiv and Kendall track Roman down at their mother’s estate, Matsson is back in New York striking deals of his own. Over a candlelit dinner, he offers Tom Wambsgans (Matthew Macfadyen) the U.S. CEO position. When Kendall catches wind of the deal from Greg (Nicholas Braun), all hell breaks loose.
“Tom being the eventual successor, that had been something that I thought was the right ending for quite a while,” creator Jesse Armstrong said during the episode’s edition “Controlling the Narrative,” which aired after the credits. “Even though he’s not exactly the most powerful monarch you’ll ever meet, his power comes from Matsson. Those figures who drift upwards and make themselves amenable to powerful people are around.”
Once the Roy siblings learn of Matsson’s new plan and Shiv realizes she’s lost Matsson’s loyalty (or never had it to begin with), the tide seems to shift for a moment. For once, they finally are on the same page as they begin to formulate a plan to keep the company in the family. Over a late night snack in their mother’s kitchen, they laugh and play as they anoint Kendall the next CEO. It’s a moment of levity and innocence that could only be followed by immense tragedy, director Mark Mylod explained.
“There was an odd emotional tension. The counterpoint to that was the lovely scene we called ‘Meal Fit For A King’ with that sense of recaptured innocence. Kids just being kids, no matter what their income. Everything seemed possible, and yet…” he said. “My understanding of the show has always been that it’s a tragedy. Therefore, every moment of hope is so cruel, because we’re just waiting for that shoe to drop and waiting for their essential nature to be exposed. To break your heart again.”
The final moments of the episode take place back inside the board room at Waystar Royco, where all of this infighting began four seasons ago. For a moment, it seems that the siblings have the votes to keep the company out of Matsson’s hands. That is, until Shiv changes her mind. When Kendall and Roman realize their sister is about to let the company slip away, the fragile bond between the siblings crumbles yet again. This time, in plain view of the entire board room.
“As with Tom’s betrayal at the end of Season 3, everything was always working toward this idea of Sarah’s character of Shiv ultimately sabotaging herself and sabotaging the deal,” Mylod added. “Jesse — I hate this expression — stuck the landing with this climactic showdown, if you like, between the three siblings. The final ripping off of the bandaid to expose that terrible, terrible truth put so simply by Roman — ‘We are bullsh*t’ — was so heartrending, and yet so inevitable. And good tragedy should feel inevitable, shouldn’t it?”
While this is where the show “loses interest” in the characters, as Armstrong puts it, their lives continue. The GoJo acquisition and Tom’s ascension to the top will have various impacts on Kendall, Roman and Shiv.
“In a reductive, brutal way, Roman ends up exactly where he started. He is that guy still. And he maybe could have easily been a playboy jerk with some slightly nasty instincts and some quite funny jokes. He could have stayed in a bar being that guy, and this has been a bit of a detour in his life, I’d say,” Armstrong said. “Shiv is still in play, I’d say, in a rather terrifying, frozen, emotionally barren place. But she has got this kind of non-victory, non-defeat. I mean there’s gonna be some movement there. There’s still a lot of that game to play out, but that’s where we leave it, and it feels like it’s going to be hard to progress for them emotionally given the things they said to each other. For Kendall, this will never stop being the central event of his life, the central days of his life, central couple of years of his life. Maybe he could go on and start a company…but the chances of achieving the sort of corporate status that dad achieved are very low go, and I think that will mark his whole life.”
As for making the decision to end the series here, he explained that he didn’t have any “emotional sadness” once the path became clear.
“It feels very perverse to end it, because it’s been incredibly meaningful. I love this cast. I love working with the crew [and] my fellow writers. I’ve had some of my happiest times in my career being in the writers room and working with them,” he said. “I like the family vibe we have around the show and the relationships we have. But one of the few things I’m able to be really tough about I think is protecting the show and its integrity.”
As this era of his life’s work comes to a close, Armstrong admitted: “I don’t feel like I’ll be able to write anything as good as this again, because I just feel like it’s an arena that I’m so interested in, and the group of people who’ve made it have been so talented.”