"Succession" Series Finale (Review & Analysis)

ἦθος ἀνθρώπῳ δαίμων

Jun 9, 2023
Dimitris Passas

The (sub)title of this article (in Greek: ἦθος ἀνθρώπῳ δαίμων) can be translated into English as follows: the destiny of man is his own character, a man's character is his fate (Heraclitus fr. B119) and this laconic fragment by the Ancient Ephesian philosopher provides the best synopsis for the battle of power between siblings as portrayed in Jesse Armstrong's epic soap/tragedy/comedy/family drama Succession. The show's last episode, titled “With Open Eyes” -a reference to John Berryman’s poem “Dream Song 29”- was aired on May 28, 2023 and marked the end of an era for international television drama while offering the much-anticipated finale for the main characters' arcs in a way that is worthy of the series reputation as one of the grandest productions of all time. The final episode, featuring the runtime of a feature film (90 minutes), had all the ingredients that deem Succession an unparalleled TV phenomenon, or as Lucy Mangan writes in The Guardian: "Everything that has ever been depicted, hinted at, joked about, every betrayed alliance, moment of vulnerability, coverup over the past 40 hours we have spent with these despicable, broken, compelling people is here." The show run its full circle with the final shot being a familiar one, Kendall staring at the waters of Hudson River this time, pondering on what follows after a devastating concluding voting session in which he forever lost the opportunity to become the CEO of the family's enterprise, Waystar Royco. As we read in Variety: "This isn’t the first time Kendall has stared into the abyss, and it won’t be the last."

The tenth episode of the fourth and last season follows that of Logan's funeral that etched to our memories for Roman's last-minute emotional meltdown that rendered his obituary speech an impossibility. His child-like wailing pierced the minds and the hearts of the viewers who saw the mask of the idiotic jester slipping and exposing a well-hidden more human side of the -very frequently nonsensical- character. Roman, bruised and bandaged following a clash with protesters in the streets of New York in the previous episode, finds safe haven in his -frigid and heedless- mother paying her a visit to her estate in the Caribbean and soon Kendall and Shiv join him as the critical voting about the future of Waystar is due to come soon and both of them are eager to elicit their frivolous brother's support. Kendall and Shiv are on opposite sides as the latter has made an alliance with the Swedish tech mogul Lukas Matsson, head of Gojo, who aspires to absorb Waystar in a deal that involves billions of dollars as well as lies, deceit and backstabbing that keep altering the direction that the story takes, deeming predictions a hopeless endeavor. During the course of the show's four seasons and 39 episodes, most viewers have become fond of one of the three contenders, Kendall, Shiv, and Roman with some even supporting the "dark horses": Tom Wambsgans or even the semi-retarded beanpole Greg. It should be noted that according to DraftKings’ predictions, compiled by director of race and sportsbook operations Johnny Avello, illustrated that the odds favored Shiv at 5-2. Below I cite the list with the hypothetical odds from DraftKings':


Waystar Royco sold (2-1)

Shiv named CEO (5-2)

Kendall named CEO (3-1)

Roman named CEO (8-1)

Connor named CEO (14-1)

Tom Wambsgans named CEO (20-1)

Marcia (Logan’s third wife) named CEO (30-1)

Greg Hirsch named CEO (50-1)

Logan’s first wife named CEO (100-1)

Thus, the creator and the screenwriters of the show, never ceasing to amaze their audience with their adamantine script and multi-layered dialogue -"a snappy, nihilistic delight" as Naomi Fry aptly describes the multi-faceted interplays between the characters- opted for the outsider, eventually appointing Tom as the new CEO in the finale of the last episode. Nevertheless, it is nothing like even a Pyrrhic Victory for Shiv's husband as it is made crispy clear in the dialogue that he has with Matsson. The Swedish entrepreneur tells Tom that he will be nothing more than a "pain sponge", a strawman who will have to deal with the fallout created by the changes that the new boss has in store for the future of the conglomerate. Thus, the position of CEO in Waystar, the ultimate prize in the show's universe, is eventually nullified, stripped off its status and influence, in a highly ironic plot development that puts the whole series under a different light, especially for those who want to have a re-watch of their favorite TV drama and de novo assess the subtleties and nuances of a superb saga. After their visit to their mom's place, the three siblings agree to a common stance towards the matter of selling or not-selling Waystar to Mattson. The latter betrays Shiv at the final moment, leaving her with no other choice but to support Kendall's position against the sale. If Kendall wins the voting, he will be the new CEO as the three siblings agree in unison.

The situation mirrors the one that we witnessed in the first season when Kendall again believed that he had the necessary votes to finally dethrone his father. Then, it was a case of a traffic hold-up that hindered Kendall from being present in the voting conference room and the final result was a major disappointment from him as it was his own brother, Roman, who backed down fearing Logan's rage and as Mark Twain used to say "History doesn’t always repeat with this series, but it rhymes." In her article published on Variety, Alison Herman explains that the circular narrative is a necessity as "forward momentum is almost impossible, as “Succession” demonstrates by returning to the same conflicts, setups and comic beats ad nauseam. The show was a boomerang that always hit its mark." Naomi Fry in The New Yorker also observes "that the show should be enjoyed not as a propulsive drama but as something closer to a sitcom: a near-static, tragicomic tableau in which characters rarely change, and situations end up repeating themselves with only very modest variations." There are several plot events that mislead the audience regarding the possible identity of the new CEO, thus in the last scene, that takes place at Waystar's conference room where the company's executives are about to decide about the firm's future, we are fairly certain that Kendall is about to achieve redemption, acquiring the coveted status of the new boss and leaving his troubled past, scarred by drug addiction and even manslaughter, behind him once and for all. However, it is Shiv, another surprise as one would deem more possible for Roman to renege as he has done several times before, that has a last-minute change of heart, sending Kendall directly to hell. In the last heated discussion between Ken, Roman, and Shiv, the Jeremy Strong's Hamlet-like character exclaims in desperation: “I am like a cog built to fit only one machine”, only to receive Shiv's curt riposte: “I just don’t think you’d be good at it." or as Dominic Patten in Deadline writes " Nine words that effectively cement the siblings’ fate and Logan’s legacy."

The season's ultimate episode echoes the work of the great William Shakespeare and most prominently his plays "Hamlet", "Macbeth", and "King Lear" with the latter being closer to Jesse Armstrong's series in terms of main storyline and the other two sharing significant resemblances in regards to characterization. There are more affinities that Succession shares with the Shakespearean work and I will attempt to summarize these kinships based on two axis: 1) Power & Language and 2) Family legacy and its ills. Let's begin with Kendall, a clearly hamletesque protagonist, not least because of his unresolved daddy issues with Logan, always chasing his tail in his eternal quest for salvation, that is how he sees becoming the head of the Waystar conglomerate. His love-and-hate relationship with Logan and the passive aggression always looming in the background make him frequently feel insecure and uncertain as to what he ought to do in order to achieve his goal. Kendall is a tragic character, in the true sense of the word, and his arc is comparable to the works of the great novelists and playwrights of the western canon. Shiv, especially during the final episodes of this last season, enters a kind of "Lady Macbeth" mode with her lack of scruples becoming all the more palpable -and to my eyes irritating- but she is "punished" by the eleventh-hour sellout by Lukas who chooses Tom as the next CEO instead of her.

There is a general consensus regarding the sublime use of language in Succession which makes even the most despicable insults sound somewhat iambic in a show that features the best dialogue that I've ever encountered in a television production in the course of my whole life. More than that, language is elevated within the show's milieu as inextricably linked with power. It is only the powerful who have mastered the proper use of words in any given context while the weaklings always seem to have trouble articulating their thoughts, think of Greg for example. Words are so much more than "complicated airflow" as Kendall describes them in the first episodes of season 1. There is one dominant rule that permeates the behavior of all the characters in the series and it is purely Shakespearean in its nature: If you do not have any power over your language, then you don't have any power at all. Logan, a pure symbol of absolute dominance, uses the language fiercely, as he is always in charge of things, barking commands to those around him. However, in the few episodes in which he exhibits early symptoms of dementia and loses his train of thought as manifested in his fathomless attempts at structuring some simple sentences, the whole company faces its most difficult times while his children become all the more disoriented and shaky.

As far as the -true- fatherly legacy is concerned, the only inheritance that Logan left to all of his children is that of a traumatic childhood, bathed in material abundance but entirely lacking the love and emotions, so critical in structuring the kids' personalities as they grow up. In the final shots of the tenth episode, each one of the three contenders embark on their own journey towards the future: Kendall, as I already mentioned is looking more lost than ever with his gaze steadily fixed on the waters of the river; Roman is sitting in a bar alone sipping a martini and the most observant viewers will discern a half-smile in his face with the writers leaving the interpretation of this facial gesture open to the viewers; finally, Shiv gets in a big company SUV along with Tom, the two of them carrying scorching wounds from harsh things said to one another after their -unofficial- separation that occurred due to the events that signified the ending of season 3. As you see, there is no "happy ending" for any of the main characters, something that should be expected from a production that never, not even once, relied on the clichés of TV drama with its saturated staples and tropes. The power of Succession comes from the rich storytelling, the witticisms and playfulness of the interactions between the characters, the poignant music score by Nicholas Britell (you can find the soundtrack of season 1 here and as for season 2 click here), the exceptional performances by both the leads and the actors in the supporting roles, the production's high values, the spectacular optics and cinematography... I could write a lot more but for brevity's sake I will stop here.

The denouement doesn't provide the redemptive exodus that each one of the four Roy siblings (please don't forget Connor!) would have desired for themselves, with the creator and the screenwriters staying faithful to the storytelling format and character outlining as initially introduced in the first episode of season 1. From then on, the screenwriters consistently kept on building upon these solid foundations until the very end, thus conveying the aura of of an uninterrupted continuum which never departed or deviated from the tone that was dictated by Jesse Armstrong. I was intending not to write anything about the actors' performances as I've covered this subject in my reviews of the previous seasons, the whole cast delivers top-notch portrayals of multi-dimensional characters in highly demanding roles. However, it would be a great omission if I didn't make a special mention to Jeremy Strong whose presence in this show marks the peak of his career so far, and proves his immense talent and flexibility as an actor. Strong incarnated a tough-to-play character, as Kendall evidently was, and he managed to nail the combination of indignation and vulnerability, creating an extraordinary persona with whom I instantly identified and rooted for, even from the beginning of the show's first episode, a man constantly balancing on the edge of love and rejection by his father, the patriarch Logan Roy.

Apart from the unyielding battle for power that lies at the core of the show's main plotline, Succession can also be watched as an extravagant soap opera, a comedy of its own distinctive kind, an erudite character study of the multiple agents that constitute the group of the basic players of the story etc. The series finale not only didn't disappoint the fanatics of J. Armstrong's fictional creation, but rather cemented the stature of the show as one of the most significant pieces of modern television productions, regardless of genre. I have to add that it was a rather adroit choice to "kill" Logan in the beginning of the season (episode 3) as it allowed the narrative to focus on the overarching premise of the story that is about the four sibs and their eternal conflict as to who will finally wear the crown of Waystar's undisputed boss or as Naomi Fry puts it: "the relentless game of musical chairs that the Roy kids were playing—an eternal wrangle for a seat of power that, at their father’s yank, was always just slightly out of butt’s reach." I think that the conclusion of Succession is bound to enthrall the show's largest than large fanbase as they were many who fearfully anticipated a kind of fiasco akin to the ending of other eminent TV series such as Game of Thrones, Dexter, Sopranos and others that failed to imagine a dignified ending to their stories and character arcs.

On a farewell note, there are no moral lessons conveyed from the creators of the series, a treacherous pitfall that could ruin the whole character of the show, with the screenwriters proving that they hold their audience in respect, avoiding didacticism in any form. If you haven't yet watched Succession, then it's about time that you do yourselves a favor and indulge in an experience that you will never forget. BUT, be warned: you MUST see the show in order, beginning with episode 1 of season 1. It is essential in order to grasp the subtleties and nuances of the characters as the story is developing over the course of 4 seasons.


Season 4
TV Series
Jesse Armstrong
Directed by
Mark Mylod ... (13 episodes, 2018-2023) Andrij Parekh ... (6 episodes, 2018-2023) Shari Springer Berman ... (3 episodes, 2019-2023) Robert Pulcini ... (3 episodes, 2019-2023) Adam Arkin ... (2 episodes, 2018) Becky Martin ... (2 episodes, 2019-2023) Kevin Bray ... (2 episodes, 2019-2021) Miguel Arteta ... (1 episode, 2018) S.J. Clarkson ... (1 episode, 2018) Adam McKay ... (1 episode, 2018) Matt Shakman ... (1 episode, 2019) Lorene Scafaria ... (1 episode, 2021) Cathy Yan ... (1 episode, 2021)
Written by
Jesse Armstrong ... (created by) (39 episodes, 2018-2023) Jesse Armstrong ... (written by) (11 episodes, 2018-2023) Susan Soon He Stanton ... (staff writer) (9 episodes, 2018) Susan Soon He Stanton ... (written by) (3 episodes, 2018-2021) Alice Birch ... (story editor) (10 episodes, 2019) Jamie Carragher ... (staff writer) (9 episodes, 2021) Jamie Carragher ... (story editor) (1 episode, 2023) Georgia Pritchett ... (written by) (4 episodes, 2018-2021) Tony Roche ... (written by) (4 episodes, 2018-2021) Jon Brown ... (written by) (3 episodes, 2018-2021) Lucy Prebble ... (2 episodes, 2018-2023) Lucy Prebble ... (written by) (1 episode, 2018) Jonathan Glatzer ... (written by) (2 episodes, 2018-2019) Will Tracy ... (written by) (2 episodes, 2019-2021) Anna Jordan ... (written by) (1 episode, 2018) Mary Laws ... (written by) (1 episode, 2019) Ted Cohen ... (written by) (1 episode, 2021) Miriam Battye ... (executive story editor) (1 episode, 2023) Nathan Elston ... (staff writer) (1 episode, 2023)
Brian Cox, Jeremy Strong, Sarah Snook, Nicholas Braun, Matthew Macfadyen, Peter Friedman, Alan Ruck
Production Companies
Gary Sanchez Productions (season 1-2) Project Zeus (season 1-2) Hyperobject Industries (season 2)
10 ep/1h

Join the Discussion