HBO’s brilliant Succession wrapped up Season 2 last night, an episode called “This Is Not For Tears”, with the show’s storyline spun on its axis in the episode’s final moments. (A terrific finale – HBO already ordered up Season 3 around the time Season 2 began, earlier this summer.)
During the course of Season 2, we witnessed the struggles and drip-drip-drip emotional paralysis of Kendall Roy, the eldest son of media titan Logan Roy (Brian Cox – still entrenched as cinema’s greatest Hannibal Lecter). Logan’s character is seemingly based loosely on Rupert Murdoch, his right-leaning, anti-elite, anti-New York Times ATN media company based on FOX. The Roy family is both obscenely rich and horribly dysfunctional.
The other lead characters of the show, a wonderful ensemble, includes Logan’s only daughter, Siobhan Roy (played by Australian actress Sarah Snook), also known as “Shiv” (a more-than-appropriate name for a character in a show of back-stabbers that hilariously skewers the rich, any semblance of the loyalty of family and friendships tossed in the can, lust for power, greed, and capitalism run amok).
Series creator and writer Jesse Armstrong won the Emmy for Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series last month, but are we watching a deep, dark comedy with acid wit or Greek tragedy?
Hardly a ratings driver for HBO (unlike the behemoth-like Game of Thrones), although heading up, a series like this is vital for the subscription-based HBO as a sign post for artistic excellence. With shows as great as Succession, you keep the lights on until the creative juices peter out.
As well as Shiv, there are sons Roman (Kieran Culkin, who really shone in the finale, his character usually a wise-cracking degenerate and biblically-sized screw-up, often given some the show’s wickedly great comedic lines, now showing depth of character, even a little love – as much as these characters can share – for his brother Kendall, as his downward slide seemingly picks up steam), and the unfortunate Connor (played hilariously by Alan Ruck, the one Roy scion who takes the award for Most Likely to Have Been Adopted, spending most of Season 2 putting together a delusional run for the U.S. Presidency, while nearly bankrupting himself financing the Broadway play Sands, written and produced by his ex-escort girlfriend Willa, played by Justine Lupe).
But back to those final moments. Kendall, whose vulnerabilities are played to such perfection by Jeremy Strong (doing so much without words), yearning for his father’s acceptance, dolefully subservient now to his father’s every whim, a meek, dutiful yes-man after a failed coup and run at the top job in the family business in Season 1, finally breaks the shackles of his father’s brutal overbearance and bullying.
Kendall has been on the edge of a breakdown all season long – either back and forth between cocaine addiction or worse, suicide (Episode 4 ended with Kendall solemnly walking to the edge of the top floor deck in a Manhattan office sky tower, where Waystar Royco, the family company, is based, contemplating ending it all, only to find his father, knowing the emotional morass his son was mired in, had a glass barrier wall built around the perimeter of the terrace).
The final episode is centred around the gathering of family and company lieutenants aboard a private super yacht (see below) in the Mediterranean to determine who will get tossed under the train and be the face of the cruise ship disaster (decades of sexual assault, harassments, death and cover-ups under cruise division leader, the late Uncle Lester McLintock, known to the family as “Mo” – as in “Mo-Lester”), including possible jail time.
The company’s major shareholder wants an inner circle head on a crystal platter, and actually are gunning Logan himself, but the patriarch disingenuously shares that to the family, knowing the kids, in-laws, and senior management types, all scared crap-less of him, will beat down any such suggestion. Logan deftly manipulates the room, always pushing the family buttons when it suits his purpose to re-position, even salvage his empire – an uprising from shareholders in part powered by a hostile takeover bid spearheaded by Kendall’s former buddy and financier Stewy Hosseini (Arian Moayed).
Kendall and his father have a tete-a-tete, where the old man tells him it’s Kendall that needs to take one for the team – he must be the “blood sacrifice” he referenced to Shiv in Season 2’s penultimate episode. (“It hurts, but it plays,” Logan tells Shiv beforehand.) Asking his father if he was ever seriously in his plans for the CEO job, whenever Logan stepped aside, his father tells him: “You’re not a killer. You have to be a killer.”
Seemingly willing to take the bullet for the family, Kendall steps in front of a media horde (his father watching on TV), camera flashes blazing, to dutifully read a statement written for him by the inner circle’s PR head (Dagmara Dominczyk), prepped in talking points. Then comes the plot twist – the killer emerges, and Kendall tears up the statement, placing the blame for all of it solely on the shoulders of Logan. To suggest that Logan, a man who micromanages his company, would have no knowledge of the crimes and malfeasance, is ridiculous, he says. “My father’s reign ends today,” he says.
The final shot was a slight smile on the face of Logan, watching the events play out, a grudging sign of respect for the son whom he thought didn’t have the stomach for this elite level of corporate nastiness. This opens up a whole stream of potential narratives for Season 3, as Kendall drops the gloves with his father (We also loved the kiss on his father’s cheek as he leaves the room after their final meeting).
One thing about this excellent show, once you think you have these characters figured out, you don’t. It’s a series for our times – we all love to laugh at rich people making idiots of themselves. That’s a reason why it resonates with its growing fan base – in the hands of Armstrong’s savage humour. Here’s to more Rolls Royce-level car wrecks in Season 3.