We often leave the ultimate result of an episode open in case you are reading this as more of a review than a recap. However, this is the finale, so, first, everything is climactic. Second, if you’re reading anything about the finale before you’ve seen it, you have to expect spoilers. So, as declasse as this might be, we’re gonna shout SPOILER ALERT here and if that somehow affects you, enjoy the episode and see you soon.
While the title of the finale of this beloved show about despicable people is “With Open Eyes” — or face eggs as Caroline calls them (is there any wonder this family is messed up) — there’s no shortage of blindside hits in the endgame of the Waystar-GoJo deal. The Roys’ expectations are certainly subverted. And the youngest child is arguably surprised by her own vote. Even the “winner” among our gaggle of main characters has no idea what’s coming when he is anointed.
Most of the episode itself is devoted to what might turn out to be the last happy rambles of the Roy siblings. Well, it’s the Roy siblings minus Connor, but at this point that fairly well goes without saying. While all the insane corners of the merger double- and triple-crosses are being smoothed (theoretically), Shiv gets a call from her mom. Roman is hiding out. Later, Kendall finds out and calls because he cares deeply… I’m just playin’, he wanted to make sure Shiv does not get the inside track and steal Roman’s vote.
At first, when you don’t see Roman at Caroline’s villa and you remember that we last saw Romey curled up and being stomped on while continuing to bait protesters, you wonder if Logan’s youngest boy is in a coma… or worse. But when Shiv arrives, it is revealed that other than a shiner, he is barely the worse for wear. If anything, he looks as relaxed as he’s been in awhile, while lounging in a comfy t-shirt. It’s a t-shirt that’s being sold in real life as Succession-ware, btw, and I’m not saying I don’t want it. In any case, we have clear-thinking Roman (well, clear-ish thinking) who might be the most self-aware of the bunch.
While that version of Roman (“Vacation Roman”) will emerge at a key point later in the episode, at this point he’s still prone to reviving belief in the Roy family future of Waystar-Royco. And when Kendall finds out that Shiv is being pushed out by Matsson as floatable American CEO of Waystar-Gojo, he is drawn back to the intrigue. When that also sinks in to Shiv, in the form of a press release where her name has been changed to [XXXX], the Roy siblings present a united front to go to war to save their family legacy corporation.
How did they find out? Well, let’s rewind a bit to the most fucked up dinner “hang.” As Cousin Greg sits vacant-eyed in the background, Tom and Matsson have the conversation the former has been fearing. In that style of endless fretting we’ve become accustomed to after four seasons, Tom whines Eeyore-ly to everyone who will listen about how he’s surely getting the axe. Does he belittle our favorite cousin while doing it? Is this your first day here?
And when Matsson asks Tom to justify his existence, it’s amazing Tom did not have a heart attack right at the table. He clearly knows his number is up as he stumbles through a justification of his position. While it’s all corp-speak, he does express his value as ably, honestly, and as deeply as the kiddie pool that is Tom’s depth of character can provide. It’s the most starkly courageous spineless blathering you’ll ever hear. Tom is, at his essence, a worrier who is also the ultimate company man. He’s the perfect “pain sponge” as Matsson puts it.
In fact, he’s so much the company man that he barely bats an eye when Matsson tells him the ultimate creepy reason he’s blocking Shiv. Lukas Matsson is the sort of prick who does not break affectation while telling his future CEO that he’s getting the job because he wants to have sex with said CEO-elect’s wife. And while there is a moment of Tom swallowing his pride, it’s barely perceptable as the realization that not only is he not getting fired, but is being promoted to CEO. Whatever the reason, the man who has made it his mission to serve, has empty suited upwards again. Two weeks ago he looked like the villain who gave the country President Mencken. Now he’s this close to being the dark horse who wins the Succession games. Talk about a bracket buster.
However, he still almost fumbles it when he just has to taunt Cousin Greg one more time. As the group go to have shots, Matsson and his right-hand man Oskar start talking shop in Swedish. Cousin Greg makes his wisest move to date, surreptitiously opening the translator on his phone. He quickly learns they are cutting out Shiv. The indomitable Mr. Hirsch scuttles swiftly to the bathroom to tell Kendall he has the biggest news, hoping it will steal him the promotion.
After hashing out their differences, the Roy siblings decide to combine forces. They weren’t quite thorough enough in the hashing out, as will become clear. While they all want the throne, Kendall is the one person to present to lead. But first, the episode has to set the tone to make what is inevitably coming all the more heartbreaking. Like Tom and Shiv a few episodes ago, the trio of Roys are now in a revived honeymoon phase. They gleefully play like children in the kitchen, creating a “meal fit for a king.” They are chummy AF. So you know this level of manic bonhomie cannot last. And as with Tom and Shiv, it’s doomed to crash violently and spectacularly.
But they walk into the Waystar-Royco offices chipper and as a solid force. They have the votes and know it. Even Tom is worried that his hold on the ring is slipping when he learns that Greg has given up his position to his fam. This leads to one of the most satisfying bathroom slapfights you’re ever gonna see as Greg finally gets a lick in on his fellow Disgusting Brother. If they had only voted in a different order.
The first crink in the armor comes when Roman sees Gerri. You have to wonder if Frank and Karl knew to make sure she was prominent when Roman arrived. But all of his missteps boil to the surface, and Roman starts to revert back to curled-up fetus level neuroses. He eventully composes himself and comes into the room to vote. There’s 13 board members and Kendall gets everyone he expects to vote for him so it’s six-to-six when the endgame falls into Shiv’s lap. While it’s a democracy and any of the earlier votes could have torpedoed Kendall, when it comes her term to grant her eldest bro the throne, she Romans out of the room. She can’t do it. She flees to another conference room. But it’s hardly a private room. It’s a glass house of sorts and everyone gets front row seats to the family breakdown.
And it is BAD. Kendall could have had a constructive argument for why he should be king of Waystar-Royco. He made a compelling case just hours earlier in the safety of his family home. He had wins at Living Inc. and at the funeral. However, as Kendall has proven throughout the show, when challenged he goes full fluster baby and lashes out. He did it to Rava when she wisely wanted to take the kids out of the rioting city. He does it in the boardroom when Shiv’s vote is on the line. Instead of giving reasons why he’d be the best CEO, he simply yells “mine.” He then proceeds to whine about how it was promised to him. He also plays the manipulative toxic partner, threatening to kill himself if he doesn’t get his “bauble.” It’s truly a pathetic display.
Even if that tack had somehow swayed Shiv, it was clearly over, as all the rest of the board would have seen it. As with Roman at the funeral, fair or not, you don’t come back in business from showing that level of raw emotion. Roman kind of drives that home when he calmly observes that they truly shouldn’t have that power, echoing their dad’s earlier sentiment that they are not “serious people.”
Shiv does bring up the elephant in the room of Kendall’s secret vehicular homicide. However, by that point it’s more of a red herring as much as Shiv wants to use it to justify her action, it’s just not about that. She’s not morally opposed to Kendall; she just doesn’t want to see him win. And she certainly does not want to be the vote that coronates him. Kendall’s not wrong that she’s voting against her interests. She does not care. She wants no part of the family squabbles any more.
Kendall tries to go back to the board room and beg them to vote on his side, but it’s over. The board has voted and Tom is holding court at the fringe, deciding the fates of all around him. He does not spare Karl or Frank, even though the latter essentially pushed the merger over the line. Tom does recognize the value of Gerri, however. He does need someone whose primary interest is to the shareholders. Tom “forgives” Greg his betrayal, although that’s more about power games and knowing he has at least one person who won’t laugh when he tries to outwit them. He also slyly calls over Shiv and lets her know she can join him in the limo in 20 minutes when she leaves. She’s not going to go after all that….
Nope, there she is. Her face is grim. It is also resigned. And when Tom puts out his hand for her to take, while she won’t give him the entire grip, she does submit to his wish and rests the back of her hand on his. He’ll take it. We could make something of her being overlooked for her husband, the ultimate mediocre white guy. And there was certainly misogyny leading to her corporate demise. That said, Shiv was not all that great at any of this either. And as is pointed out to the rest of the strivers, why did she want such a miserable position in the first place? However, part of her own mediocrity was certainly pre-ordained by her withholding father, so who knows how to feel.
In any case, Shiv and Tom remain together for now. Unlike what they yelled at the election pre-game party, they very much deserve each other. It’s for all the wrong reasons, but they are a twisted fit. Roman is last seen drowning his depression at a bar. Kendall walks to the water, with Dad’s (and now his) bodyguard Colin sadly trailing behind. Much was made of bathing in public waters as a metaphor. His father loved to dive into the wild raging waters. Kendall jumped in the ocean after his mini-triumph with the Living Inc. made him seem a made man. Now he’s a few feet away from the Hudson River. It’s that close, but he can’t quite make it in. Just like all of his life.
So, that’s the way Succession ends, without any bang, sans whisper, but with a slow burn and a cavalcade of human sadness.
- Over the weekend, a woman at a baby-naming company went viral with a unique theory. Tom Wambsgans’ unusual surname has one significant predecessor in culture, and that person was famous for one brief shining moment. In 1920, Tom Wambsgans became the first and only person to execute one of the rarest plays in baseball in the World Series: an unassisted triple play.
- While I clocked the name — the real life Wambsganss (spelled with another “s”) is steeped in my family lore as my grandfather was at that historic game — the idea it had significance did not even occur to me. However, it had crossed the minds of many fans going back to the first episode.
- Executive producer Frank Rich has denied this, observing Tom’s name was decided long before any plot was laid out. Further creator Jessie Armstrong is British and unlikely to be a baseball fan.
- That said, whether by design or not, a second Wambsgans(s) indeed took out three players at one time. And Tom was as bewildered as anyone as he tagged Kendall, Roman, and his own wife Shiv with a ball he had very little idea would wind up in his mitt. My grandfather said Bill Wambsganss was just as flabbergasted during his triple play.
- So, clearly my sympathy for Tom was misplaced. He was always going to be fine, although I’m still pretty stunned that as much as there was a winner of the Succession games, it was Mr. At Your Service. I should probably not have been.
- Ultimately, it was Shiv who sold Matsson on Tom as the perfect CEO for his purposes while rolling through what she thought were his weaknesses. She really should have noticed that he always said “American CEO” and not Shiv’s my CEO.
- Either creator Jesse Armstrong or someone on the writing staff loves old school (and we’re talking old old school) hip-hop. A few episodes ago, Lukas Matsson ended a conversation with a reference to the Rock Steady Crew. During the finale, Shiv taunts Kendall as “Cicero at the Wheels of Steel” combining the famous ancient orator with DJ and innovator Grandmaster Flash’s term for his turntables. Oh, she’s also certainly needling her brother with a callback to his ill-fated birthday rap for Papa Roy.
- We fell a bit hard for the Cousin Greg possibility. In truth, we knew it would be a bit too much fan service. That didn’t stop us from wanting the gangling idiot to stumble into the crown. However, given that this is the route Tom went, and that he’s Tom’s only underling at heart, he could still wind up in power. For all the protestations that Matsson hates the Cuz, I suspect that Matsson sees him as either useful idiot or mascot. Mostly, he likely views CG in the same manner he views Tom. Cousin Greg is Tom’s Tom now, after all.
- He was pretty smart to fire up the Swedish interpreter on the sly. OK, they were never going to make him 1/4 of a “full quad,” but he was pretty close to being in great shape.
- And who was actually the “princess” on the document that Frank and Karl unearthed. Was that a complete misdirection? Were they calling Kendall “the princess”? Was it a similar homophobically-tinged barb at the more effete Roman? Or was it the most likely candidate Shiv? It would make her fate all that more tragic if it was meant to be her all along, but for a betrayal that at this point, the cackling Waystar elders might not even remember.
- Beyond all the disappointments, we have to remember that it’s not like any of these people end up destitute. The Roy siblings just closed a deal netting them hundreds of millions of dollars. Despite all the wealth and comfort, they are miserable. Kendall could theoretically turn his life around and embrace the lack of pressure that comes from the pursuit of a heavy crown-sporting head. He could spend time being a better father, or simply making sure Mencken does not win. However, we all know he’s not going to do that. This is a tragedy and tragedies don’t leave room for post-credits redemption arcs.
- One of the all-time best elegies on the death of the American Dream come in Michael Moore’s final lines from his gamechanging debut documentary Roger & Me. It seems apropos as we come to the end of this series: “As we neared the end of the twentieth century, the rich were richer, the poor, poorer. And people everywhere had a lot less lint, thanks to the lint rollers made in my hometown. It was truly the dawn of a new era.” We’re now 23 years into the 21st Century (34 years since that movie). The rich have gotten even somehow more rich, the poor, incredibly, poorer. And Jessie Armstrong has that same satirical eye for the folly of hope that there’s something salvagable about this great experiment. However, neither Moore nor Armstrong would have created what they did without believing that there could be some light at the end of the tunnel, even if Succession‘s ending is beyond bleak. Whether or not things will change, Armstrong still has created something special. And thanks for four seasons of wonderful television. It’s been fun, if sometimes depressing, writing about its final episodes.
- Good night, not-so-sweet Roy princes (and princess): And flights of sad limo rides drive thee to your rest.