Which Sociopath Will It Be?
Succession: Season 4
It's been a while since we last talked about Succession, and that's largely because I really don't feel like my thoughts on the show evolved substantially that another review of the show really mattered. For me, as well acted as the show was, it was basically a show about terrible people being terrible. It was like a richer (as in all the characters are stupidly well off), less funny Seinfeld, and that show was all about terrible people being terrible (and I haven't bothered reviewing it here, either).
The weird thing, at least to me, is that the show evolved into something of a cultural phenomenon. It wasn't just the TV watching websites (like the AV Club that were discussing it, but other sites, and TV programs, and even papers that were mentioning it. When I saw four different articles about the show on Google News, all on the same day leading up to its finale, I had to pause and wonder just what everyone was getting so worked up about. This was the same show I'd watched, right? The one with the asshole stand-ins for the Murdoch family squabbling over an empire none of them were qualified to run, right? People liked this show?
But people did seem to get invested in this "epic" about a terrible family of overgrown children all wanting daddy's time, his money, and his power. End of the day, that's really what the show revealed (and had been revealing for four seasons): this people didn't deserve the life they had been given, and yet because they were rich and born into the life already, there was no way they would give it up. Hell, even as the show reached its end and many of the characters failed to get what they really desired, they still got to walk away with Billions of dollars in their pockets, all for being born lucky. Woe is them, right?
A lot happened in the last three seasons, but it all amounted to the same thing: patriarch Logan Roy (Brian Cox) nearly died (due to a stroke) and his kids had to step up and run the company, Royco Waystar, until daddy could get on his feet again. One son, Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong), felt that it was time for his father to step down so that Kendall could ascend to the throne. But Kendall is a petulant man-child who can't run his own life, and his father knew that. Once Logan was better, he fought off Kendall, even as the son attempted more than one hostile takeover, and Logan kept the reins to his kingdom.
From there he then dangled the power over each of them. Maybe he would let Kendall (second child of four) have the power. Or maybe he'd give it to the youngest son, Roman (Kieran Culkin), a high-living fuck-boy who never really wanted to be in power... right up until Logan turned his attention to Roman and the son suddenly saw the light. Or maybe it would be Siobhan "Shiv" Roy (Sarah Snook), the only daughter and the one everyone thought had the best head on her shoulders. Except for when she'd blurt out stupid shit and suddenly find her whole world burning down. Frankly, none of these people should have been anywhere near power as they all had the ability to self-immolate without even meaning to... and yet they all potentially could have been the one to take the crown.
What was interesting to me, going through this final season with all its twists and turns, was noticing how the show knew these people shouldn't be in power. The title, Succession, makes it seem like the show is asking the question of, "who will really be the one to inherit the crown?" But through ever episode we see the disappointment on Logan's face (at least until he dies early this season, finally), his realization that none of these people should ever wear the crown. He knew, they didn't, which was why at the end of the previous season he tried to sell the company to a Norwegian tech company, GoJo. His kids couldn't be trusted, so better to just make a ton of money and get out before they blew it all up.
I can appreciate that, and I can appreciate that the series took its time, telling an opulent and well acted tale while, all the while, revealing hoe petty and awful these people were. Frankly, it's a proper mirror of the rich, all of whom seem to feel entitled to what they have even when, most of the time, they don't really have any clue how to be real human beings. Watching a family like this get some real comeuppance is cathartic, in a way, at least for everyone that isn't in the upper one-percent.
With the show having ended, we should look at where the characters all ended up as that, in the end, was the point of this show. Who got to succeed in this game of Succession? (And, yes, from this point forward the article will be all spoilers):
Shiv: We start with Logan's daughter because, by the end of the show, she was seemingly in a position to play "kingmaker". She had a deal on the books with GoJo CEO, Lukas Matsson (Alexander Skarsgard), but then he betrayed her, choosing her husband, Tom (Matthew Macfadyen), as his American head of operations, not trusting Shiv for the role (or the power she'd claim). So she set herself up to choose one of the family since they could screw over the deal to sell Royco to GoJo, and she was going to put Kendall in charge... right up until the board vote, when she fucks everyone and chooses to sell to GoJo.
What this does is, one, it ruins Kendall's bis ascension. He's floored, ruined, and breaks down to be a petulant man-baby (you know, the character we always assumed him to be). By selling to GoJo, Shiv basically put Tom in charge of her father's company and... well, I don't think this is a bad call. He's the least awful, least petulant, most grown up of everyone there. Shiv also gets to have a finger in the power still because she gets it, vicariously, through her husband. If any of the siblings come out ahead, it's Shiv.
At the same time, though, she shoots her own chances of ever really having power. Instead of being the one in charge she's essentially reduced herself down to a trophy wife. She gets to hang onto the arm of power but she's proven she willing to stand aside and not be a leader herself. She's like her mother, the wife of power, but not the CEO she always wanted to be. Her legacy is that she's proven her father right when he ignored her for a leadership position because she was willing to ignore herself as well.
Kendall: Kendall falls the hardest of everyone this season. He goes from Co-CEO with his brother, Roman, to big dreamer potentially in charge of the whole shebang, crowned king (by his siblings), only to then see it all crumble away in a matter of minutes. He goes from the big dick king of Royco to a petulant child screaming at his siblings, "I'm the first boy!" (Which, no, he isn't, even if that was a qualification). He's a child who never should have been near power and that is clearly revealed.
Of course, he had the betrayal coming. The second the other two anointed him as soon-to-be CEO, he started acting like a smug douche to everyone. That alone was enough for Shiv to immediately start questioning what she'd done; if she hadn't betrayed him here, there would have been no checks on his power. But once the crown slipped from his hands he did reveal his true self: he hadn't grown at all, he hadn't change, and put right back in the position of having to beg for the power he should have proven he'd earned, he was the same Kendall we met all the way back in Season 1, Episode 1. He didn't deserve it.
That eaves Kendall as a guy with no power, no prospects, and no way to rebuild at this point. Oh, yes, sure, he has billions and he can do whatever he wants with his personal life. But will he? The show ends with him staring at the river, contemplating existence, and while the series creator says, "oh, he'll move on," I have my doubts. That lost shot, and he performance from Strong, seems to indicate that Kendall is five seconds away from throwing himself into the river. Ever since he was seven his father told him he'd get the company. Now he never will, and I think that has broken him. The only thing he wanted, the only thing he was "meant for", is gone. He has nothing left (aside from his family, and his home, and his billions of dollars, but that doesn't matter to him).
Roman: The show started with Roman as a blaze fuck-boy sending women dick picks and not caring about anything. If anyone got what they wanted it's Roman because now he gets to go back to being a blaze fuck-boy who doesn't have to live up to his father's expectations and can just coast on his billions while he revels in bad decisions. That seems like the perfect fate for Roman, the son he didn't want to achieve.
Connor: Left unmentioned in this review until now, Conner is the eldest son of Logan Roy, and the one kid not involved directly in his father's business. Instead, Connor had ambitions to be President of the U.S.A... and then stays in the election for too long to have any power or bargaining chips, this despite polling at less than one-percent. He only stayed in, really, because his newly married wife told him to, thinking somehow he had power. That leaves Connor also back where he started: an also ran who didn't amount to anything, living off his father's wealth while dating a woman (an actress) with no head for business who, deep down, hates him but wants his money. Whether he deserves that or not, that's what he's got.
Honestly, I think the big message of the show is that all of these kids just spent four seasons spinning themselves in circles, trying to live up to what their father wanted, which clearly he couldn't give a fuck, only to end up right back where they started. If they had all sat back, done nothing, and just been trust fund babies they would have ended up in exactly the same place they did before. Kendall would be sad he wasn't the best boy, Roman would be a party boy, Shiv would be in a loveless marriage she hated to a man who actually was in the Roy family business, and Connor would, well, be Connor. If the show has any opinion on the matter it's that these people can't change their fate. Ever.
And they're all vastly more wealthy than we should be. Damn it.