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'Succession' has ended — and the point was never who was going to win

Shiv (Sarah Snook) has made her choices — and she will live with them.
HBO
Shiv (Sarah Snook) has made her choices — and she will live with them.

The gist of it

Matsson's alliance with Shiv fell apart, thanks to Greg sniffing around a meeting where Matsson revealed his actual choice for the new U.S. CEO: Tom. Kendall managed to get the siblings united in a plan to kill the GoJo deal and anoint him CEO, but when it came right down to it, Shiv chose not to go along. GoJo bought Waystar, Tom became CEO, and Kendall wandered aimlessly through New York while Roman had a drink.

Shiv

Always bet on the woman named after a knife.

At the beginning of this episode, we seemed to be headed for a showdown between Kendall and Shiv, with her trying to push the GoJo deal through (and become the new boss) and him trying to stop it (and become the new boss). But while Kendall and Shiv both went to their mother's place in the Caribbean in search of an absent Roman, Matsson decided to court Tom for the top job instead — arguing, among other things, that because he wanted to have sex with Shiv, he certainly couldn't hire her. As Shiv and Kendall argued and Roman tried to stay out of it, Greg, who managed to use a translation app to eavesdrop on Matsson and Oskar, called Kendall to give him the news: Shiv was out.

Lukas Matsson (Alexander Skarsgård) prevails in the GoJo deal.
David M. Russell / HBO
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HBO
Lukas Matsson (Alexander Skarsgård) prevails in the GoJo deal.

Greg relayed that information to Kendall. And Kendall used it to get Shiv and Roman on his side. The three of them agreed that they would fight together to stop the deal and make Kendall the boss. But once they got back to New York and Shiv found out that Matsson intended to pick Tom, things grew complicated. And once she got to Waystar and actually looked around at Kendall taking over her father's office in anticipation of his rise to power, she started to look queasy. And when it came right down to it, with the vote tied and her as the deciding vote, she walked out. Kendall and Roman followed, and she broke the news — she couldn't do it.

People will have a wide variety of explanations for why Shiv went this way. Maybe she felt bad about Tom and felt she owed him something. Maybe she couldn't get past the many things Kendall has done to her, from the time he played Nirvana's "Rape Me" over the Waystar loudspeakers while she was speaking, to the fact that he and Roman spent this entire season cutting her out and pretending they weren't doing it, to the fact that Kendall and Roman tried to hand the country to Jeryd Mencken. Maybe she believed she had a better chance of retaining a connection to the company through her husband than through her brother, and she had realized those were the only choices. Maybe at some level, she knew Kendall really wasn't qualified.

Plus, as she mentioned, he killed somebody.

The car crash at the end of the first season, in which Kendall drove while high and wound up killing a young waiter at Shiv's wedding, had been lying dormant all season since the fateful scene in Tuscany after Caroline's wedding, in which Kendall confessed to his siblings. They never spoke of it, never poked him with it — even when Shiv and Kendall were seemingly getting very frank during parts of "America Decides," they didn't touch on it or even refer to it. So it seemed like maybe it would just never come up again. But ... didn't it have to come up again? If this was going to become a bitter showdown between Kendall and Shiv, it's hard to believe she wouldn't mention it. And eventually, in the heat of the moment, she did.

Kendall (Jeremy Strong) got. so. close.
/ HBO
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HBO
Kendall (Jeremy Strong) got. so. close.

In the end, Shiv and Tom are in their car together, not quite together — she lays her hand on top of his, but doesn't exactly hold it. Still, with a baby coming, it seems likely that they will find their way back into a stable marriage that might eventually offer Shiv a way back into Waystar. Shiv is a woman who has had limited choices her entire life. Her father offered her the top job and took it back. Her brothers cut her out. Her husband doesn't even think she should have children, because she's incapable of love. She has made her choices. She will live with them.

Kendall

In a sense, the story of Succession has always been Kendall taking over for his father. In the early going, this was literal; it meant taking over as CEO of Waystar Royco. It always seemed like the point was the yes or no question: Would Kendall take over?

He got agonizingly close. Seeing Jeremy Strong playing the confident, smooth side of Kendall in the first part of the board meeting was so painful, because it seemed entirely too easy. It couldn't be this easy. Kendall saw trouble potentially brewing with Roman and fathered him, embraced him, comforted him to try to make it okay. He even brought his one loyal friend Stewy back into the fold to support him — to be "Team Ken."

For a fleeting moment, the sibs were all on "Team Ken."
/ HBO
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HBO
For a fleeting moment, the sibs were all on "Team Ken."

It wasn't enough. He briefly had his brother and sister in his corner. They were warm and funny together at their mother's house, and we got one last look at Kendall in the water after all the water imagery with him over the course of the series, as he managed to have his greatest moment of triumph while sitting on a dock, up out of the water at last, with his brother and sister swimming to him.

They even got a very nice moment together remembering their father, watching him have a rather normal dinner party with friends on a tape Connor played while they went around dividing up Logan's possessions. Truly, Kendall was as happy in this middle section as we've ever seen him. It couldn't possibly last.

Roman

The only sibling who looked a bit happier at the end of this episode than at the beginning was Roman, for one simple reason: He accepted who he was and who his siblings were, and he wasn't fighting anymore. He told Kendall that Kendall is [garbage] and Roman is [garbage] and Shiv is [garbage] and all of them are [garbage] and that's just the way it is. Not serious people, in the words of their father. And having said that, having slipped out of the Waystar building at last and found his way to a bar where nobody wanted to engage him in any drama, he had a martini. And he smiled.

Roman (Kieran Culkin) was the only sibling who looked happier at the end of the episode than the beginning.
/ HBO
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HBO
Roman (Kieran Culkin) was the only sibling who looked happier at the end of the episode than the beginning.

There's a good argument that Kieran Culkin has been the MVP of this season if I were forced to pick only one, in part because he has slipped so effortlessly between genuinely sympathetic moments like the funeral and horrible ones like his behavior on election night. That ugly side of Roman surfaced again when he decided to tell Kendall that Shiv is the real bloodline and Kendall's kids are fake — or at least that's what Logan used to say. This, unsurprisingly, provokes the physical fight that gives Shiv enough space to get out of the room and cast her vote to let the company go to Matsson.

Tom

Tom did not gain the leadership role at the end of the series because of some masterstroke, some brilliant gambit or crazy chess move. Tom gained the leadership position by being a reliable suck-up who never thought about anything except following the power wherever it led. He has no principles, he has no particular skills — but because he also has no pride, he has always been willing to be a literal yes man. Yes I will betray my wife, yes I will go to prison for you, yes I will accept this position you're offering me specifically because you know I will not bring anything to it. Yes I will keep it from my wife and the mother of my child that you are backstabbing her, and yes I will take advantage of that backstabbing even though it is in part happening because you are an odious, sexist creep. Yes, yes, yes.

Tom (Matthew Macfadyen), right, followed the power wherever it led.
/ HBO
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HBO
Tom (Matthew Macfadyen), right, followed the power wherever it led.

Tom has navigated this world perhaps better than anyone, precisely because he was not raised in it. Tom understands how these people think about power, because he had to learn that in order to survive. He wasn't born with advantages, other than his malleability. He is the closest thing this world has to a scrapper, despite the fact that his biggest worry about prison was forgetting to burp the toilet wine. When there are no principles and there is no loyalty, there is only humiliating yourself in whatever way you must — playing boar on the floor, sitting calmly while a sexist devalues your wife — to obtain, or to keep, your position. And in the end, perhaps you too will end up as a figurehead, elevated by someone with no faith in you, who may well grow even more grotesquely rich while gaining not an additional ounce of respect from anyone.

Good finale?

The best finales feel both surprising, like you wouldn't have thought of them, and like they were always destined to happen. I think this passes that test.

It's exactly the right finale for this show, I think. Kendall's ultimate failure seems like it has been inevitable. And this season has heavily focused on men whose appalling treatment of women goes unchallenged. So it makes perfect sense that Siobhan's eventual realization that if you are in a man's world, you might as well pick the man you can most easily work with was the realization that kept Kendall from the throne. Kendall told Shiv once, with quivering lip, that it would never be him, and he was right.

The point was never who was going to win. The point was always that these people would inevitably destroy themselves in the battle, which they did. The best finales feel both surprising, like you wouldn't have thought of them, and like they were always destined to happen. I think this passes that test.

A few other notes

Greg (Nicholas Braun) lives to suck up another day.
David M. Russell / HBO
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HBO
Greg (Nicholas Braun) lives to suck up another day.

  • There have always been Greg partisans who believed Greg would take over the whole company in the end. That always seemed like it would be a stretch (even Matsson would probably not entrust that kind of money to somebody who was a barfing mascot maybe a year and a half ago). It always seemed like at some point Greg would betray Tom, which he sort of did. But perhaps because Greg found the gumption to slap Tom right back when Tom attacked him in the bathroom — maybe the most shocking moment of the finale? — Greg lives to suck up another day. It helps him that Tom has not another friend in the world, as far as we know.
  • I greatly appreciated the callback to Lawrence Yee, the Vaulter owner Kendall was facing off against in the very first episode, and whose business Kendall mercilessly took apart on his father's orders. Kendall had a few of his old demons come back, as if to remind him and us that he has left quite a trail of destruction.
  • All hail the great Harriet Walter, who has been so brilliantly enigmatic as the mother of Kendall, Shiv and Roman. You get perhaps the kindest version of her here, just wishing her kids would come and visit and stop arguing.
  • It was a little bit disappointing to get very little of Gerri in this episode, but the brief glimpse of her packed a real punch. Whatever else is going on with Roman, seeing Gerri activates him emotionally, whether it's because he disappointed her, because she's angry at him, because he still has a crush on her, because he's still turned on by her, because he still wants to be mothered by her ... it is perhaps one of my only regrets that we don't get another season for that dynamic to play out.
  • What can I say? It's one of my favorite shows ever. Brilliantly acted, written, directed ... and a lot of fun to talk about. Thank you for reading.
  • Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Linda Holmes is a pop culture correspondent for NPR and the host of Pop Culture Happy Hour. She began her professional life as an attorney. In time, however, her affection for writing, popular culture, and the online universe eclipsed her legal ambitions. She shoved her law degree in the back of the closet, gave its living room space to DVD sets of The Wire, and never looked back.