Max Landis is so stupid that he thinks Succession had an unbelievably happy ending, and if you read this, you might go stupid mode and agree with him.
Alas, Connor Roy.
Connor, always presented as the most objectively warmhearted and open of the Roy siblings, spent four seasons developing a romantic subplot with high-price call-girl Willa. At first a controlling business arrangement, the pair’s connection organically blossomed into an a kind of friendship, which grew into a partnership, that then, finally, on the eve of their wedding, appeared to become, if not fully romantic, something adjacent to that.
Only to be reduced to a throwaway joke in the final episode. She doesn’t love him, I guess. Connor will just always be a little bit on the outside of everything, apparently, no matter how much heart or money he puts into anything.
It hurt my heart to see Connor go out this way.
The rest of the Roys, however, got exactly what they needed, even though it wasn’t what they wanted.
And here’s the hot take I think even the creator of the show might disagree with: I think Succession had an unbelievably happy ending.
Jesse Armstrong has gone on record as being in the Vince Gilligan camp of psychological essentialism. He believes that people are not capable of real, meaningful change. Vince Gilligan has said much the same.
In specific, Armstrong says:
“Some people would see growth. I’m on the fence about human beings, and people certainly change what they do. But in my view, people’s essential selves don’t change. In a way that’s what makes drama and choices interesting. So I would say the circumstances…have changed.”
So let’s get this out of the way: I love Jesse Armstrong. I am, in the most direct sense, a fanboy. Succession, sure. Succession. It’s great.
But Four Lions. My god, Four Lions. I’ll never forget going to the live screening of it at the Cinefamily theater on Fairfax. Armstrong spoke, he was hypnotic. In The Loop; I mean, what’s better? It’s like cinema dark chocolate, it’s just so vigorously and unapologeticly its own thing.
And then Peep Show. The brilliant hilarious thrilling chilling disturbing moving heartbreaking skin-crawling soul shaking Peep Show, in my opinion one of the top ten best television comedies flat out no argument.
But…He and I don’t appear to live in the same world. Or at least, our artistic outlooks are fundamentally different. I don’t know his life. I don’t know if he’s spent any time in recovery programs, or therapy, or group therapy, or mental hospitals or psych wards.
I have. A lot of my life, in fact. I have been around dysfunctional people at every economic stratus as I undertook the strange journey of being born into an entertainment industry family, to being a mentally ill teen, to being a successful adult professional, to the experience of a public shaming and everything that comes after, to my life now.
And oh man are you fucking joking? People don’t change? What? It’s like: go outside for ten minutes. It’s only ever people who say “people don’t change” who don’t change.
Everyone else? It’s a fucking whirlwind. I know addicts who will never relapse. I know trainwrecks and abusers who hit rock bottom or came close, healed their shit and have now been in happy relationships for years, or even decades. I know nice people who became awful after a series of experiences, I know kind people who became cruel and then, after years, kind again.
Friends, enemies, family members, strangers, coworkers, collaborators, every single person I’ve encountered is living a story, fighting a narrative in their head alongside the actual events of their life. And in key moments, that internal narrative can and does change. It’s often shifted by context and circumstances, but then those fade and the change doesn’t.
My mom changed her whole life, got bat-mizvah’d and got a PhD to come out of a decade long depression at FIFTY. My dad learned to admit he was wrong in arguments somewhere PAST SIXTY FIVE. My sister sticks up for herself now, all the time. These changes are monumental.
It just goes on and on.
One of the biggest jerks I know did ayahuasca once and now he’s been a completely nice guy and been happier about life for 8 years.
Although he does talk about ayahuasca a lot. Maybe too much. But I suspect he’ll move past that too.
It’s from this perspective that I write, because it’s what I really believe about the world, what I’ve experienced even in myself. And it’s from this angle that I internalize art. “Good” and “Bad” people exist. But they’re rare as hell, and everyone else, the majority of us, we’re just doing our best.
Jesse Armstrong might’ve intended to imply certain things with each character’s final scenes, and repeatedly refers to the show as a “tragedy,” the billionaire set’s answer to King Leer. But in my opinion, he left too much on screen to call this ending anything close to “tragic” for any of the Roys.
In fact, I found it kind of delightfully optimistic. Let me help you break your brain the way mine is broken.
As recently as last season, Kendall was trying sincerely to break completely free from Waystar Royco. In fact, though it’s “who he was supposed to be,” huge chunks of Kendall’s life are implied to actually not have been in pursuit of the CEO role at all.
Kendall will undoubtedly come back to his siblings, and undoubtedly be honest again about the death of the waiter. It’s who he is. This absurd Michael Corleone TikTok Succession Rap Edit KLR personality that came out in the last few episodes read to me as a trauma response.
Let’s be clear about who we’ve been shown Kendall is again and again and again at his heart: a damaged addict with an unmedicated mood disorder and a painful relationship to his father that disrupts his life.
But Kendall isn’t a killer. He is a survivor.
As heartbroken and seemingly destroyed as he is in the final shot of the finale, he’s again by water. The symbol not of death, for Kendall, but survival. How many times has this man faced the water, literally and figuratively, in moments of defeat…
Only to spring back stronger than ever. You all might see a broken man trapped in dark repeating pattern. I see a guy forced into another turning point in a long series of turning points. I see an absentee dad who just got an actual reality check he desperately needed.
Perhaps you’re the sort of person who judges people based on who they are at their worst, like when they’re in caught up their addictions or abuse dynamics with their parents or screaming at their ex like a lunatic in the street less than a week after their father died.
But Kendall, a big part of Kendall, never wanted to be Logan. That was a key element of the show. And now, that LOGAN part of him has been definitively smashed, shattered and destroyed. He thought he would die. He didn’t.
He has been, to use the language of the show, “disabused” of the idea that he needs to be Logan to be happy.
Kendall will be fine, and possibly better than ever. This absolutely needed to happen. It wasn’t an execution. It was an exorcism.
And you know what? He’s gotten over worse.
Can an argument be made that Roman never actually wanted to be there? Would you allow it, or would you point to all the times he said he wanted to be CEO, fought for it, and attempted to emulate his father?
Surely it can’t be denied that Roman has almost zero interest, or perhaps actual zero interest, in the day to day running of the company. Whenever there was any kind of big decision to make, Roman either chickened out or fucked it up, and occasionally both. Roman is a child, an actual little boy who can’t exist properly in the adult world.
And now, smiling down at a martini, realizing it was all meaningless, he realizes: he doesn’t have to. Roman has been freed to be the silly billionaire prince he loved being for years, but now, with an undeniably stronger bond to all three of his siblings.
This current war will pass. I suspect Kendall will eventually get an apology for the “they’re two randos” and the “you have no children.” He will, because he’s gotten apologies for equally vicious statements before.
Roman loves Kendall and Shiv deeply. He just does. I don’t care if someone behind the scenes thinks “people don’t change,” the show tells the story of the siblings growing closer in adulthood. This won’t be the end for them.
Similarly, his epiphanal “we are bullshit” statement to Kendall is what will allow him to go forward. We saw the weight lift from his shoulders in that final shot.
Shiv chose love. She chose her child. She chose Tom.
The internet discourse about this has been so far off from what I experienced watching the show that I felt like I was being gaslit. People talk about how Shiv “betrayed Kendall and is now trapped in a loveless marriage.”
Maybe I’m a romantic, but I can’t understand how anyone could think that given the context of the show, and even the context of this season. Shiv Roy and Tom Wambsgams are fundamentally drawn to each other, and both deeply in love. But whereas Tom is capable of expressing this healthily, Shiv is incapable of true vulnerability for more than a couple seconds at a time.
This season, the gloves came off. Tom has been deeply wounded by Shiv’s various betrayals, and Shiv, supposedly so shattered by Tom’s power move in the end of Season 3, was reinitiating flirting with him by EPISODE 4 of this season, to the point that she repeatedly gave him avenues to apologize and then he actually, really did.
More fights after, but more things that had gone unsaid. And yet, when she saw him struggling last episode, she invited him back into the apartment, and her life. You have to ignore what Shiv says and look at what she DOES.
Bitey, indeed. It’s how she loves. A limp handhold in a limo on the most emotionally intense day of her life does not indicate the marriage is loveless or doomed. In fact, now that everything’s out on the table, love is all they both have left. She kept his child. She reignited their relationship every time she could sense it burning out.
She has started to fight for this.
And in my experience, that means everything?
This is a couple where the tension roiled under the surface for 4 fucking seasons, coming out in heartbreaking bursts as Tom struggled to love Shiv in a way she could accept, and Shiv fought it with all her heart, until, in her crippled weird little way, she loved him back with the ultimate sacrifice of ATN.
Yes, Shiv is giving something up. But she’s also, undeniably, starting something new. Sure he said “I don’t know” when she asked at the beginning of the episode. Just like she said “no” when he invited her into the car. Yet there she was.
Tom said “maybe” on the phone. But putting his hand out was a definitive, if perhaps unromantic, YES. And Shiv putting her hand in his, while it may not have been roses and song, was an undeniable OH THANK GOD.
After everything that happened this weekend, your definitive “THEY’RE GONNA BE MISERABLE” proof was them not holding hands tightly enough the WEEK OF THE BIGGEST FIGHTS IN THEIR WHOLE RELATIONSHIP AND HER FATHER’S DEATH?
Sorry, to me their faces said “sad,” but their hands said happy.
Shiv isn’t Caroline. It’s just what she’s afraid of. Tom isn’t Logan, and he never will be. If their relationship can change and evolve this much in a week, I think the next ten months of settling into new roles, having a baby, and RUNNING AN EMPIRE TOGETHER is going to be pretty fucking good for them, because there is zero, zero chance Tom is going to be let her cut all the way out. He’s in love with her.
And she’s finally ready to try.
I think, perhaps, it means something that the only happy, functional romantic relationship that springs to mind in any of Armstrong’s work is between two terrorists.
Perhaps you read this, and thought me naive. Maybe you think I missed something, some piece of subtext or some “well actually” interview with Armstrong or Mark Mylod.
In my eyes, they may have set out to create a tragedy. But if that’s what they meant to do, it’s certainly the most hopeful tragedy I’ve ever seen.