Succession had a bad finale

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  1. Thank you for your review! It gave me a sense of closure and made me understand why I was so dissatisfied with the ending.

    • Appreciate that! What frustrated you the most with the finale?

  2. I disagree with most of this. I didn’t read all of it. I’m typing this comment to avoid going to sleep. Why do you need likable characters? Why did you read Save the Cat and then write this review? Goodnight.

    • This was pretty funny. I didn’t say they needed to be likable. What in the article gave you that impression? And I haven’t read Save the Cat. Hope you slept well!

  3. I agree with the review in the main. Now that we can look at Succession as a complete work, I think it scores a B. It certainly had brilliant episodes and events, but the episodes building up to those events were often empty and boring. I think that at least 5 hours of the show could be removed and it wouldn’t diminish it. The Sopranos didn’t have to rely on will they/won’t they deal/no deal manipulation, it had a lot of stand alone episodes that really dived deep into characters and themes. The Sopranos, I have to say, was a lot funnier too. The characters were good in Succession, but not as developed as characters on better shows. Their actions were often not organic, and had to be explained at length afterwards. A flawed, but good programme, I don’t think it’s legacy will endure for too long. It don’t think it will bear up to too much rewatching and if something better comes along in the near future, it will be forgotten fairly quickly.

    • Thanks TBone! I still think it’s great and would recommend it to everyone. Just doesn’t make it into the top 10 the way I thought/hoped it would.

      Sopranos I thought kind of phoned in seasons 3, 4, 5. Introduce new character. That character causes problems. Get rid of that character. It happened in 2 and that’s okay because it’s the first time. But when it happens in 3 and 4…sigh. But the beginning and end of Sopranos is legitimately top tier writing. Whatever “low” points happened in the middle pale in comparison to how well the show ends.

      Yeah, the Succession characters. I think they’re developed. I just don’t think they go anywhere. Which is, to me, kind of the point of telling a story. There was just too little movement in the overall story and character arcs.

      • I couldn’t disagree more about series 3,4,5 of the Sopranos! The Sopranos was fairly unique in that it didn’t have to rely on cliffhangers, what-happens-next? writing. Ralphie proved to be far more than just Richie 2.0 and Tony Blundetto caused problems in a much different way that related to one of the root psychological causes of Tony’s mental health problems. Not to mention the brilliant, timeless stand alone episodes like ‘Whoever Did This’ and ‘Pine Barrens’ where we could take a step back and explore more about the characters. It has never been bettered in my opinion.

        • Hey hey! They definitely have their appeal! I think the thing that kind of bothered me the most was that I didn’t like how self-contained each season kind of felt? The things that are an issue in season 2 are kind of wholly contained to season 2. The things in season 3 are mostly contained to season 3. It’s a bit too neat and tidy. Season 4 with the money troubles really bothered me. They’re introduced in the first episode out of nowhere, kind of resolved by the end of the season, then never brought up again. My favorite shows tend to build between seasons a bit more than that. Like The Wire or Better Call Saul. I don’t think Boardwalk Empire has the highs of The Sopranos, but I feel like how Boardwalk Empire handled its story was how I wish Sopranos had. With all that said, 3, 4, and 5 are still great and better than most other TV. I just don’t think they’re as top tier as the beginning and end of the show.

  4. If the final episode had been really unexpected and brilliant, maybe we wouldn’t even be analysing it this way. But has it been left in the air for a further series? So many unanswered questions. Or a prequel to answer the questions about how everyone got here and to line up with that intriguing title sequence? Why wasn’t the last episode focussed around the reading of the Will with devastating consequences – with the obvious loss of the company as a sideshow? Why is Shiv supposed to have won with an empty marriage ahead of her? And why are we happy that all the Roys have no purpose in their lives. What happens next or before? The episodes where it all came alive was Connor’s Wedding and The Funeral after that… there is no meaning and a wasted opportunity for a clever, testing and ultimate spine-tingling finale.

    • Hi Sally! It does feel open-ended in a way that it leaves that impression, right?

      I would have been happier if the funeral was the finale. Crazy as that is. Because I think if you end with all the intrigue still on the table, it at least has some energy left. How we ended just took the wind out of my sails in terms of interest in what was happening.

      In terms of why are we happy that the Roys have no purpose. I guess it’s some of that joy in seeing people who were pretty horrible not win. The rich don’t always get what they want. And just because they’re wealthy, it doesn’t mean they’re happy. I don’t think the show even wanted us to like these characters. That was part of its challenge: we’re going to humanize these awful people so you, at times, sympathize with them, despite how awful they are. I’m not mad at that as a concept for the finale. But really don’t like how they went about it.

  5. Couldn’t agree more. Thanks for concisely articulating, almost word for word, the troubles I’ve had with the show since season 3. I think I even tweeted how tiresome it was becoming watching Logan promise this kid, then the next, then the next, only to renege, then the kids unite, divide, unite divide. One thing you didn’t mention that really blew the ending for me, was Shiv’s weird, conveniently dramatic, plot-devicy change of heart. It’s like the cliched moment in movie weddings when the preacher asks, “if there be anyone here who objects ….” I literally 10-seconded fast-forwarded through the Big Fight in the conference room. But overall, the show left me feeling deeply dissatisfied. I think in the serial narrative TV hall of fame, it even got edged out of the team picture.

    • Very tiresome. I kind of touched on that in mentioned Shiv and Tom. Shiv essentially had to choose between supporting her brothers and losing Tom or supporting Tom and losing her brothers (maybe). Initially, in her anger at Mattsson, she was ready to crown Kendall. But if you re-watch Kendall in the boardroom during the vote, he’s being very arrogant. And when Roman votes yes, Kendall says something like “That’s f***ing right”. His open display of arrogance pricks her the way it only could a sibling. That combined with her really actually wanting Tom back and knowing that she’d do better with Tom as CEO than with Kendall as CEO…she changes her mind.

      What’s in your HOF?

  6. It becomes clearer & clearer that Succession is pulled along by the strength of the actors performances and the sumptuous production values – to say nothing of that stunning score. But the way it ended. Oof. Shiv conveniently changing her mind so that Jesse Armstrong can manipulate the characters into some pre-ordained conclusion telegraphed by the first episode? Then hiding behind Shakespeare to justify it? No thanks. It feels like a very cynical and very British ending worthy of Lady Caroline herself. But, it violates the character development of seasons 2 & 3 with its ceaseless repetition and cheapens the entire series in the the process. Overall, now, a second-tier show not a true successor to better series like Mad Men or even Veep as satire. Maybe Jesse Armstrong should next aim his lens at the rot within the British Monarchy? If cyclical story telling about a group of idiots who never changes is his true kink…

    • The performances, production, and score definitely did a ton of work. Especially now that we have the whole of it and see what the story amounted to. I agree with that!

      You might be disappointed to find out that I think the Mad Men finale is even worse. And that the show had far less to say than Succession. But Veep was fantastic.

  7. This was such a brilliant article. This is the first time I’ve seen someone agree with my opinions on this show. I was reading all the reviews and kept wondering, did we watch the same show? When your characters do the same thing 10 times over 4 seasons, it loses a bit of meaning. Anyway you put it better than I ever could have. Well written!

    • Thanks Arania! Yeah, I’ve felt the same way. It happens with a few other shows as well. Where I just think they finale was a misfire but it constantly makes the best of lists lol.

  8. I thought it was a bit weird that you asked what the consequences are for each character, then answered with “Nothing that we see”; and then you proceed to write exactly what the consequences are for each character in the following paragraphs.

    And in a way, I guess you do kind of identify with Kendall in the end. All that work and drama, just to feel dissatisfied and empty at the end.

    I personally liked the ending for the points you didn’t like it. It was all “bulls**t” and “nothing”, just like Roman said when he had his epiphany. But it was the exact BS and nothingness that I needed.

    • I don’t think those are necessarily consequences. They’re just momentary states of being. Like a Consequence for Roman would be he goes into that crowd and gets into a fight and hurts someone and ends up in jail. A consequence for Kendall is that he goes to see his kids and the kids don’t want to see him and want no further contact with him. Shiv is, I guess, consequential enough. For the most part, each of them just keep on being who they’ve been. They’ve just lost out on being the CEO of their dad’s company. They’re cut off from a single role, but I don’t think the pursuit of this thing has been consequential to who they were or who they’re going to be.

      I can get behind it being BS and nothing and that being the main theme. How they went about it in that episode wasn’t, to me, the most compelling or interesting way of handling that theme. But I’ll gladly be in the minority on this. I’m happy that others are happy.

  9. Great read! Succession is one of my favorite shows ever but my biggest gripe with the show was how any hint of character development seems to get immediately reversed/sacrificed for the sake of the plot. Especially in Season 4. Jesse is a brilliant writer; he had a clear vision and message for the show and he delivered it exactly as he wanted to. Just not sure it made for the best of endings, even though the peaks were top, top notch.

    • Thanks, Andrew! Yeah, that’s very nicely and succinctly put. I understand that there’s a purpose to what he’s doing. People keep pointing out Roman’s final revelation about being nothing and bs. And it’s like, yeah, I get it. Good idea. But not sure the execution is all that powerful when it’s pretty much what we’ve seen before with just a bit of an elevation in the crowning of Tom. And you can make an argument for how that’s the point! But, then, still, is it the best way to make the point? I just don’t think it was.

  10. Interesting review. I agree the finale was bad. I nearly didn’t watch the 10th and last episode. I was so mad at episodes 8 & 9. The 3 kids have been completely unlikeable, and while I agree with some who say the characters don’t have to be likeable, I did want to see some redemption. Shiv has been grotesque. The show tried to present her as the more evolved and progressive character. And yet she treacherous, petty and selfish. At the end, the only sympathetic character for me was Colin. Watching him stand by Kendall, and at a distance, in the end was powerful.

    • Yeah. It’s tough. Because unlikable characters are a thing and are interesting in their own right. But the show often balanced giving us flashes of them having more decency/humanity. So I get why there’s a part of you that would want to see that side of the characters rise to the surface a bit more. When that doesn’t happen, it can be disappointing. I generally think that’s okay for stories to do. Not everything has to be a happy ending. I wasn’t mad at that. I understand where you’re coming from, though.

  11. Hey Chris. First I want to say, I really appreciate this space. I like that it encourages dialogue and that you are open to hearing other people’s thoughts regarding what you wrote. I also think you articulate your thoughts well and the fact that you care so much about story structure makes you someone I respect and appreciate.

    I have actually thought a lot about this piece that you’ve written because I feel it deserves to be grappled with, and you bring up a lot of salient perspectives so that a knee jerk reaction to them would be missing an opportunity for continued conversation.

    However, I am on the opposite side of you regarding your take on the finale of “Succession”. I think it was the opposite of bad. I think it may be one of the best finales in television history of a show that may be one of the best television shows of this Second Golden Age of Television (starting with “Oz” in 1999 — here are my top 10, not necessarily in any particular order as I don’t believe that art is a competitive sport: “The Wire”; “The Sopranos”; “Succession”; “Breaking Bad”; “Better Call Saul”; “Mad Men”; “Game of Thrones” (yes, even including the final season and the finale); “Six Feet Under”; “Deadwood”; “The Shield”).

    That last one, “The Shield”, is the one that I feel is “the best” (though I hate to use the term “best” in comparison to other shows) finale of the shows mentioned in the list. And it is also precisely why I feel that the “Succession” finale can be included alongside “The Shield” as one of the most well crafted, and greatest, finales in this category of “Prestige” television.

    The majority of the reasons you mentioned why you thought the finale was “bad”, is actually what made “Succession” so great, and also why the finale stayed true to the structure, format, tone, and overall mission statement of the entire series. Here is what would have made it bad: if it had, in the final episode, departed from its premise, and its overall concept: that people inherently do not change.

    The reason why Roman asked you about “Save The Cat” is your premise that it was a “bad” finale is straight out of the formulaic handbook that is “Save The Cat”. Why most think you thought the characters weren’t “likeable” (even though you said nothing about that) is because that is the other pat response from the “Save The Cat” formulaic, straight out of the mouth of a studio executive or script reader/development person (or “D Girl” as they are pejoratively referred to) generic response — that the main characters need to be “likeable” — that is thrown out there time and time and time and time again.

    You did not walk down that path. Instead, you walked the path of “no one changed”. Which, for them most part, and according to Robert McKee (who, ironically, Brian Cox played in the film “Adaptation”) is a cardinal sin of storytelling….

    …unless the brilliant head writer and showrunner of the show specifically intended this to be a show about just that. It’s also a social commentary show. So, the whole is greater than the intricate sum of its parts.

    What I mean by that is: yes, it is a family drama/comedy/tragedy (all the above) and at its core is about damaged people who are caught in a loop (or “Groundhog Day”) of perpetual hell based on their inability to escape their horrible upbringing. All of that is baked into the cake.

    But, above that, and the reason why the ending had to be the ending it was, and the last few episodes unfolded the way that they did (especially Roman’s laser focused want of calling the election pre-maturely for Mencken) is because it’s an indictment of: Sumner Redstone, Fox News, Rupert Murdoch, the entire billionaire class, Big Tech, Elon Musk, etc., etc., etc. It’s another big middle finger from Adam McKay to the “Powers-That-Be” in Media, Tech, and Politics.

    If the show went in a different direction in the last episode, that actually would have been a “bad” finale. These characters needed to not change. They needed to be made even more miserable in the conclusion — as they had been made miserable time and time and time again with the conclusions of the previous seasons… etc. We need them to suffer. A lot. Over, and over, and over, and over, and over again.

    At least you realized that the show, as a whole, was a quality show. Unlike Bill Wyman of The Wrap who wrote the salacious, clickbait title: “‘Succession’ Tricked a Sliver of America Into Thinking That It’s a Good Show”. That was one of the most foolish pieces I’ve read in regards to critiquing a show that sits at the top of the food chain in terms of “Prestige Television”.

    You did not go as full ape in your “I missed the point of the entire construct of the show” analysis as Wyman did… though, truth be told, eh, ya kinda did — not to go too Romulus Roy on you (but it is a little fun to be Roman every once in a while).

    I’d say, after reading your piece twice over, it’s a valiant swing and a miss. Yes, as a screen, television, and playwright, I would also say that, when I write a script, I think about my character’s arc and make sure that my main characters change and grew by the end. But the thing that made “Succession” so, dare I say “perfect”, is that it broke that “rule” with such a level of artistry and excellence, one can only stand in awe of its shear brilliance.

    Also, for my day job, I work as an In-Flight Crewmember (which is a fancy way of saying: “Flight Attendant) for a major airline. I would say, in the case of “Succession”, it was one of the best landings I’ve ever witnessed.

    • Hey, Stephen! You certainly have the background to get where I’m coming from on a lot of this stuff. So it’s nice to have a dialogue from this perspective, regardless of the differences in our views! I appreciate the kind words about the overall approach we have going on here.

      This is one of those conversations where I think if we were having it in person and could articulate back and forth that we’d get a lot accomplished. Online like this, there’s so many little points to volley back and forth that it can become quite precarious in terms of finding that balance point where we get one another. But I’m going to give it a try!

      I agree with everything you’re saying except for the summarizations of what I was saying lol. While I have read McKee and do love McKee, I completely understand that not changing is a valid way to conclude a story. For exactly the reasons you said. My point wasn’t that the characters needed to change or grow or anything like that. My point was about consequences, climactic action, payoff, etc.

      Look at The Wire. The finale there makes the point that everything we’ve seen has been part of a cycle. And we witnessed that first hand as all the kids it introduced us to in season 4 end up becoming the next generation of characters from seasons 1-3. We witnessed the cycle without realizing it. And the finale puts all of that into perspective. And leaves us with that crushing realization that the same archetypes will rise and fall, over and over. Until something significant changes. Until the system itself changes. The climactic element is the understanding that the cycle is starting anew. It’s thoughtful, powerful, and earned over the course of the entire show.

      Better Call Saul, you had something similar in that by the time we get to the finale, we have closure and payoff and consequences for all the stuff Jimmy got up to over the course of the show.

      It’s the same with Sopranos. Not just for the plot stuff but the philosophical war that goes on as Tony confronts his own mortality and the life he’s lived. There’s so much catharsis and poignancy.

      I’m not arguing that Succession couldn’t end with the characters not changing and being in their own personal hells. And, trust me, I didn’t miss or fail to understand the indictment of the right-leaning media industry. Do you really think that’s something I didn’t pick up on over the four seasons? It’s right there in S1E1.

      We’re on the same page when it comes to the concepts. What I didn’t like was how the finale went about exploring those concepts. I kept saying, over and over again, “That’s it? That’s it? That’s all you’re going to do?”

      Like you mention Roman calling the election early. We know that Mencken is bad news. That he will have an adverse affect on the country. That’s a great payoff. I’m happy with that payoff. Except we’re told multiple times that maybe Mencken didn’t win. That the courts are actually debating about the vote. That there’s a very real path to Mencken losing. Which leaves the door open for Roman’s early call to not matter in the long run. Which takes away that sense of payoff. It’s the same thing with the hugeness of Kendall’s declaration at the very end of season 2. It has all this weight and importance. Until season 3 walks it back and the revelations have very little impact (aside from Tom’s potential jail sentence kind of leading to him betraying Shiv).

      Over and over, Succession set up seemingly consequential plot points that merely fizzled out. Whether it’s GoJo’s India numbers or the bank loan coming due or the Pierce acquisition. The only meaningful things that don’t get walked back are Marcia leaving and Logan passing away. When Roman ran into the mob at the end of S4E9. That had energy. That had verve and potential. The ultimate result? A single elbow to the brow. It’s that kind of anti-climactic payoff that frustrated me from season 3 up through the finale.

      Have the characters not change. Beautiful. Great. But have something happen that there’s no coming back from. That’s all I want. Like when Shiv and Roman bring up that Kendall killed someone. What if that happened in the boardroom. In front of everyone? This thing that’s been in the dark for so long is now presented to a group of Kendall’s peers, the people who almost voted him into power, the people he would have led. Their reaction to that information would have been glorious. Something as small as that would have been enough for me because you know the rumor will spread. That Kendall will become a figure whispered about whenever he enters a room. That’s cool. Or if Roman had gone into the crowd at the end of E9 and just never shown up again. And Kendall and Shiv write it off because they’re more concerned with their own stuff. I would love that. It’s the finale. I want tipping points. I want crossing the threshold of no return.

      What they were going for wasn’t lost on me. I think the direction was absolutely fine. I’m just bored by the choices they made in the execution of it.

      With all that said. I do understand that my point of view on this is very novelistic. There’s a short story view that embraces the slice of life style of Succession. From that short story frame, the more anti-climactic the better because it makes even an elbow to the brow all the more important. You know how in a short story it can be enough to describe someone eating a peach as they look at their window. What’s evoked can outweigh any concerns with narrative and consequences and payoffs and what have you.

      But Succession had plenty of powerful moments. I said it somewhere in the piece. But if the penultimate episode had been the finale, I’m singing its praises. I’d be banding together with you to yell at Bill Wyman (something I still might do). Instead, here we are.

  12. Thank you for articulating the problems with the series finale so well! Seems like most reviews and fans of the show enjoyed the finale, I was starting to think maybe I was alone in this feeling of disappointment or that I perhaps missed something.

    I agree with all of your points, and I’ll add my issues. I feel like there were two big things that the show, especially season 4, spent considerable time trying to tell us and lead up to: 1) that of all the siblings, Kendall was the most fit to lead the company (he grew a lot between season 1 and 4 in terms of being ready for the position, I won’t get into all of it now), and 2) the siblings were a powerhouse when they worked together. I feel like most of the final episode was building up to these realizations by the characters, and then the last 10 minutes completely yanked the rug out from under us without any warning. The show was called “Succession”, maybe I misunderstood the point of the show but I thought it was for someone to Succeed Logan. They sold the company so no one succeeded Logan and that’s the finale we are supposed to be happy with? I’m sorry but no. And no, Tom being named CEO after it was sold doesn’t count

  13. Thanks for the review. The reason I liked the show is because everyone was so unlikable. It forced me out of my comfort zone of a battle between good and evil and made me rewire into just how exactly do the rich and powerful think and act. A battle between evil and evil. Brilliant. However. Since season 3 I’ve been so bored. As you said some good spots. But it’s the same ridic game over and over. Maybe that’s how it works in the world with the rich and powerful but it doesn’t make great entertainment. The finale was aweful. HBO has disappointed me in the past like no other network. This did not help my opinion. Season after season Tom was shown as a buffoon. I’m supposed to believe that out of a pool of CEOs in the world that that guy would be chosen to lead the most powerful information company on the planet. WHAT? The worst. The kids were a joke. Don’t get me wrong. I understand all the implied reasons, and disappointments and reliefs of the sale but as I said. Made for boringly grating tv. There will never be finales as polished and poignant as The Sopranos or Six Feet Under. But HBO and writing in general have yet to come close that bar again.

  14. Excellent review, Chris. I’m late to the party because I had to type your headline word for word into Google to find this needle in the hay of glowing write-ups about the show’s finale. I have nothing new to add that hasn’t been said by you and others, but agree the finale was inadequate, dissatisfying and frustrating. In my mind, I feel there could be space for at least one, or even two, more season(s) to right the ship and let the consequences play out.

  15. Very good contribution!
    I myself would have liked Connor Roy to do it in the end. He would have been handed the reins. Would have been cool and a satisfying ending.

  16. Here I am, late to the party as usual! The first two seasons were interesting, but by the end of the second the show never seemed to develop past it’s overarching theme of “dysfunctional family fights for control of business”. Yes, that’s an excellent basis for a story to develop a plot around, but it’s not a plot in and of itself. Each big sibling alliance switcheroo felt less important and less interesting. By the third or fourth you knew it was only a temporary situation and things were likely to change again within an episode or two, so no reason to get all worked up about it. What fun is that?

    So, in one sense the show was all about the “plot”, the who said what to who, who backstabbed who, who was loyal to who. On the other hand, since very little of what was said or done had long term repercussions, and you knew that a “major” plot twist was always less than an episode or two away, the plot felt small and inconsequential. At some point in the third season I stopped caring if I understood every little plot detail, by the end of the third season I was bored, and halfway through the fourth I was fast forwarding.

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