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14 December 2021

The Succession finale was monstrous, near-Shakespearean perfection

Jesse Armstrong effected the most remarkable reversal of fortune of all, Logan now in the ascendant over his fractious, ingrate offspring.

By Rachel Cooke

By the grand Italian wheelie-bins, Kendall Roy sat down and wept, and it was almost sincerely moving. The Tuscan sun was high in the sky above his mother’s ghastly wedding, and while he aimed vaguely for another nervous breakdown, all Shiv could do was boil pinkly in a dress that made her look more like the mother of the bride than her daughter. Question: what has happened to her stylist in this series? Lately, her clothes are like all-over girdles, silk chiffon prisons worn tight around her body.

What is it about the Roys and weddings? At hers, two season finales ago, Kendall helped (sort of) to kill a waiter – a fact he’d just confessed to his sweaty siblings. But never mind. Neither she nor Roman seemed remotely shocked. “One waiter down,” muttered Roman. “That makes sense. I waited three-quarters of an hour for a gin and tonic.” Boom, boom, boom. Above the cicadas, you could almost hear their hearts beating. Kendall’s crack-up. Their mother’s marriage to an oleaginous prat who favours lime green chinos. Their father’s sudden move to sell his business – otherwise known as their inheritance – to Lukas Matsson (Alexander Skarsgard). Oh, boy. Suddenly, everything was happening at once. To thoroughly abuse a quote from King Lear: “Now, gods, stand up for bastards!”

The third series of Succession wobbled at times: too much business, not enough family. But at the last, it all seemed to come together. Monstrous, near-Shakespearean perfection. The Roy children are not, in the literal sense, bastards, but from now on it seems that they will be orphans of a kind, because it turns out that their mother, Caroline (Harriet Walter, brilliant in an embroidered coat that had about it more than a whiff of a straitjacket), loves them even less than they thought. When word arrived that Logan (Brian Cox) really had decided to sell the company to Hans Christian Anderfuck, aka Lukas Matsson, their panic was mitigated by the knowledge – this came courtesy of Kendall, who recharged like some human mobile phone at the thought of a showdown with Daddy – that the three of them had a supermajority on the board courtesy of Caroline’s divorce settlement. Logan could not, they believed, sell up without them. But they hadn’t reckoned on two things.

First, that Caroline wanted so much not to have to bother dealing with Peter the prat’s disappointment – “he’s so excited!” – she was prepared to exchange this arrangement for a flat in Eaton Square on which her new husband had set his heart. Second, that Logan would have all the time in the world to clinch this deal with her because as his children raced towards him across the hills of Chiantishire, he already knew what they were up to. Who was the sneak? Even if we hadn’t seen Logan pat Tom Wambsgans’ linen-clad shoulder as he left the final confrontation with his children, we would have known it was him; as he arrived on the scene, his voice was choirboy-high with the fear and the guilt and the excitement of his bloody betrayal of his wife, Shiv. Not for nothing had Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) been the one to pick up a Get Out of Jail Free card when the siblings were playing the Monopoly in this epic finale’s prologue. (He was also, of course, the little dog…)

[See also: Is Succession the best thing on television?]

I want to say, because I’m a vaguely Freudian former student of English literature, that Succession is as much about the absence of love as it is about the presence of money; one cannot compensate for the other, as we can only pray that Peter Munnion (Pip Torrens, in a wig that looks like a dead guinea pig) will discover in the next series, holed up with Lady Macbeth in South Ken. Shiv told Tom, the night before his treachery, that she does not love him, and now she will pay the price for her declaration (though so will he, one imagines). Meanwhile, Con (Alan Ruck) proposed to Willa (Justine Lupe), and she accepted only out of some perverted kind of pity (“Fuck it! How bad can it be?”); Kendall still cannot connect with his children (or even work out where they are most of the time); and Roman is going (temporarily, I assume) cold turkey on his dick pics, having sent one to his father by mistake. Even Greg (Nicholas Braun) is a hopeless case, pathetically chasing some Contessa at the wedding like he works for Hello or Point de Vue or something. (“You’re a plane crash away from being Europe’s weirdest king,” said Tom, with utmost encouragement.)

But I won’t say this – that it’s about the absence of love – because it isn’t true. Jesse Armstrong feels no tenderness for his characters, of this I’m increasingly sure. He’s not about to give them therapy. He’s interested only in the wheel of fortune, how it turns, and who must be crushed in order for it to do so. All this series, Logan Roy has been fraying – peeing his pants, going doolally, humiliating himself in front of the tech giants – and thanks to this, some of us were waiting for him to fall to his knees, and beg forgiveness of his children. But this isn’t the National sodding Theatre. In the end, Armstrong effected the most remarkable reversal of fortune of all, Logan now in the ascendant over his fractious, ingrate offspring – “You morons! I fucking win!” – but seemingly sharply in the descendent in the global sense.

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When Matsson told him he was a dinosaur, something passed over his face: a shadow, his obsolescent future. The little speech he gave to Matsson about America, about how it had changed, the way it was full of crybabies, the way it had disappointed him; it was remarkable, just as Brian Cox’s performance was remarkable. And the faces of his children once the deed was done! No series has ever been better cast. Shiv (Sarah Snook) thwarted and seething, in real physical pain. Roman (Kieran Culkin) trembling like freshly served brawn. Kendall (Jeremy Strong) a human ghost town. “Everything’s boring, isn’t it?” Logan said to Lukas Matsson, as he began to let go – and here’s the rub. Life for the super rich is samey, a Xanax haze. Nothing is ever enough. Much shall always have more. And on, and on. There is a reason why Succession sometimes looks from above like a Busby Berkeley movie, only with fleets of black limousines where there should be dancers. The choreography is joyless (though not for us voyeurs, of course). I can’t wait to see what happens next to our holy trinity of Roys, but one thing I think we know now is that salvation won’t be among the options.

[See also: The best TV of 2021]

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