A Perfect—And Cyclical—Succession Finale

The conclusion to Season 3 was both brilliant television and a patchwork of things the show has already done.

Logan Roy and Lukas Matsson walking away from Roman Roy in "Succession"
Graeme Hunter / HBO

This article contains spoilers through the ninth episode of Succession Season 3.

If the broad strokes of Succession season finales can feel familiar by now—Kendall will be emotionally wrecked, the org chart will shift, and people will sell their soul for the promise of power—the show always excels at the details. Like that of Kendall, at the end of Season 1, returning to a wedding after witnessing a drowning, dancing with his kids to a song by Whitney Houston. Or how the title of that episode, “Nobody Is Ever Missing,” anticipated a future reveal that Waystar Royco’s corporate designation for crimes against the unimportant was NRPI: No Real Person Involved. Last night’s episode, “All the Bells Say,” began with Logan reading his grandson a book about a beloved cat who dies but whose spirit lingers long enough to help a new kitten adjust to her family. Even in feline form, the message about mentoring the next generation failed to resonate with Logan. “Kerry, can you get me a book?” he shouted to his assistant-slash-mistress. “Something with some action?”

“All the Bells Say” was a perfect episode of television. It was also an uncanny patchwork of things that have already happened, with a few notable exceptions. As in the Season 2 finale, “This Is Not for Tears,” someone mistakenly referred to Kendall as the “eldest son,” infuriating Connor. (Not for nothing is his family nickname the “first pancake.”) Just like Season 1’s “Nobody Is Ever Missing,” there was a wedding, not that anyone really cared. Once again, Mark Mylod (who’s directed all three finales) arranged Kendall in a way that alluded to High Renaissance art—his crumpling in the dust as he confessed, with his brother and sister reluctantly flanking him in the corrupted shape of a heart, reminded me of the Bandini Pietà, also known as “The Deposition.” Again, Logan managed to thwart an alliance against him through luck and bile. And again, there was a physical expression of both affection and betrayal that evoked The Godfather: Part II.

Will Succession always be exactly like this, over and over? Do we even want it to change? I wasn’t fully on board with the first season until “Austerlitz,” an episode that mined some of the rot in the Roy family tree while also suggesting that the siblings had the redeeming ability to occasionally care about one another. Season 2, with its excursions and civil wars, was more evenly structured and entirely compelling throughout. But Season 3 has seemed to affirm that this show will always save the goods for the very end. If you just can hold on through the profane politicking and the egomaniacal expressionism and the endless penis wordplay, Succession says, you’ll be rewarded with some of the most devastating drama that’s ever aired on television.

The end of last night’s episode seemed to suggest utter chaos for the Roy siblings. They were cut out of their father’s company following his deal with Lukas Matsson and left to “make [their] own pile,” as Logan explained, which, given that they had recently played Monopoly under the Tuscan sun, felt a little too apt. (Every family has its Monopoly cheat, and of course the Roys’ is Shiv.) It was the culmination of something Succession has always suggested: that in addition to being disappointed with his children, Logan loathes them for having been given so much and achieved so little. To Roman’s question of “Dad, why?” Logan might as well have replied, “Because I say so.” That said, it didn’t entirely ring true to me that Logan would agree to give up his stewardship of the company he built. Everything we’ve learned about him suggests he doesn’t cede anything, ever, and especially not to someone who calls him old to his face—a crime for which Shiv was essentially excommunicated last season.

I would cherish a Season 4 in which the Roy siblings are financially adrift, actually having to work for a living, or—in the case of Shiv—relying on the income and status of a husband whom she’s long patronized and despised. I was similarly fascinated by the possibility of a season in which Kendall’s PR representative Comfrey didn’t rescue him from the pool, and the family was forced to reckon with actual grief. (Kendall’s guilt and despair—referenced explicitly in the way the titles of all three season finales borrow lines from John Berryman’s Dream Song 29—has given the show its dramatic heft.) But Succession backed away from such a drastic shake-up of its status quo, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Season 4 ultimately does the same. Already, the pieces seem to be aligning for a familiar replay: If Kendall was marked as Logan’s successor/confidant in Season 1, Shiv in Season 2, and Roman in Season 3, it’s clear that Tom has been anointed for the next go-around. The show’s cyclical nature feels, at this point, like a kind of nihilist acceptance: Late capitalism will always insulate the extraordinarily privileged from real consequences, and so the best we can do is voyeuristically enjoy their misery along the way. But with acting like this, does it matter?

As for Tom, he seemed to realize a few weeks ago that his marriage was nothing but sour grapes, and that not one Roy, let alone his wife, would ever meaningfully care about him. “Who has ever looked after you in this fucking family?” he asked Greg, whose own proximity to Logan has already cost him his inheritance. The only game in Succession is Monopoly; the only prize is taking power away from the very people you’re playing alongside. Shiv, Kendall, and Roman may have formed a temporary alliance (with Roman, unlike his sister, deigning to join his brother down in the dirt). Yet their parents have taught them that winning is all that counts. The game will start over next season, but don’t expect the way people play to actually change.


Related Podcast

Listen to Sophie Gilbert discuss Succession on an episode of The Atlantic’s culture podcast The Review:

Subscribe to The Review: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Stitcher | Pocket Casts