Succession Season 4 episode 10 review: the show's finale reveals the promise of the title with a knife's twist
In a riveting ninety minutes, an unexpected betrayal rearranges the chessboard of the Waystar Royco empire once more
This piece contains detailed and immediate spoilers for Succession Series 4 episode 10, ‘With Open Eyes’.
In the end, those names proved prophetic. Siobhan 'Shiv' Roy stuck the knife into her brother. Roman, aka 'Romulus', having initially retreated to suckle at the teat of his she-wolf of a mother, ended up alienated from his brother, wounded in battle. Tom Wamsbgans, per an eagle-eyed Tik Tokker, beat out three competitors at once, just as his baseball playing namesake did- although this could hardly be deemed an unassisted triple play. Connor the conman's marital arrangement - which many had pinned as the most healthy interpersonal relationship on the show due to its comparative transparency - was reinforced as a hollow sham with talk of Connor spending six months in Slovenia, Willa writing in New York - as Roman observed, that "second-week itch" kicking in.
And, finally, ultimately, Kendall, the Ken doll, a man who only ever play acted at being his father. (It was telling that Kendall recalls him first being promised the job of CEO as he was playing 'Candy Kitchen' at 7 years old). He had all the rhetoric, the mimicry, the bluster -and, tragically, in the end, the violence of his father- but none of the insight, the vision. Without the substance and the power moves, he could never be the man himself, just a weak facsimile.
With shades of the ending of Godfather Two, Ken has hurt and pushed away everyone he ever cared about. He sits, ominously contemplating the Hudson River, in a shot so similar to Michael Corleone, looking the lake at his family compound, utterly alone, that it was almost certainly a direct homage from director Mark Mylod and writer Jesse Armstrong.
'I am the eldest son!'
The machinations of the finale were relatively straight-forward, until they weren't. The day ahead of the fateful board vote on whether to sell Waystar Royco to GoJo's creepy Swedish owner, Matsson (Alexander Skarsgård), both Shiv and Kendall are trying sure to up numbers for their agenda- her to make the deal go through, on the promise of being Matsson's puppet US CEO, he to block it to assume the role he's believed was his birth right since seven. To do so, they jet off to the Caribbean to try and corral a recuperating Roman to their respective sides.
There, Cousin Greg leaks the intel that Matsson is going to double cross Shiv (unbeknownst to Greg, the Viking plans on instating Tom as the token Waystar CEO). And so the sibs ultimately decide to get behind a bid to block the deal and instate Kendall as the head... only for Shiv to realise, at the final moment, the dark heart and ultimate incompetence of her brother. She 'betrays' him, by voting against, and a blow out fight ensues. The show ends with Matsson crown king of the media conglomerate, Tom his pathetic proxy, Roman alone with a martini (tellingly, the drink of his lost almost-love Gerri), Shiv a wretched CEO's wife, and Kendall without the support of his siblings, his wife, his assistant, alone, unloved, adrift.
Lady Macbeth Two: irony abounds in Shiv's fate
Shiv's decision to stop the foreboding death march of her brother becoming a tyrannical reincarnation of her father was the final twist in a series known for them. Shiv’s moral relativity was always more flexible than an Olympic gymnast: she abandoned her job as political adviser to a democratic candidate when her father dangled the carrot of Waystar CEO in front of her, she bullied a sexual abuse victim into staying silent when it behoved her career to do so. But for all that behaviour, she was always clear-sighted enough to see other's evil for what it was. You could argue her decision to block Kendall stemmed from frustration at having her attempt at the crown thwarted, but I think it sprung from a genuine realisation that her brother was monster-apparent. Unable to wield control, she returns to her principles to stop him from practising the dark arts.
The deepest irony, though, in watching her in the backseat of a limo with Tom, likely to operate soft power as his contemptuous wife, so-called ‘Lady Macbeth 2’, is that Shiv has adopted the role of the two women she could never stand: Marcia and her own mother, Lady Caroline. Not the CEO, but the manipulative wife of one. She loathes those two woman, it feels inevitable she will end up loathing herself.
Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown
I bumped a little against the notion of Tom being named CEO. After all, as Karl informed him, he was “a clumsy interloper and no one trusts you. The only guy pulling for you is dead. And now, you’re just married to the ex-boss’s daughter and she doesn’t even like you. And you are fair and squarely f**ked.” Two weeks ago, lest we forget, Tom was doing lines on election night.
But while it may not read as truthful from one angle, it makes dramatic sense: after all, the only Roy Matsson truly liked was Logan, and Logan kept Tom close, knowing he was a malleable, pliable henchman. He's the ideal puppet, where Shiv has too much acumen and political strategy to be easily manoeuvred. And so, in keeping with all the other men of the world who 'can't keep a whole woman in their heads', Tom now has everything he claimed he ever wanted. Funny that he looks so underwhelmed in the backseat of the limo, his wife barely holding his hand. The milquetoast obsequious ‘victor’ whose boss wants to schtup his wife.
One last Logan sighting
In a fabulous grace note, ahead of the board room machinations, the Roy Siblings watched video footage of Logan holding court at a dinner party attended by Kerry, Frank, Karl, Gerri and Connor. Watching their father at repose, Logan visibly moved by Karl's singing 'Green Grow the Rushes, O’ (incidentally, David Rasche, this season's sneak VIP: voice of an angel), the three younger children seemed once again to gather the extent to which he was a stranger, each of them dissolving into tears and then holding one another's hands for comfort. The man behind the monster, a charmer, who they very rarely got to be privy to. It also served as a final reminder that they could, potentially, love and support one another, and in doing so salve the wounds of their toxic childhood. But. But...
"I love you, but I cannot stomach you"
But the show has always been interested in Jung's observation "Where love rules, there is no will to power, and where power predominates, love is lacking." And Kendall's will to power was so strong. We've spent four years watching him try to take that which he earnestly believed he was owed: how sickening, then, in this final episode to watch that desire corrupt him utterly. Instead of being the protective brother, telling his father "don't you f**kin' touch him" when he struck Roman in season 2, Kendall himself is now the brute, the ogre.
First, he prays on Roman's desire for physical closeness, holding him in an embrace so tight it causes Roman's stitches to rupture and bleed out. The poison has dripped through. Then, when Roman (in a manner both racist and repugnant - any sympathy you have for the caged dog of the Roy family is squandered by his clear, deeply felt belief in the Neo-Nazi ideals of Mencken) opines that Kendall's kids aren't legitimate heirs, he tries to gouge his eyes out - yet another Shakespearean grace note in a series full of them. The title of the finale of each season takes a line from John Berryman's dark, elliptical poem Dream Song 29.
This episode’s title, ‘With Open Eyes’ seems to refer to the scales dropping from Shiv’s face eggs - “I don’t think you’d be good at it” she gives as her initial reasoning for blocking him as CEO, before the hammer blow: “you killed a guy”. When Kendall lies clumsily that he didn’t, it was a false memory, Roman too seems to realise what Shiv was one step ahead on: that Ken is always full of bullsh*t.
Ken's fate seems echoed by the protagonist of the Berryman poem:
There sat down, once, a thing on Henry’s heart
so heavy, if he had a hundred years
& more, & weeping, sleepless, in all them time
Henry could not make good.
In the end, for all the scheming and betrayal, Kendall could not make good. But by goodness Succession did: a thoughtful, funny, politically and socially aware look at the damage family members inflict upon each other, all wrapped up in the trappings of a Murdochian media empire. What a show. I'm going to miss it.
- Ordinarily show reviews cover the acting, and the writing, but what a moot point in this case: both, across the board, are nonpareil. The show stuck the landing, utterly, a riveting ninety minutes.
- Delightful to see the show throwing back to Lady Caroline's apparent eating disorder with the meagre rations she served for dinner, and also the line of the episode referring to eyes as 'Face Eggs. All these blobs of jelly rolling around in your head.' Not the window to the soul, then.
- A couple of throw away lines suggest Mencken might not have the POTSA role sown up, after all.
- Frank and Karl - who have latterly become the series Statler and Waldorf, a comic Greek chorus, have their golden parachutes guaranteed. A spin-off, please: “Golden parachute or one last rodeo?”
- How strangely romantic, and delightful, for Tom to stick a sticker on Greg's forehead, claiming the turncoat as his own despite his betrayal.
- Great to see so many of the show's former characters back, either in person at the board meeting (hiya, Stewie!), or notionally (Lawrence Yee, former Vaulter CEO, was being floated as a potential stand in for the Waystar role).
- Connor's sticker system for passing out Logan's effects - along with reference to 'second tier mourners' - was very funny, as was him nabbing Logan's medals before anyone else could.
- Wasn't Alexander Skarsgård - an empirically gorgeous, and by all accounts charming man - magnificent as the repulsive Matsson, telling Tom directly to his face that he wasn't going to give his wife the big job because he wanted to bed her. What an awful man.