With Open Eyes, the final episode of Succession, marks the bitter fulfillment of the parable of the Roy clan, transforming their power struggle into a painful game of slaughter.
“Who do you think dad would have wanted to give his seat to?” “None of us, I think.”
The dry disillusionment of Shiv’s answer to his brother Roman’s question is yet another testimony of how, in the trio of aspiring heirs to the throne of Logan Roy, the youngest daughter is the person with greater lucidity and awareness. Therefore, it is perhaps a flash of sudden lucidity that, in final of Succession, will push Shiv to the sensational about-face at the basis of that last, devastating twist: breaking the alliance with Kendall and Roman by casting a decisive vote in favor of the acquisition of Waystar RoyCo by GoJo, the media giant owned by the Swedish businessman Lukas Matsson. “I love you, but I cannot fucking stomach you” (“I love you, but I can’t stand you“): in Shiv’s sentence love and contempt coexist, the two complementary sentiments that for four seasons have characterized the relationships of the most dysfunctional dynasty of contemporary TV (or at least, on an equal footing with the Windsors of The Crown).
The succession: three brothers for a throne
In the span of ninety minutes of With Open Eyes, the final episode of the acclaimed HBO series, the English screenwriter and showrunner Jesse Armstrong therefore returns to unite and separate the three Roy brothers in a frenetic swirl of alliances and rivalries. The ‘succession’ has been, right from the title of the work, the main objective of Kendall, Roman and Shiv: a goal brought closer by the sudden departure of the patriarch played by Brian Cox, an event at the heart of the episode Connor’s Wedding. If Logan Roy represented a tyrannical King Lear who towered over the lives of his children, subjugating them under a shadow from which they were unable to escape, not even Logan’s death was enough to free them completely from the cumbersome paternal presence. And the unresolved tensions between the Roy brothers explode in an epilogue that manages to show us the most human and vulnerable sides of these three offspring so often opportunistic and amoral.
It is the ultimate mockery of Succession: a series that has played with the registers of the grotesque and drama since its origins and which here, after a domestic interlude – Kendall’s funny milkshake-based ‘coronation’ ceremony – cloaked in a ‘unusual tenderness, destroys the prospects of a revenge of the new generation of Roys, who until a moment before seemed about to regain their father’s empire at the table of the board of directors of Waystar RoyCo. In this sense, With Open Eyes it’s an ending that dismantles our expectations as much as the rematch convention grounded in principle”Unity is strength“: if Kendall, Roman and Shiv could appear to us as anti-heroes on the threshold of redemption, able to obliterate their differences once and for all, Jesse Armstrong disintegrates the aforementioned scenario in a handful of angry, unforgettable minutes, with a face to face between three protagonists who just have to confirm their own nature.
Succession 4, the review of the first episodes: towards the end of a masterpiece
Tom and Shiv: The Useful Idiot and his First Lady
“I don’t think you’d be good enough“: is the lapidary sentence of Shiv, embodied by a sumptuous one Sarah Snook with an impressive amalgam of coldness and neurosis, of sincere pragmatism and hatred repressed with increasing effort. If on many occasions Shiv has proved to be the most rational and balanced of the three, Armstrong has the intelligence to maintain a quid of ambiguity in the choice of woman: the backstabbing of a brother who so many times had depreciated her, a Machiavellian “checkmate” to obtain the title of First Lady of the Waystar or the desire to free Kendall from the weight of the legacy of Logan? This is the weight under which Kieran Culkin’s eccentric Roman had already risked succumbing, who at the beginning of the episode we find on the run to Barbados and who, immediately before the meeting of the board of directors, bursts into tears between his brother’s arms, wondering heartbroken: “Why isn’t it my turn?“.
Roman, resigned to his own inadequacy (the paternal throne is not up to him), will leave the series with a martini in hand, after the ritual photo with the hated winner, Alexander Skarsgård’s Lukas Matsson. To Shiv, creator of this bitter “endgame”, the series offers a silent and chilling exit from the scene: sitting in the car with her husband Tom Wambsgans (Matthew Macfadyen), after the avalanches of vitriol that for an entire season, and until a few minutes before, the two spouses had spilled on top of each other. Tom, if necessary slippery and mellifluous by virtue of his immoderate ambition, also stands here as the “useful idiot” to whom Matsson will entrust the position of managing director of the Waystar, and therefore, in essence, the ‘crown’ of the deceased Logan Roy; not before blurting out his attraction to his wife Shiv and annotating with the phrase “Why not get me the guy who put the baby in her tummy instead of the lady with the baby?“.
House of the Dragon like Succession: Legacy for the Throne is played in the family
Kendall Roy: The Tragedy of a Ridiculous Man
On the other hand, Tom’s triumph makes perfect sense: the ideal official of an unscrupulous and soulless capitalism, and not by chance already Logan’s right hand man, Tom is the quick-change artist able to guess in which direction the wind will blow. And “Cousin Greg”, the outsider played with irresistible ingenuity by Nicholas Braun, is destined to remain Tom’s worthy stooge. That leap of dignity that drives him to react with a slap to Tom’s aggression remains, in fact, just a gasp: an instant later, Greg is once again in the role of the faithful servant, willing to suffer any humiliation in order to keep his assistant position with a salary of two hundred thousand dollars. If Tom and Greg are therefore the ideal actors of this “comedy of power”, in the parable of Kendall Roy farce instead borders on drama (and vice versa): when it claims to be “the eldest son“, with the solemn air of a Shakespearean prince, Shiv’s reaction is an irreverent laugh, before reminding him that in fact it is not so.
Kendall, role that earned a monumental Jeremy Strong an Emmy Award and a Golden Globe for Best Actor, is the most intimately tragic figure of Succession: tragic, but declined according to the canons of our era, and therefore the daughter of a tragedy that can only be ridiculous. Kendall covets the fatherly throne because”it’s the only thing I know how to doand why, as he mutters desperately in his plea to Shiv,if I can’t do it, I feel that… I could die“. In the moment of his defeat, while the barely worn crown already slips off his head, Kendall is a protagonist as much more poignant as more pathetic: in the vain meanness with which he tries to deny having been responsible for the death of a man and in the ‘inability to read and accept reality. And the last, painful shot can only be for him: an inept and ousted prince, intent on staring at the Hudson River with the now lifeless gaze of someone who can do nothing but contemplate the abyss.