Ever since HBO sent critics the Succession finale weeks ago, I’ve been begging my fellow reviewers to watch it and let me know so we can discuss. “Have you seen it? Have you seen it yet?” Because for all of the great moments that Succession gave us throughout its first dark season, nothing compared to the emotional wringer of its finale, “Nobody Is Ever Missing.” Each Roy child has a stand-out moment, and while I’m tempted to focus on Kendall first, since his story so perfectly wraps up the season, the Number One Boy will have to go last.
Spoilers for the Succession Season 1 Finale below.
Succession has unfairly flown under the radar this summer, perhaps because it looks like a stuffy prestige drama about the rich, when really it’s a brutally funny exploration of the corruption of wealth. Adjectives like “harsh,” “acerbic,” “cutting,” “savage” all apply here, and yet, the show’s most potent moments are the ones that find humor from darkness and excruciating awkwardness, blending them together into something terribly unique. It’s that kind of set-up that allows a simple line like Connor saying “I’m going to be President of the United States” uproariously funny. It’s absurd on so many levels, and the reactions of his siblings and his escort girlfriend all augment it.
In an even more extreme example there’s Roman, who has been quietly hoping that him taking over the Japanese satellite launch would make his gruff father proud. In the midst of all of this dramatic corporate takeover plot, Roman has been asking Kendall and others if Logan has been asking about him and the launch. It’s clear nothing could be further from Logan’s mind, which is a good thing when it literally blows up. Kieran Culkin‘s reactions to the text messages and calls he gets after watching the explosion — calming turning off his phone, slipping it back into his pocket, assuring Gerri he hasn’t received any notifications — is horrifying and hilarious all at once. And just when it seems like Roman might receive some kind of comeuppance for his negligence (including speeding up the launch to, again, try and impress Logan), the reality of “corporate manslaughter” fades away as Gerri confirmed that “only a few thumbs” were lost. Roman’s countenance here, his unabashed glee, his boasting even, are really pretty disgusting. And yet, to Succession‘s forever credit, it also feels real — a depressing aspect of the series that can sometimes undercut a pure enjoyment of it.
Then of course there’s Tom and Shiv, who experienced one of the saddest moments in “Nobody Is Ever Missing” once she admits her affair to him in the afterglow of their ostentatious wedding. The tension here has been building all season, as Shiv uses Tom as a stable, safe partner, while Tom is so eager to join in officially with the Roys that he’s often tripping over himself (sometimes literally). So when Shiv admits this truth to Tom, it’s sad not because the two of them deserve anything better, it’s sad because they’ve made sure that they don’t. But Jesse Armstrong (who created the series and wrote the finale) doesn’t leave things there — he allows Tom a moment of unexpected triumph when he confronts Nate and forces him to put his wine back into the bottle since his parents paid for it. “Do not fucking spill it,” he instructs tyrannically, and most bizarrely Nate does exactly as he is asked. It’s a power move from a man who never shows any power except around Greg, as the two share a nod afterwards to confirm their wary alliance. I have no idea how Matthew MacFadyen got the idea to play Tom as he did, or specifically Tom’s relationship with Greg, but my God it was fantastic. The irony of Shiv’s “stable” perspective on Tom is that he is, by far, the most unstable person on the show.
(I also want to pause here and mention Nicholas Braun‘s Greg again, as we’ve seen Greg go from a confused, bumbling idiot to — as Kendall describes him — a “little Machiavellian fuck, I see you! I like it!” This season has taught him how to play the game, for better or worse!)
All of this, however, pales in comparison to Kendall’s journey in “Nobody Is Ever Missing.” All season, Kendall has been locked in a power struggle with his father, desperate the take over, nowhere near ready to do so, and yet ultimately finding just enough strength to make it happen. He built the right alliances, he didn’t rely on his fickle family, and he even confronted his father face-to-face. (Jeremy Strong has been amazing as a man who exudes a false confidence to everyone, and then goes back to a trembling boy around Logan). After a season’s worth of machinations — including that excruciating boardroom scene early on where his plans fell apart in real-time, and he was essentially excommunicated from Waystar-Royce — Kendall finally found a way to best his father. The moves worked out, the gambles paid off. But Kendall can’t get out of his own way.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say there was a Chekov’s crack pipe at any point this season that made you know Kendall’s drug problem was going to resurface and just the wrong time to thwart his plans, but it makes sense. After getting sober, Kendall has slowly been getting back into his bad habits, including his binge during the family’s therapy weekend. His Chappaquiddick scene with the innocent caterer played out excruciatingly slowly, allowing for our feelings towards Kendall to change in every moment. He shouldn’t have gone, he shouldn’t have driven, the caterer shouldn’t have grabbed the wheel, Kendall should have tried harder to save him, but maybe it wasn’t his fault because the water was so frigid and he was just trying to survive. As Kendall thrashes around you become acutely aware that this is his defining moment, as Logan will later say. But the moment he hides behind that tree when a car passes by, you know he’s doomed.
Kendall’s long journey back to the manor, cleaning off the blood and mud, going to the party and dancing with his children (!) all while occasionally being stunned by the memory of the reality that he left a man to die out in the cold, dark water was absolutely horrendous to watch. But it was also mesmerizing. Could he get away with it? How does he live with himself after this? Then you hit the breakfast scene, which might have been one of Succession‘s most Succession-y moments in the whole season, as everyone calmly and quietly whispers about the death, and “everyone agreeing not to upset the family” about the death of a caterer, which the staff is obviously upset about (and yet, there they are working).
But it’s also clear that, for Kendall, this isn’t something he can pack away. And Logan, in his infinite shrewdness, saw an opportunity. From the moment Kendall entered the room with his father, it was all over. Jeremy Strong told Vox that his breakdown wasn’t scripted, “That’s honestly just what happened in the room that day; I had no idea how it would come out of me. That was just what I experienced. I think you load yourself up with everything that’s happened to the character until that moment, and then you walk through the door and see what happens.”
“This could be the defining moment of your life,” Logan says to him, and Kendall knows it’s all over. Logan has been restored to power, as he had to be for the series to continue. Kendall ruined everything for himself, and worse, has to live not only with the fact that someone died because of his selfishness, but that his father is the one who covered it up. He will never be able to get out from underneath that. This gilded life means nothing when you’re empty inside, and everything has been reversed, from the corporate takeover to Kendall’s own adulthood. Though the series has been renewed for a second season, it could have ended there and felt complete. Logan embraces him, “You’re my boy. you’re my number-one boy.” He’s back in control. It resets Succession, and made for a breathtakingly devastating finale.