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What Am I Gonna Do With A Soul Anyway?
On the 'Succession' finale
The worst complaint about Succession, particularly this season, is that the show spins its wheel. Nothing ever actually changes, huge stakes are introduced and then swept under the rug, and the characters are cycling through the same behavior without any development or growth. While these are positioned are critiques, this hits me as largely the point of the show. Succession isn’t Billions, it’s not trying to be an action-packed genre fare, it’s simply dramatizing the lives of the most protected class in the world. And in that world: nothing dramatic ever really happens. These people don’t go to jail, they pay fines. They might be at incredible locales, but they spend the time there on business or being boring. And they definitely never actually change or grow.
That’s an acquired taste for a television audience, but I think there can be a lot of reward in watching a well-written soap opera about terrible people incapable of change or grappling with their own abuse. The things that matter about this show are its clever writing and spectacular performances, and not to be a stuffy cinephile, but these are the things we used to care about in our movies as well.
As far as the actual show goes, Succession season 3 ends with the bang of inevitability. We spend a lot of time in the POV of the main 3 Roy siblings (sorry Connor, though I acknowledge you are the eldest), so sometimes we can forget that these aren’t serious people. They are children simply being indulged by their father so he can get his rocks off playing mind games between them, and as a result everyone else in the Waystar Royco orbit just has to put up with them. But when it’s all said and done, and the business of the company must be dealt with, it’s the kids who are on the outside.
Lucas Matsson, played perfectly by Alexander Skarsgard, tells Logan a story he heard from Mark Zuckerberg (Matsson turning to Logan and asking “do you know Mark?” really made me laugh). The story is essentially about Roman leaders deciding against giving their slaves uniforms because if they had on a uniform they could see just how many of them were slaves and potentially rise against the masters. It’s not exactly a one-to-one (or even fair to the slaves) comparison, but these are kids who don’t realize they don’t have any power until it’s too late. It was inevitable that Logan would sell the company when the deal suited him over ever letting any of his kids be in charge.
And honestly, good for him. As much fun as these kids are at their PTSD-fueled nastiest, there’s nothing about Shiv, Kendall, or Roman that inspires confidence. At best, they are good at being number 2 to their father, but they all think they are born bosses. Their vanity is disgusting when it’s not making them hilariously inept. But it’s that vanity that will forever be their undoing. When the final betrayal takes place and it’s revealed that Tom sold his wife and her siblings out to secure his own seat next to Logan, it’s fucking brilliant and poignant and ugly, and yet the man deserved this win. That’s the beautiful thing about this show, everyone is evil, everyone is empathetic, you root for their wins and savor their losses.
Much has been made about the fact that Succession is a show about abuse. People recognize the abusive tendencies of their own families and spouses in the characters of the show and I think that goes a long way in explaining its online fandom. As a person who grew up in a toxic family, the aggression and mean behaviors of the parents as well as the siblings’ inability to properly connect are all very familiar tropes, and what makes Succession particularly brilliant is that it asks you to laugh in the face of this horror. Laugh until you’re utterly devastated.
Watching Shiv, Kendall, and Roman finally team up and go after their father like they probably always should have was the best thing I’ve seen on TV all year, but it just didn’t matter. It never does. This is not a show about triumph, but about how wealth and success can’t actually fix any of the trauma created. As the John Berryman poem that the season finales get their names from goes, “All the bells say; too late.”