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This article contains spoilers for Succession season 4, episode 10, ‘With Open Eyes’.
It’s not sexy, but managing up is the way forward, at least according to the brilliant mind behind Succession, Jesse Armstrong. The 52-year-old British writer and producer had envisaged Tom Wambsgams as the eventual successor for some time, he said in an interview shared by HBO after Succession’s season finale aired on Monday.
“Even though he’s not exactly the most powerful monarch you’ll ever meet, his power comes from [billionaire tech mogul] Matsson. Those figures who drift upwards and make themselves amenable to powerful people are around.”
Tom Wambsgans (Matthew Macfadyen) reigns supreme.Credit: HBO/Foxtel
“I don’t want ideas… I need a pain sponge,” Matsson, who is trying to acquire the family jewels – media company Waystar Royco – says to Wambsgams, when explaining what his role as CEO would look like. The ever-pliable snake-in-the-grass character doesn’t baulk at the idea – nor the revelation his potential boss wants to have sex with his pregnant wife.
One fine moment in the finale is the glimpse of the Roy siblings being kids again. Admittedly, it comes after Shiv and Roman discuss murdering Kendall, but it’s a gloriously care-free, funny scene of them hanging out in their mum’s kitchen, laughing and playing as they anoint Kendall the next CEO.
Speaking to Deadline Magazine, the episode’s director Mark Mylod argued that moment could only have been followed by immense tragedy. “There was an odd emotional tension… Everything seemed possible, and yet…” he said. “My understanding of the show has always been that it’s a tragedy. Therefore, every moment of hope is so cruel because we’re just waiting for that shoe to drop and waiting for their essential nature to be exposed. To break your heart again.”
In the same interview, Armstrong pointed out that Roman ends up exactly where he started. “Shiv is still in play, I’d say, in a rather terrifying, frozen, emotionally barren place. But she has got this kind of non-victory, non-defeat. I mean there’s gonna be some movement there. There’s still a lot of that game to play out, but that’s where we leave it, and it feels like it’s going to be hard to progress for them emotionally given the things they said to each other. For Kendall, this will never stop being the central event of his life, the central days of his life.”
Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) may have won the game but there’s little joy for he and Shiv (Sarah Snook) at this moment.Credit: HBO
Speaking on HBO’s Succession podcast, Jeremy Strong, who plays Kendall, described the series ending as a “doom loop,” noting the finale’s explosive “traumatic reenactment” of abuse between the siblings, and similarities in the end to how the series began: “Philosophically, I don’t think [Armstrong] believes that people change.”
The series was supposed to end with that scene between him and Culkin, who plays Roman, Strong says, but he “couldn’t accept that, and it’s why I had to keep going. Walking back into the boardroom was something that just happened,” he said of the boardroom conversation where Frank (Peter Friedman) told Kendall he lost the vote, and it’s over.
At one point in the final episode, Shiv calls herself Lady Macbeth, and it’s a portent of what’s to come: her betrayal of her brothers in casting the deciding vote against their bid for Waystar. Why Shiv changes her mind at the last minute has been the subject of much speculation online.
Readers commenting on this masthead’s website had many feely feelings, as Roman would say, about her decision. Jimmy G hypothesised that Shiv “finally realised she has been played by the men around her: Matsson, her father, husband and brothers”. Others argued that as a PR-whiz, Shiv was aware Kendall’s involvement in the waiter’s death at their mother’s wedding would have to come out at some point.
“She had to choose between monsters,” wrote Middle-Aged Mama.
Sand Surf Sky argued the fact Shiv is pregnant determined her actions: “She’s still holding the power in voting for her future child with Tom! Very reminiscent of power and politics in ancient Rome.”
When it becomes clear he has lost Shiv’s support, Kendall physically attacks Roman and tries to hit out at Shiv, reflecting his emotional stuntedness and his entitlement. “I’m the eldest boy,” still echoing in everyone’s heads.
Roman’s sad refrain “We are nothing” echoed Logan’s damning comments about his children, “You are not serious people”. Reader Jen B agreed, commenting: “Logan was correct about his kids.”
Writing on Instagram alongside a pic of her and her newborn baby, Sarah Snook said: “It’s hard to express what this show has meant to me. The places I got to go, the immense talent I got to work with… it breaks my heart that it is all over.
“But my heart had to be this full of all the memories, good times, challenges and triumphs, to be able to break at all… so that makes me grateful. To have been blessed to join this crazy adventure of a show will be a career highlight, which will no doubt be hard to top.”
What’s next for Armstrong is the million-dollar question. Can you top a show like Succession? The man himself told Deadline: “I don’t feel like I’ll be able to write anything as good as this again because I just feel like it’s an arena that I’m so interested in, and the group of people who’ve made it have been so talented.”
That remains to be seen: we can only hope.
The final episode of Succession aired on Monday, May 29 on Foxtel and Binge.
Find out the next TV, streaming series and movies to add to your must-sees. Get The Watchlist delivered every Thursday.
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