So, What Are the Optics? A Succession Finale Review (Spoilers Ahead) | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

Kendall Roy ending scene Succession finale
Kendall Roy in the final scene of Succession

The last-ever episode of Succession has fans reeling, and it’s largely because every part of the script is perfect.


“So, what are the optics?” Unless you work in a multi-national conglomerate like Waystar Royco, you’re unlikely to hear that phrase on screen again anytime soon. 

The hugely successful HBO series Succession released its finale on May 28, 2023. The episode titled “With Open Eyes” implies that the characters on the show are finally beginning to see things clearly.

The finale culminated with a scramble for ownership of the corporate giant Waystar Royco, which operates a range of businesses in media, entertainment, parks, and cruises. Initially, CE-bros Kendall (Jeremy Strong) and Roman (Kieran Culkin) push to keep the power in their hands, rejecting the GoJo deal to acquire their company. Their sister Siobhan or Shiv (Sarah Snook), on the other hand, supports the rival allegiance — buyer and GoJo owner Lukas Matsson (Alexander Skarsgård), an Elon-Musk-esque billionaire.

The fourth season has come a long way, from the sibling’s early plans to acquire competitor Pierce Media or PGM (a sale that steadily dilly-dallied through distraction and into nothingness). In the third episode, “Connor’s Wedding,” fans were stunned by the shocking death of magnate Logan Roy (Brian Cox). This was followed almost immediately by a trip to the Norwegian mountain ranges to negotiate Matsson’s deal. Then the eventful election narrative where ATN swayed the states by declaring right-wing conservative Jeryd Menken (Justin Kirk) as president-elect. All the way up to Logan’s funeral in Episode 9, where the family read a slew of powerful eulogies, and poor Roman came out the “Grim Weeper,” as a crying mess.

Succession is unique for its dark satire script, peppered with profanities but spoken with wit and a rhythm that’s been compared to Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter. It has been described as a show about trauma, but it goes deeper than the description. Each character’s personas have unfolded with each passing episode to reveal their deeper wounds. They are terrible people who want to do good but have a very flawed idea of what is good in the first place. 

We go through a few pivotal moments in this monumental last episode of Succession. Be forewarned to expect an abundance of spoilers ahead.


“You can’t make a Tomelette without breaking some Gregs.”

Let’s start with the end — son-in-law Tom Wambsgans (Matthew Macfadyen) is crowned the new American CEO of the entire conglomerate. At a casual and cringey meeting with Matsson, he expresses his attraction to Tom’s wife Shiv. But since he cannot have her (and she’s a little bit pushy anyway), he would like the groveling Tom to take her place as CEO instead. 

Giddy, Tom hints at the development to Greg (Nicholas Braun), who proceeds to follow Matsson and his colleague to the bar. He listens in and live-translates their conversation in Swedish. Gathering the CEO will not be Shiv, he plays both sides and feeds the info to Kendall on a phone call for “something incredible.”

This is one of the first Succession episodes where things get seriously physical, multiple times. Tom finds out Greg tattles, and the two get into an undignified tussle in the bathroom. The internet has long shipped Tom and Greg as a kind of Romeo and Juliet, implying a sad demise. But as Tom is crowned CEO and Greg sidles up in fear of losing his $200,000 salary, Tom tells him he messed up, but, “I got you,” giving Cousin Greg and the new CEO Tom their happy ending.

Roy sibllings in the kitchen Succession finale
Photo by Sarah Shatz/HBO

Power Play More Like “Play”

Post-funeral in Episode 9, Roman ran into the post-election protesters shouting “morons!”, and in the process, was trampled in the stampede. We find him next in his icy mother’s vacation home in the Carribean, face battered and bruised and wearing a boy-like Walmart tee.

It is the day before the meeting when Shiv and Kendall fly over, not to help Roman’s “fragile” state, but to get his human vote for the board. Upon discovering from Greg’s intel that Shiv was ousted as a CEO candidate, the siblings convene for one last moment of plotting. After some deliberation, they dub Kendall as their bet for company king. 

In a bittersweet scene after an evening swim, the Roy kids gather in “mummy’s kitchen” to create a “healthful tonic” of tabasco, milk, cocoa powder, and loaf ends, or “the knobbies” as their mother calls it. The mixture is crushed in a blender, drunk by Kendall, then poured over his head. This all happens over overtures of Roman tonguing Peter’s “special cheese.” It is a sad scene as the Roy children play with their food and chant “A meal fit for a king”, giving a sense of their naive camaraderie but also disaster forthcoming. 


Logan Roy Makes an Appearance

Back in the city, Kendall, Roman, and Shiv visit Connor for a “stickering perambulation circuit” a.k.a. calling dibs on the furniture and other assets left in their dad’s apartment. As they move through the rooms, they find a video playing on the television in the dining room. It’s “Dinner with dad,” Connor says. On-screen, Logan is reciting past presidential “losers” in a party trick limerick. Connor does a number of “I’m a little teapot” except it’s a version of Logan with his habitual shouts and cusses.

We see the happy couple Willa (Justine Lupe) and Connor (Alan Ruck). Connor is set to move to Slovenia while Willa works on a play. If all goes well, Willa comes out like a winner by living how she always wanted — far away from her husband and working on her theater career. 

Roman Roy in Succession finale
The final shot of Roman Roy

Climaxing Tension

On the morning of the board meeting, everyone who’s anyone is in the Waystar offices. 

When Roman sees Gerri walk in, Roman’s anxiety heightens. Kendall first seems like he is giving Roman a consoling hug, but in actuality, he is pushing his face into his shoulder. Roman shouts out in pain and pulls away, cutting to a close-up of Roman’s open stitches and bleeding face. It makes you wonder why Kendall would hurt his brother so mercilessly, just for the optics.

In the board room, the table is set for voting. Despite his brother’s cruel act minutes earlier, Roman votes no in solidarity with Kendall’s decision. When it comes to Shiv’s turn she is flustered and walks into the neighboring room. Kendall and Roman follow and a terrible fight ensues. Shiv brings up the fact Kendall killed somebody and Kendall handles it miserably, outright lying and shouting “I am the eldest boy!” (He actually isn’t, Connor is) like a petulant child. After Roman makes a comment that he isn’t even bloodline and implies Kendall’s kids aren’t his, Kendall squooshes Roman’s-already injured face some more, and Shiv walks out. 

Roman, who often says the darnedest things, Indian-sits on the glass table and finally says something truthful, “I’m telling you this because I know it. We’re nothing.”

When Kendall re-enters the board room, the meeting has convened, and Shiv cast her final vote to sell the company.

The Verdict

Kendall descends the elevator with a defeated look on his face while Tom walks in quietly victorious as the new CEO, suits at his side. After the signing, Matsson does a victory dance chirping, “I got you, I got you!”

One of the most iconic, biting lines in the Succession series was when Logan told his children, “I love you, but you are not serious people.” Therefore it should come as no surprise that none of the Roy children ended up successors. 

The series concludes by dedicating a final scene to each character, providing closure to their individual journeys: 

In the middle of the day, Roman sits alone at the bar. He has always been a masochist who continually sought his father’s approval in their toxic relationship. Now dirt-rich and with not much to prove, he takes a sip of his martini, a smile creeping onto his face. 

Meanwhile, Shiv has conceded to become the pregnant wife of the CEO. Sitting in the car with Tom, he offers his hand, which she reluctantly takes. While she has always tried to be moral, like as a political strategist, her character has relatively stayed the same – rather money-hungry and mean.

Shiv Roy and Tom Wambsganns in the Succession finale
Shiv Roy concedes to being the pregnant wife of Wambsgans, Waystar Royco’s newest CEO

The first-ever scene in the whole series showed Kendall rapping to Beastie Boy’s “Open Letter to New York.” Fittingly, the show ends with a classic picture of the city. Kendall watches the sunset by the Hudson, trailed by his bodyguard Colin (Scott Nicholson), his father’s old aide who the man called his “best pal.” There is something ominous as Kendall watches the water, which has been a dark symbol in the character’s storyline. The main character’s next chapter is more open-ended. He lost his family, his friends, and his company, so what’s left? 

The Succession finale seems to prove the hypothesis that the Roy kids were losers from the start. Yet, can they really be losers? Yes, they lose power, but at the same time, they are still billionaires who won the lottery of generational wealth. The HBO show remains eerily relevant as a cutting commentary on the structures of media and our world. 

While the series became more sinister as it went on, the finale was believable, human, not overwritten, and hitting just right. Despite each character’s awfulness, the script makes you empathize with them. In the final swells of the dramatic orchestral score by Nicholas Britell, the Succession finale makes you wonder what lies ahead for the future of the Roys and Waystar Royco. There will likely be an ongoing power struggle still; but then again, that’s just the way the corporate cookie crumbles.

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