Season 4, Episode 10: ‘With Open Eyes’
Whenever a show as talked-about and admired as “Succession” reaches its end, fans and critics start coming up with lists of the biggest questions that still “need to be answered” in the finale. More often than not, the finale itself answers some of those questions but leaves others dangling, because the stories TV creators want to tell do not always line up with what the viewers expect. And that’s fine. That’s entertainment.
Somewhat surprisingly though, this last “Succession” episode resolves a lot. The only major plot thread from the season that remains open by the closing credits involves the outcome of the presidential election. We do learn that the Democratic candidate Daniel Jiménez has filed legal challenges regarding the burned ballots in Wisconsin; but ultimately the winner of that particular contest is insignificant to the “Succession” ending that the creator Jesse Armstrong has in mind.
What does matter is whether the Waystar board approves the GoJo deal; and who Lukas Matsson will name as the company’s new CEO. We will get back to both, but for those who want what Logan Roy would call “the protein,” the answers are: Yes, the board votes for the sale; and in a stunning upset, Tom Wambsgans steals the C.E.O. job from his wife. (Wild, right?)
Yet what makes this such a satisfying finale is that Armstrong and his cast and crew also grapple with one of the series’s most divisive questions: All thing considered, is there anything redeemable about the Roys?
The answer: Yeah, sometimes. Kendall, Shiv, Roman and even Connor are at their best when they are away from the pressures of business and politics and are just swapping memories and jokes, while talking about how strange their lives are. These riff sessions do not compensate in any way for all the destructively selfish decisions they have made or the people they have hurt. But they do show some real humanity.
Matsson and Tom — and, unexpectedly, Cousin Greg and Lady Caroline — have a lot to do with restoring that sibling bond, at least for a little while. When Shiv and Kendall find out their mother is sheltering the humiliated and bruised Roman at her island estate, the two Waystar rivals race down to talk to their brother, to try to win his vote at the upcoming board meeting.
Shiv, who thinks that she has secured Matsson the votes he needs (and herself the top job), is already trying to soften the blow for Kendall and Roman, talking about how maybe the boys can revive their plans for their bespoke information hub “The Hundred.” Unbeknown to Shiv though, Kendall is being fed inside information by Greg, who is hovering around Matsson and using a translator app to find out what the Swede is secretly saying. That is how Greg learns Matsson has soured on Shiv.
Greg doesn’t get the whole story, but we do. We know Matsson doesn’t think he needs Shiv’s political expertise and that he definitely doesn’t want her ideas. (Also, though he insists it does not bother him, Matsson maybe starts wavering after seeing a magazine cartoon showing Shiv pulling his strings.)
Early in the episode, Shiv lets Matsson know that when it comes to Tom’s future with the company, she considers him “a highly interchangeable modular part.” This ends up being a selling point. After an awkward visit to an art exhibit (where Tom praises a painting by saying “the colors go well”) and an equally bad dinner (where Tom says, “Those cod cheeks were a worthy opponent”), Matsson asks Tom to pitch himself.
The ATN head immediately shifts tones and starts touting his willingness to cut heads and harvest eyeballs. He says he does not want to give his ATN customers “dietary advice” about what kind of news they consume. He wins over Matsson, who needs a “pain sponge” — someone who does what needs doing and does not mind being hated.
Kendall does not know Matsson has chosen Tom; but he does know Shiv is out. So he uses that info to try to persuade her to vote no on GoJo. He tells a sweetly sad tale about Logan naming him as his successor at the Candy Kitchen in Bridgehampton when Kendall was 7-years-old. Between that story and Roman’s honest assessment that no one with any real power sees Shiv or himself as the new Logan, she relents.
That’s where this episode becomes fun. United at last, these three get hilariously sardonic, whether it’s Roman expressing his anxiety about swimming in the sea (which he calls “a huge water subway for things that want to eat me”) or Shiv doing her impression of how Kendall’s deadpan monotone would sound if she ever tried to kill him. The good vibes continue when they return to New York to hear Connor explain his plan to distribute their father’s personal effects to whomever places the most stickers on what they want, following the strict guidelines of his “stickering perambulating circuits.”
Everything eventually starts breaking down again, of course. When Tom learns Shiv is going to vote against GoJo, he confesses to her that he is Matsson’s CEO of choice and she rages, calling him an empty suit. (Tom responds to this by getting into a silly-looking smack-fight with Greg, while Greg is still clutching a roll of Connor’s inheritance stickers.)
But no matter how much Shiv and Roman hate Matsson and Tom, when the time comes to cast their vote for Kendall, both hesitate. They simply do not feel good about seeing Kendall in Logan’s chair, in an office filled with memorabilia of their father’s amazing accomplishments.
Roman starts to wobble first, realizing he does not want to compound the embarrassment of his funeral meltdown by appearing with a bandaged head in front of the board (including Gerri) and conceding to Kendall. Roman is brought back into line by Kendall embracing him in a brotherly fashion and then grinding his wounded forehead into his shoulder. But Shiv? With the vote tied 6-6 and her as the deciding “yea” or “nay,” she flees the boardroom, with Kendall and Roman following.
Kendall makes one last pitch, asking Shiv to have some pity on a man who is “like a cog built to fit only one machine.” But when she brings up his confession back in Italy about causing the death of a cater-waiter in a drunk-driving incident — an unforgettable moment of realness and sibling compassion for all three of them — Kendall botches his response, lying that he made up the whole story. Roman then makes some unforgivable comments about Kendall’s children not really being part of the Roy “bloodline” like Shiv’s unborn baby will be; and Kendall turns violent. By the time the dust settles, Shiv has already cast her vote.
And so we leave our three broken Roys, one by one. Roman reassures Kendall that nothing Waystar produces (“broken shows,” “phony news”) really matters, and then he reluctantly participates in the big publicity photo of Matsson signing the acquisition papers. Shiv perhaps admits to herself that she was just as willing to sell out Tom as he was to betray her; and when he asks her to ride with him to the post-signing celebration, she agrees, and even lays her hand lightly — very lightly — atop his in the back seat of the car.
As for Kendall … Well, throughout this series we have seen Kendall either swallowed up by water or buoyed by it, depending on whether or not he is thriving. As “Succession” ends though, he is merely staring dead-eyed at the water, stubbornly off in the distance. He did not really lose, because he is still obscenely rich. But he definitely did not win either. If anything, he has been kicked out of the game altogether.
Are these three redeemable? Absolutely. That’s what makes it all the more punishing that they are never redeemed.