Succession: Brutal Television Excellence

Succession, HBO’s latest addition to it’s museum of television classics, is possibly the best show of the last decade.

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3 Min Read
Posted: April 8, 2024

The latest addition to HBO’s elite class of television series, Succession proves to be an absolute rollercoaster of a ride.

When the Emmy-winning drama series first premiered on HBO, a platform synonymous with prestige TV, it caused ripples across the television scene. However, the size of its audience paled in comparison to previous hit HBO shows of the same caliber, such as The Wire, Game of Thrones, and The Sopranos. At first, it didn’t really catch my eye, but by the time the 3rd season premiered, I decided it was time to tune in, and I got treated to an absolute classic.

First of all, let me say, HBO very rarely disappoints. Each and every show is so meticulously crafted and they always seem to nail the casting. However, a victim of Game of Thrones’ terrible final season myself, I’m sure you can understand my doubts. Succession is yet another show that showcases HBO royalty, and will go down in its gallery of the greatest shows ever made. With that said, let’s jump in.

A Greek Tragedy Disguised in Glamour

Succession boasts a number of unique qualities in the show. For a first, its characters are inherently unlikeable. So much so that when you come to care about their personal fates, it’s kind of startling at first. This can be found in other shows. However, none of them have the prestige or glamour that Succession boasts, which makes it all the more intriguing and encapsulating.

The Children

Take Kendall Roy for example. The Golden Boy, the Promised Son, the one to take on the reins once Dad can’t anymore. Once his father snatches it away, the entitledness takes hold, citing Kendall’s unwillingness to sacrifice. However, I’m sure many of you will find Kendall among the show’s better characters. He isn’t perfect, but he boasts a moral code. Like every human being, he cares for those around him and struggles to find purpose. He’s also our show’s main protagonist.

His younger brother, Roman, on the other hand, is a goofball and, to put it lightly, a douchebag; an incredibly complex personality, he tends to find comfort in jokes and putting other people down. His father was specifically hard on him, for his severe incompetence. Due to that, he’s attached to them and struggles to improve himself.

Shiv Roy, the youngest and only girl in the family, grew up out of the business. Logan is a misogynist, so she naturally had no role in his business. However, he also favoured her, as can be seen by the fact that she’s the only one with a real nickname. Shiv also tends to be the most insufferable. Poking her nose in the wrong places and acting self-righteous while also being incredibly hypocritical.

The oldest brother and only child from the first wife, Connor Roy, is a simple man. His mother was put into an asylum when he was young and his father never took him seriously. Thus, his younger siblings also don’t rate him and consider him inferior to them. Connor is far from the brightest mind and definitely shows more ‘crazy’ than his other siblings. Despite his severe delusions of grandeur, he’s the only one smart enough not to get involved in his dad’s company. That goes a long way.

Succession Season 3 Poster

The Patriarch

When you’re the CEO of the fifth-largest media conglomerate in the world, you’ve made some sacrifices. These sacrifices come in the form of money, attention, and relationships. Logan knows about these sacrifices oh too well. He never really spent time with his kids, and when he did, he gave them intense mental trauma. Whether missing his son’s baseball game or their play rehearsals, Logan always found a way to not be there. This comes with consequences. These consequences are explored in Succession, in the form of rebellion, mockery, and several other revolts from his children, particularly Kendall. Despite this, he is the man, and everyone will bow.

A Broken Home

The Roy family is, at the very least, a broken family. Each and every character is a snake in a snake pit fighting for survival and dominance. Like Gladiators in Ancient Rome, but with an ultimate goal of much more meaning and much more power.

“Life’s not knights on horseback. It’s a number on a piece of paper. It’s a fight for a knife in the mud.”

~ Logan Roy

So, if any of the children wish to become Logan’s successor, they must learn to slither and hiss just like him and fight for that knife with everything they have. It’s all a game to Logan; to reap the reward, you must play it. It’s like Succession’s version of:

“When you play the Game of Thrones
You either win or you die!”

~ Cersei Lannister

And I’ll let you know,
you may hate the characters but you’re still gonna love them.

Why Succession Is a Must-Watch

Succession like any great show, has an intriguing premise. However, trust me when I say there is much more than meets the eye. There are several reasons and features within the show that made it climb the ranks among my favourite shows so quickly. From Composer Nicholas Britel’s masterful reworkings of the show’s score to the evenly distributed crude humour, Succession is a masterclass of television brilliance. Even after all the praise in the press, especially for the new season, you’re still not a Succession believer, here are reasons you should be.

Masterful Acting Performances

Succession’s incredibly compelling and complex characters are the birthchild of incredible writing prowess. However, these characters are brought to life and infused with life, depth, and ingenuity by the incredible ensemble cast that elevate the show to new unparalleled heights with their brilliant performances. These performances are what compel us to invest our time in the character’s respective journeys throughout the show. Each actor effortlessly embodies their characters and infuses them with nuance and realness that is so hard to attain as an actor. For every single member in a cast of a show to achieve this, is unthinkable. There are no weak links in Succession. Everyone needs to be on the top of their game, and they are.

Standout Lead Performances

Kendall Roy from Succession
Emmy-Winner Jeremy Strong as ‘Kendall Roy’ on Succession

One person I’d like to highlight in particular is Jeremy Strong as the enigmatic Kendall Roy. The titular character and supposed heir to the throne is perfectly complimented by Strong’s droopy eyes and magnetic charisma. Strong plays the role so perfectly and makes it his own. His performance as the heir apparent to the Waystar Royco is one of my favorite performances of all time. Jeremy Strong is one of the highlights of a jam-packed show, adding several layers to Kendall’s tragic story. His emotions, ego, and expressiveness- none of them ring wrong even once throughout the four seasons. His performance should go down as one of the greatest, along with the likes of Gandolfini’s Tony Soprano and Bryan Cranston’s Walter White. A tortured soul hanging on to the one thing he deems to be his, that gives him purpose.

However, this by no means downplays the other actors’ performances. Brian Cox masterfully plays the patriarch, Logan Roy. Every eye twitch, every disdainful look, is perfectly placed and acted out. Logan Roy is ruthless, unforgiving, and prideful. He is willing to give up at nothing to get what he wants, even if his own children are in the way, and Brian Cox captures the essence of the character impeccably.

Ensemble Cast

As I mentioned previously, each and every performance on Succession is a tour de force. The remarkable ensemble cast seamlessly merges their collective talents to produce a great acting force, that mesmerises. The chemistry between the actors is palpable and can be felt through the screen. The tension instantaneously multiplies, causing the viewer to be pulled into the seductive pas de deux of razor-sharp dialogue and witty humour.

The Younger Siblings Shine

Kieran Culkin and Sarah Snook both finally seized their moment as they further moved into the spotlight in season 4. She gave, perhaps the best performance of the year, and at the exact moment that Succession peaked. Her ability to convey such a diverse array of emotions is astounding. From a grief-stricken Shiv Roy’s face in episode 3, the character took a powerful emotional turn that captured a whirlwind of sadness and vulnerability. To in later episodes, when ruthlessness turns into frustration and vulnerability, she only wowed us more. Her fierce and cunning portrayal of the youngest Roy sibling was piercing as well as astounding. It was her time to shine, and she shone brighter than any other character.

Kieran Culkin winning his Emmy for Succession
Kieran Culkin wins Emmy for Lead Actor in a Drama Series

Culkin instantly embodied the gleeful Roman Roy ever since his first ‘Hey, hey motherfuckers!’ when we were introduced to the character. Series creator Jesse Armstrong and the show’s writers evolved Roman into a man messed up by his father’s torment. By the time the series came to a close, we saw the character unclothed, completely vulnerable, without the refuge of his goofy exterior.

Each and every actor brings a unique intensity to their role, leaving a lasting impact on the viewer. That is the aim of a good show and a good actor, and that’s what the Succession’s cast achieves. Powerful performances that mesmerise are in abundance.

Brilliant Writing

Like every great show, Succession begins on the writers’ board before being brought to life through acting performances and a camera. What we see on the screen, was first envisioned by the brilliant writers behind the show.

Multiple factions display and showcase the brilliant writing throughout Succession. Without these, it wouldn’t be nearly as great a show as it is right now.

Complexed and Nuanced Characters

Succession excelled in creating deeply complex and multi-dimensional characters. Layer after layer, the characters were deep, emotionally charged, and relatable to some extent. Each one of them may be in over their heads, but the show finds a way to make you care about their personal journeys, vendettas, and struggles. Most importantly, each character is unique. They’re all rich, bratty egoists who are too privileged to understand real-world struggles, but even they have their own distinct motivations, flaws, and strengths, making them realistic and intriguing. On a human level, we begin sympathising with them, as we get to know the characters better.

The premise of a wealthy and dysfunctional family, filled with intricate power dynamics, is so well executed by Jesse Armstrong that one can’t help but be enamored at the sight of it. This is what allows the show to showcase the complexities of human behaviour and relationships so well. You are drawn into the cutthroat world of the Roy family, where every moment is a high-stakes game, and it thrills you to no end.

Sharp and Witty Dialogue

Succession is strictly a drama show. But at the same time, it is comedy-gold. Armstrong uses cringe-humour in abundance. First, he draws you in to enjoy laughs at the petty antics of the Roy siblings and then makes you feel guilty for being complicit in their forth-coming misery. But besides that, it’s also just plain, straight-up funny. The writing is a masterclass in the subtle and witty. From hilarious lines like ‘You can’t make a Tomlette without breaking some Gregs,’ to Logan’s brutal one-liners, the show will squeeze every laugh it can get from you.

In “Austerlitz,” for example, when therapy begins to break down, the therapist suggests everyone unwind by getting in the pool. The kids immediately mention that Logan can’t swim. “He doesn’t even trust water. It’s too wishy-washy.” Such moments are immediately followed by one of Succession’s typical zoom-ins, which can be found on sitcoms like ‘The Office’ and ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine’ but not commonly found in a prestige-drama, especially one made by HBO. However, having said this, the camerawork perfectly complements the show’s narrative and feel.

Tom and Shiv fighting in Succession

The dialogue is like a nightingale singing on a cold winter night, but the nightingale spurs out a few cusses every five seconds. Sure, tons of lines are filled with crude jokes and the odd insult. The wordplay is genius, and more often than not, these conversations are used to set up deeper themes. The writers consistently play against the obvious emotion in a scene. A tense scene jam-packed full of emotion, may be cut through with a hint of humour in between. There’s a sense of playfulness in writing, a desire to take chances and go outside the strict confines of a nuts-and-bolts conversation. The writers break the molds of conventional dialogue, to make it more interesting and ultimately, better.

Social Commentary

Succession goes beyond the conventions of a ‘family drama’. Wealth inequality and corporate greed are all real-life issues that our society faces and are explored in depth. The exploitation of the customer, the corporate mindset, and a hunger for more are all qualities that our characters possess. The introspective look into the wealthy 1% of the nation that Succession offers us is subtle yet eye-opening. The corrupting hold of power and its implications really seep deep into the viewer’s mind. Armstrong and his team intended this effect, alas do not consider it a fluke.

Perhaps the most important aspect of the writing is the narrative depth and complexity it gives the show. At its heart, this is what really excels. However, I’ll let you guys explore that by watching the show yourself.

Linear Storytelling

On TV, especially when we talk about “prestige TV,” ambition is often associated with a show using nonlinear storytelling. This involves severely compromising the viewer’s sense of time. It can obviously be done to great effect and many shows have been groundbreaking precisely because they’ve found bold ways to experiment with time.

David Lindelof did show with his show ‘Lost’ while experimenting, telling much of the story in flash-forwards, flash-backs, and the more controversial,flash-sideways. He did the same in his acclaimed HBO show, ‘The Leftovers’ final season, emphasizing the future rather than the present. The sitcom, ‘How I Met Your Mother’ also explored this, with the entire show being set in the past, with the protagonist narrating it to his kids. The episodic flashbacks of Ted’s dating life and his friend group’s lives had the audience scampering for clues, as they waited for the answer to the question in the show’s title. Several other shows, like ‘Rick and Morty’ and the brilliant Apple TV+ original Severance, have also used different methods of nonlinear storytelling.

Succession Season 4 Opening Credits

However, in the case of Succession, it’s best to stick to a single timeline. Armstrong decided to keep it relatively simple, showing us strictly the present, which proved extremely effective. Besides the sepia-esque home video in the iconic opening, we really don’t get any look into the Roys’ lives, besides if the characters drop the odd bit of Roy lore. Succession doesn’t need flashbacks and time gaps to communicate how and why the Roys’ are as messed up as they are. And that’s a good thing. This, teamed up with the documentary-style camerawork, communicates the narrative in an uncommon way that proves effective for the ‘prestige television’ look of Succession.

A Brilliant Final Season

*Contains Major Spoilers for Succession Season 4*

If there was any debate about whether Succession deserved to be in the elite pantheon of television, Jesse Armstrong put all those debates to rest with a statement of a final season.

The end of the 3rd season of HBO’s final season promised war between the Roy siblings and the living patriarch. The season ended at an all-time high, and going into season 4, we didn’t know what to expect.

The final season, began just as the first one did, with a birthday party. This time, however, Logan and his children are on opposing sides of the playing field. However, distance from dad means that the siblings are closer than ever. Kendall, Shiv, and Roman ended season 3 on the same page and went into the final season united by the collective frustration over their father’s decision to sell the company. To sell their birthright. However, because these are the Roy siblings, there is an underlying supposition that this candy fare isn’t to last long.

Season four marks a shift within Waystar Royco and the lives of the people within the company. There’s a constant feeling of impending doom hanging over each main character’s head, that they just can’t seem to shake off.

Every single episode earned the fanfare with which it was greeted: Connor’s miserable wedding, the tense cocktail party hosted by Shiv and Tom, Logan’s funeral in episode 9, and even the bromance of Tom and Greg slowly breaking away; everything was done brilliantly.

04×03 – Connor’s Wedding

If the first two episodes didn’t get you hooked, Armstrong dropped an all-timer with episode 3. Connor’s Wedding was a complete game changer and demanded career-defining performances from each of the four Roy siblings as they come to terms with a terrible loss. At that moment, neither their luxury yacht nor their new acquisition of Pierce Global Media can comfort them. Jeremy Strong, like always, is a powerhouse. Drooping eyes, trembling lips, dripping nose, proving once again that he is one of the best actors on television. However, this episode was the time for Sarah Snook and Keiran Culkin to show their capabilities. A broken Connor, too, weeps for his dad on his wedding day, as the whole family is united by loss. Or are they?

The Roy siblings hug at Connor's Wedding

The sick irony of Logan’s death is he died just as he lived his life. Putting business before family. He could’ve died happy, with his family, attending his son’s wedding. But business first. This is precisely why, he has left his children doomed. They know nothing better than to fight and scrimmage for what they want, what they need. And what they need is each other’s failure.

Brilliance in Direction – Connor’s Wedding

One particular scene that was so brilliant was the shot of Logan, with a phone next to his ear, as his children pour their hearts out to him, not knowing whether he is dead or alive. “We needed to see the phone held up against [Logan’s] ear, and his face,” said Mark Myold. “But that was the only time where I thought I could ethically or dramatically justify it.” This eery post-mortem view of Logan employs shock tactics to drown the viewer in a cocktail of ‘Is it?’ ‘It can’t be’ and ‘What’ll happen next?’ while also giving a subtle sense of finality.

Mylod and Capone shot the episode’s centerpiece sequence as a modified stage play, utilizing multiple cameras to choreograph nearly 30 minutes of narrative action in real-time. All of this, allowed for the actors to thrive in a nurturing environment and give lifetime performances, enhanced by several bits of improvisation. Connor’s Wedding ups the ante on Succession and never looks back.

Nearing The Endgame

Succession is a show, infamously about terrible people doing terrible things. Season 4, however, felt pretty damn adamant about making us sympathise with the characters. The character’s inner qualities and contradictions come to the surface. Yes, they’re bad people but do they deserve to suffer like this? Can they gain redemption? Be absolved of their sins? This is the consistent anti-hero trope employed in shows like The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, House M.D and Mad Men.

Succession S4 Poster

But Succession applies this to multiple characters at the same time, as they fight each other for ultimate superiority over the other. And for what their father left behind for them, besides incessant trauma. However, among the siblings, Kendall Roy, who is, in essence, the protagonist, stands out.

Tensions among siblings hit an all-time high in episode 8, as Kendall slowly embraces his vile side, compromising on morals and everything he holds dear to get the one thing that would make his life meaningful: CEO of Waystar Royco and the power that comes with it. Shiv starts scheming with Mattson, Kendall employs cunning tactics to get a favorable presidential candidate media prop, and Roman watches on, confused as to where he stands in all of this.

04×09 – Church and State

The opening of this episode closely mirrors the opening of the one with Logan’s wake, with both Shiv and Roman surrounded by enormous windows looking down on the city. Shiv strategizes with Matsson before her father’s funeral. Meanwhile, Kendall argues with his ex-wife as his kids aren’t being allowed to go to their grandfather’s funeral, and Roman practices his eulogy in front of the mirror, reassuring himself that ‘he is the man.’

Roman had apparently ‘pre-grieved’, and he came in with the intent of being the star eulogist. Ewan, Logan’s slightly hypocritical older brother, went up on stage despite the dissuasion of his niece and nephews. What Ewan said, can’t be quoted enough to do it justice without the whole speech being written down. So the gist of it was, Logan was a terrible person but he was made one, and he blamed himself for the death of his sister, Rose. He humanizes Logan but also doesn’t shy away from the bad things he has done.

Roy siblings in Succession, Church and State

So when Roman finally comes up to give his eulogy, he breaks down in one of the most incredible acting showcases throughout the whole show. Kieran Culkin shows why he deserves the Emmy he recently won for his role. Ultimately, in clutch Kendall fashion, he steps up and saves the day with yet another one of his confident, charismatic speeches. Kendall celebrates his father for being “a brute” who made things, especially money, which Kendall claims is the lifeblood of civilization and should be praised for doing so.

I suspect the speeches will get the most attention at the funeral. But the best thing about it, in my opinion, is the reactions. This shows how great of a show Succession is. Everything is thought out and articulated and not without reason.

With Open Eyes – Did Succession stick the landing?

As anyone still upset with Game of Thrones can tell you, endings are hard to do – and a bad ending can singlehandedly ruin a great show. So, we can consider ourselves lucky that Armstrong didn’t take any tips from David and Dan.

Meal Fit for a King in Succession Finale
‘A Meal Fit for a King’

“I love you, but you’re not serious people,” were Logan Roy’s final words to his children. “I love you, but I cannot stomach you,” is what Shiv Roy says to her brother Kendall, before casting one final vote to take away his dream of leading their father’s company. This gave her no personal gain. This was not a move she confidently thought out. This was impulsive. It was never about her winning, as long as the others lost. Logan constantly pitted his kids against each other and the effects of his upbringing lived long after his death.

Jesse Armstrong’s comedically cringe-dark drama has been the crown jewel of television, along with Better Call Saul, these last few years. It takes a few episodes to adjust to, but from Kendall’s press conference in season 2’s finale to Logan selling the company in season 3, it soared high ever since and never looked down. The series finale needed to be nailed, and Armstrong did a fantastic job with the final 83 minutes of Succession.

The Events

Despite 38 whole episodes prior to the finale, going into it, it’s like a haze of disproportion, as the audience doesn’t know what to expect. Several double and triple-crosses later, we were just as clueless about what was going to happen as we were going into the show.

A chain of events takes place that gives us the most strangely heartwarming scenes in Succession’s history. Kendall tells Shiv immediately about Mattson’s ploy, and the siblings unite once again, choosing Kendall as the successor to Logan. What makes the ending especially heartbreaking is the ‘Meal Fit for a King’ scene. A small look at what could’ve been. what the siblings could have been to each other. The childhood that they were robbed of. Unfortunately, this, too, didn’t last. The giant media empire that was up for grabs and the brought-up Logan Roy gave them wouldn’t allow it.

Kendall Roy in the finale shot of Succession

Succession’s final act, the board scene, is just a callback to Kendall’s nightmare in Episode 6, ‘Which Side Are You On?’ At that time, it was his brother, Roman, who didn’t back him up. This time, it was Shiv. When she decided, if she couldn’t have Waystar, neither could her siblings. Kendall breaks down in a fit of childish rage, as the thing he had desired his whole life, was snatched away from him. What ensued was a nail-biting sequence that saw Tom Wambsgans take over as CEO, a pawn in a much bigger game of chess.

So in the end, no one wins. A brilliant miserable ending, to a brilliant ballad of a rich dysfunction family.

Succession’s brutal finale is a disturbing homage to a broken, tortured Kendall Roy. We spent 4 seasons reveling in the character’s devious manipulations, and the ending didn’t disappoint.

Final Words

“I don’t feel like I’ll be able to write anything as good as this again”

~ Jesse Armstrong in his interview with HBO

We hope this isn’t true because Succession is a masterpiece that deserves every single word of praise that it gets. However, we will admit that it is pretty damn hard to top.

Armstrong’s masterpiece stands out as one of the greatest pieces of television ever created, rich with incredible writing, immersive dialogue, exquisite acting, and a compelling narrative. Succession is a mesmerizing dish full of intrigue, humor, drama, and cutthroat politics.

It is a masterclass in the exploration of human nature and intricate power dynamics, leaving an unforgettable mark in the history of silver-screen entertainment. It is ‘The Sopranos’ of our time.

If you are looking for a fast paced show, full of action and violence, then this isn’t the one for you. However, if you want a showcase of writing and acting excellence that will keep you intrigued, I can hardly suggest a better show. It will suck you into the twisted materialistic world of the Roy family and won’t let go. If you haven’t seen Succession yet, I highly recommend it.

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