Updated: January 7, 2022 6:13:27 pm
While HBO was doubling down in its efforts to fill the void left by Game of Thrones—a recent report revealed that the network wasted $30 million on an unproduced spin-off—it didn’t realise that Succession had begun a quiet march to the top. The Next Big Thing already existed, and much to everybody’s surprise, including the network’s own, it was an HBO show.
Sunday’s season three finale of the series—correctly compared by many to GoT’s Red Wedding episode—concluded a season that offered not just a welcome respite from the overwhelming nature of streaming, but also reminded viewers that regardless of how many millions of viewing minutes Netflix says Squid Game has accumulated, HBO is still in a league of its own.
Written by series creator Jesse Armstrong, the finale was sort of an encapsulation of everything that makes the show so compelling—an unholy marriage of unbearable paranoia and crackling dialogue, officiated by the tragic drama at the centre of it all. But it also revisited a theme that the show has always treated rather cautiously: familial love.
On several occasions throughout Succession’s three-season run, the Roy siblings declare, mostly in an off-hand manner and with smug looks on their faces, that they love each other. You never really believed them, least of all Roman and Siobhan. When the two showed up for Ken’s doomed birthday party only a few episodes ago, they arrived not with the intention of going nut-nut but to get some dirt on what he was up to. But all this changed in the finale.
In the most remarkable 30-minute stretch of television you’ll see this year, Ken unleashed a cry for help so deafening that even his numbskull siblings were forced to pay attention. And this time, their concern didn’t feel disingenuous. Not only was it made clear that Ken tried to kill himself in episode eight, he also revealed the magnitude of his mental turmoil to Rome and Shiv, who perhaps realised at that exact moment the extent to which they were culpable in pushing their brother to the edge.
In a still from the episode that fans are freaking out about—one person described it as a Renaissance painting, while another corrected them and said that what they probably meant was that it looked Baroque—Ken is collapsed on the dirt floor, next to a bunch of trash cans, behind a 16th century Tuscan villa. He is weeping. Rome and Shiv hover over him, not knowing what to say, or what to do with their hands. Shiv sort of pats him on the head, while Rome defaults to his go-to defence mechanism: humour. After awkwardly squeezing Ken’s shoulders, Rome delivers one of the most uncomfortably dark one-liners of the year, reminding us not just how emotionally stunted he is, but how sick he is.
Their traumas have prevented the Roy siblings from ever having normal relationships with other people—worryingly, Ken admits in the finale that he feels no emotion even for his children. The Roys gravitate towards each other not because of some familial bond, but because they’ve all been scarred by a shared past.
“When you look at the Roy children, you see how damaged they are,” Brian Cox told Vulture. “But it’s damage by getting too much, by having too much. It’s like a gorge, like overeating and making yourself sick.” This might not be something that you agree with—it absolves Logan of his criminal ineptitude as a parent—but it provides an interesting insight into how actors rationalise the behaviour of the characters that they play.
The siblings had flirted with the idea of teaming up against their father many times before, even earlier in this very season, when both Shiv and Roman rejected Ken’s offer of a strategic partnership. But it was always motivated by power, or status, or a part of an elaborate scheme driven by self-interest. But this time, it hit different. Sure, the team-up was born almost as an act of collective self-preservation, but it took a wholly unexpected turn when both Rome and Shiv stood their ground against Logan in the episode’s tense final moments. And their reward for finally standing up for each other? Betrayal.
In a symbolic reversal of that scene under the Tuscan sun from earlier, it was Ken who grasped Rome’s hand as the younger Roy collapsed on the floor, recoiling in horror from the Machiavellian move that their father had pulled off.
But this time, it really felt like they loved each other. Ironically for characters who’ve never been particularly articulate — Ken’s vocabulary is dominated by ‘umms’ and ‘uhhs’ and his father reacts to every uncomfortable situation with the same foul expression—they’re very forward when it comes to terms of endearment. In a way, how the Roys express affection for each other is… very white; it’s the opposite of how people in many Eastern cultures express affection. In countries like our own, parents can go entire lifetimes without telling their children that they love them. But even someone like Logan Roy, who wouldn’t—and doesn’t—think twice before throwing his kids under the bus, routinely tells his kids what he feels about them. Whether or not he means it is another thing.
A storm is coming, and fittingly for a show called Succession, the Roys will soon have to face the consequences of their actions.
Post Credits Scene is a column in which we dissect new releases every week, with particular focus on context, craft, and characters. Because there’s always something to fixate about once the dust has settled.
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