Mark Overanalyses Film

Succession Pt III (The Finale)

June 07, 2023 Mark Hennigan Season 3 Episode 7
Succession Pt III (The Finale)
Mark Overanalyses Film
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Mark Overanalyses Film
Succession Pt III (The Finale)
Jun 07, 2023 Season 3 Episode 7
Mark Hennigan

If Mark doesn't get to overanalyse Succession he might die, so he tries to figure out why the finale of Succession feels so crushing, whether or not Kendall is still the show's protagonist, and who hasn't false memoried killing a waiter at their sister's wedding.

Show Notes Transcript

If Mark doesn't get to overanalyse Succession he might die, so he tries to figure out why the finale of Succession feels so crushing, whether or not Kendall is still the show's protagonist, and who hasn't false memoried killing a waiter at their sister's wedding.

Hi everybody, and welcome to Mark Overanalyses Film! Today, I’ll be overanalysing the finale of the HBO series Succession. Before I begin, allow me to remind you that I am available for story coaching and reading at

About 6 months ago, I decided to do one podcast on Succession. That soon turned into 2 episodes, covering the characters, the pilot, and an analysis of seasons 1, 2, and 3. Of course, it feels odd to leave it there now that the final season has ended. So, I decided to do one more podcast, covering the final episode, the final season, and looking at whether there is an overall shape to the series. And, inevitably, that has proven too much for just one podcast, so I will be separating this into a further 2 podcasts. Today, I’d like to look at the finale and talk about how it works as a conclusion to the show, and then in a few days, I’d like to discuss season 4 overall and the totality of the series. And then I will finally, finally shut up talking about Succession.

Also, I really should start by saying that in the last episode I did on Succession, I made a prediction that was proved wrong within about 48 hours of my making it. I thought there would be 5 seasons, and was charting the plot accordingly. I gave my reasons at the time, but the lesson is as always: prediction is a fool’s game. And it’s one that I will never stop trying to play. In hindsight of course, 4 seasons looks to make plenty of sense, but I’ll talk about that more in Pt IV.

A quick reminder before I begin: as far as I’m concerned, the engine of Succession — the thing that makes it go — is the question of “Who will win?”, or who will take over from Logan. But the real tension of Succession, the thing that we really need to know as an audience, is will these kids finally move truly beyond their tyrant of a father to become their own fully fledged people in their own right. With this in mind, I figure Succession has a kind of Wizard of Oz character dynamic. Kendall is missing the courage he needs, Roman is missing a brain, and Shiv is missing a heart. More specifically, I’m convinced that Kendall lacks any great sense of self-worth, so he is always trying to attain it artificially by copying his father. As a result, he’s either doing his father’s bidding or chasing after the CEO role like his life literally depended on it, or he’s utterly, utterly deflated and potentially suicidal. Roman also has no sense of self-worth, but he can get people to like him when he wants and he does generally have good instincts. The problem is that he has nothing to undergird those instincts, and he knows it. So, he often feels threatened and insecure. If he had Kendall’s head for knuckling down and working, he’d probably be pretty talented. Finally, Shiv cannot be vulnerable and open, even for a moment, which is why she didn’t marry a partner, but a punching bag. She gets to bully and control Tom as her meat-puppet, rather than worry about him being able to actually hurt her. Or at least, that’s what she thought.  

Ok, so with all that in mind, let’s now have a look at the finale of Succession, With Eyes Open, and see how it tracks these needs throughout. 

I have to say, I found both With Eyes Open and Season 4 a little tricky to analyse initially, because while the main plot points are pretty clear to see, I found it somewhat harder to determine the character movements. And really, that’s because I assumed Kendall was still acting as the protagonist. But I don’t think he actually is. And I have to confess, I think this is kind of a weakness of the finale and an ever so slight weakness of the series overall. But I’ll talk about that more later. 

For now, let me just say that the general rule of thumb is that the protagonist of a story is the character who changes, or who changes the most, or whose change or non-change defines the story. Now, it’s worth pointing out, they don’t actually have to change in the end. The whole thing just has to be geared around the question: Will this character change in a particular way or not? The climactic action then reveals that, but we chart the journey towards this supreme moment of change or non-change by the choices that the protagonist makes throughout key moments in the story. And in the finale and final season of Succession, I just can’t see how those choices don’t belong to Shiv Roy instead of Kendall. I honestly think Shiv is the one deciding things here and the one struggling with a required change here. Kendall is just pretty monomaniacal and, truthfully, a little less interesting to me here as a character as a result. By the end of the series, I had ceased to ask if Kendall could change, and wondered only ”Could he win?”. But, let me explain by first going through the final episode and analysing the structure through the prism of the understanding that Shiv’s Need is to “have a heart” — by letting her brother have the thing that gives his life meaning. Even if it means that she can’t have it. 

We begin with Act I, and sequence I: life as it is. And so we pick up where we left off, with Ken and Shiv on opposite sides plotting their moves. Shiv is in the ascendancy, but that’s because she doesn’t yet realise that Matsson is going to screw her over. And she probably should, because the second I saw this scene where she keeps talking and Matsson hardly says anything, I was getting anxious. But anyways, both Shiv and Kendall find out where Roman has disappeared off to, and they could both benefit from his vote, so they both head for the Caribbean. On her way though, Shiv phones Tom. As has so often happened the other way around, Tom is distracted by work while Shiv actually wants to talk about their relationship. This reversal is a foreshadowing of greater reversals coming down the road. However, they do talk about their relationship, cos Shiv still has power at this point. But, when she asks if Tom is interested in a real relationship, Tom surprises her by saying that he honestly doesn’t know. Shiv holds off her tears, hangs up, and gets back to work. And so, now with the tension of “Will Kendall convince Roman to side with him?”, at minute 13, we enter Sequence II.

The siblings arrive at Caroline’s place, which of course is incredibly fabulous and which Caroline of course talks about as if it were an albatross around her neck. Now, in fairness, Ken is fairly desperate, but in typical Kendall fashion, he comes in way, way too aggressive and rather than try to speak to Roman, he speaks at him in his typical alpha bro bullshit style that he keeps consistently trying even though it has never, ever worked for him at any given moment in 4 years of trying. And, surprisingly, it fails to work this time too. But soon it’s time for Shiv to do the thing that she always does that doesn’t work. She tries to convince other people to row in behind her with naked self-interest that serves nobody else and then acts like they’re being unreasonable for not accepting her Pax Siobhana. So, here she non-apologises for the first time for “winning” and then immediately says that one time saying fake sorry has really tired her out of saying sorry, so you know what, this might surprise you, but she’s actually not sorry. 

Somehow, Kendall and Roman remain unmoved. At this point, it appears that they are at a complete impasse, so we really need something to shake the tree a little. What we need is a late arriving inciting incident: or the event without which our story as it is would not happen. 

And so, in New York, we suddenly discover that Matsson actually wants to promote Tom to the role of CEO / pain sponge, rather than “the baby lady”. Tom does the smart thing of not telling Greg, but can’t resist continuing to bully him. So, Greg switches teams, finds out that it’s not going to be Shiv, and calls Kendall with the info. And so, at 31 minutes in, we wonder if the kids can finally unite behind just one of them. And so, we end Act I and we enter Act II.

Now, this is a very short Act II of approximately 30 minutes, but I think we can still see the usual stages within it. So, we begin with a brief sequence (or stage) III: the first attempts to solve the problem. And so, this really has some version of the tension: “Can Shiv accept that it won’t be her?” And as is so common in the first sequence of Act II, it begins with a refusal of the call. Shiv refuses to believe Kendall, and then struggles to accept the idea that it can only be one of them. Because, much as she loathes to admit it: Shiv knows that she can’t get there on her own. Now, personally, I think this short sequence ends when Kendall explains that it can’t be Roman, and that Shiv’s support of Matsson means it can’t be her. And you can see that, despite herself, Shiv knows he’s right. So, this is her acceptance of the call, or: the first unconscious move towards her Need. And so, at minute 40, we enter sequence IV (the greater attempts to solve the problem) as we wonder: “Can Shiv bring herself to give it to Kendall?”

The sibs head to the beach, and Kendall heads out for a swim to give Shiv and Roman time to mull. And once they decide that murdering him is probably not going to work long-term, they decide that they really have little choice but to give it to him. And you’ll notice in these scenes: Shiv is being gracious, Roman is being pensive and insightful, and Kendall is actually being steady and trusting. He’s actually talking to his siblings, not at them, and giving them space to talk amongst themselves. All of the siblings are behaving as their best selves. And so, at minute 44 of an 86 minute runtime, we have our midpoint — or the protagonist’s first conscious move towards her Need. Shiv and Roman swim out to Kendall on his buoy, and anoint him. 

So, with the big decision made, we enter our oh-so-brief Sequence V: the honeymoon sequence. The Honeymoon sequence is so called because the protagonist has acted in accordance with their Need and, as a result, things generally start to go well. And so, we have a rare moment of genuine warmth and fun between all the 3 siblings, as Roman and Shiv prepare a meal fit for a King. It really is nice. And this is Succession. So, we know things are going to get real shit real soon.

And so, at minute 50, it’s entirely appropriate that no sooner have they anointed Kendall with his gross crown, then we enter sequence VI: the bridge from the honeymoon period to the low point. And with the siblings acting in rare accord, where better to head for this bridge than their father’s apartment. Now, I have to admit, I get why this section is here, it ticks a lot of end-of-series boxes, it serves a plot function, and structurally it spaces things out, but it doesn’t really make any sense and tension-wise it’s a bit weak. For all the manic pace that Succession normally insists upon, with a board meeting to decide the fate of the company in a few hours, the siblings decide to wander around putting stickers on their father’s old stuff in the middle of the day. And mostly, the characters are just killing time and getting in some exposition until it’s time for the plot to kick back in. But having said all that, it’s not like it isn’t a pleasant divergence, even if I do think the cow print couch joke is a little cheap. And oh by the way, that whole Mencken plot? You know what, you can probably just forget about that. 

Finally, the kids watch a video of Logan, which again feels a little fit in, but it’s certainly a rich moment. Logan is around a table with Connor and some of the senior staff as they perform party tricks before descending into some collective folk singing. The kids tear up watching it, and it’s hard to say — I’d say even for them — what they’re feeling in that moment. It’s so rare to see Logan playful and soulful like that, and they probably realise that they missed their last few months with him. On the other hand, they might be realising that these greybeards were Logan’s real family — that he would have done this with them, but never with his kids. Or maybe it’s a combination of all of the above. 

Anyways, suddenly Succession remembers that there’s a plot to be getting on with, so Shiv talks to Tom and realises that he is to be made CEO in her place. Now, it’s worth remembering that according to revelations in Season 2, this was the original plan. But if Shiv in reality ever would have been happy with that course of events, she sure as shit isn’t now. She storms out and tells her brothers that they need to go and run their numbers. Succession is so good at this. There’s 13 people to count, and they’ve been jerking around watching old videos for an hour, but the music cue has kicked in so it’s go-time. There’s one final piece here though. As a low point for Tom and Greg, Tom attacks Greg in the bathroom and it almost comes to a serious fight. Which is crazy cos Greg would totally take Grima Worm-Tom in a fight. This right here is the low point. Shiv doesn’t really believe in Kendall, but she now can’t possibly vote for Matsson and Tom. And it’s time for the final board meeting to decide the fate of Waystar Royco, so at minute 60, with 25 minutes to go, we end Act II and we enter Act III.

Act III has a false resolution and a True resolution. And I’ve been giving this episode a little bit of a hard time, so let me just say that when it hits the ignition, it really is something. So here, we’re wondering if the sibs can really get the votes they need. And there’s a lot of small stuff to note here. Kendall goes to sit in the CEO chair but checks with Roman and Shiv. They make fun of him for checking, but within seconds Shiv is clearly having doubts. Stewie comes in and announces that he’s here to be bought off, and Kendall immediately offers his old college mate a non-exec chair role. And Shiv’s eyes widen with a look of “Seriously?”. As Kendall calls Stewie “a grilled cheese with a sucked dick”, which I think is Succession-speak for “Basic Bro”, he puts his feet up on the desk, and Shiv seems uncomfortable with a lot of what’s going on all of a sudden. But she and Stewie are soon off to work Sandy, leaving Roman and Kendall. Roman sees Gerri, and it sends him into a strange kind of spiral. Now, Gerri has generally represented Roman’s Need, and she has told him that she could have gotten him to CEO if he had stuck with her. And here he is, about to give up his shot forever, without even a good excuse as to why it shouldn’t be him. And so, in one of the darker moments of the finale, Kendall hugs Roman… so hard that the stitches in his forehead burst. We know that Roman was the most loyal to Logan of all the kids, and we know that Logan used to beat him. So Kendall abusing his brother to get him to fall in line has all kinds of unpleasant connotations. But, Kendall once again has his vote, while Roman — with a bloody forehead — once again has an excuse why it won’t be him. 

And so, at that, we begin the meeting itself. And again, Kendall being Kendall acts like a pompous jackass when he should be acting gracious and professional. Now, we know what’s coming here, and I think there’s a really important moment here at the beginning of the meeting. As Kendall makes such compelling points as “Uh, this deal… the deal is a bad deal”, he ends on “Let’s do it for my Dad, guys”. We cut to Shiv, and it looks like she’s just gotten sick in her own mouth. One, this is such obvious bullshit. Two, Logan was organising the sale that Ken is voting against. Three, Logan would never let someone else win on his watch. Four, Shiv has repeatedly revealed feeling guilty for the death of her father, and here she is about to give the company to probably the last person Logan would have given it to. That name on the piece of paper, no doubt about it, was crossed out, not underlined. Why would it be underlined? I don’t know if this invocation of Logan is the moment that changes Shiv’s mind, but it’s certainly important for the spirit of the show I think. The votes are counted. It gets to Roman, who seems to be struggling with something, but he eventually mutters his support for Kendall. But it then gets to Shiv, and the moment where real change is demanded of her… and, unlike at the midpoint, she just can’t bring herself to do it. She excuses herself. Things are now looking precarious. The vote hangs in the balance, and so, with 14 minutes left, we enter Succession’s finale’s true resolution. 

And… all hell breaks loose. With pressure coming on all the siblings, they all retreat into their worst impulses. We discover that, not just Shiv, but all of them, really cannot change. Roman has already caved under pressure, because he still has no brain. And Shiv has already shown that she can’t let her brother win, because she has no heart and can’t love truly. But of course, Kendall does the worst thing he possibly can. In such predictably Kendall style, when he should be calm and patient and give Shiv a moment like he did at the midpoint, he desperately launches himself after her. And when he should check if she’s ok and hear her out, Kendall once again talks at his siblings. He starts pitching why this is so important to him, which confirms every doubt and fear that Shiv has about Kendall. But still, Shiv is just heartless here. She says she doesn’t think he’d be good at it, and what a surprise that Shiv Roy thinks other people aren’t as smart or capable as she is. But then things actually get worse. Kendall’s Need is to have the courage to truly move past his father. But here he says that if he is not allowed to do this, he might die. He thinks his options are: Logan or death. So much for that then. And then Shiv — cold, ruthless Shiv with no other card to play — states that Kendall can’t be CEO… because he killed someone. Now, it’s a desperate play that doesn’t really make sense, but because Kendall has no goddamn courage, it works. At this climactic moment, Kendall shows himself to be an idiotic, desperate coward with no backbone. He denies his earlier admission of guilt, which makes no damn sense whatsoever, and it enrages his siblings. So Shiv puts a point on it. She loves him, but she can’t stomach him. Because Shiv can’t love truly. She probably loves him the way she loves her dog Mondale, and she would probably also put Kendall in a small pen for hours or days at a time. And now that Roman feels lied to, he starts to become “Roman the ghoulish troll”. As Kendall, like an idiot, shouts that he is the eldest boy, Shiv gives just a shitty, heartless laugh. Then Roman states that Shiv is the bloodline, as Kendall’s kids don’t count. As the brothers begin to fight, Shiv marches out. 

With everything broken now, Roman sits on the table and informs Kendall of the central idea that runs through the show: it’s all nothing and they are bullshit. In other words, without their tyrant father Logan Roy, they are not real people and never will be. Frank informs Kendall that the vote is lost, and we enter the final moments of Succession. Victorious Tom arrives and reveals that he will be keeping Greg. Roman signs the company over to Matsson, and then goes for a martini: Gerri’s drink, and the only thing he has left of her, the personification of his Need. Notably, he tries to smile through the pain in typical Roman style, but he cannot even do that anymore. Director Mark Mylod has stated that he sees substance abuse and alcoholism in Roman’s future, and I totally agree. 

Tom enters his car to find Shiv waiting for him. She mutters a barely audible congratulations. He offers his hand, and she half-heartedly takes it with some cold contempt. She couldn’t bring herself to divorce him, but neither can she be truly happy for him. It feels as though her lack of heart has firmly trapped her in her own life. But she’ll soon have a child to not love, so that will keep her busy. 

Finally, we find Kendall wandering through Battery Park, looking remarkably like Michael Corleone from the end of The Godfather Part 2. Unlike Michael, he has not succeeded in accumulating and maintaining power, but like Michael, and like his father in episode 1 of this season, he is utterly alone and without his family that he allegedly did all of this for. He’s a billionaire that feels utterly devoid of worth or value. As Succession comes to a close, Kendall considers the powerful water streaming by, and we can’t help but wonder if he might just jump.

So, we can see here that the finale begins and ends with Kendall, and he is the one driving a lot of the action, but it is in response to what Shiv is doing. And in the key moments, it is Shiv who is really making choices, and the show hinges on the question of whether or not Shiv can change. Maybe if Kendall had been more confident and patient in the final group scene, or maybe if he hadn’t denied killing someone, he could have convinced her. But really the decision is Shiv’s. The big moments belong to her. At the end of sequence I, she asks Tom to reconsider their marriage. At the start of Act II, she’s the one who learns that her deal is BS. At the end of sequence III, she’s the one who has to come to terms with not being the CEO. At the midpoint, she’s the one who has to decide to anoint Kendall. At the end of Act II, she’s the one who learns her husband is vying for CEO against her. And she’s the one, in the climactic action, who cannot overcome her nature and let Kendall win. It just doesn’t feel like Kendall has that kind of tension within the character here. It really depends on what happens to or for him. Now, you could interpret some of the tensions as belonging to him, for example, you could phrase some of the early tensions as “Can he convince Roman?” or “Can he convince Shiv?” But, if you recall the analysis of the pilot, we could see how Kendall’s internal Need was in action. He was at varying times acting more or less like his father. At the midpoint and during the honeymoon period, he was trying to behave conscientiously, while at the low point he was behaving more callously and viciously. There’s not really much of that here. It’s much more that external factors go for or against him, and his mood and actions change accordingly. But there’s much less internal conflict in Kendall I feel than there was in the pilot, or than there is within Shiv in the finale.  So, to my mind, even though Succession began as Kendall’s story, as far as I’m concerned, it ends as Shiv’s.  

This has been Mark Overanalyses Film on the final episode of Succession. I’ll be back in a few days to look at Season 4 and this idea across the shape of the series overall. If you enjoyed this episode, please like, rate, follow, recommend, and whatever else it is that’s good for this kind of thing! A special thanks to Mary Kate O’Flanagan who taught me everything I know about film, including these methods. Thanks for listening. Take care of yourselves, and see you soon.