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A Bit Of A Letdown

Warning: the contains spoilers regarding Succession, specifically regarding the series finale. I discuss events in the show that will spoil key plot points, so continue reading at your own risk.

That Was Disappointing

Almost all the critics are raving about the Succession finale, and how the show wrapped up. I found it disappointing. It wasn’t nearly as big a twist as it could have been, and it was, in some ways, a rather conventional way to end the show. The ending also was a bit nonsensical in my mind.

The show was brilliantly written, and the performances were stunning. Its production values were impeccable, and it did a fantastic job of poking fun at the ultra-wealthy. There is no question that these people are completely out of touch with life in the real world. Even Logan, who at least knew a simpler life, has lost any connection to life for ordinary people.

However, for a show purporting to be a dark comedy, I didn’t find it particularly funny. The characters were cruel and selfish. Okay, I won’t discount that it’s just how I’m wired. But I never saw any real comedy, unless you count the fact that the technical business elements were beyond ludicrous. Sure, rich people get away with a lot, but nowhere near what happened in the show. They would have been doing it to other very rich, very well connected people. Those other wealthy people would not have put up with it, and would have the means to make them pay for those transgressions.

At least the showrunners were honest about it. They made it clear they were making no effort to be accurate on the business side of things. Knowing that helped, because then I could focus on the rest of the show.

The show was also one season too long. Season 3 felt like rehash of Season 2, and we could have done without it in some ways. It would have made for a tighter overall story arc: Season 1 is setup and we see the first positioning of each of the players; Season 2 we get knives going in and out of various backs, with shifting alliances, while adding in Matsson and the Gojo deal; Season 3 we wrap it all up.

But that’s not what happened. We have the show as it is. It’s the final episode, and how it resolved, that left me underwhelmed. The choice of Tom wasn’t nearly as big a twist as far as I’m concerned. Before exploring why, and where I think the show could have gone, let’s examine things a bit, and take some things off the table.

The Mind of Matsson

There were two outcomes to the Gojo deal: the board accepts it or rejects it. For the “accepts it” outcome, we need to try to delve into the Mind of Matsson. All we have to go on, of course, is what he said and what he did.

The first thing we know is that he needs an American CEO to fend off the regulators. This does not have to be permanent, but it has to be long enough that the regulators lose interest and move on to other targets. There are plenty of options in the cast for that role.

The second thing we know is that he isn’t looking for a partner. Matsson was blunt with Tom about that. What Matsson wants is a caretaker and a puppet. The CEO’s job is to run the day to day. In some ways, it’s more “COO” than “CEO”. But Matsson is the brains, and he will make all the important decisions. The CEO is there to do is bidding, nothing more.

These two things inform who could be a potential CEO under Matsson. Before exploring the boring, obvious choices, let’s take a few outliers off the table. Hugo, Kerry, and Peter (Caroline’s lapdog) were never going to make sense, from a business point of view or a plot point of view. Picking any of them would have been a silly ending to an otherwise serious show. It would have been a farce, not a comedy. A show with Shakespearian aspirations wouldn’t have allowed itself to go there.

Conner was also obviously out. That, too, would have been a devolution into farce, neither comedy nor tragedy. Don’t even pretend that Willa was in the picture.

The Obvious, Boring Picks

Karl, Frank, Gerri. From a conventional point of view, any of them would make sense. All are perfectly capable of filling the Puppet CEO role. As a “real world” pick, any of them would be the most conventional choices. They are American, they are familiar with the organization, and they would be fine as minions working for Matsson until the regulatory heat subsided.

Gerri might have chafed under the yoke of Matsson. The guy is a bit of a misogynist, treating women badly. I also think the character had greater ambitions, and actually wanted the job in a real sense, not just on paper. That seemed clear from the earliest episodes of the show.

Karl and Frank would probably have been content with taking the job, collecting their salary and bonus, and retiring when putting in a “real CEO” became an option. Both were nearing retirement age, and the Waystar/Royco CEO job was temporary in nature.

Tom Was Uninspired

Tom getting the job was the boring choice. I don’t find that much of a “twist” in the way that other twists have unfolded in the past four seasons. It also didn’t make logical sense, when examining Matsson and what he said and did.

First, Matsson didn’t like Tom. That was clear from the very first time they met. Matsson seemed to find him annoying, verging on obnoxious, and utterly forgettable. That all of a sudden Tom was someone he could work with, when he clearly didn’t like the guy, seemed silly. Matsson was going to fire him. He didn’t really want him running ATN. And now it’s okay he’s the CEO?

Second, Tom comes with baggage, in the form of a wife who is from the family Matsson is replacing. Does Matsson really want to have to deal with that drama? Tom is not going to end it with Shiv. His actions have been of a man who is desperately trying to avoid a divorce. Sure, Tom poisoned the lawyer pool, but that seems more an attempt to keep Shiv from successfully ending things. How long before Shiv tries to worm her way back into the organization in some way? Marionettes don’t work very well when someone else is trying to pull on the strings.

Third, we know that Tom has ambitions. He made that clear from the moment we met him. Sure, he was more than happy to get his skull neck deep into whatever ass needed to be placated. But Tom wants more, and that is the opposite of what you want in a puppet. Successful puppets don’t have agency or ambition.

It just wasn’t that big of a twist, at least to me. Logically he makes no sense. Emotionally he is a goofy choice. Not an odd or “out in left field” choice, but one that just doesn’t work. This outcome isn’t consistent with how the show has gone for the past four seasons.

The Kids

Before I get to my pick (and you can see where I’m going), let’s examine the plot had Shiv not turned on her brothers. This would have been the conventional ending. It’s the one most of us probably expected during the opening episodes. It was one that is anything but a plot twist, and would have been inconsistent with the rest of the show.

Ken was in the best position from the outset to take over. It looked at the start that Ken was the “favourite son” of Logan, as much as he could be. While the effort was half-assed, Ken was sort of being groomed for the job. At least about as much as a self-absorbed egotist like Logan would have groomed someone. In some ways, the “groomed but not really groomed” makes sense as an approach for someone not willing to leave capable assassins lurking about.

It was also clear that Ken was an abysmal choice. For a guy who was going to run a communications company, he couldn’t communicate. Ken couldn’t string more than three words together at a time without someone writing them down for him. He was hopelessly bad at expressing himself, and he spoke in tongues most of the time. Ken was a horrible person, unclear on what he really wanted, and ill-suited to the job.

So were Shiv and Roman. Shiv is a flake, and Roman is a playboy gadabout who wilts in the face of any serious heat. Picking any of the three would have been the boring, uninspired story choice. Worse, picking a Roy sibling would have been a good “studio” decision because it would open the potential to make a sequel series. A sequel is unnecessary. The social commentary has been made, and there’s no point in belabouring it.

The Real Twist

The real plot twist would have been picking cousin Greg. We first see him as a doped up, lazy, uninspired young man puking in a mascot costume. He makes his entry into the family by using his grandfather, Logan’s older brother Ewan. Tom sees what he believes is a kindred spirit, an “outsider” trying to climb a ladder using richer, well-connected people. Tom also sees what he thinks is a convenient underling, someone he can “punch down” on knowing they aren’t going to walk away. And Tom gets to push around a family member, one he believes can’t or won’t fight back.

Greg, though, is both a twist and logically consistent. He doesn’t come with the family baggage like Tom, who is still married to Shiv and is unlikely to change that situation. Ewan will never be a problem, because he’s disowned Greg. With his payout, Ewan will never get involved in Waystar/Royco again.

Matsson likes Greg, and he has figured out that Greg doesn’t really have any real ambition. Greg would make the ideal puppet. He knows his way around the company, he’s not going to get out of line, and he’s just happy to be there. Of the main characters outside of Logan, it is Greg that is the only one who’s shown a real spine when it comes to dirty work.

Greg has had to deliver all manner of bad news, including firing people en masse. He’s more than willing to swing the axe, which would take heat off of Matsson, since big changes will be needed. It was also Greg who had the sense to keep all that incriminating evidence from the cruise line. It never occurred to Tom to do something with it.

Tom is completely incapable of anything truly underhanded, let alone messy or dirty. The man also folds under any kind of pressure. The only person Tom has ever been able to push around is Greg, and as the series has unfolded, it looks more like Greg is allowing it to keep Tom in the dark. Greg was manipulating Tom far more than the other way around. Greg could have been the show’s Keyser Söze.

The best twist on top of all this would have been that Matsson was actually working with Greg to make sure the deal happened. And Matsson would be doing it without his own people knowing, so they play their part properly. That would have been brilliant in my mind. Finding out that Greg, looking like a mole for the Roy children, was really working for Matsson all this time would have been a twist within a twist.

Glad I Watched It, But…

Even though the ending is less than satisfying to me, I’m not completely disappointed, either. I wasn’t sure about the show at first, but I’m glad I did see it. The writing, the performances, and the larger social commentary was incredibly well done.

But is it worth a re-watch? There I’m not sure. I’m glad I didn’t buy it to add to my library. As good as the individual elements are, I don’t see this as something I want to watch again. It also may not age particularly well. It’s a product of its time, and a lot of the themes may feel a bit tired in a few years.

Would I recommend it to others? I would have to know the person in question. I have friends that I think would find it very entertaining. There are others that I believe would find it a bit vacuous and shallow, even with the brilliant performances behind it. Still others would find it frustrating, and possibly even incomprehensible.

Succession isn’t for everyone. You have to be comfortable with a show with absolutely no good guys. There is no one to root for. If you’re hoping for something like Billions, where at least they get the financial aspects pretty close, you will be very disappointed.

To wrap up: it is brilliantly written, with incredible performances, and stunning production quality. It earned every award it has received, and may have deserved some it didn’t get. But it is an acquired taste. I’m glad I watched, but I probably won’t watch it again.

When The Plot Twists

Warning: This contains spoilers from episode 3 of season 4 of Succession. Major plot points will be discussed, so read at your own discretion. If you haven’t watched the episode yet, don’t read any further. Seriously. Just stop now, watch it, then come back.

A Brilliantly Simple Plot Twist

It is amazing when a show’s team decides to take the story in a new and radical direction. This happened on Succession, in the most recent episode of the final season of the show. Episode 3 of the 4th season, Conner’s Wedding, starts off as expected. We see the first stages of a ludicrous and over-the-top wedding. Logan is plotting and scheming, testing his youngest son. Tom is trying to find more ways to stay useful and be important. The early scenes are basically a carry-over from the previous episode. The closest to a ‘surprise’ we get is that Logan tells Roman, his youngest, to let Gerri know she’s on the way out.

And while the plotting and scheming continue, we get the twist. Not the “Gerri is fired” twist. The “Logan is dead” twist. At some point, we knew that Logan would have to either retire or die. The show is named “Succession”, not “Game of Org Charts”. Someone has to succeed the old man. And for most of the second and third season, it didn’t look like Logan was going anywhere any time soon.

The whole thing plays out while the main characters are basically in no control of where they are going, physically. The children and Cousin Greg are on a boat, leaving dock and sailing toward the Statue of Liberty. Logan and his team, along with Tom, are in a plane in the air. There’s no hopping into a luxury SUV or limo to meet at some office, apartment, restaurant, or karaoke bar. Boats don’t turn on a dime. Planes can’t just park where they are.

The brilliance was, after a few minutes of “perhaps he’s faking it to test the kids”, it was clear that Logan really was going. There’s a body on the floor of a plane. A flight attendant is giving CPR. We hear the distinct sound of a defibrillator being fired. Doors are closed. He doesn’t just pop up, and there would be little point of playing out a lifesaving routine since nobody is using Facetime or Zoom for this. A visual performance wasn’t required. It was all done without the grabbing of chests, shortness of breath, or all the other trappings of an “old man death scene”. We see him get on a plane. We get to hear phone calls.

It’s Par For The Show

Really, this fits with how Succession has played out from the start. There is plenty of absurdity, over-the-top behaviour, a sense of entitlement, and basically no boundaries or limits. There are also virtually no consequences except those imposed by the limits of physics and what the universe allows, which does track for the most part with the real world. The ultra-wealthy are largely immune to the artificial consequences imposed by society. They only thing they can’t ignore is things like gravity and mortality.

I’ve been watching the show regularly from the start, but I’m still not certain I’m a “fan” in the conventional sense. All of the characters are irritating, there are no good guys here, and none rise to the level of anti-hero. Even Cousin Greg is, frankly, obnoxious. The writing and acting, though, are absolutely brilliant. Everyone in the show is scheming and plotting, and most of them actually aren’t very good at it. Having a real curveball thrown at them from time to time is how the showrunners keep the characters off-balance. This curveball, though is a doozy. While it looked like we would get more of the usual plotting and changing allegiances, the story takes a hard right turn, knocking over the crockery and spilling everyone’s drinks.

It Isn’t What I Thought

It wasn’t until I was reading some summaries during season two that I learned the show is meant to be a dark comedy. There was little I found “funny” in a sense that you’d laugh at it. The business elements are entirely fictional, and a complete and utter mess. Unlike Billions, where they actually get a lot of the technical aspects around markets and trading right (or at least close), Succession makes no effort to do so. And that is, apparently, by design. It’s meant to be absurd, not just in how the characters play our their parts, but in how their weird and twisted world works. And if anyone thinks “well, rich people get away with lots”, even rich people aren’t that stupid, and there are limits. You don’t get to be rich without at least a modicum of intelligence.

When I first started watching, I was sort-of expecting something like Billions, just focussed more on the family and business dynamics of who takes over when the old man is gone. It was clear after a few episodes that all the business jargon was used more or less at random, meant to sound “business-y” without worrying about details. Once I got a handle on that, it was then only about the characters and their interactions. The plots and schemes and twists and turns. And the sheer ineptitude of the of all these people.

Which is how the show is brilliant on multiple levels. That ineptitude isn’t necessarily that far from the truth. It’s further demonstrating that being rich doesn’t mean you’re smart. And it isn’t unusual to see ultra-wealthy people somehow believe that they are smarter than everyone else, when the truth is that they are just luckier. They were in the right place at the right time and stumbled onto something that let them build insane levels of wealth. But they succeeded in part because they were at least surrounded by smart (or smarter) people who could actually do the work. If you want to see a so-called “genius” at work, without the supporting talent, just watch the implosion of Twitter.

In For A Bumpier Ride

The ever-changing landscape of who is working with whom in Succession is now in new territory. The first half of season one was off-balance, in part because we’re still learning who the characters are. Things settled down into a pattern in the latter half, plus for the next two seasons. Sure, there were lots of small twists and turns. Characters would be loyal to some faction at one point, only to betray them when it looked like things were better on “the other side”. None of what we were seeing for the past two seasons was particularly surprising. It was, for me, getting a little stale.

They could have gone on like this for some time. At some point, though, they were either going to have to do something more radical. Of course, the showrunners could have simply introduced new characters to add a different dynamic to the show. It could have chugged along while we all waited for it to jump the shark.

But instead, they blew the shark up, and I’m thankful they did it. Not having Brian Cox on the screen is going to be unfortunate, since the man is a brilliant performer. The show, however, needed to get to the point. It was losing its focus for the past two seasons, becoming more of a soap opera (albeit with writing and acting that were several orders of magnitude better, and characters that weren’t glorified cardboard cutouts). In some ways, Logan’s death gets the train back on track. We’ve had too many side-trips that didn’t really advance the plot. Hopefully we’re done with those. We have seven more episodes to find out.