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Unpacking the series finale of 'Succession'

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Last night was a huge one for "Succession" fans. The show wrapped up four seasons of corporate backstabbing and family dramedy. NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour team has some thoughts - Aisha Harris, Linda Holmes and Eric Deggans. And if you have not seen this episode yet, consider this your spoiler alert. In the next few minutes, we'll hear where Roy siblings Kendall, Roman, Shiv and her husband Tom landed.

AISHA HARRIS, BYLINE: So Linda, let's start with you. I know you have been recapping the season over the last few weeks. What were your predictions going into this finale? And did they bear out in any way?

LINDA HOLMES, BYLINE: Well, the only prediction I really had was that somewhere in my gut, I felt like Shiv was going to wind up in charge of the company, which is sort of what happened. I would say it came a little bit true, in that Shiv is really the one who is still - like, now she's the CEO's wife.

HARRIS: Yeah.

HOLMES: ...Which - and she's going to look at Tom every day knowing how this happened.

HARRIS: Even more irony is the fact that Shiv is the one who planted that seed in Matsson's head to go for Tom. She gloated about how he will do very terrible things or, you know...

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Yeah, probably.

HARRIS: ...Disgusting things to get whatever he wants (laughter).

DEGGANS: He will pay fealty to the largest ego in the room.

HARRIS: Exactly. Exactly.

DEGGANS: What I really liked about this, though, was I've always said that this season has been about the family being forced to face the truth about itself in ways that it has tried to avoid, but they're unable to avoid. And Shiv, in that boardroom vote, just suddenly realized that none of them could run the company.

(LAUGHTER)

DEGGANS: Like, it didn't make sense for any of them to be in power. And so, you know, she sacrificed the family's togetherness - this bizarre togetherness that had kind of sprung up amongst the siblings. She sacrificed that because she knew that none of them should be running the company, which I thought was kind of an insight.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SUCCESSION")

KIERAN CULKIN: (As Roman Roy) Absolutely not.

SARAH SNOOK: (As Shiv Roy) No. No.

JEREMY STRONG: (As Kendall Roy) Why?

SNOOK: (As Shiv Roy) No - why?

STRONG: (As Kendall Roy) Just...

SNOOK: (As Shiv Roy) I love you. I really - I love you, but I cannot f***ing stomach you.

DEGGANS: You know, she was willing to be truthful in a way that none of the other ones were.

HARRIS: It's interesting because I don't think she necessarily went that far in terms of her epiphany. I think one of the biggest questions I had going in was, OK, are we going to bring up Kendall's accidentally killing someone and then covering it up? Are we going to bring that up? And the fact that she brings it up and throws it out like kind of like this, you know, this trump card, like, OK, this is this is what I'm doing. It's both a low blow, but it's also very true because that was probably going to get out at some point. In a way, I can see her kind of trying to save Kendall somewhat. But then also, had she been in that position herself, she would have taken it, I think.

DEGGANS: She might have taken it, but it seemed like when they were all together at their mother's house, they all kind of admitted that Shiv and Roman couldn't take a leadership position because the board wouldn't accept them.

HARRIS: Right.

HOLMES: Yeah. See, I agree more with Aisha. I thought that what she was choosing was more - she has very limited choices. And I think she's feeling like, my only option to sort of retain some kind of position in all of this is to throw in with Tom, who I think she believes that Tom, despite all the trouble that they've had...

HARRIS: Right.

HOLMES: ...I think she still sees that marriage as kind of her best option.

DEGGANS: Yeah. But, you know, Tom betrayed her twice in the final episode.

HARRIS: Right.

DEGGANS: So why would she think she would have any power in Waystar Royco where Matsson owns it?

HOLMES: Not - soft power, Eric, soft power.

HARRIS: Soft power.

DEGGANS: And, you know, in that scene where she's expressing, don't you think there's maybe a relationship here? You don't get that vibe from him, you know?

HARRIS: No.

HOLMES: Yeah, but at the end, he sticks - he puts his hand out.

HARRIS: Right.

HOLMES: He's wanted her back the entire time. He just didn't want to tell her that he did.

HARRIS: Yeah. I also - I think she probably has a sense that she knows how to control Tom, and she can maybe have a little bit of power still. Even though she's not going to get the credit for it, she will have some power there. So I kind of saw that as, like, a very strategic move on her end.

HOLMES: Like, Tom will be happy to be the boss at work, and Shiv will be the boss at home, I think...

HARRIS: Yeah.

HOLMES: ...'Cause that's the way it's always been with them. I agree with Aisha.

HARRIS: Well, I want to move on 'cause Roman - I think for me, Roman is the person who the most gets it, at least in that very short moment during that big blowout scene between the three siblings. After Shiv has said, I can't do this, I can't vote against the deal, Roman is very blunt. He's like, we are...

HOLMES: Nonsense.

HARRIS: ...Insert expletive. That's who we are. And I'm curious what you thought about how the arc of Roman has played out over the course of these seasons, especially as it is shown in this finale.

DEGGANS: That character has had a wonderful arc, and Kieran Culkin has just done an amazing job playing it. In various ways, again, they've each had to sort of face the reality of what they're capable of and what they're not capable of. And the only person who really can't accept it is Kendall. Roman eventually got to the point where he had to sort of admit, you know, the ways he's fallen short. And then at the end, you know, he's basically saying, look, we're all terrible (laughter). We're all full of it. Just admit it. Just admit it.

HOLMES: Yeah. I feel like Roman - in some ways, Roman had the most optimistic ending to me, if you can use that word, because Roman kind of just left. But Roman also says some extremely horrible things about Kendall's kids, which he blames their father for.

HARRIS: Right.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SUCCESSION")

CULKIN: (As Roman Roy) Dad's view was yours weren't real.

STRONG: (As Kendall Roy) What the f*** did you just say?

CULKIN: (As Roman Roy) Well, just not real real.

SNOOK: (As Shiv Roy) Rome.

CULKIN: (As Roman Roy) Well, that's just what Dad said. I'm just saying what Dad said. They are a pair of randos (ph). One is a buy-in; the other is half Rava, half some filing cabinet guy, right?

HOLMES: Roman has really proven himself to also be a vicious, opportunistic, racist monster at a bunch of different points in this season. So I think what has impressed me about the way they've handled that character is that he is a horrifying person. And in some ways, his ending isn't just optimistic for him, it's maybe optimistic for everybody else because maybe the most you can hope for with somebody like that is that they will go off and drink martinis and not be a menace to everybody else.

DEGGANS: (Laughter).

HARRIS: Yeah. And when I talk to people and I tell them about how I'm, you know, very into the show, and I'm very - I was very excited for the finale, and they're like, ugh, I just don't want to watch horrible people. And I'm like, OK, look, I get it. But at the same time, it's not just about these terrible people, but these terrible people who you kind of can relate to, not on a practical level or, like, a realistic level but, like, on an emotional level. My final question for you is, were there any resolutions or characters' fates that you felt were most satisfying or most just, like, yeah, I'm glad that happened?

DEGGANS: You know, ultimately, Kendall's story - to me, seeing how it ended was perfect to me. You know, it's not what he wanted, but I think it made the story. It started with his frustration, and it ended with him ultimately losing. And whether or not he can admit it, you know, we all know that he shouldn't have gotten that job. And he needs to find the courage to face the truth that everyone else in this family already has. And the last scene of him in the park reminded me of the last scene in "The Godfather," where...

HARRIS: Yes.

DEGGANS: ...Michael is kind of a lion in winter and just sitting back and, you know, his whole life is kind of messed up - got the same vibe. I felt the same way for him. That scene, to me, was just like, man, that's how this should have ended.

HARRIS: Yes. Alas, he was not the king.

HOLMES: (Laughter).

DEGGANS: Alas.

SUMMERS: NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour crew - Eric Deggans, Aisha Harris and Linda Holmes. To hear all their thoughts on "Succession," listen to the podcast.

(SOUNDBITE OF NICHOLAS BRITELL'S "SUCCESSION (MAIN TITLE THEME)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.
Gerry Holmes
Gerry Holmes is the NPR managing editor for enterprise and planning. He leads, plans, and coordinates NPR's long-form journalism in collaboration with NPR's reporting desks, radio shows, and digital platforms. Prior to this role, Holmes was a deputy managing editor for NPR News from 2013-2017, leading and coordinating the newsroom in the 24-hour daily news cycle.
Aisha Harris is a host of Pop Culture Happy Hour.