October 14, 2019

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Finale Review: “Succession”


In its second season, HBO’s SUCCESSION found an exquisite middle ground between Dallas and Shakespeare.  The show is still a somewhat rareified taste–it’s routinely been the lowest-rated show in the network’s current Sunday line-up–but as evidenced by its surprise writing Emmy a few weeks ago, its quality is recognized.

The Season 2 finale, written by series creator Jesse Armstrong and directed by house director Mark Mylod, showcased the show’s excellence in both its obvious and more nuanced ways.  The set-piece sequence in which virtually all the central characters sat around a table on the Roy family mega-yacht and, with barely veiled enthusiasm, encouraged feeding everyone else to the Aztec fire of patriarch Logan Roy’s (Brian Cox) “blood sacrifice” to end the company’s Cruise Lines scandal, was Succession in all its elegant savagery, especially when daughter Shiv (Sarah Snook) shoved her husband Tom (Matthew MacFadyen) toward the altar.

Shortly afterward, though, came a scene that reminded us that Succession, for all its extravagant heartlessness, is fully aware that even monsters can feel pain.  Tom, alone with Shiv in a Mediterranean cove, told her how miserable he’s been in their marriage, not just because of her betrayal on the yacht, but for her overall selfishness and narcissism, including her wedding-night call for an open marriage that was obviously for her own benefit.  Tom may be a stunted human being and a frequent target of accurate ridicule, but his emotions were real.  And even though Shiv is probably even worse than her husband, her own regret at what she’s put Tom through emerged when she begged Logan in private to spare Tom–a sign of weakness in his eyes that may have led to his appointing her brother Roman (Kieran Culkin) as the company’s sole Chief Operating Officer and for the moment potential successor.

The interplay of horrible deeds and the broken people behind them is nowhere more clear than in Logan’s son Kendall (Jeremy Strong, giving a performance for the ages).  It was hard not to cheer Kendall as he lashed back at his father’s betrayal with his own, flipping the press conference where he was supposed to take on responsibility for the company’s misdeeds into an all-out assault on Logan–and with the help of documents provided by Cousin Greg (Nicholas Braun), no less!  (Even Logan had to observe his son’s ruthlessness with the trace of a smile.)  But Kendall is himself an awful person, who treats those in his orbit with disdain and callousness.  As satisfying as it would be to see Logan vanquished, it’s hard to believe that the world would be a better place with Kendall, especially in his new “killer” mode, in charge.

It’s Armstrong’s humane nihilism that makes Succession extraordinary.  He treats the stuff of soap opera as high art, and in 2019 that may be the definition of high art.  Of course, the show’s excellence is evident in many other ways.  The dialogue by Armstrong and his co-writers is the most quotable on television, and the characters are superbly drawn in ways that make them simultaneously utterly clear and yet capable of surprise, typified by Roman’s sudden step forward into responsible lucidity when he told his father that the private financing deal he’s pursued for the company couldn’t be relied upon.  The cast is spectacular, with award-caliber work from just about everyone, but this season especially Strong, Cox and Snook, not to mention hugely enjoyable turns from a guest cast that this season included Danny Huston, Cherry Jones and especially Holly Hunter.  Every episode is directed with grace and emotional detail, and HBO’s generous checkbook allows the series to simulate the vast wealth of its characters, with new luxe locations in just about every hour.

It’s fair to ask how long we can remain riveted by the actions of a small group of terrible people who constantly ravage each other, and to note that there are times when the balance between mirth and meaningful content can be lopsided.  The character of Connor (Alan Ruck), Logan’s oldest child and erstwhile presidential candidate and theatrical producer, for example, has devolved to being little more than comic relief.  Yet Succession feels like the show of our historical moment, a clear-eyed vision of greed and its consequences.  For now, it’s television’s number one boy.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."