Decoding ‘Succession’: Souls are boring. Boo, Souls!
This story contains spoilers from all three seasons. Let’s bone this turkey.
“Succession’s” reign is undeniable but no coincidence. Jesse Armstrong, the show’s creator/showrunner/executive producer, has us all playing “boar on the floor” as his magnum opus unfolds. Every plot twist and turn has a red herring—but who are the Roys and why are we fascinated with them?
We met the Roys on June 3, 2018 and the viewership numbers follow the cultural compass. After the first two episodes, the show was renewed for a second season and not because of the good meme-age. “Succession,” like Waystar Royco, is too big to fail.
The Season 3 premiere drew more than 1.4 million viewers across all platforms, and as reported by HBO, the Emmy-winning drama marked the best premiere night performance of any HBO original series. That’s a 13% increase in viewership from its Season 2 premiere.
Let’s not dismiss the importance of streaming platforms to the Roys. There was an increase of 214% from the Season 2 premiere, and HBO Max also shared that the debut episode marked the biggest digital premiere for an HBO series since the second season of “Big Little Lies.”
Armstrong has a history of creating hilarious – yet distinctly British – comedy without a protagonist, as he did with the long-running BBC4 series “Peep Show.” But Armstrong is no longer in the bottom of the top; he has mastered the art of duality on every level. There’s something beautiful and so painful about the duality of these characters, which the Season 3 finale revealed, but don’t be fooled—it was not a surprise—it’s Occam’s razor. Among competing theories, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected. Or as Cousin Greg said while testifying at a congressional hearing in the Season 2 finale: if it is to be said, so be it, so it is.
For example, each season finale gets its name from the last line of a stanza in “Dream Song 29” by John Berryman. They start at the bottom and work their way up. Could this mean the Roy siblings can usurp their dinosaur of a father and make Waystar Royco their own? No, too complicated.
The ending to the third season is explained in the fourth episode when Tom tells Greg about Nero and Sporus. It flew over Greg’s head faster than ours because it’s an IP he’s not familiar with. Nero kills his wife by kicking her down the stairs then castrates Sporus, his male slave, marries him instead and dresses him up like his dead wife. Tom tells Greg he’d castrate and marry him in a heartbeat. Greg, visibly uncomfortable, devastates Tom who insists he was joking before knocking over a coat rack on his way out the door.
Regardless, we see Shiv kicked metaphorically down the stairs after she sees that Tom told Logan about the siblings’ plans. Logan gently places his hand on Tom’s shoulder, the same way he did in Season 3, Episode 3 when Tom offers himself as the blood sacrifice after Kendall is disowned for pinning a Waystar Cruise Line sex scandal on his father. As the finale ends, Tom puts his hand on Shiv’s right shoulder: mirroring the title sequence. Unbeknownst to everyone, including Greg, Tom has convinced him to make a deal with the devil.
This shouldn’t come as a shock, although it does, because in one of Season 3’s promo posters, it shows the cast members walking down the office hallway with a literal line on the ground separating them into two camps. Remember: among competing theories, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected.
The first season’s finale backdrop is Shiv and Tom’s wedding, and Shiv waits until after they exchange vows to tell Tom she’s been having an affair and would like to have an open marriage. In the second season finale, Tom asks Shiv if he would feel less sad without her than “the sad” he feels with her. We don’t even know how they met, which is the most obvious question, and we don’t care ultimately.
Roman functions as the show’s Greek chorus and maybe that’s why his bravado gets in the way. This season, Roman physically got in his own way by sending a photo to his dad instead of the intended recipient, Gerri. Logan displays one of the fatherly moments of the entire series thus far by talking to Roman. As a viewer, you hope Logan can finally come through for one of his kids, but instead he just asks, “Are you a sicko?” as he flings his coverless iPhone across an absurdly long conference table and dismisses Roman from the room. Roman also suffers a mishap involving a cell phone in the first season. Alone again, naturally, in a bathroom he watches the rocket launch he was put in charge of explode. He makes sure no one can see him, despite the fact that he’s once again alone in a bathroom, puts his phone in a coat pocket and tells no one. There’s also the blatant hints that Roman may be sociopathic.
Logan’s not done with Roman, though. He has to twist that knife by insisting Roman goes with him to discuss the merger of equals with Lukas Matsson, a Jack Dorsey/Elon Musk type tech billionaire played by Alexander Skarsgård, just to kick him out. Either way, they’re all sickos, and Roman’s main problem is that his father has completely emasculated him and then his mother cut him off at the knees.
The backdrop of the season three finale takes place at their mother’s wedding. Well, Kendall, Roman and Shiv’s mother. That brings us to Connor Roy, the eldest son, who’s received nothing but chump change from those chumps, including us. At the end of Season 1, Connor convinces his girlfriend Willa to quit her escorting job so he can run for president, while Kendall gives Logan a bear hug. At the end of Season 3, Connor stands up for himself at the sibling-led intervention for Kendall, which has similar dynamics to Christopher Moltisanti’s intervention on The Sopranos. He’s also the only one who notices Logan is preparing to have more children because he’s done with them.
The three siblings finally get honest and Shiv realizes how monumental her missteps were when Logan asks Roman to join his side. Roman almost caves but Shiv finally says it aloud—you can’t trust him—and Roman falls to his knees. Kendall attempts to comfort Roman and between the penultimate and final scene, they’ve literally swapped places.
Kendall’s in debt, so he’s just trying to keep his head above water at this point. As for decoding Kendall? Aaron Sorkin has something he wants me to show you next week. Logan, too, but he deserves a decoding of a certain…flava. Just remember, I am a professional.