The final scene in Succession, explained

HBO’s colossal series Succession has concluded its fourth and last season. Liam Maguren looks back at the show’s final scene and unpacks its (potential) meanings.

WARNING: This piece contains spoilers for Succession and a reference to suicide.

Endings matter. A show that’s been great 95% of the time can still plummet into infamy if it volcanically craps its pants near the finish line. Anyone who saw Game of Thrones can vouch for that.

Despite containing many scenes of shitting the bed—mostly figurative, one literal—HBO’s Succession presented nothing but clean sheets for its fantastic final season with a fluffed-up cushion for its last episode. Running longer than some movies, the 85-minute finale presented a lot to chew on.

We perhaps shouldn’t be shocked that the show’s biggest schmuck, Tom, would be “rewarded” for his schmuckness by being the successor. I use quotation marks because he’s really just a CEO-sized meat Muppet with a bespoke asshole moulded for Matsson’s right hand.

(And if that sound’s bad, think of Greg’s position. By trying to play both sides, he’s now become the meat Muppet of the meat Muppet. It’s as awful as that visual implies.)

But this is shocking. Not because Tom got the crown but because none of the Roys got it. They played this dicey game for so long, putting themselves through the incongruent dynamics of family life vs cutthroat business, only for the game to turn into the Willy Wonka meme shouting, “You lose! Good day, sir!

You’d be forgiven for thinking the final scene kind-of slinks out of an otherwise stunning hour of television. But there’s a lot to unpack from the show’s final moments.

The first goodbye sees Roman drinking a martini. With a scratched up face and a battered ego, he chooses the alcoholic’s way of licking wounds, which ultimately leads to self-reflection.

His emotional (and sexual) unavailability has steered him far away from any kind of romantic relationship. He burned his closest business confidant in Gerri. He’s treated all other “friendships” as business exchanges. His dad’s dead. And after the vicious voting conflict, he’s now broken off from his siblings Kendall and Shiv (sure, there’s Connor, but c’mon, he doesn’t count). To think, it was just a day ago we saw them bonding like never before.

In his final moment, Roman is alone. He has no visible future and, potentially, no-one left in his life. Kieran Culkin, who’s been a total juggernaut in the role since the pilot, plays this moment wonderfully, bringing back familial facial ticks showing Roman dawning on his current situation while actively trying to choke those emotions down like he always does. It’s a sad but perfectly fitting send-off for a sad man in perfectly fitted suits.

And then there’s Shiv, presumably bloated from all the pride and personal ambitions she swallowed to be in the car with Tom. If she can’t be Waystar’s successor, will she settle for being the pregnant wife of Waystar’s successor? With all the warmth of an ice bath, this quietly chilling moment suggests she will.

Their exchanges are short. They barely make eye contact. She gives Tom the softest of congrats for the biggest of promotions. Then, they hold hands—sorry, stack hands—with all the romantic intent of a Terms and Conditions agreement. It’s a emotionless scene that hits profoundly, owing plenty to Sarah Snook and Matthew Macfadyen’s excellent work building this couple’s relationship—and persistant heart-n-mind games—over the show’s lifespan.

Finally, there’s Kendall’s send-off, which reads well enough when taken literally. He wanders a park looking understandably stunned and speechless, denied the role he felt groomed for. His bodyguard, Colin, keeps tabs on him, presumably to stop him from doing anything tragic to himself. Fortunately, he instead chooses to sit down and watch the sunset across the ocean.

Taken at face value, the final scene of Succession works. But on a thematic level, this final scene becomes an elegant, tragic, and definitive end to the series.

The ocean, and water in general, has played a persistant role in Kendall’s arc throughout the series. The end of season one involved the accidental drowning of a young man, an accident Kendall was a part of, which Logan covered up. The last episode of season two took place on a superyacht, with the Roys and other significant members of Waystar navigating the company’s do-or-die situation—hinging on Logan choosing Kendall as the sacrifical lamb. The eighth episode of season three ended with Kendall, at his lowest point, almost drowning himself in a pool (he claims it was an accident, others suspect it was intentional).

Taken thematically, the ocean in Succession mirrors the business world Kendall’s trying to dominate. It is vast. It is powerful. It can kill you. Only the tough can navigate it but only the foolish think they can tame it.

The final season of Succession brings the ocean in more than any other. The hard-hitting third episode, which saw the death of Logan Roy, leans into the navigational side of the sea metaphor. With the deceased patriarch hovering in the air on a plane, the Roy siblings find themselves on yet another superyacht when they hear the tragic news.

If the ocean is supposed to represent their unruly corporate world, then this episode dumped the trio on a vessel with an empty captain’s seat.

Kendall, well versed on how deadly water can be, starts to take it on directly in the second half of this final season. In episode six, everyone expected him to botch the Living+ presentation, so when he went against the odds to deliver a win, he celebrated by submerging himself in the ocean and reemerging amongst the waves. Director Lorene Scafaria explained on the official Succession podcast how she was adament on shooting this scene as a means to display Kendall’s growing confidence in the corporate arena.

Midway through the final episode, Kendall again shows off a kind of ocean dominance when Shiv and Roman “anoint” him as theoretical CEO. He’s on a floating platform. They’re in the water. He appears to be the captain now. But platform isn’t a boat.

All these seemingly small moments build up to the final scene in Succession. When Kendall sits down, the camera sinks down with him, bringing a fence into frame that separates him from the ocean. It suggests he is now locked out of the vast, powerful, deadly world he so desperately wanted to navigate.

The final shot sees Kendall in the foreground with a blurred-out Colin in the background. It’s important to remember that Colin wasn’t just a bodyguard; Logan also considered him his best friend as per episode three of this final season. With that in mind, Colin’s faceless appearance can also come across as Logan’s ghost looking down at Kendall, evoking the viewer to wonder what the great patriarch would be thinking about, or possibly saying to, his son in this moment.

Given that, even in death, Logan’s original Waystar-Gojo Deal still succeeded, I’m inclined to think he’d say: “I won, you fuckin’ prick.”