I've got a big thing on F for Fake (kind of) that I want to post soon, but I'm waiting for my blurb at the Arts and Faith website to go up.
Incidentally, check out the Arts and Faith Top 25 Spiritually Significant Documentaries list. It's a good list, compiled by a small group of critics and viewers, of whom I am one.
I wanted to do a quick post about Succession. This thing is going to be spoilery and half-baked, so be warned.
Man, what a finale, right? I don't think I've been this satisfied by a series finale since Twin Peaks ended. Everything came together so satisfyingly, so inevitably.
A quick note on reception, which I might develop at more length later in some way. I've seen Succession compared to Shakespearean tragedy, but that doesn't seem quite right to me. Succession isn't a tragedy--in spite of what people keep saying online--it's a satire. This difference is key. Put very simply. in tragedy, the tragic hero is better than we are in some way: Hamlet is more thoughtful, Lear more regal, Macbeth more noble, and so on. They're undone by an inner flaw, but that flaw is in some ways a reflection of what makes them great. Think poor mad Captain Ahab, whose flaw (madness, hubris) is of the same stuff as his grandeur.
With the possible exception of Logan, none of these characters are great in this way. They aren't magnificent people whose flaw arises from their magnificence; they are all flaw, all failure. If we bring Shakespeare into this at all, we have to say that this is a Shakespearean plot populated by idiots. Kendall might think he's Hamlet, but he's barely a Prufrock (and at least Prufrock had the self-awareness to know that he was no Prince Hamlet). And that's satire. So when Kendall ends up sitting on the riverside, he's not a grand figure brought low--he's a low figure who's returned to his proper level. The same could be said of Shiv or of Roman. The fact that an empty suit is elevated to the throne at the end simply puts a cherry on top: the prize they were seeking was always a nonsense role that can be filled by the most craven person in the main cast.
Is there hope for these people? Jeremy Strong certainly doesn't think there's any for Kendall, as he observes in the show's official podcast. Me, I'm not so sure. There certainly doesn't need to be any hope for them. They're bad people and they're getting to live their lives in spiritual (though not material) destitution. They're reaping what they sow. Again, that's kind of the satiric point. And yet there's a couple of points here that give me pause:
1. Strong tells a story of texting Jesse Armstrong after watching the episode and receiving back a line from The Waste Land: "Entering the whirlpool." It's a line from "Death by Water":
Phlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead,
Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep sea swell
And the profit and loss.
A current under sea
Picked his bones in whispers. As he rose and fell
He passed the stages of his age and youth
Entering the whirlpool.
Gentile or Jew
O you who turn the wheel and look to windward,
Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you.
Now, I'm not going to do my Waste Land schtick again, but this is very interesting to me for a couple of reasons. One is that the whirlpool here is clearly tied to the Wheel of Fortune: Phlebas is on a cycle, recapitulating his life. This of course relates to the way the characters here are stuck in a cycle, but there's an implicit suggestion of rebirth here. So could Kendall rise again? Maybe. Or maybe not. The key here is that he's left in a state of uncertainty: things could go either way.
2. Speaking of uncertainty, our favorite neo-nazi slimepuppy Roman Roy has a moment of unexpected clarity in this episode when he says that he, Kendall, and Shiv--and indeed all their ways and ends--are "bullshit." Now, I want to consider this observation from two angles. First, the obvious one: he's recognizing that they, these characters, are shallow, facile people who were never up to the grand Shakespearean stakes that they thought they saw in their struggle. That is, he's recognizing that they are in a satire, not a tragedy. It's a moment of self-awareness that has been present in his performance over the past four seasons, but its positioning here is significant. Roman has always been the most self-aware of the siblings, though that self-awareness is undercut by a failure to see beyond itself: it's unselfaware about its own limitations as self-awareness (which is what makes Roman such an easy mark for fascism).
But on a little lower layer, there's something almost...I don't want to say "Zen" here because it feels shallow...there's something profound about this character facing his own inner nothingness at this point. These characters have been brought to a place where self-acknowledgement is possible. Or, perhaps, not-self acknowledgment: a recognition that they are fundamentally nothing, essentially nothing. This is a scary recognition, but it's one that's essential for any sort of peace. These characters have no essential nature; though Kendall insists that he can only do one thing, that self-image is an illusion. And if they can break free of that illusion, they may be able to break the cycle.
Incidentally, my reading this year has me digging more into the Tarot, and I do associate Roman with The Fool, which is a card of pure potentiality and also of nothingness (it is the zeroth card, after all).
3. Finally, there's Shiv. I love Shiv. I love her and Tom together--they are absolutely unhealthy and also absolutely scintillating. And she's important, because her choice is the one that ultimately determines the resolution. So where is she at the end of the show? Well--like her brothers, she's been reduced to nothing. As others have observed, she's almost certainly still richer than her husband; the "power dynamics" here have not been so much reversed as complicated. Her diminishment is one of ego, not pure power. I don't mean "ego" pejoratively. After struggling for all these seasons to make her way as a woman in a man's world, Shiv has lost the fight. And that's devastating. She is not a trophy wife, but she's been absolutely shut out of the company (for now, anyway). The final shot of her and Tom in the car is rife with irony and ambiguity: she stays with him though she does not need him. But she will not clasp his hand (nor he hers). They are not a partnership. They're...something else.
But of course potential is there. We know that in spite of their unhealthy power-plays that each of them feel something for the other. Based on Sarah Snook's performance, I do believe that she really loves Tom (in whatever twisted way the Roys can love anyone); and Tom loved (at least) her. Again, they're bound to this cycle of illusion, but there's a potential there to break the cycle if they can only stop and see themselves for the bullshit they are.
(On a ground-level-dumb observational note, see that Shiv is still pregnant at the end of the series. If we assume that pregnancies in literature are symbolic of new life, new beginnings, then Shiv carries within herself a future that has not yet been born. What that would look like is up for grabs: not only does she come from a terribly abusive family; not only is she married to a man with whom the dynamic is fundamentally unhealthy; but mere episodes ago we saw her drinking alcohol, raising the possibility that she's poisoned this new world even before it was born. But the point is that we don't know: the baby is pure potential).
Now. I'm not saying that this ending is hopeful. It's ambiguous, which is the point. On a literal level, based on everything we've seen, there's no reason to believe these characters will do anything different than they've done all this time. Kendall will sink lower and lower; having finally and totally lost the one thing that gives him meaning, he'll enter the whirlpool. Roman will probably go full fash. Shiv will keep futilely trying to assert herself in a system that hates her, seeking a prize that would never satisfy her.
But. Much as I suggest in the Nightmare Alley episode of The Projectionist's Lending Library, the literal likelihood of a character suffering the worst possible fate doesn't really negate the fact that at this point, at the end of the narrative, they are left in a state of potential. And that's precisely what gives the finale its charge. Hope might be faint, but it's there.
I've enjoyed Succession since I started watching it, but this season has confirmed for me that it's one of the greats. I look forward to revisiting it many times in the future.