Every other actor puts in some transcendent work as well. The final 10 minutes or so are an absolute tour de force from Culkin. Roman barely moves during the final confrontation with his father, only lifting his hand to hide his face from his wrath periodically. But his expressions are that of someone being beaten to within an inch of their life by a professional boxer. When the final betrayal goes down, Roman lets out something like a sob before falling to the ground and groveling on the floor in front of his surrogate mommy/surrogate girlfriend/surrogate everything Gerri.
Meanwhile Shiv looks like she is fully prepared to set the room on fire with her rage. She assures Tom that everything is okay because it has to be. But then falls into such an apocalyptic sourpuss upon being embraced by Tom that the episode has no choice but to close on the image. Even Tom gets in on the action earlier, sharing a scene with Cousin Greg (Nicholas Braun) that is almost unbearably tender. Pop culture has previously had some fun with intensely homoerotic pairings between seemingly heterosexual men before, but Greg and Tom’s relationship makes them all seem silly by comparison. These people live big lives. And Tom well and truly wants to be Nero, paired up with his tall, beautiful Sporus. It’s equal parts grotesque and beautiful. It all works because the actors make it work.
Then there’s Brian Cox. Plenty of children have complicated relationships with their fathers. In this hour, however, Cox’s Logan is more Thanos with an Infinity Gauntlet than Rupert Murdoch. Logan has defeated his children before they’ve even walked into the room to confront him. That incompetence, more than the attempted betrayal itself, is what truly enrages him. He disassembles his own progeny like a demonic surgeon, picking them apart one by one and leaving them in a quivering mess in the corner.
But nothing truly physical has occurred here. Logan stands up exactly once and yells exactly once. No one is struck. No one even cries, save for Roman’s brief choke after gasping out “dad.” At the end of the day, none of this will even significantly affect the Roy kids’ bottom lines. Hell, just last episode Kendall begged his father to let him out and was denied the opportunity. Somehow though the pain of this parental betrayal consumes all like a thick fog of pure misery spreading across the room. Kendall, Shiv, and Roman’s defeat is so total and their pain is so real that it’s a shock that composer Nicholas Brittel’s brilliant soundtrack isn’t replaced by The Rains of Castamere. The Roys don’t deserve our pity but they get it all the same. That’s the magic trick of well-crafted drama…hell, of well-crafted storytelling in general.
Though Succession borrows much of its plotting and vibes from Shakespeare, in considering this finale I’m reminded of a far more recent tragicomic genius: Dan Harmon. In the pilot episode of Harmon’s NBC sitcom Community, lead character Jeff Winger (Joel McHale) is charged with bringing his study group back together after tearing it apart. Ever the capable lawyer, Jeff steps out to deliver an inspiring speech with the help of the pencil as a prop.
“I can pick up this pencil, tell you its name is Steve, go like this, and part of you dies on the inside,” Jeff says, snapping the pencil and witnessing his peers’ horrifying reaction.
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