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Succession: Season 2, Episode 10 (This Is Not For Tears) - Finale review

Succession

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 5 out of 5

WITH its second season now completed, Succession can rightfully lay claim to being an all-time great on a par with past small screen classics such as The Sopranos or movie masterpieces such as The Godfather.

Season 2 finale, This Is Not For Tears, had everything, beautifully encapsulating everything that has been great about this run of episodes so far. It was Shakespearean, Freudian and even sometimes Biblical.

[Spoilers ahead]

The hook was finding out who would be offered up as the ‘blood sacrifice’, or ‘head on a stake’, to shareholders hinted at in the final moments of the previous episode by a mindful Logan Roy (Brian Cox).

Would it, as expected, be Tom (Matthew Macfadyen), whose inept performance before the Senate hearing apparently sealed the deal? Or could it be Kendall (Jeremy Strong), heir apparent turned broken son, whose season one betrayal would perhaps come back to haunt him? We suggested both last week.

As this final episode began, the Roys – along with other prominent members of the Waystar elite – convened aboard a luxury yacht to thrash out the way ahead. Logan maintained ‘we’re all friends here’. But the sense of tension was palpable from the offset.

Logan himself had been suggested as a suitable sacrificial lamb by one of the key shareholders in a pre-credits scene that only turned up the pressure for the chosen victim to be prominent. But then Logan is a born survivor and schemer and knew how to dismiss himself from the possibility from the outset, suggesting himself to all assembled, only to hear the expected chants of ‘no, no, absolutely not’ from his eager beaver sycophants.

Position secured, Logan then watched as family members and business colleagues set about tearing into each other, albeit politely.

The strength of this episode, however, was in seeing just how the various members of the Roy family, in particular, have come in terms of development. Where once they appeared a particularly inept and bickering bunch of spoilt brats, times had changed… along with perceptions.

Shiv (Sarah Snook), in recent weeks, had seen off the threat to her potential landing of the top job posed by Rhea (Holly Hunter), so it was anyone’s guess as to whether she’d allow any feelings for husband Tom to stand in her way.

Roman (Kieran Culkin) had just got back from his own stern test: negotiating a potentially business-saving deal in Turkey, which had resulted in him being taken hostage. The Roman on the yacht we saw throughout this episode was less quippy, more mature and even more loyal to those he really cared about than we ever thought previously possible.

Tom, meanwhile, had clearly had enough of being made scapegoat for his families’ woes, while Kendall seemed more at peace with himself now that he had his father’s back and had been the one shining light in an otherwise grim Senate hearing.

For the Roy children, everything was to play for. The possibilities were limitless. And yet, as the stakes grew ever higher with each passing moment, we [the viewers] slowly realised how much we had come to care for this once despicable set of characters. Sure, we wouldn’t want to share a yacht with them anytime soon. But there were glimpses of humanity in most, if not all, barring Logan.

Tom’s confession to Shiv that he was no longer happy, set in a seemingly idyllic cove, was heart-breaking and so, so well played. This was a man pushed to his limit, going for broke. Having born the brunt of much of the criticism in recent weeks, the breaking point was – ironically – Shiv’s attempt to involve him in a three-some.

It turns out, he has never been happy about their open relationship. And he felt particularly hurt that it was suggested in their wedding night. Tom’s feelings were raw and exposed. We genuinely felt for him. And we even cheered when, emboldened by his own bravery, he took some power and ownership of his future back by eating the chicken from Logan’s plate once they got back on board. Logan’s anguished/confused response was priceless [classic Cox].

Tom’s heart-on-sleeve moment, in another spot of irony, was enough to save him. It so shook Shiv that she pleaded with her dad not to make him the sacrifice. It was a rare moment of marital strength from Shiv. But whether it’ll be enough to save the marriage remains to be seen. Again, Snook played these moments perfectly.

Worse was to come. Logan, perhaps inevitably, decided that Kendall was the one (‘you’re the face – the optics make sense’). And Kendall took it on the chin, pushing his father to go one step further and reveal whether he ever though Ken could have handled the top job.

Logan pussy-footed around for a second, before delivering the final, fateful blow: “You’re not a killer. You have to be a killer,” he told him.

Again, Kendall held firm. There were no hard feelings. And in a scene evocative of Al Pacino embracing John Cazale in The Godfather: Part II, delivered a parting kiss to his father. It was to prove prophetic.

And this was where Succession‘s second season finale really turned incredible. Where season one had left Kendall broken, possibly irreparably, season two had seen him find his own place in the world… a lap-dog for his father, perhaps, but nonetheless someone who could still find fun when the pressure was off.

Succession

Sure, his father regularly reminded him of his weaknesses. But there were glimpses of the man Kendall could have become if he had had more faith placed in him. Logan’s ‘killer’ put-down could so easily have been the final nail in his coffin… the cold, hard truth that sent him into another personal spiral. He did say he deserved it.

But perhaps the words of his girlfriend held more resonance for him, for once, when she said: “Daddy loves the broken you.”

For while everyone thought Kendall’s press conference would be his admission of guilt for the cruise line abuses, he in fact used it to turn the tables, declaring his father to be “a malignant presence, a bully and a liar”. He then adds: “I think this is the day his reign ends.”

Watching from the sidelines was Greg (Nicholas Braun), whose own whistle-blowing potential had finally been realised. Greg appeared to be holding the evidence Kendall needed to prove his father’s compliance in the cruise scandal.

Watching on TV, meanwhile, was Logan. Cox, masterful as ever, delivered the faintest smile of admiration for his son, while at the same time grimacing at its implications. This was a second betrayal for the ages. Yet one that had been a long time in coming. Could Kendall’s rebirth signal the death knell for Logan?

The final moments set up incredible possibilities for season three. A family war is now inevitable. But who will display the most killer instinct given that Logan still has the cover-up of an innocent’s death at his disposal.

This Is Not For Tears was, quite simply, a masterpiece of writing and acting. There was so much to admire. Every scene counted.

Kendall’s last act press conference perfectly mirrored the press statement he gave at the start of the series, in which he had to come out and save his father’s reputation, prompting Logan to react: “Now that’s the first fucking thing he has done right.” The symmetry was breath-taking.

But kudos, too, for every player assembled. Culkin, in particular, shone in small moments, whether breaking ranks to finally tell his father the truth about the hostage meetings, rather than bullshitting his way out of another situation for personal gain. His reward? The top job at Waystar.

But his appointment was dampened by the revelation of Kendall’s sacrifice. He led the protest against it, stepping up for his brother in a way that he had hitherto not been able to (during the season one power struggle and boardroom vote of no confidence). Had he remembered his father’s slap? And the way in which Kendall stepped up for him?

He did, however, make several decisive interventions throughout the episode, even stepping up for Jerry when she was put forward as another head on a spike. This was a bolder, more mature Roman. And it was a strangely admirable sight.

Throughout the finale, though, there were grand moments, selfish and selfless gestures, and gutsy decisions. It created a wonderful unpredictability that gave rise to some genuinely head-rush moments of excitement.

And then, once the dust had settled and the euphoria calmed, came the realisation of greatness. You can tick off the references Succession begs you to recognise: Shakespeare (as in Hamlet and Julius Ceasar), Coppola (The Godfather), Orson Welles (Citizen Kane) and even Jesus (The Last Supper).

But while inviting such comparisons, it is confident enough to exist in its own right and celebrate its own greatness. It shines a light on real life media figures (the boat setting of the finale was no coincidence if you check your Murdoch and Maxwell history), while creating its own iconic moments to savour.

The writing is razor sharp, whether delivering telling blows such as “you’re not a killer”, or just delivering endlessly quotable disposables such as “Sails out, nails out, bro”. It’s the reason why the show has invited so many memes.

But it will also be revered in decades to come as a quintessential modern classic. It’s just that great.

Read our review of the previous episode

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