The following contains spoilers about the “Succession” season 2 finale.
“Succession” spent most of its season finale on board a massive Mediterranean yacht, which was more than a little symbolic, since the entire episode hinged on deciding who was going to get thrown overboard.
In the final moments, that decision crystallized in a manner that seemed both inevitable and perfectly logical, based on the arc that defined the first season. But then one of the key players called an audible, which was predictable in the show’s scheming world but still inordinately satisfying, on what is now one of TV’s preeminent dramas.
The key scene, in which media patriarch Logan Roy (Brian Cox) explained to his son Kendall (Jeremy Strong) that he would need to be the “blood sacrifice” to salvage Roy’s empire, was so beautifully written and performed it was the kind of material that merits knighthoods, not just Emmys.
At the same time, as broken as Kendall has often appeared to be, you could see the wheels turning when he asked whether his dad ever thought he had the right stuff to run the company, and Logan responded, “You’re not a killer. You have to be a killer.”
What better way to demonstrate that grit, obviously, than for Kendall to pull a double-cross, throwing his father under the bus — a maneuver that, as the closing shot indicated, spurred a certain grudging respect from the old man?
That followed a calm, rational, occasionally hilarious discussion about whose head was going to wind up on a spike, metaphorically speaking, in which the participants took turns casually suggesting their companions take blame for the corporate scandal, save the company and likely go to jail — a conversation Logan began by insisting, “We’re all pals here.”
Something clicked in “Succession’s” second season — not with the show, which was terrific from the get-go, but rather the audience. Series creator Jesse Armstrong has stressed that he drew inspiration from various media dynasties, but the parallels to Rupert Murdoch and his offspring, in particular, have added a tantalizing twist.
That said, the series and its characters have taken on lives of their own. Buzz surrounding the HBO drama has steadily built at an extremely opportune time for the pay channel (like CNN, a unit of WarnerMedia), what with another show about the lust for power, “Game of Thrones,” having ended.
Setting that baggage aside, this felt like a near-perfect cliffhanger (although indeed, it actually would have made a terrific series finale) to capitalize on what the show had been building toward, on multiple fronts.
While that included settling old scores and unfinished family business, it also set up a number of juicy possibilities going forward. As for subplots, the open relationship between Logan’s daughter Shiv (Sarah Snook) and Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) moved into a new plane, in another brilliant sequence only overshadowed by the stakes surrounding Logan and Kendall’s chat.
“Succession” has always been about strange family dynamics and blood sport in corporate finery. It’s fertile territory — see Showtime’s “Billions”– but has seldom been executed better than this.
That paid off with a finale that demonstrated, if there were any doubts, the sharks weren’t in the water. When it comes to accolades, if “Succession” continues to ride this wave, it’s going to need a bigger boat.