Opinion

The Succession finale was brilliant. Time to end the series.

There's no need for another season after an ending like that

It's hard for visual media like film and TV to depict certain subjects without glorifying them. "Some films claim to be antiwar," director François Truffaut noted in a 1973 interview, "but I don't think I've ever really seen an antiwar film." Because screen violence is inherently aestheticized, no matter how gory the images, "[e]very film about war ends up being pro-war." 

The ambiguous quality Truffaut found in war films also applies to depictions of great wealth. No matter how vicious or unhappy the rich appear, it's hard not to admire their luxurious possessions and beautiful surroundings. In the last decade of the Cold War, Communist authorities in Romania decided to permit broadcasts of Dallas, believing its depiction of capitalist corruption would remind viewers of the benefits of socialism. The effect, of course, was the opposite: For many Romanians as much as for Americans, to see the Ewings was to wish to be the Ewings. 

The HBO drama Succession, which concluded its third season on Sunday, has struggled to avoid unintentional glorification. The writers have inflicted the typical miseries — jealousy, boredom, addiction — on its billionaire characters. But the show's cinematographers, costumers, and set designers have also created a singularly unappealing physical environment. With exception of rented palaces where new money cavorts in the ruins of European aristocracy, the rooms are impersonal, the landscapes barren, the lighting harsh. Even the clothes, though obviously expensive, are mostly ill-fitting and unflattering.

Like the putatively antiwar cinema Truffaut criticized, though, these technical devices don't have their intended effect. There's no way to show extremely powerful people asserting their will without provoking envy among the audience. Earlier this season, patriarch Logan Roy (Brian Cox), loosely modeled on Rupert Murdoch, is shown effectively selecting the Republican nominee for the presidency. It doesn't matter that Roy picks a fascistic toady who will pump up his ratings. You can't see that power without wanting it — which is why Logan may join Michael Corleone, Tony Montana, and Walter White as putative anti-heroes who were received simply as heroes. 

That's why the show should just stop after last night's finale. Without spoiling complicated and ultimately irrelevant details of the plot, Logan reveals the monster he's always been. It's not just that he has contempt for his employees, his viewers, and his country. He has such contempt for his own children that he'd rather sell the business to a tech mogul than let them take over. 

The title Succession evokes hereditary nobility vying for precedence in line to the throne — as does the family name Roy, derived from the Old French word for "king." The finale makes that comparison explicit as the hapless Cousin Greg (Nicholas Braun) courts a young woman who's something like eight lives removed from a claim to the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. An updated version of Henry James' American innocents abroad, Greg doesn't realize that he's in almost the same position, except that Logan's position is the one that really matters. Like the merger of old media and new tech firms that ends Logan's childrens' hopes of taking his place, Greg and the contessa are poised to make a marriage of equals. 

There's an important difference between the Roys and their aristocratic predecessors, though: That is, their fundamental indifference to honor, beauty, or legitimacy. The principle of hereditary succession assumes that power should be confined to one family, which may eventually grow to be worthy of it. Although it transpires that Logan is trying to father another child, this time with his personal assistant, the truth is that he has no real interest in establishing a dynasty (not coincidentally, the title of another aspiration soap opera). Informing his dumbstruck children that the control of the firm will be passed out of family, Logan provides the triumphant explanation: "I f--king win."

That's a fitting epitaph for the series itself. There is no succession because there can't be — Logan is irreplaceable in his appetite, ego, and rage. That is as close to a moral critique that the television of wealth can hope to provide. 

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