Sunday night, 9pm HBO. It’s the ninth and final episode of the short and definitely not sweet season of “Succession.”
This is the drama or comedy, depending on how you look at it, about the Roy family, a satirical take on the Murdochs — Rupert and his children — as they vy for their father’s affection and inheritance.
“Succession” is a cult hit, never attracting more than around 600,000 viewers at a sitting. It’s not “Yellowstone,” with over 7 million, because there is nothing mainstream about it. The Roys are psychological warriors playing a “Game of Thrones” mental chess game with each other until only one is left.
The whole of the cult fan base is waiting for Sunday night because it seems like something bad is going to happen. There may be a death, or worse, permanent expulsion from the Roys’ inner circle. The two most vulnerable candidates are Kendall Roy, the second son, but the first from Logan Roy’s second marriage. Or Geri, the loyal company attorney who has been made CEO during a crisis.
The relationships are brutal. The average person tuning in, unaware of what’s going on, will either be fascinated or frightened. intrigued or repulsed. There is no middle ground. There’s a reason that the Roy daughter, apple-cheeked, freckled Siobhan goes by the unapologetic nickname of “Shiv.” She tells her fairly clueless husband, Tom, in episode, “I may not love you.” She waits a half a beat and follows up with: “But I love you.” And squints back at him.
Shiv’s older brother, Kendall, is certainly a candidate for death, likely suicide. Or thinking too much. Played brilliantly as if he were Hamlet by Jeremy Strong, Kendall has been humiliated and debased for all 8 episodes as he’s tried unsuccessfully to topple his father. Even his own mother, at her wedding to a lout, has dismissed him. At the end of episode 8, the camera lingers ominously from beneath him as Kendall floats on a clear plastic raft in a Tuscan swimming pool. We are meant to fear something has happened.
Then there’s Geri, the lawyer, all business, played with eloquence and sympathy by J. Smith-Cameron. Geri has spend season 3 dodging the raunchy approaches of Kendall’s younger brother, Roman (Kieran Culkin), who is 25 years her junior and has an uncertain romantic life. It’s certainly sexual harassment but Geri, the only straight shooter in the Roy circle, has chosen just to ignore Roman and push forward. Has this been a mistake? It’s revealed in episode 8 that she’s been receiving lewd emails from him — “dick pics” — which may be the straw the breaks the camel’s back. She’s painted instantly as a villain and victim.
A “Succession” cliffhanger I don’t think would be like “Who Shot JR?” “Succession” isn’t a physical show. It’s all in the head. It’s about being “shivved.” You won’t feel the knife until it’s in. HBO didn’t offer a press preview of the final episode. We’ve got to wait and see.
Of course, fans don’t want anyone to leave the show. Certainly not J. Smith Cameron. She’s too important to our mental health. And Jeremy Strong is the centerpiece character. Strong is in the middle of a real life contretemps over a New Yorker profile in which he’s depicted as aloof and ambitious. The writer says Strong claims Kendall is Hamlet. His friends, Jessica Chastain and Aaron Sorkin, are defending him on social media as a good guy.
I met Strong years ago when he played Lee Harvey Oswald in a movie called “Parkland” (not mentioned in the New Yorker piece). He was sensational in the film and has never been anything less than friendly and open. The writer of the profile may have confused him with Kendall, for which he’s won an Emmy. The writer got lost in the fiction. But Kendall, suffering from mental anguish, has been the most disturbing character to penetrate television in a long time.
So listen out your window Sunday at 10pm. There’s going to be some noise. It will be subtle. But it will be distinct.
PS On that Hamlet thing. Now I’d pay to see Strong play Hamlet at the Public Theater in a Shakespeare melange. And Brian Cox, aka Logan Roy, as King Lear. And Sarah Snook, Shiv, as either Goneril or Gertrude. And so on. Where is Christopher Durang when we need him?