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Succession Season 1 Finale Review
On Sunday, in the season finale of Succession, the best HBO show you’re not watching and the only show that’s literally raised my internal temperature, we saw how quickly, and without nearly any effort, very wealthy sons can turn into very bad ones.
The show follows the Roy family: patriarch Logan (Brian Cox), a relentlessly cruel media titan similar to Rupert Murdoch, and his three sons and one daughter who are all in a familial fight for power. For the eldest Roy, it’s about survival—and maintaining control over the massive, multinational, probably evil corporation that he built from the ground up. For his four kids, it’s about establishing identities separate from their father, even when that’s basically impossible.
(Warning: spoilers to follow.)
The season finale, titled “Nobody Is Ever Missing,” takes place at daughter Shiv Roy’s (Sarah Snook) wedding to pitch-perfect dweeb and parks division supervisor Tom Wambsgans (Matthew McFadyen); in the background, the Roy sons are enthusiastically failing. Youngest son and fictional corporation Waystar-Royco COO Roman Roy (Kieran Culkin) accelerates a Japanese rocket launch against the advice of his engineers; the launch, which happens during the reception, goes nowhere. Instead, it spectacularly explodes on the tarmac. Eldest son Connor Roy (Alan Ruck) avoids any major embarrassments, but he does express his intention to run for president, and one can only assume he’ll experience some public humiliations in the next season.
Meanwhile, the second oldest son Kendall Roy (played to be heartbreakingly sleazy and sensitive by Jeremy Strong), a relapsed drug addict whose repeated attempts to overthrow his father have all been thwarted, offers to drive a stoned wedding cater waiter to his dealer (they’re in England and Kendall doesn’t know anyone, but really wants some powder). Not used to driving because, in his words, he’s incredibly rich and mostly gets driven around, Kendall drives the car off a bridge after almost colliding with a deer. Unsurprisingly, the waiter dies, but Kendall doesn’t, and instead he drags himself through English swamps back to the family castle.
The next morning, Logan Roy calls Kendall into a private room. His people have found his ID card near the scene of the crashed car, but they know it’s just a misunderstanding, right? That waiter was a thief, Logan assures Kendall, and he asks his son if anything else was stolen?
“Let me handle this,” Logan says, suddenly paternal. “I know the guys, they know our guys. They’re good guys.”
That same day—but in real life—a large, shiny son was also sort-of-parented by a large father. In response to a Washington Post story that suggested that Donald Trump might be concerned about the legality of Don Jr.’s actions, the elder Trump tweeted:
Fake News reporting, a complete fabrication, that I am concerned about the meeting my wonderful son, Donald, had in Trump Tower. This was a meeting to get information on an opponent, totally legal and done all the time in politics – and it went nowhere. I did not know about it!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 5, 2018
“Fake News reporting, a complete fabrication, that I am concerned about the meeting my wonderful son, Donald, had in Trump Tower. This was a meeting to get information on an opponent, totally legal and done all the time in politics—and it went nowhere. I did not know about it!”
Never mind that the Trumps have casually leapt from position to position to explain that infamous meeting (first it was about Clinton, then it was about adoption, then it was about Clinton but nothing happened anyway). Here, too, was an ultra-narcissistic father attempting to talk his boy out of an adult situation.
On Sunday, a new sort of Large Adult Son sat firmly upon our laps and refused to get up: that is, the Number One Boy.
“This could be the defining moment of your life,” Logan says to a weepy and stuttering Kendall in the Succession confrontation. “It’d eat everything. A rich kid kills a boy. You’d never be anything else. Or, you know, it could be what it should be: nothing at all. A sad little detail at a lovely wedding where father and son are reconciled.”
Of course, Logan isn’t offering to cover up a murder just so that Kendall doesn’t have to suffer—he’s actively manipulating Kendall to halt his anti-papa attack, while simultaneously avoiding a massive scandal that could wreck the family. But it doesn’t matter; Logan opens his arms for a hug, and Kendall openly sobs as his daddy daddies him for the first time all season.
“You’re my boy,” Logan says. “You’re my number-one boy.”
Last August in the New Yorker, Jia Tolentino officially defined the frequently occurring trope of the Large Adult Son. “The definitive quality of the Large Adult Son is that he is endlessly excusable,” Tolentino writes, invoking the dopey, dog-killing Huckabee boys. “Though he does nothing right, he can do no wrong.”
It seems that on Sunday, a new sort of Large Adult Son sat firmly upon our laps and refused to get up: that is, the Number One Boy. A Number One Boy is a special kind of large adult son, first of all because his fuck-ups are so massive, illegal, and probably evil that he shouldn’t be confused with someone like the iconic-dreaded Laramie, who merely shouted the word “Fuck!” into his nice dad’s Saab. Most importantly, they are distinguished from the large adult son because of their fathers, who will heap praise and kisses upon them even after they’ve probably colluded with a hostile government.
For their fathers, Number One Boys are a both a blessing (look at that big boy, a wonderful reflection on his old dad!), and a curse (look at that big boy, a terrible reflection on his old dad). Because of this, the old dad will work tirelessly to clean up his Number One Boy’s messes until the day he keels over from eating nothing but spaghetti carbonara for the last four decades. For the Number One Boys, the fathers are, too, a blessing and a curse—something to aspire to and to overthrow.
For these boys and their fathers, there is no intact escape; the fathers are destined to spend their lives caring for their sons, while our big American boys will keep heaving off their tarmacs maybe a couple of feet before spectacularly exploding, again and again and again.