The feeds are rife with “what will happen?” posts from entertainment reporters, and they are all wrong because they are all premised on the idea that something has to “happen” that offers “resolution.”
As a functioning tragicomedy, Succession is supposed to do two things:
- Destroy its heroes, preferably by their own hands.
- Restore the circle/community/relationships to whatever the status quo was at the beginning.
“Destroy” can mean a lot of things – they’re all going to go out billionaires no matter what, and I doubt anyone dies or gets blinded – so let’s expand the definition to include things like “remain ignorant of and alienated from your own fundamental nature.”
“Restoration,” in a tragicomic context, doesn’t have to be a good thing. Formally, all that’s required is that the broken circle be repaired.
Premium TV offers two paths out in any finale situation:
Model 1: Resolution (Comedy)
Comedies are about restoring circles, communities, relationships, families, the self etc.
Examples of comedic resolutions include Breaking Bad, Justified, Mad Men, Lost, and Game of Thrones. This is a wildly uneven collection because half of them were focused on resolving characters and half of them were focused on resolving stories. The first three are good resolutions, the last two are bad resolutions. That’s because the first three are comedies at their core, and the latter two didn’t really know what they were (well, Lost understood itself to be a shaggy dog story).
Breaking Bad wasn’t purely tragic: It restored Walt to himself, and it did what it could to restore the core relationship of the series. It might count as a tragicomedy.
Justified allows Raylan to defy the song and actually leave Harlan alive.
Mad Men restores Don Draper to his essential self – it doesn’t matter that it’s to our collective detriment.
Model 2: Life (Tragedy)
Tragedies are about the undoing of the protagonist, hero, community, etc.
Examples of tragic resolutions include The Sopranos, The Wire, and Six Feet Under. This is a less uneven collection, and you’re sort of left to stretch definitions. Tony is the tragic figure of The Sopranos, for sure. The entire city of Baltimore – 21st century America – is the tragic figure in The Wire.
We’re all the tragic figures in Six Feet Under.
“Oh, but Six Feet Under made dying seem sort of normal, so if you’re happy-crying it’s comedy?”
There’s a tendentious, very Buddhist reading one could entertain, but no … overruled.
The only way out for Succession if it is to meet its dramatic obligations is to thwart the children and restore them to the status quo established when we first met them: Alienated, broken humans defined by the swirling voids and directionless appetites at the center of their beings, poisoned and twisted by their father; a kennel of defective greyhounds, and aristocracy’s best argument against itself.
Any victories will be Pyrrhic. Any resolutions will be a sop for The Professional Recap people.