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The tension and the suspense were there – thick and panicky. We kept waiting for something to happen. Something to shock. Someone to die.
But none of that really happened during the Succession finale.
Succession Went To The Son-In-Law?
The supposed big surprise was goof ball son-in-law Tom Wambsgans, whom his wife Shiv Roy accurately called “an empty suit,” gaining control of just-deceased business/media conglomerate Logan Roy’s empire via a major merger. The reason? He is the father of Logan’s only blood heir as Shiv is recently pregnant.
“We just got (expletive deleted) by the dry cleaner,” Shiv’s brother Roman Roy said.
A man called Wambsgans instead of one of Roy’s three failsons or the more accomplished and deserving daughter Shiv getting the gig was the big news. But by the time it happened, it was not a shocker.
HBO’s Succession Is Labeled A Comedy
And I remembered again that this series has always been labeled a satirical, dark comedy. I mean, Will Ferrell is an executive producer. A guy from St. Paul, Minnesota, named Wambsgans taking over is a joke, though it did have some reality. While running the ATN news network, this amateur resembled quite a few editors and/or other higher-ups around the country ruining your local Gannett website and newspaper. And he just got a promotion, too.
Tom becoming The Man was akin to the least likely suspect – but expected one – being arrested for murder in a typical whodunit. This series deserved better.
But, unfortunately, the final season was so great with a couple of finale-type episodes mixed in earlier that creator and writer Jesse Armstrong left himself no more room for drama. The bottom of the ninth is not there when you won the game in the bottom of the seventh. Then you’re just playing out the string.
Succession’s final episode was well done and well written as usual, but it was much more denouement than finale. And people do not remember denouements for the rest of their lives. Denouements try to tie the loose ends up and sort them out a bit before bidding a tidy goodbye, but that is not explosive drama with a bang.
HBO Series Ran Out Of Drama
Basically, Armstrong ran out of stuff. He was like a brilliant play caller losing a football game in overtime, 62-60, because he just ran out of plays.
About halfway through Sunday night when I realized nothing much was going to happen, I was ready to get this series overwith already. Sort of like an anticlimactic Super Bowl after the two great championship games.
Near the end we were left with Roman Roy saying in summation to his brother Kendall Roy, “Hey, we’re BS. We’re nothing.”
Finale Badly Needed A Murder
But we knew that years ago about these two overly privileged, overly talkative sons pretending to be smart adults … since episode one. It was like Roman finally just admitted what he feared all along. So, that was satisfying, but sorry, this series finale so badly needed a murder.
You know, Greg Brady kills Peter Brady as Marcia watches.
Or maybe just the reading of Logan Roy’s very specific will down to the dollars and cents what each kid and ex-wife and various would-be wives were worth to him. He would have also gotten the treasured last word on everyone.
“Oh, and Kendall, I need everyone to know, YOU KILLED THAT KID.”
That would have been more dramatic than the kids gradually screwing everything up again. But therein lies a plot hole in this series. As smart and worldly and ultra successful as Logan Roy was, and the fact that he was still very sharp in his 80s, don’t you think a guy like that would have had a clear and all-encompassing will drawn up years ago?
Logan Roy Should Have Left A Will
Then you could have had this ending in Logan Roy’s recorded voice from the grave with his patented, quintessential line from four years of a truly great series:
“You kids get nothing. Uh-huh, nothing. Now, F-off!”
But none of that happened. So Succession made the list, but it is not one of the best of OutKick’s all-time series finales top 12.
Top 12 Season Finales
12. THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW: Aired March 19, 1977 on CBS. Much like in Succession, the goofus inherits the earth, sort of. Everyone at the WJM television station in Minneapolis gets laid off, except anchor Ted Baxter, played by Ted Knight and the reason ratings have fallen. Ted Is Succession’s Tom Wambsgans, who ironically is also in TV at ATN and is from St. Paul – just across the Mississippi River from Minneapolis. A six-person group hug at the end of the episode is priceless as they all say goodbye. When producer Lou Grant, played by Ed Asner, says they need tissues, all six move in unison a few feet to get some.
11. NEWHART: Aired May 21, 1990, on CBS. Bob Newhart’s character and his wife, played by blonde Mary Frann, run the Stratford Inn in rural Vermont and deal with crazy characters. But we learn in the final episode that it was all a dream. Newhart wakes up in bed and begins talking to his wife, but it’s not Frann. It’s brunette Suzanne Pleshette, who played his wife in his previous series called “The Bob Newhart Show” in the 1970s. Newhart tells Pleshette about the inn in Vermont and how he was married to a beautiful blonde. They turn the lights out and try to go back to sleep. Pleshette turns the lights back on and says, “What do you mean, ‘Beautiful blonde?'” TV Land ranked the episode No. 24 on its listing of 100 most memorable TV moments of all time.
10. SUCCESSION: Aired May 28, 2023, on HBO. Too anticlimactic because it was such a great series and so dramatic and climactic for four years beforehand and particularly in the final season. See above.
9. RICH MAN, POOR MAN: Aired March 15, 1976, on ABC. The granddaddy of the television miniseries with Peter Strauss as Rudy Jordache, who grows up to be the rich man. Nick Nolte is younger brother Tom Jordache, who grows up poor and unsuccessful. But near the end, Tom has a richer life. Asner makes a second appearance in this ranking as he played their mean father. Rudy and his high school sweetheart wife Julie (Susan Blakely) have a stormy relationship over decades, and her drinking tragically leads to Tom’s murder at the height of his rebirth. But Rudy and Julie stay together, joining hands lightly at the end on a boat, just like Tom and Shiv at the end of Succession in a car – but for far different reasons.
8. JUSTIFIED: Aired April 14, 2015, on FX. The main theme was how criminal Boyd Crowder and boyhood friend U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens weren’t that different. Other than the badge, very little separated them. Throughout the series, viewers are reminded of how Boyd saved Raylan’s life in the coal mines during their younger days. In the closing moments, Raylan visits Boyd to tell him his fiancee Ava – now an informant on Boyd – has died. This is a lie in order to protect her. Fans fell in love with the final exchange between these two men:
Raylan: “Well, I suppose if I allow myself to be sentimental, despite all that has occurred, there is one thing I wander back to.”
Boyd: “We dug coal together.”
Raylan: “That’s right.”
Powerful and incredibly simple. The finale called “The Promise” is ranked in several best season finales of the 21st century.
7. THE AMERICANS: Aired May 30, 2018, on FX. This spy thriller gave fans an all-time, gut-wrenching ending as viewers watched KGB agents Elizabeth and Phillip Jennings escape back to the Soviet Union in the 1980s, but lose everything along the way. Their children stayed behind. FBI agent Stan Beeman was a shattered man, and the U.S.S.R. wouldn’t even exist within a few years in 1991. So much time and energy dedicated to their homeland, and ultimately, it brought nothing but pain and emptiness.
6. MAD MEN: Aired May 17, 2015, on AMC. This brilliant look at 1960s advertising in Manhattan could be mesmerizing and brilliant, but it could also be slow and too much like a soap opera. It was excellent at keeping up with the times. The episode about the JFK assassination is perhaps the series’ best. But the finale delivers the surprise ending that Succession lacked. At the end of his rope and AWOL again, ad executive Don Draper is taking a hippy meditation class. Suddenly, he comes up with one more million dollar slogan. Hint: He wants to buy the world a Coke.
Season Finale Grandfather Was The Fugitive
5. THE FUGITIVE: Aired Aug. 29, 1967, on ABC. Before the movie starring Harrison Ford in 1993, there was The Fugitive television series with David Janssen as Dr. Richard Kimble. He didn’t kill his wife. The one-armed man did, but police lieutenant Phillip Gerard didn’t buy it, just like Tommy Lee Jones’ character didn’t in the film. Finally, in the finale, Kimble proves his innocence and the one-armed man’s guilt to Gerard. And they reconcile as in the movie. The episode broke all TV records with a 72 percent share of television sets and an estimated 78 million watching – more than the Beatles drew on the Ed Sullivan Show three years prior. The show started a trend of meaningful finales and also proved that what many viewers want at the end of a series is closure. It wasn’t a complete happy ending, though. In classic film noir, a police car happens to pull up beside Janssen at the end, but not in pursuit. Janssen, though, flinches as he had been for four seasons whenever a black and white neared. Kimble will always be looking over his shoulder now – free or not.
4. M*A*S*H: Aired Feb. 28, 1983, on CBS. From that date until Feb. 7, 2010, the final episode of M*A*S*H was the most watched television broadcast of any kind in history with 121.6 million viewers. The New Orleans Saints’ 31-17 win over Indianapolis in Super Bowl XLIV in Miami surpassed it 27 years later. It remains the most watched episode of an American TV series ever. The show was about a medical unit in the Korean War, but it really was about the Vietnam War and could have been about the perils of any war. My high school history teacher in 1979 didn’t go as far as to say the show was anti-American or Communistic. But he did say, “You can see the pink.” Regardless of star and director Alan Alda’s liberal political agenda pushing many episodes, the show was funny, sad and poignant in 30 minutes. In 2011, TV Guide’s special “TV’s Most Unforgettable Finales” ranked the two-and-a-half-hour finale, “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen,” at No. 1 all time.
3. BREAKING BAD: Aired Sept. 29, 2013, on AMC. “Felina” encapsulates the journey that is Breaking Bad. Vince Gilligan wrote Walter White into impossible corners, only for the latter to swiftly maneuver himself out of the said corner to victory.
The bittersweet finale left viewers with a decisive close, of which many theorized alternate endings would have fell short.
Sure, fans remember the finale for the explosive – literally – ending and freeing of Jesse Pinkman. But it was the confession that shifted the entire outlook of the series. After five seasons of convincing himself otherwise, Walter White admitted to a distraught Skyler, in their finale conversation, that he turned into Heisenberg not for his family, but for himself.
“I did it for me. I liked it, I was good at it, and I was really … I was alive.”
Fittingly, Walter White, who never lived all that much, ultimately passed in a meth lab, where he felt most alive.
2. THE SOPRANOS: Aired June 10, 2007, on HBO. The final episode of one of the greatest series in television history broke from the pleasing closure theme of finales pioneered by The Fugitive 40 years previously. And many people did not and still do not like this finale. In fact they hate it. Some wanted to put a hit out on producer David Chase for not having a closure killing, or something at the end. Basically, nothing happened. Mafia boss and title character Tony Soprano was in a restaurant with his wife and son in Jersey. The door opened. He looked up. Fade to black. The series was dead. As in Succession, the good stuff happened in previous episodes of a fantastic final season. But this was still a great finale. It delightfully built the tension until the final frame.
Some Hate Sopranos Finale
And people argued and fretted about it for days and weeks after, which was a win for Chase. Was Tony killed in the last scene, and they just cut away? Or did he survive? But this was no gimmick ending. Like Dr. Kimble in The Fugitive forever flinching when he sees a cop, a mobster like Tony will always look at many a door opening with agitation, thinking this may be the guy that kills him.
I waited on New Orleans mafia kingpin Carlos Marcello a few times when I was a waiter at the Morning Call cafe au lait and beignets restaurant in Metairie in the late 1970s. Marcello, who was rumored to be a part of the JFK assassination in Dallas, always sat farthest from the door, facing the door and eyeing the door between sips of coffee. He died in 1993 at age 83 after several strokes. Would Tony survive that long and not be shot to death? Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” played over the final moments. And who had just opened the door? It was his daughter Meadow. She had just walked up.
1. SIX FEET UNDER: Aired Aug. 21, 2005, on HBO – eight days before Katrina. Telelvision doesn’t get any better than the final montage of “Everyone’s Waiting.” The last scene has the youngest child, 22-year-old daughter Claire Fisher, drive away from her life at the Fisher & Sons Funeral home in Los Angeles for a new one in New York just after her brother Nate dies. While Claire drives, viewers see flash-forwards of her life and her family members that are breathtaking. This was new ground because the question on everyone’s mind for a season finale is, “Who dies?” Well, in this one everyone does, but it’s OK because it’s all in the distant future. Then we say goodbye to the heart of the series – Claire, who dies happy in 2085 at age 102 after a career as a photographer in New York with pictures of her family all around. A series about death that opened every episode with one, except the last one, ends with a young girl moving on from death so she can live.
(Dave Hookstead and Bobby Burack contributed to this story.)