The 50 Best TV Shows of 2021, # 4: Succession | Television
The problem with year-end lists is that you can only judge something on the material you have. A few years ago, Damon Lindelof’s Watchmen adaptation limped around at number 40 on our list. Indeed, at the time of compiling the list, Watchmen had only just started airing. By the time the finale arrived, all of the disparate pieces had come together in a truly incredible way. Watchmen will be remembered as one of the best shows of the decade, but we missed the boat.
I’m telling you this because, when this year’s list was compiled, Succession was stuck in a pattern of waiting. The third series had landed hard, with the end of season two’s cliffhanger accelerated to absurd degrees by a delay imposed by Covid. It arrived advertised by several large and heavy profile pieces in major prestigious publications. The first reviews were running out of steam. Public screenings encountered something that approached Beatlemania in its own right. The next generation was back!
But as the season wore on you could feel a hustle and bustle setting in. Kendall selling her father promised explosions, but none were announced. There was an episode where everyone was hanging out at an airport. There was one episode where the dramatic climax was the arrival of donuts. Once the wham-bang of the season two finale died down, we were all back exactly where we always were; endless competition to get a kiss from daddy. Lines were drawn in the sand and then quickly redrawn before anyone could feel their impact. Moments that seemed permanent – Logan’s declining health, Kendall’s ambition – were reset without a second thought. Watching Succession season three was like spending a lot of time wondering when things would actually start.
That’s when the year-end ballots were sent out. And, listen, it’s not a disaster. It’s still at the top of the list. Yes of course. Even at half power, Succession can still beat the socks all around her.
However, in the weeks after the list was compiled, Succession became a supernova. The final third of the season found equipment that, even by the series’ impossible standards, he had never found before. All of the storylines that were buzzing in the background have attracted attention and the stakes are colossal. Professionally, everything is on fire. Personally, the ground is littered with corpses. If the first six episodes were about sharks circling the water, this is where we see them tear apart.
In Episode Seven, we saw Kendall – high on his own hype as the man who “killed” Logan Roy – planning to throw in the party to end all the parties. And yet, the sweep of his character arc over that hour, from reckless singing to the deepest existential despair, was breathtaking. This season has not been without a suicidal foreshadowing, but seeing Kendall’s sense of self-esteem drop to zero was to become genuinely worried about the man.
But Kendall is not alone in his despair. Shiv gets more and more monstrous by the second, casually hurting her siblings and husband with the same cold glee, a trait we start to learn he flourished as a teenager. Roman’s burgeoning growth as a person, both in terms of empathy and business acumen, was destroyed with just one cock photo. Even Connor, who is there purely for comedic relief, began to carry his unfathomable sadness more openly.
And then there’s Tom, who emerged as the unexpected heart of Succession – and someone to finally almost put down roots. Where he was once a power hungry Jared Kushner type junkie, Tom has spent this year finding power in his vulnerability. He knows his wife doesn’t love him because she told him. He knows the Roys think it’s a joke. He trembled at the thought of prison after offering himself as a sacrificial lamb for the family. In one of the estate’s all-time great moments, he almost declared his love for Greg. So when, finally, Tom outmaneuvered everyone, even his own wife, with his red wedding – can we make the Red Wambsgans a thing? – it was hard not to feel completely thrilled. Maybe, just maybe, it was Tom’s season from the start.
The third season of Succession ended with what could be its biggest series of episodes. However, these are not the episodes we judged him on. Officially, it’s the fourth best show of the year. But now that we’ve seen it all, it doesn’t matter if you want to crank it up by a place or two.