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'Succession' fans learn who would take over for monstrous mogul Logan Roy

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

It's officially over.

(SOUNDBITE OF NICHOLAS BRITELL'S "SUCCESSION (MAIN TITLE THEME)")

FADEL: The last episode of HBO's hit "Succession" aired last night, and viewers finally learned who would take over for the monstrous mogul Logan Roy as head of the family-owned entertainment conglomerate Waystar Royco. Now, I'm sure some of you may not have watched the finale yet, so you might want to turn the volume down for a few minutes because there are big spoilers coming up. To talk about the blockbuster ending, we're joined by NPR TV critic Eric Deggans. Hi, Eric.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Hi.

FADEL: All right. We've got two surprises. Eldest son, leading candidate for successor Kendall Roy was not able to take control of his father's company. Instead, Tom Wambsgans, the estranged husband of Logan's daughter, Shiv, was installed as the company's CEO, and the deciding vote was Shiv's. Here's a clip of Kendall, played by Jeremy Strong, trying to convince Shiv, played by Sarah Snook, not to vote against him.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SUCCESSION")

JEREMY STRONG: (As Kendall Roy) I am like a cog built to fit only one machine. I can do this.

SARAH SNOOK: (As Shiv Roy) I don't think you'd be good at it.

STRONG: (As Kendall Roy) What? I don't even believe you. I don't believe you.

SNOOK: (As Shiv Roy) I don't. I don't think that you would be good at this.

FADEL: Did you see this coming? And what does it mean?

DEGGANS: OK. I'm going to be honest. I predicted Kendall would win in a column that I wrote for npr.org over this past weekend. But on NPR's air back in April, because of how the story was unfolding then, I actually said...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

DEGGANS: I'm putting my money on Tom - Tom Wambsgans.

ANDREW LIMBONG: Tom.

DEGGANS: I really feel like he's the dark horse here.

FADEL: OK.

DEGGANS: Ta-da.

FADEL: So you did predict him at some point. Why did you pick Tom as the dark horse?

DEGGANS: So, on the one hand, it's because Tom is the perfect servant to powerful men. Now, Waystar Royco's board sells the company to an Elon Musk-style tech mogul who essentially tells Tom he needs a front man to enact painful change - not a partner, but a lackey. And Tom has constantly shown he's willing to betray anyone, including Shiv, to get closer to power. But the other reason this happens is because Shiv ultimately decides she doesn't think any of her siblings can or should run their father's company. And that's a bitter and accurate truth that strikes at the heart of the entire story.

FADEL: Now, there have been a lot of big moments in "Succession" during this final season - the death of Logan Roy, a nightmarish election episode, a dramatic funeral. Was there anything else in this finale that measured up to those moments?

DEGGANS: Well, I think this final episode reminded us that the story's always been centered on the three youngest kids of Logan Roy and how they're bound to each other and, ultimately, pitted against each other by their dysfunctional childhoods. They each reveal that their father promised the top job to them at different moments when he tried to manipulate them. And there's this wonderful sequence in the finale where the three siblings decide to work together to keep their company in family hands. And I'm watching this thinking, why am I rooting for these terrible people to retain control of this powerful company? But, you know, so much of "Succession" is about this family...

FADEL: Yeah.

DEGGANS: ...And their inability to connect with each other, their inability to face the terrible truth about their lives. And those moments came together in a really spot-on finale.

FADEL: Now, this show has been the center of pop culture conversation like few other series in recent memory. Why do you think fans love this show so much?

DEGGANS: I think "Succession" works on three levels. First, it's a wickedly astute and funny dark comedy about how wealthy people who are often undeserving control the levers of power in the world.

FADEL: Yeah.

DEGGANS: It's also a look at a family that wants to connect with each other but can't help tearing itself apart. And finally, it's this story about insanely wealthy people who are completely miserable. And for those of us who aren't in the 1%, that might be some comfort in seeing that money doesn't always bring fulfillment.

FADEL: NPR TV critic Eric Deggans. Thanks so much, Eric.

DEGGANS: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF NICHOLAS BRITELL'S "SUCCESSION (MAIN TITLE THEME)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.