What a punch Succession packs at the death. It goes out doing what it does best

Television: Jesse Armstrong’s dark dramedy about the billionaire Roy family ends with a flurry of body blows

Succession: Shiv, Greg, Roman, Logan, Connor, Kendall and Tom. Photograph: Sky/HBO

What a punch Succession (Sky Atlantic, Monday, 2am and 9pm; also streaming on Now) packs at the death. Several punches – a flurry of body blows, served on a gilded platter. This is Succession doing what it does best: showing us horrible people unravelling to the point where you start to feel a twitch of something akin to empathy or, in the case of the tragic Kendall Roy, outright pity.

He gets his Rosebud moment in the finale, revealing that, at the age of seven, his dad, Logan (Brian Cox), promised him the keys to the Waystar kingdom. These were just words to his late father – but Kendall (Jeremy Strong) took them to his heart and has guarded them ever since. “He said a lot of things, and he said it to me first,” he tells the rest of the family.

That dream is in tatters. Inevitably, Kendall is outdone not by outside forces but by those nearest to him. The barbarians have been inside the gate all along. He exits Succession much as he was introduced, staring into space, feeling that, no matter what he does, he will never live up to his father.

The final episode in the dark dramedy that has defined the late prestige-TV era clocks in at 90 minutes. That’s a lot of jabbering and back-stabbing. Yet Succession has never outstayed its welcome – and, for his biggest test yet, the series’ showrunner, Jesse Armstrong, delivers a slick and mesmerising sign-off, albeit one that repeats those signature beats around betrayal and fraying familial bonds.

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Do we feel sorry for the Roys? They are, in the end, a pathetic bunch. Kendall thinks he has outmanoeuvred GoJo, which is trying to take over Waystar Royco, in a deal Logan brokered before his death. But while it seems he has the votes, he hadn’t counted on Shiv (Sarah Snook) turning on him for the second time this season.

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Her reasoning is straightforward and, so she believes, pure. Kendall isn’t up to the job. Is anyone? Well, Shiv, of course – or so she believes. But she has already been rejected by GoJo’s dreadful Lukas Matsson, who wants a figurehead running his US operations, not someone with opinions.

Roman (Kieran Culkin), the middle child, is already in pieces. Unable to recover from Logan’s death, he is happy to do whatever causes the least grief. Tracked down to his mother’s residence in Barbados, he is amenable to supporting Kendall and sympathetic to Shiv – but is also clearly going through the motions. Take away his malignant humour and his need for approval from his father and there’s nothing left.

Succession resolves several significant plot points with minimum fuss. The Jeryd Mencken hellscape presidency might not be happening after all: that lingering controversy over those torched votes in Milwaukee could yet deny him victory.

Succession has charmed, dazzled and shocked viewers across its four seasons, starring Jeremy Strong, Sarah Snook and Kieran Culkin. Photograph: HBO

Meanwhile, Connor (Alan Ruck) and Willa seem to be already unravelling – she’s keen for her new husband to go abroad as quickly as possible so that she can have Logan’s old apartment to herself. But if Mencken does not become president, Connor can wave goodbye to a potential ambassadorship, and they’re stuck with each other.

The rest of the Roys are coming apart, though. Shiv feels she cannot in good conscience hand the keys to the kingdom to Kendall, so she votes through her father’s deal and Matsson becomes the new Logan.

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“I am a cog built to fit only one machine,” Kendall protests, still somehow stunned that someone might knife him in the guts. (Has he ever watched Succession?) “Shiv, it’s so crazy”.

Matsson ends up with a familiar sidekick. Tom (Matthew Macfadyen), who has already betrayed Shiv, does so again as he takes from her that coveted gig as the new chief executive. It’s a meaningless title: Lukas wants an “empty suit” to absorb the hate as he guts Waystar. That’s a gig Tom is more than happy to take. “I’m a grinder. I worry,” he tells Matsson when hustling for the job.

Succession ends with Tom and Shiv – shackled together by her pregnancy and their mutual interest in Waystar – driving towards an unhappy sunset. Likewise mooching towards uncertain futures are Kendall and Roman.

Succession has charmed, dazzled and shocked viewers across its four seasons. And now it has signed off with a finale that echoes many of the show’s familiar tropes and plot points – all that treachery and snark – but with verve and assurance. It’s a bonfire of the nepo babies to savour.