NOTE: The following article does not contain spoilers of either finale, but does include plot details of previous episodes.
It’s the sad end of an era over at HBO — and I don’t mean the odd rebranding of its streaming service to MAX.
I mean the back-to-back series finales of two of its best shows, “Succession” and “Barry,” after four seasons each.
The 13-time Emmy-winning drama “Succession” brings the Roy family saga to a close this Sunday at 9 p.m., while the nine-time Emmy-winning dramedy “Barry” wraps immediately after that at 10 p.m.
Grab your popcorn and find a comfy spot on the couch — here’s a brief preview of both:
It’s hard to believe Sunday is the last time we’ll hear Nicholas Britell’s all-timer score unfolding over grainy sepia images of the kids growing up at the family estate. Rarely do we get opening credits that we don’t want to skip, savoring every last piano note and transcendent violin as it sets the mood for the cutthroat chaos to come.
Created by Jesse Armstrong, the series weaves a family power struggle like “The Lion in Winter” (1968) or “The Godfather” (1972). Rather than Peter O’Toole or Marlon Brando, we relished Brian Cox as patriarch Logan Roy, commanding his media empire like Rupert Murdoch. Waystar’s ATN stands in for News Corporation’s Fox News, which recently paid Dominion Voting Systems a $787 million settlement for lying about the 2020 election.
Many analysts have also drawn parallels to Donald Trump’s Manhattan “House of Cards,” as Shiv (Sarah Snook), Roman (Kieran Culkin) and Kendall (Jeremy Strong) stand in for Ivanka, Eric and Don Jr., wanting a piece of the “nepo baby” pie but afraid to challenge the old man because he knows where their bodies are buried, too.
The first season immediately hooked us in 2018 with Shakespearean dynasty dynamics. The first episode (“Celebration”) introduced us to Logan on his 80th birthday before collapsing from a hemorrhagic stroke at the end of the pilot. His declining health raised the stakes for his three children needing to position themselves to take over, but their plans suddenly shifted with an intense, Chappaquiddick cliffhanger in the 10th episode (“Nobody is Ever Missing”).
The second season not only matched that high bar, but arguably surpassed it in 2019, brilliantly building to Kendall calling out Logan on live television, earning a slight smile of fatherly pride from dad after goading his son that he wasn’t enough of a “killer” earlier in the 10th episode (“This is Not For Tears”). This is the season that deservedly won the Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series, finally ending the dragon-breath reign of its HBO sibling “Game of Thrones.”
The pandemic delayed the third season until 2021, making the Logan vs. Kendall rivalry feel stale. The storylines felt so repetitive that I bailed for a year before binge-watching my way back through the ninth episode (“All the Bells Say”) as Tom Wambsgans (Matthew Macfadyen) tipped off Logan about his children’s coup. It won Outstanding Drama Series again, but Apple’s “Severance” was far superior.
Thankfully, the fourth season has redeemed itself in 2023 with a shocking death in the third episode (“Connor’s Wedding”), one of the best TV episodes ever filmed, followed by an appallingly accurate election farce in the eighth episode (“America Decides”). The funeral fiasco in the penultimate ninth episode (“Church and State”) gave James Cromwell a stinging spotlight as Logan’s brother Ewan and disproved Roman’s concept of pre-grief, erupting in Emmy-worthy tears.
How will this thing end on Sunday? How will the GoJo deal unfold with Matsson (Alexander Skarsgård)? And who will take over the empire? Kendall, Roman or Shiv? Maybe even Connor (Alan Ruck)? I’m still rooting for underdog cousin Greg (Nicholas Braun) to somehow luck into the big chair, if only so he can turn the tables and send Tom on a coffee run. The finale is called “With Open Eyes,” so I’m hoping Logan staged his death for a chilling return.
As you mourn the “Succession” finale, be sure to stick around for the “Barry” finale immediately afterward.
Created by Alec Berg and Bill Hader, the series effortlessly straddles the line of comedy and drama with the coolest hit-man premise since John Cusack’s high school reunion in “Grosse Pointe Blank” (1997). This time, it’s an ex-Marine turned ruthless assassin who pursues a Hollywood career after stumbling into an L.A. acting class.
The first season hooked us in 2018 with Barry conducting hits between acting classes by teacher Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler). The season memorably ended at Gene’s lake house as Barry killed Gene’s girlfriend, Detective Janie Moss, for nearly uncovering his crimes in the eighth episode (“Know Your Truth”). Hader won the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor, while Henry Winkler won Outstanding Supporting Actor to complete his “Happy Days” comeback.
In 2019, the second season saw the walls close in on Barry, whose attempt to plant a Chechen pin on Moss’ body unraveled when his scorned mentor Fuches (Stephen Root) whispered the truth in Gene’s ear. The second season also gave us the all-timer fifth episode (“ronny/lily”) as a mob victim’s daughter surprisingly scaled walls and fought back with Taekwondo. Hader really began showing his directing chops, while repeating as Outstanding Lead Actor.
The pandemic delayed the third season for what felt like forever, so when it finally returned in 2022, we needed “previously on” segments for a refresher. The third season showed Hader’s directing chops evolve to new heights, from a thrilling motorcycle chase in the sixth episode (“710N”) to the symbolic shot composition of the eighth episode (“starting now”) as Gene set a well-laid trap for Barry’s arrest with the help of Janice’s dad Jim Moss (Robert Wisdom).
The fourth season has been the darkest yet, scrapping the blaring horn music for silent opening credits. In a gutsy move, the writers flash forward to Barry and Sally raising their son in witness protection as Bill Hader and Sarah Goldberg provide acting master classes of depressed regret. NoHo Hank (Anthony Carrigan) is the only remaining comic relief, but even he is a loose cannon after the demise of his lover, the Bolivian mobster Cristobal (Michael Irby).
Can Barry find redemption or are his sins far too great? The finale is called “Wow” and I suspect that’s exactly what we’ll get. Gene appears to be thawing in his opposition to Hollywood’s true-crime film about his girlfriend’s murder, so I predict that he caves on one condition: that he and Barry play themselves. This could build to a “life imitates art” climax where Gene kills Barry both on- and off-screen as Sally watches in the wings.
That’s just a wild guess, but that’s the fun of TV finales. No matter how it goes down, we’re in for a double dose of farewells on Sunday night. Who knew the final season of “Succession” and “Barry” would be equally dramatic?
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