SPOILER ALERT: This review contains spoilers from “With Open Eyes,” the series finale of HBO’s “Succession,” now streaming on Max.
“Succession” creator Jesse Armstrong admitted in a new interview on NPR’s “Fresh Air” that he was “terrified” when Jeremy Strong spontaneously tried to jump into the Hudson River while filming Kendall Roy’s final scene on the Emmy-winning HBO drama series. Strong revealed the tidbit in a Vanity Fair interview published after the “Succession” series finale aired on May 29.
“I was terrified. I was terrified that he might fall in and be injured,” Armstrong said. “He didn’t look like he was going to jump in. But once he climbed over that barrier, when you film, there are generally a lot of health and safety assessments made, and that was not our plan that day.”
“If we’d even been thinking of that happening, we would have had boats and frogmen and all kinds of safety measures, which we didn’t have,” Armstrong added. “So my first thought was for his physical safety as a human being, not anything about the character. That’s what I felt on the day. Good Lord, above.”
During the last moments of “Succession,” Strong’s Kendall finds himself alone in Battery Park and without control of his family’s media empire. His brother-in-law, Tom Wambsgans, has been named the new Waystar CEO following the company’s merger with GoJo. Kendall has been stripped of his life’s purpose. The show cuts to black with Kendall starring blankly at the river ahead, but Strong tried to take things further.
“I tried to go into the water after we cut — I got up from that bench and went as fast as I could over the barrier and onto the pilings, and the actor playing Colin raced over,” Strong told Vanity Fair. “I didn’t know I was gonna do that, and he didn’t know, but he raced over and stopped me. I don’t know whether in that moment I felt that Kendall just wanted to die — I think he did — or if he wanted to be saved by essentially a proxy of his father.”
Although Strong felt in the moment that Kendall wanted to die, Armstrong told NPR’s “Fresh Air” host Terry Gross that he didn’t believe the character was contemplating suicide in that final moment.
“For me, no. I think for me, Kendall, at the end, one of the things he lacks is even the freedom to determine his own course through life,” Armstrong said. “The name and the wealth around him — to lots of us, obviously it seems extraordinarily fortunate, and it is. But I do believe there is a certain kind of tragedy to a royal name, to a huge business name, to being a Disney or a Windsor or any of those kinds of names, and he can never, ever escape that. And one of the ways he can’t escape that is to have a bubble of protection around him… even if he is contemplating it, I don’t think it could ever happen to him. And yet, for me, that’s not the way the story goes for this kind of person.”
Armstrong also weighed in on the last shot of Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) and Shiv (Sarah Snook), which sees them in the back of a car as they resentfully hold hands.
“For me it was a moment of equality,” Armstrong said. “Chilly, rather terrifying equality, but equality, which has never been the case in that relationship before. Tom has always been subservient. Now he has this status, but his status is contingent. That’s kind of what the whole episode has been about. Shiv’s status is as all the kids are — secure. It’s secure in a financial sense. She has billions of dollars. She has wealth that could never diminish, whatever happened to the world. And she also has a name, which will sort of haunt her and make it interesting, to a certain degree, for the rest of her life, and that can’t be taken away from her. Whereas Tom’s position could be taken away in the click of fingers.”
“So for me, there’s a very terrifying equality in that, a remarkable dry hand on hand,” he added. “It’s not really even human contact. It’s a sort of two pieces of porcelain or something. So that’s what it is for me. That isn’t what it would be for everyone. And certainly you could see the situation being a clever stratagem by which Shiv remains in play. Maybe that thought will occur to her tomorrow or the day after. But for me, the show’s ended at this point and the story is over and that’s where I think they end up.”
All four seasons of “Succession” are now available to stream on Max.