SPOILER ALERT: This review contains spoilers from “With Open Eyes,” the series finale of HBO’s “Succession,” now streaming on Max.
Connor Roy was interested in politics at an early age — but Alan Ruck isn’t convinced. “He can say anything he wants to say, but just because he was interested doesn’t mean he’s knowledgeable.”
Still, in his mid-50s, Connor’s interest is finally becoming a reality — with a catch. In the finale of HBO’s acclaimed drama “Succession,” from creator Jesse Armstrong, Ruck’s character is poised to become the next ambassador to Slovenia, provided that Jeryd Mencken actually becomes president. But his new wife Willa (Justine Lupe) drops a bombshell: She will be staying in New York (in Logan’s old apartment) while Connor carries out his duties abroad.
“I just think that he would be so overwhelmed,” Ruck says. “He was so counting on Willa coming over there and being with him, going to all the steak dinners, going to the dances, going to the lunches, and attending all the ceremonies.”
In an interview with Variety after the series finale, Ruck fights back tears as he reflects on Connor’s fate and the series as a whole.
I know you like to watch the episodes live. So, what did you think when you finally watched the finale?
I thought it was a brilliant way to wrap up. All those different storylines, we don’t know exactly what’s going to happen with Kendall, or if things are going to be OK between Connor and Willa. Because the Jeryd Mencken thing is up in the air, maybe he won’t go to Slovenia, which we can tell Willa was counting on. These writers are brilliant. The detail and the depth to every character was serviced in that hour and a half, and it all makes perfect sense.
Kendall would not be a good CEO. He would not, even though this has been his dream since he was seven years old. Whatever Shiv’s motives are, everybody who watches the show has a slightly different, or sometimes radically different idea about why whoever did what. Some people say Siobhan did it purely out of spite, and she’s just keeping herself close to power because of Tom’s ascendancy, and that’s why she voted Kendall down. Or maybe she just had an amazing moment of clarity, and was like, “This is awful. You’ll be awful.” Maybe she was just jealous: “I wanted it. I’m smarter than you. I’d be better at it than you, but I can’t have because I’m a woman. Fuck you.”
I think what’s probably accurate is all those things are true on some level, and all these characters are human beings. We’re just walking balls of contradictions. We have our character defects, and we have some attributes — and we’re just people. These just happened to be some very high-powered, miserable people.
If Mencken comes through, Willa will stay in New York while Connor will become ambassador to Slovenia. He smiles through it, but how do you think he really feels about living apart? What comes next?
I think he’s kind of heartbroken by it, because he’s completely lost without Willa. She gave him a lot of confidence. He’s always been this guy that nobody’s taken seriously. If he loses Willa, even for any length of time, he’s going to become morose. If that marriage doesn’t work out, if he actually loses her, that would be kind of the end of Connor. He’d be a shell of a person. I don’t know how long he would last, to tell you the truth.
Jesse has this theory that people never really change, and I think for the characters in this show, that’s absolutely true. Even though Connor and Willa had that lovely moment in the third episode, where they actually talked about stuff that matters, and then they go ahead and get married and there’s some joy in that for both of them, I think she gets scared. “I’m gonna marry this guy. I’m gonna be with this guy for the rest of my life. What am I doing?” She’s lost. Willa is street smart. She was tough enough to be an escort and get out of that thing alive, or just relatively unscathed. But she’s not a completely confident person. It’s weird for both of them.
We’re not too sure about anything. We have no idea how that baby will turn out with Tom and Shiv. We don’t know what that family will be like. We don’t know what will happen to Roman. Maybe he’ll just be the billionaire, nasty playboy. Kendall is shattered. Somebody picked up on this: They said Colin is walking close behind Kendall as he did with Logan, but he’s just making sure that Ken won’t throw himself over the railing and into the sea. Through Jeremy’s acting, that was just so obvious. This guy’s in hell. He’s got nothing anymore. He’s lost. So we don’t know really what’s going to happen to all these people, but this “Succession” era is closed and it’s been resolved. They’ll all go on, in whatever weird way they do.
During that sibling conflict near the end, Kendall insists “I’m the eldest boy!” in what seems to be yet another moment of Connor erasure. What did you make of that?
I thought it was perfect, because he’s not discounting my existence: What he’s saying is, “I’m the eldest boy of people who matter.” You see Siobhan, after he says that, she shakes her head no. He’s obsessed. He basically says, “The old man promised this to me when I was seven.” So for 33 years, this has been his drive. Without it, he’s nothing. His marriage is a disaster. He doesn’t have a proper relationship with his kids. The whole family dynamic, everybody’s like, “Yeah, he’s the suicidal, drug addict guy.”
Everybody gets clocked, you know? Connor’s the dingbat who will never amount to anything. And maybe that’s true. Kendall is the drug addict, self-destructive guy. Even though Roman is the middle child, he’s the indecisive baby. And Siobhan is the ball-busting bitch. That’s how the rest of the family has typified each other, and it will probably never change.
It’s ironic that Connor is perceived as the failure, but he’s the only sibling with a potential job lined up in the end. He’d at least be “His Excellency!”
He’s going to be a mess. He’s not going to be able to focus on anything, really. He’s not going to want to do that job very long if Willa’s not around. He’s going to delegate all authority. He’ll gladly put on the nice clothes and go and meet people and make small talk, but if there’s actually people coming to ask his help in some way, he’s going to try to delegate all that. “Please speak with my assistant. She’s quite well-versed in all this, and she’ll take good care of you.” And then just bail out. I just see him being overwhelmed by the whole thing: strange new country, language he doesn’t understand. He’s gonna feel intimidated.
What was Connor’s actual political platform?
It’s kind of a mess. In the pilot, he talked about the aquifer under his property, so I’m sure that he’s very concerned about pollution, as it affects him. Anything that’s around him: somebody’s trying to build a power plant or somebody’s trying to dig some sort of mine, he’s going to be all over that, because he doesn’t want the water on his ranch to be tainted by somebody else’s lust for money.
And then this is an idea I had, because he wants to be a man of the people and he doesn’t want to pay any taxes: since Citizens United, the Supreme Court decided that corporations are people. Then it stands to reason that people are corporations. I wanted to suggest as Connor that he say to the people, “I encourage you all to become incorporated. The Smith family business. We’re in the business of raising these children, so therefore, we get to write off all their food, all their clothing, all their education, all their medical care. We get to write all those things off.” I think he would have wanted to start kind of a grassroots revolution: We’re not paying. No taxes! He would think that the people would just adore him for that.
Connor took Logan’s medals in his exclusive first round of the great reallocation. Why?
I think he just wanted something that his dad really loved. For some reason, Logan was crazy about those medals, even though Ewan got right up his ass about it. I just think because Logan was so fond of it, that’s why Connor wanted them.
That video of the dinner with Logan indicated that Connor perhaps shared more actual quality time with him than any of his siblings. But when he died, Connor said, “He didn’t even like me.” How do you reconcile his relationship with Logan when it comes down to it?
I think that, like all the kids, he’s just wanted his father’s validation and unconditional love. But now, Connor is deep into his 50s, and he has realized by this point that actually, that’s not available. It doesn’t mean you still don’t want it. But he does realize that the man just is not capable of getting warm and fuzzy. It was never going to happen.
Connor always came down on the side of his father throughout these four seasons. With all Kendall’s machinations and the siblings plotting stuff together, Connor would always vote with his father, because his father was magic at this business stuff. Like Tom said, “I never saw Logan get fucked.” He was a winner. And if there was a plan to take down Logan, it probably wasn’t going to work. So Connor loved his father, admired his father, and desperately wanted that love and admiration back. But he took what he could get.
Your impression of Logan singing “I’m a Little Teapot” was spot-on. Did Brian Cox tell you what he thought of it?
He laughed. He’s just good-natured guy. He had just come back for that one day. He had a death in the family in Scotland, and he had just come back after that. So he was quiet. He was pensive. But he enjoyed all that stuff. When Karl starts singing “Green Grow the Rashes,” it was really wonderful. It was a charming and emotionally charged scene that was great fun to do. Brian’s great fun.
Despite that relationship, Connor didn’t get to speak at the funeral in the penultimate episode. How did you feel about that?
They wrote so much good stuff, and we filmed it, but when it came right down to it, the show would be too long. In that the funeral episode, Connor had shown up saying that he had basically a manifesto to recite that was like 20 pages long. And then what happened in the script was that, at one point Siobhan turns around to Frank and goes, “Frank, Connor’s in, you’re out.” Frank was going to read a passage from the Bible. So they gave me this passage from the Bible to read before Roman gets up. I did that, and it was pretty straightforward, but the show’s just too long and it didn’t advance the plot. So we kind of cut to the chase, which is the way it needed to be.
What was the final table read like?
Before the show, I really hated table reads. When you do a play, you all sit down and you read the play together aloud, because plays are all about the words. I never liked reading television shows or movies, because it’s mostly some guy reading a bunch of stage directions. Well, our show was more like a play, and Jesse and the writers are just master wordsmiths. It was a great joy to get together in the early days before COVID and read through every episode, because we were in the same room together. You get to feel everybody’s energy. And then COVID hit, and that put a kibosh on that — until the reading of the finale. They decided to do that in person, like we did in the old days.
It was incredibly emotional. We’d all been told that this was going to be the end of the series. Sarah Snook burst into tears. Like, erupted in tears when we finished. It was just so moving to her. And then Mark Mylod and Scott Ferguson were trying real hard to hold back the emotion when they said how wonderful the whole ride had been and all that stuff. I’m getting a little worked up now. I got a little emotional. It was great.
And what about the moment when they wrapped on your final scene?
Justine and I hugged. I’m really surprised how this is still getting me, excuse me. Jeremy and Kieran and Sarah came over and we had a big group hug. The crew applauded for a long time. You can tell right now, it was just a special time in my life.
Have you kept in touch much with the rest of the cast?
We have a couple of different threads, but there’s one that’s just called “Succession Folks.” Nicky Braun has a restaurant, and he invited everybody to come. He says he’s going to have a viewing party for the finale. J. Smith says, “Kenny and I will be there!” Macfadyen says, “Be there in spirit. Much love to you all.” He says we’re allowed to bring a few guests, and Peter Friedman says, “I’m in! A few guests per person. Bwahaha!” And then David Rasche says, “Is this free, or will I have to pay for something?” Braun says, “You will pay for nothing, not sure about everyone else.” Friedman says, “What?” Braun says, “David has been a dear, dear friend, so I will be comping him two drinks and one appetizer.” Friedman says, “Did you say has been?” David Rasche says, “How big are the appetizers?”
So yeah, we’re in touch. It’s just a bunch of very clever, highly intelligent people giving each other a hard time. It’s great.
This interview has been edited and condensed.