Succession is not a show that rewards theorizing. Though viewers and commentators have certainly made their fair share of guesses about how the HBO series will conclude and who will end up running Waystar Royco (if there will even be a Waystar Royco left to run), the series eludes any easy answers. Every season finale so far has come as a surprise to viewers, with the breadcrumbs laid throughout the season visible only in retrospect. This will likely be even more true for the upcoming series finale, which airs Sunday, May 28 on Max.
However, there is one thing connecting all of the Succession finales that would-be prognosticators have looked to as a sign of how the series might end. Every Succession finale episode, including the upcoming series finale, has taken its title from the same poem: “Dream Song 29” by John Berryman. In the poem, a protagonist named Henry thinks that he may have murdered someone. The thought of committing the act torments him, even though by the end of the poem it’s clear that he hasn’t actually done anything. But the guilt and uncertainty never leave the back of his mind — even if he had “a hundred years,” he’d never be able to let go of the image of “hack[ing]” up their body.
Ahead of the upcoming series finale, titled “With Open Eyes,” let’s take a deep dive into “Dream Song 29”, what it has meant in the history of Succession, and what it could possibly have to say for how the series will wrap up.
Spoilers for all of Succession below.
Season One Finale: “Nobody Is Ever Missing”
The title of the first season’s finale has perhaps the most evident connection to Berryman’s poem. “Nobody is ever missing” is the very last line of “Dream Song 29,” closing out the third and final stanza of the piece. In the third stanza, Henry tries to convince himself that he did not, in fact, ever murder anyone: He “goes over everyone” in his head but determines that “nobody is missing.” The season one finale of Succession, of course, ended with Kendall committing vehicular manslaughter, submerged underwater in a car with a waiter from his sister’s wedding. He finds out the next morning that the waiter has died and his guilt over his involvement in the incident reverberates through the rest of the series, just like Henry’s guilt reverberates through the poem. But, like his father Logan always said about the victims of Waystar Royco’s cruise ship crimes, Kendall tries to convince himself that there was “no real person involved” in the waiter’s death — “nobody is ever missing.”
Season Two Finale: “This Is Not for Tears”
The majority of this season finale takes place on Logan’s yacht, where the upper echelon of Waystar Royco trades barbs and argues over which of them will be the “human sacrifice” presented by the company to take accountability for the cruise ship scandal. At the end of the episode, Kendall, chosen as the sacrifice by Logan, betrays his father at a press conference, calling him “a malignant presence, a bully, and a liar” in front of a room full of shocked reporters. In its second stanza, “Dream Song 29” reads: “this is not for tears; thinking,” with the “thinking” on a separate line. “This is not for tears” could represent pushing aside feelings of grief or anguish (especially relating to the death of the waiter), with Kendall finally making the transition into the “killer” his father said he would never be. That pesky little “thinking” still remains in the subsequent line though, symbolizing that Kendall’s guilt over the waiter’s death will never fully disappear; he’ll carry it with him for the rest of his life.
Season Three Finale: “All the Bells Say”
The full line in Berryman’s poem is: “All the bells say: too late.” “Too late” rings true at the devastating ending of this episode. In the season three finale, Kendall, Roman, and Shiv finally band together to take down their father’s proposed deal to sell Waystar Royco, but thanks to Shiv’s husband, Tom, their efforts fall just short. When they arrive to meet their father he’s already one step ahead of them. They were too late, and “all the bells” have proclaimed it so: Throughout the show, we’ve seen Logan win over and over again. (Earlier in the season, Tom even says “I’ve never seen Logan get f—ed once.”) In “Dream Song 29,” “all the bells say” also refers to Henry moving on from his guilt, with the bells intoning that it’s “too late” for him to keep tormenting himself with grief. This resonates with Roman and Shiv’s acceptance of Kendall in a pivotal scene earlier in the episode. He finally reveals the secret of the waiter’s death to his siblings, and Shiv and Roman don’t ostracize him; instead, they help him move on.
Season Four Finale: “With Open Eyes”
Here’s where we get into unknown territory. With the finale airing this Sunday, it’s impossible to know exactly how “Dream Song 29” will correlate with the long-awaited end of the series. But we can make some educated guesses. “With open eyes” calls to mind some sort of clarity or realization; perhaps Kendall, Roman, or Shiv will finally start to see and reckon with the cruelties of the Waystar Royco empire. However, the full line in the poem is “with open eyes, he attends, blind,” meaning any clarity gained may be short-lived or false and the siblings will remain blind to the truth. Alternatively, since all of the finales so far have related to Kendall’s vehicular manslaughter incident, it’s also possible that the revelation could be that long-buried secret coming to light. Or perhaps the title could refer to us, the audience watching the show — “with open eyes,” maybe we can finally see these characters truly for the first time, in all of their vain, greedy, capitalistic horror.
Subscribe to Max to watch the series finale of Succession on May 28.
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