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The best things to read about 'Succession' before it ends

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A show like "Succession" doesn't come along often — simultaneously a critics' darling and a ratings hit; obscenely funny and piano-tinklingly tragic; equally full of Shakespearean allusions, Murdochian knife fights and masturbation jokes.

It will all be over on Sunday night, when HBO airs the last episode of the fourth and final season, which has already killed off conservative media baron Logan Roy, shattered the psyches of his backstabbing heirs, and turned goofy cousin Greg into a tool of what may be the country's first fascist president.

While you wait for the finale to air (or process what you just saw), here is our curated list of the best things to read about "Succession" — from The Washington Post's takes on the spoiled characters and immaculate dialogue, to revealing interviews with the show's stars and creators.

Who is actually the worst character?

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"Succession" works on so many levels — as satire, as literary theater, as farce. But it arguably owes it broad popularity to its scuzzy surface layer: It is a show about awful people doing awful things to each other. There's a constantly fluctuating relationship of hate, love and envy between Logan Roy and his children, Roman, Shiv and Kendall (sorry, Connor, you don't really count), not to mention hangers-on like Tom Wambsgans and the family company's CEO, Gerri.

The Post also likes to merge lowbrow with highbrow, so we recently asked philosophy professors, an ethics specialist and a real-life heiress to ponder: Which character is the grossest?

Bonus reading: If you just need a primer going into the finale on who all these characters are and what nepotistic dynamics connect them, we've got you covered with our handy organizational chart of the Roy empire's key players.

On the Fox-iness of it all

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"Succession" is often described as a satire of the Murdoch family and its Fox News empire, with Logan standing in for patriarch Rupert Murdoch, whose children have had their own real-life power dramas. The parallels have seemed especially thick this season, with a climactic episode about the Roys' conservative news channel, ATN, skewing the results of a presidential election.

In a perspective piece for us, Alan Rusbridger writes that the episode "played like a rewrite of 2020's presidential election eve." (Fox News recently paid an enormous sum to settle a lawsuit in which it was accused of spreading misinformation to keep Donald Trump in office after he lost the election.) But, Rusbridger writes, there's a lot more behind "Succession" than a simple skewering of the Murdochs:

"The show's family dynamics have always resisted the parallel — even if you'd like to think that the ruthless Roman Roy is a version of Lachlan Murdoch, who won his father's real-life succession battle, or that the conniving Shiv Roy hardly seems to have much in common with Elisabeth Murdoch, who stepped away from the Murdoch empire well before Lachlan's final ascension." Read his take here.

Bonus reading: The creator of "Succession," Jesse Armstrong, explains the show's real genesis in "Succession: The Complete Scripts."

In fact, Armstrong did originally conceive the show as a fake documentary about Rupert Murdoch, but he writes that the "the script was a dud."

The idea was retooled over several years, eventually becoming a fictional exploration of "all the most fascinating family dynamics within a propitiously balanced fictional hybrid media conglomerate." Yes, there's a lot of Murdoch in "Succession," but also some Sumner Redstone, some Robert Maxwell — even a bit of Robert Durst.

We highly recommend "Succession" fans check out the Guardian's excerpt of the publication, in which Armstrong also explains how Trump's election and the Brexit referendum underpin the series, and how poor cousin Greg is partially based on himself.

The slow cracking of Greg the Egg

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The Post's Steve Kolowich wrote about the descent of fan-favorite character Greg Hirsch, the awkward, morally burdened Roy cousin who starts the series getting fired from his job as a theme park mascot, and is gradually corrupted by his relatives until he famously asks Tom in Season 3, "What am I going to do with a soul anyways?"

"Greg might not have been a good person, he wasn't obviously a bad person," Kolowich writes. "You mostly felt embarrassed for him, which was not quite the same as rooting for him. 'Relatable' is not quite the word, but the fact that he appeared so ill at ease in Royworld put him on our side."

It's a great read going into Sunday's finale, when Greg stans will find out if he gets one last chance at redemption — or just throws up on himself again.

On brother Ewan — the show's closest thing to a soul

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Logan's estranged brother (and Greg's disappointed grandfather) shows up in the series sporadically — but always dramatically, as he is almost alone among the cast of characters in calling out the socially and morally destructive nature of the Roy family business.

Ewan delivered his magnum opus in the penultimate episode, when he crashed the speaker's line at Logan's funeral to deliver a stirring eulogy, which Esquire has transcribed in full.

"I loved him, I suppose, and I suppose some of you did too, in whatever way he would let us and we could manage," Ewan said. "But I can't help but say he has wrought some of the most terrible things. He was a man who has here and there drawn in the edges of the world. Now and then darkened the skies a little. Closed men's hearts. Fed that dark flame in men, the hard mean hard-relenting flame that keeps their heart warm while another grows cold. Their grain stashed while another goes hungry."

It turns out there's a lot of Ewan in the actor who plays him, James Cromwell, who gave a fascinating analysis of the eulogy in an interview with Vulture this week.

"There's the nuance in the speech itself, plus all the other things — the revelations of these human beings, Shiv and Kendall and Roman, who we've seen at their worst, their very worst, in pain, isolated, lost, confused," Cromwell said. "I think Ewan notices that. I think the look over at Roman communicates both contempt and: There but for the grace of God go I. I don't envy that life, for that man."

The interview is worth reading in full, not least for Cromwell's history of progressive activism, his condemnation of capitalism, and his thoughts about the ethics of artificial intelligence. "Even if it doesn't have actual consciousness, but merely a form of self-awareness, what happens when it says, 'I am being exploited?'" the actor asks — surely something no Roy would ever contemplate.

Unlocking the show's literary meanings

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"Succession" excels at marrying crass dialogue with high-concept drama. Witness last Sunday's funeral episode, which has Roman cracking jokes about having sex with his stepmother on Logan's coffin — then minutes later breaking down into tears as he attempts to deliver his father's eulogy, revealing a traumatized little boy beneath the incest jokes.

Louis Bayard calls the show "'King Lear' meets the Murdochs" in a Post article that breaks down its literary pedigree:

"Surely, Logan was meant to be Cronus, king of the Titans, swallowing each of his children whole at their birth — or else he was Cyclops. Kendall was greeted in one episode as 'Oedipus Roy,' but maybe that was a better fit for Roman, whose feelings for the decidedly maternal general counsel Gerri extended to texting her pics of his penis."

If you want to do some deep thinking about your favorite show, finally get into ancient Greek literature, or just impress your co-workers at the water cooler next week, give it a read.

Bonus reading: For another take on the symbolism that runs through "Succession," check out the article from The Post's Sonia Rao about how the series repeatedly uses disastrous weddings (Logan died in the middle of Connor's this season) to point out how corrupted the Roys' notion of love has become.

On why your rich friends are dressing like Kendall

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Finally, our fashion writer Rachel Tashjian wrote about the "quiet luxury" movement — bomber jackets and expensive baseball caps that strongly resemble Kendall Roy's bro-y aesthetic.

The irony is that the fashion designers on "Succession" never intended Kendall to be a trendsetter. Quite the opposite.

"Kendall's fashion choices — like a pair of pricey Lanvin sneakers purchased to impress the founders of an art start-up or the enormous Rashid Johnson pendant he dons like a talisman of virtue signaling — are used to relay his cluelessness and insecurities," Tashjian writes. They "are not meant to be aspirational, but rather tell us how desperately he's trying to belong."

So, buyer beware.

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