Jeremy Strong, Sarah Snook and Kieran Culkin in Legacy. At the end of the final episode of Legacies, Jeremy Strong's Kendall Roy walks through the park, stunned and defeated, having failed in the only ambition he had in his life: to become the CEO of his father Logan's Waystar Royco company and, in doing so, prove he's the right fit. and worthy to be his successor.
It's no surprise that Kendall fails to achieve his goals, not least because, as his sister Shiv helpfully pointed out a few moments ago, he's not up to – mentally, physically, or emotionally – for the task. His grief at the loss is matched only by his realization that, despite the hype and fireworks of his eulogy last week, he remained a small man, never able to scale the heights that Logan so brutally ascended.
Jesse Armstrong's remarkable series, which, much to the relief of his millions of fans, didn't land, has been compared to everything from Greek tragedy to Shakespeare to Armstrong's co-created sitcom Peep Show for its inimitable mixture of obscenity, rapidity of fire and often obnoxious comic dialogue with grandiose opera arch. However, perhaps its most notable progenitor, both in its emphasis on the strained father-son relationship revolving around the family business's succession, and in its unwavering view of contemporary America, told through the story of one amoral family, is undoubtedly Francis's trilogy. Ford Coppola's The Godfather. . Yes, even the much-maligned and now nearly underrated third film in the series.
According to Strong, these parallels are entirely intentional. In an interview with Vulture in which he bluntly called the series a “tragedy”, he said, “In the beginning, we talked a lot about The Godfather. Jesse and [director] Mark Mylod said it was a show about family trauma. And while it's a terribly funny satire – so funny it hurts – on late-stage capitalism, for me, as Kendall, it's mostly just painful.”
Al Pacino as Michael Corleone in The Godfather: Part 3. Credit & Copyright: Alamy
It's undeniably true that while Coppola's films have moments of black comedy, they're hardly as funny as The Descendants. But the Godfather series and the Armstrong series ask the same question and answer it tragically in the same way: what is the use of a person if he gains the whole world and loses his soul in the process?
The first lines spoken in “The Godfather” in which Bonasera's character states “I believe in America. America made my fortune” outlined the main topics that will be discussed over the next nine hours. Mario Puzo, the author of the novel on which the original film was based, was a second-generation Italian immigrant, while Coppola was a third-generation immigrant. Both the men and their families knew a thing or two about the American dream, but they also knew the dark side of it.
The Corleone dynasty in The Godfather is an example of how power and wealth are taken by force and defended at all costs, and how respect for anyone – not least the Godfather himself, crime boss Don Vito Corleone – becomes an obsequious ritual in to flatter an all-powerful man whose disapproval can lead to the most dire consequences imaginable. This is not the America of the Founding Fathers, a place of hope and optimism: this is an America built from the blood and spirit of dog food, where only the strongest survive.
Vito Corleone, as we learn in the second film in the Godfather series, is an immigrant from Sicily who fled his home country after his family was murdered by a local mafia boss after his father refused to swear allegiance. Just as importantly, Brian Cox's Logan Roy, mafia patriarch and founder of the Waystar Roy dynasty, is himself an immigrant, albeit from less threatening Dundee surroundings. There are many parallels between Vito and Logan, both in the characters' complete dominance of their surroundings and in their ambivalent relationship with their apparent heirs.
In perhaps the greatest scene in The Godfather—a screenplay written by Chinatown's Robert Town—Vito expresses his regret over Michael's apparent move into the family firm: “I never wanted this for you. I've been working my whole life – I'm not sorry – to take care of my family, and I refused to be the fool to dance on the rope that all these tycoons are holding. I'm not sorry – this is my life – but I thought that when your time comes, you will be the one to hold the string. Senator Corleone; Governor of Corleone. Well, there wasn't enough time, Michael. Did not have enough time”.
This finds a twisted antithesis at the end of the second series “Legacy” when Logan announces to Kendall that “you're not a killer… you have to be a killer” to challenge the family firm, shortly before Kendall's takeover table. – the turning point “But…” live shows that he is, after all, his father's son. His tragedy is that he is ultimately not enough of a Roy to fulfill his apparent destiny, while Michael Corleone's tragedy is that he is too much like a Corleone to escape the devastating fate – the death of virtually all of his loved ones – that was ordained as soon as he entered the business.
Brian Cox as Logan Roy, Vito Corleone's own from The Heir. Photo: HBO
Strong's performance is a clear homage to The Godfather, which he acknowledged when he commented on the ubiquitous symbolism of water in Legacy. “There is another moment from the first The Godfather where Michael comes home after his first wife was blown up in a car,” he said. “It's like that satanic birth you talk about when Kendall comes out of the water [in the season 1 finale after inadvertently causing the death of a waiter]. He has irrevocably lost a part of himself. Pieces of his humanity. But the show is littered with other callbacks and homages.
Kieran Culkin's novel, a younger brother who flatters himself that he can walk but is cruelly shown to be as insignificant as his older brother, seems like a clear nod to the doomed Fredo the Godfather. In turn, Fredo's resentment and anger at being ignored compared to the more dynamic Michael finds a lighter echo in Alan Ruck's Connor, Roy's neglected eldest offspring, who heartbreakingly declares after his father's death that “He never even loved me.”
The same can be said about Vito and Fredo: the latter's calling card is marked after the death of his father, and his younger brother declares iconically: “Fredo, you are my older brother and I love you. But never take sides against the Family again. Always.”
The Godfather: (left to right) James Caan as Sonny Corleone, Marlon Brandon as Vito, Al Pacino as Michael and John Cazale as Fredo. on the ascendant, have long since given up any claim of allegiance to the family. This is a show that shows the moral limits of egocentrism and finds them consistently inadequate.
One aspect that The Godfather films have been criticized for is that the female characters seem underdeveloped compared to the male ones. The two main ones, Kay Diane Keaton, Michael's wife, and Connie Talia Shire, Vito's daughter and Michael and Fredo's sister, are largely defined by their relationships with men. But their ability to make terrible moral judgments about the actions of male characters is not something that would be bestowed on Legacy's protagonist, Shiv Roy (Sarah Snook).
In the final episode, Shiv betrays Kendall by siding with Alexander Skarsgaard's Lucas Matsson in his attempts to buy Waystar, knowing that by doing so she will allow her semi-estranged husband – and father of her unborn child – Tom Wambsgans to become a puppet CEO. companies. But in the twisted, corrupt family world depicted on the show, the fact that Tom is Roy's father – unlike Kendall and Roman, the former of whom adopted children and the latter is often hinted at as impotence or homosexuality – gives in Shiv's eyes he had more share in the future than her brothers deserve.
Kieran Culkin as Roman Roy in the final episode of Legacy. Photo: HBO
Both Corleone and Roy run the family business, at least nominally, and while the activities of the former are criminal and the latter (theoretically) legal, the way their inhabitants ruthlessly exploit their own interests, stopping at nothing to achieve their goals, is common. for both character sets. Robert Duvall's Tom Hagen, the omniscient consigliere of the Corleone family, finds his own parallel in the many different COOs and executives who roam the Waystar boardrooms, not least the morally flexible Hugo Fisher Stevens and the well-connected Frank Peter Friedman.Describing “Legacy” as a response to the “Godfather” of the 21st century is more than just acknowledging the superiority of the two works. This recognition that their sober view of America as a country built on greed and exploitation, and of its richest members as traitors and deeply morally compromised, is the essence of a truly great drama.
Kendall, who has at times flirted with being the show's moral center but ends up being just as flawed and unworthy as everyone else, leaves, as does Michael Corleone, alone and regretful. It may be a miserable life for them, but it is also the heart of a brilliant, indelible drama that will continue to be considered the pinnacle of artistic achievement.