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Succession Theory: John Berryman's Dream Song 29 Poem Hints At Kendall's Bittersweet Victory

The writers behind "Succession" are clearly brilliant, calculated people, and that's why fans read into every single they do on a more or less constant basis. With the final season airing now, this includes the episode titles — and ones from previous seasons, which are actually tied to a poem by John Berryman.

In the poem "Dream Song 29," Berryman, a writer who tended towards the morose (to say the least), writes about a man named Henry who's convinced that he's committed a murder, but can't find any evidence to prove it and ends up in a tormented loop wondering if he's done anything horrible to somebody else. Creator Jesse Armstrong and his team actually took the titles of all four of their season finales from the poem, but in reverse order. The last line of the poem, "nobody is ever missing," is the name of the Season 1 finale; at the end of the second verse, the line reads, "All the bells say: too late. This is not for tears." Season 2's finale is titled "This is Not for Tears," while Season 3's is "All the Bells Say."

With the news that the series finale will be titled "With Open Eyes," which is part of a line that just precedes the aforementioned one, fans are speculating about what bearing the poem has on the series — and particularly on Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong). Could this poem be the key to the narrative, and does it mean Kendall will win out in the end in some way?

Jesse Armstrong talked about the Berryman poem — and what it means for Kendall — years ago

In 2019, after the Season 3 finale "All the Bells Say" left Kendall in seemingly dire straits, Armstrong talked to Vulture about the poem, and what it means in terms of Kendall's fate. 

"It has a terrifying sense of that feeling Kendall has at the end of the last season, wondering if something could have happened," Armstrong said. "In Berryman's poem's case, in the end, [a death] hasn't happened. But it has happened to Kendall. When I was looking at possibilities, that line struck me as pertinent to this episode as well."

This makes sense; at the end of Season 3, Kendall fully breaks down over the fact that, during the Season 1 finale, his reckless driving under the influence killed a waiter working t his sister Shiv's (Sarah Snook) wedding. This incident, understandably, changes Kendall's life forever and fills him with guilt, driving him to take chances with his own life; during Season 3, one shot sees him laying face down on a pool float in Italy, which led to fans wondering if he was seriously contemplating self-harm.

So what's going on with Kendall in Season 4? In some ways, his fortunes have improved; in other ways, they certainly haven't. He definitely could triumph by the time the series ends, but knowing "Succession," there will be some horrible caveat as far as his victory is concerned.

Kendall's star is on the rise in Season 4... for now

After getting cold feet about a deal to sell the family company, Waystar Royco, to tech bro billionaire Lukas Mattson (Alexander Skarsgård) in the wake of the death of Roy patriarch Logan (Brian Cox), Kendall is, to put it lightly, manic while he plans an over-the-top presentation to deliver to the Waystar Royco investors. Clad in a custom made flight suit that makes him look completely ridiculous, Kendall strides out in front of the room to pitch "Living+," a futuristic retirement communuity that he boasts could give its residents a longer life. Somehow, this works, and the room cheers for the eldest Roy son... but it definitely seems like this success will be short-lived.

The potential behind Living+, Kendall argues, is that it could "double the earnings" for Waystar Royco. The issue here is simple: Kendall made that up. He presented a doctored video of his late father saying the complex would do just that and inflated the numbers he had, which definitely seems like it'll all come crashing down soon enough. Throw in that Shiv is collaborating with Matsson for reasons that are still unknown, and this doesn't look good for Kendall either.

"With Open Eyes" airs on May 28, and there's three episodes to go until then — so soon, we'll know how everything shakes out for Kendall. Hopefully he fares better than Berryman's Henry.