Nothing can stop the members of the Roy family from scheming to get their piece of the media-empire pie, and that fact is reinforced—with the caustic hilarity and brutality that is the show’s stock in trade—in the gripping fourth season of Succession, which hinges on a bombshell that seems primed to break the Internet.
Rest assured, that mega-twist won’t be revealed here. Yet what’s ultimately most surprising about this calamity is that it doesn’t fundamentally alter the narrative trajectory (or dispositions of the main characters) of Jesse Armstrong’s HBO hit. Even when the shit truly hits the fan, it’s greedy, ruthless, backstabbing business as usual for these me-first upper-crusters.
(Warning: Mild spoilers follow.)
To steal a turn of phrase from grandly intimidating corporate mogul Logan Roy (Brian Cox), Succession has lost none of its juice in in its fourth—and, according to creator Armstrong, final—go-round, whose premiere (on HBO Mar. 26) picks up more or less right where Season 3 left off.
Having been betrayed by Tom Wambsgans (Matthew Macfadyen) and therefore prevented from seizing control of their father’s conglomerate, needy Kendall (Jeremy Strong), skeevy Roman (Kieran Culkin), and conniving Shiv (Sarah Snook) have joined forces to found The Hundred, a hip new cutting-edge media company that they hope will rival their dad’s old-guard institution.
That plan, however, is put on the back burner when they hear that Logan is on the verge of acquiring Nan Pierce’s (Cherry Jones) rival Pierce Global Media. After much deliberation, they choose to present their own counter-bid—thus once again picking a fight with their Rupert Murdoch-by-way-of-King Lear paterfamilias.
The more things change, the more they stay the same in Succession. Following a debut fixated on everyone’s attempt to further monopolize the news industry, the series turns its attention to another conflict between Logan and his kids—this time over Waystar RoyCo’s impending sale to Lukas Matsson’s (Alexander Skarsgård) GoJo, which Kendall, Roman and Shiv come to believe (with prodding from Arian Moayed’s Stewy and Hope Davis’ Sandi) is happening at a lowball price that could be raised with a bit of boardroom maneuvering.
The desire for more remains paramount for all of these characters, who never settle for half-measures. In every instance, they’re not just avaricious, pathetic, and disgusting, but the most avaricious, pathetic, and disgusting—quite literally in the case of Tom and his suck-up whipping boy Cousin Greg (Nicholas Braun), who in the wake of Tom’s split from Shiv have become playboys with the self-designated nickname, “The Disgusting Brothers.”
This will be welcome news to fans of Succession, whose latest (and last) collection of episodes provide plenty of one-liners and interactions fit for meme-ification. Take, for example, Cousin Greg admitting to Tom at Logan’s penthouse-apartment birthday bash that he and his date “had a bit of a rummage” in each other’s pants, only to hear from Tom that Logan has cameras in every room—and, consequently, that the boss will soon be watching Greg’s private indiscretion.
Whether Tom is telling the truth or simply messing with Greg is never totally clear, but Greg’s response—namely, to blame this dalliance on his partner (“You’re so gallant” sneers Tom) and then to admit it to Logan at the very moment he’s dealing with a genuine crisis—is the sort of cringe-worthy riot in which Armstrong and company specialize.
“Nobody tells jokes anymore, do they?” asks the humorless Logan, who subsequently forces his inner-circle minions to “roast me,” resulting in additionally awkward and unkind banter. The show’s characters are so well-established at this point that everyone is free to be their worst selves, meaning the sarcastic and direct insults fly even faster and more furiously than before.
Watching ATN’s nightly anchor, Logan grumbles, “He looks like a ballsack in a toupee.” Finding Logan on the ATN floor, Greg tells Tom that the sunglasses-wearing tycoon is “terrifyingly moseying” and resembles “if Santa Claus was a hitman.” Upon ditching Greg for an international meeting, Tom needles his underling by informing him that he has others “Gregging” for him, to which a pitiful Greg grouses, “Don’t turn me into a word, Tom. I’m a guy.”
There’s nothing particularly novel about Succession as it approaches the finish line, yet its stride is strong. At the luxury-yacht wedding of Willa (Justine Lupe) and Logan’s lamest son Connor (Alan Ruck), who’s obsessed with maintaining his 1 percent share of the presidential-election vote, the idiot scion and his future mother-in-law joke about how the young guests may be complaining about the elite but they still enjoy the taste of their champagne—a conversation that prompts Connor to remark that no one mentions that A Christmas Carol’s Scrooge was “a huge wealth creator.”
The rich and powerful are as ugly as ever, and just as driven to divide and conquer, with Logan proclaiming to Frank (Peter Friedman) and Karl (David Rasche) that it’s time to get “a bit more fucking aggressive” and rallying his ATN employees with the pronouncement that “you’re fucking pirates!” As always, the sole path to success for these cretins is one littered with the corpses of their enemies.
For Kendall, Shiv, and Roman, maintaining their newfound closeness is complicated by their lust for the throne—and, in the case of the former two, by their hunger for revenge (against, respectively, Logan and Tom). Their better instincts are habitually thwarted by their knee-jerk reflex to look out for number one, and to view everyone and everything with a wary eye (to the absurd degree that, even in the face of irrefutable disaster, Roman’s first reaction is to admit, “I’ve got my fucking suspicions!”).
At least in its initial quartet of installments (which were all that was provided to press), this season spreads the acerbic love around, with Strong’s Kendall shining in episodes three and four, and Macfadyen and Snook afforded particularly rich opportunities throughout to dig into Tom and Shiv’s respective states of disarray. The entire team is in top form, including Mark Mylod and his fellow directors, whose stewardship (all anxious handheld camerawork and charged snap zooms) is as sharp, rhythmic and volatile as the barb-laden writing.
Succession’s forthcoming shocker [still not to be spoiled here!] will undoubtedly be the talk of the entertainment world. In the end, though, it’s both a fitting turn of events for a show on the way out, and conclusive proof that, when it comes to the Roys and their various associates, accomplices, and hangers-on, strategically conspiring for the crown isn’t merely a full-time job—it’s a way of life.
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