Succession ends how it began: In the literal sense, the first episode of the final season, which airs on Sunday, opens at Logan Roy’s birthday party (just as the first season did back in 2018), and everyone is having a bad time. In the spiritual sense, the show is just as good as it's always been. The marvel of Succession is that it’s never lost its fastball. Jesse Armstrong’s masterpiece remains the sharpest, most compelling, and oftentimes, the funniest show on television.
Some things have changed in Season 4, though. The Roy children have struck out on their own following their failed coup at the end of last season, settling on a new creative venture called “The Hundred.” Kendall (Jeremy Strong) describes it as “Substack meets MasterClass meets the Economist meets the New Yorker,” and while the trio claims to be all in, it’s only a matter of time before they decide that what they really want to do is screw over their father.
Part of Succession’s success is that it has never strayed far from its original conceit. The first season was about the looming specter of Logan’s (Brian Cox) death, as the children jockeyed for the title of his successor. Now, the children are a unit (or are they?) as they fight to overthrow him. Everyone wants to be top dog, even if the only thing they’ve all managed to do as a result is ruin their own lives. We want to watch that happen again and again because Armstrong and his writers are especially adept at finding new ways of making it interesting. New allegiances are made, new covenants are broken, and we remain on the edge of our seats to see who will “win.” If this show is a rubber band, it has been pulled in every possible direction, but never to the point of losing its elasticity.
While Kendall, Shiv (Sarah Snook), and Roman (Kieran Culkin) have decamped to the sunny hills of California, business is still happening in a dark, wood-paneled Manhattan. Logan is still planning on selling Waystar Royco to GoJo, the tech company whose offer the kids failed to squash at the end of Season 3, but not before acquiring Pierce Global Media. When the kids get wind of the acquisition, they leap into action. As Kendall puts it to Roman, “Think about how fucking funny it would be if we screwed Dad over his decadeslong obsession.” And they’re off.
What follows is what I would describe as the platonic ideal of a Succession episode. The kids are fighting their father to see who can place the biggest bid on PGN, and meanwhile, Cousin Greg (Nicholas Braun) had sex with his date in Logan’s wine cellar and is freaking out after learning that there was a security camera filming him. Connor (Alan Ruck), the first and most forgotten Roy child, is still running for president and needs to put another $100 million in his campaign chest to keep his 1% of the vote from getting “squeezed.”
And then there’s Tom. Played brilliantly by Matthew Macfadyen over the course of the series, Tom Wambsgans, Shiv’s soon-to-be ex-husband (they’re separated at the moment) is not the beating heart of the show, but its punching bag. For four seasons, he has been something of a lapdog to anyone who can move him further up the ladder, and last we saw him, he had finally made a big move: screwing over Shiv in order to align himself with her father. Now, he is in the room with Logan as he makes decisions — he’s gotten what he always claimed to want, but is it worth it?
The genius of Tom as a character is that he is unable to tamp down his hurt the way the Roy children have been taught to do. He wants what they want (power), but he has what they don’t (accessible emotions). This comes to the fore in the season premiere, when he all but begs Shiv to talk about their disintegrating marriage. “Do you want to talk? There are some things I wouldn’t mind saying and explaining,” he tells her. As an actor, Macfadyen is capable of pulling us to his side, making us empathize with Tom even though we just saw how depraved he can be in his search for glory. Like many aspects of Succession — its pinpoint precision, its ability to make us feel for some of the worst people in the world, how the constant swearing doesn’t grow tiresome — it feels like a magic trick. It shouldn’t be possible to be this good.
Like all great magic tricks, there is an exorbitant amount of work that goes into making something look seamless, and it would be unfair not to share some of the praise with the people behind-the-scenes. Mark Mylod, who has directed over a dozen episodes of the series, knows the visual language of Succession like the back of his hand. Blocking a scene has become a bit of a lost art both in television and film, but Mylod knows that it does mean something to have Kendall standing while Shiv and Roman sit down in the midst of their attempted PGN acquisition.
Maybe it won’t stick the landing, but would you ever place that bet on the Simone Biles of television shows?
Nicholas Britell’s score remains one of the best in the business, remaining additive to the show rather than distracting, or worse, unremarkable. Production designer Stephen H. Carter and costume designer Michelle Matland are wonderfully adept at re-creating the worlds of the ultrawealthy, building realistic spaces and people as opposed to cartoonish depictions of Monopoly Men sitting on a throne made of gold or whatever. Above and below the line, the show is made by people who don’t know how to miss.
Now, full disclosure, I was only permitted by the gods over at HBO to watch the first episode of this season, so I’m in the dark on what will happen after Sunday’s premiere. The seeds have been planted for a blowout season: the Roy kids owning their father’s No. 1 competitor, a presidential election, and Connor’s undoubtedly wild wedding to Willa (Justine Lupe) are all on the horizon. Maybe it won’t stick the landing, but would you ever place that bet on the Simone Biles of television shows?
A month ago, Armstrong announced that this would be the final season of Succession. “You know, there’s a promise in the title of ‘Succession.’ I’ve never thought this could go on forever. The end has always been kind of present in my mind,” the showrunner said in an interview with the New Yorker.
A lot of shows make promises — in their titles, in their pilots, sometimes for all of season one — but it’s hard to make good on them. Sometimes you arrive at the conclusion too early, forcing writers to undo the promise, or push past it and onto some new idea. Some shows lose sight of their promise and expand into unwieldy territory out of sheer excitement. Some shows simply overstay their welcome, and you forget what they were even supposed to be about in the first place. Succession has never done this, and in choosing to end on Armstrong’s terms, it never will. How fucking funny is that: a show about broken promises keeping its own. ●