Editor’s note: This article contains major spoilers for season 4 of “Succession.”
At first it sounds like a happy scene: Kendall, Shiv and Roman Roy walk out of media mogul Nan Pierce’s estate after making a bold $10 billion offer to purchase Pierce’s media company, PGM. But as they celebrate their successful bid, they receive a call from the rival bidder — none other than their father, Logan. “Congratulations on saying the biggest number, you f---ing morons,” he states, before hanging up the phone.
This scene caps off the first episode of the final season of “Succession” (2018–2023). Yet what may seem like a climactic moment in the story is just another week in the life of the Roys, the fictional billionaire family whose lives are chronicled in the hit HBO drama. In this season, Logan Roy (Brian Cox), the cold-hearted founder and CEO of the mega-media conglomerate Waystar RoyCo, squares off against his three children — Kendall (Jeremy Strong), Roman (Kieran Culkin) and Shiv (Sarah Snook) — who have finally teamed up to seize control of the company after their ousting in last season’s finale. Meanwhile, Logan prepares to meet with billionaire Lukas Matsson (Alexander Skarsgård) to negotiate Waystar’s acquisition by the streaming giant GoJo.
Since its premiere in 2018, “Succession” has captivated audiences with its complex characters, sharp writing and timely subject matter. The series, created by British screenwriter Jesse Armstrong, explores the ins and outs of Waystar RoyCo, a powerful family-owned conservative media corporation (a la the Murdochs of Fox News) with the same level of familial scheming, backstabbing and plot twists as a Shakespearean drama.
The most shocking twist yet (you’ve been warned) comes in episode three of this new season, when the three siblings, gathered at the wedding of their older brother Connor (Alan Ruck), receive word from Logan’s inner circle that Logan has died en route to his meeting with Matsson. Many viewers speculated that the aging CEO would die by the end of the final season, but few expected it to happen so early (or so suddenly). Beyond the immediate shock value of his death, Logan’s early demise was a shrewd writing decision that sets up the ultimate power struggle in the coming episodes as his children and colleagues vie for control of the company.
“Succession” is the pinnacle of modern-day television writing, with cleverly plotted story arcs, incredible comic moments of snappy, swear-laden dialogue and heartbreaking scenes of tragedy. The show is at its absolute peak during episode three, the bulk of which is a stunning 30-minute sequence where the siblings learn about their father’s death in real time. The result is a devastating mix of confusion and grief as each of the siblings processes the news in their own way.While Kendall’s stoicism and Roman’s denial to accept the reality of the situation add intensity to the episode, it’s Shiv’s outpouring of shock and devastation that makes the moment feel so incredibly real (Sarah Snook’s Emmy campaign starts now).
The series’ remarkable ensemble cast seems to just keep getting better. Although he only lasted a few episodes this season, Brian Cox’s Logan was a force to be reckoned with. Cox gives a triumphant performance in episode two as he attempts to convince his children to allow the GoJo sale to go through, only to be reminded of the lifetimes of trauma and neglect he inflicted on each of them. Kieran Culkin’s Roman, who has always been the most cynical and childish of the siblings, has grown into a more nuanced, empathetic character in season four. (The fact that audiences are able to sympathize with all of these characters despite the terrible decisions they make is a testament to both the writing and the cast.) The standout performer is the brilliant Matthew Macfadyen, who plays Waystar executive Tom Wambsgans — his crumbling marriage to Shiv makes for some heartbreaking emotional moments, while his relationship with Cousin Greg (Nicholas Braun), his best friend/assistant/punching bag, is consistently the funniest part of the show.
Even in the wake of Logan’s death, “Succession” is genuinely funny as the race to the top of Waystar’s corporate ladder continues. These moments of levity are perfectly tied together with moments of drama thanks to the show’s beautiful classical-inspired score composed by Nicholas Britell. But it’s ultimately the writing that makes the show so thrilling to watch. “Succession” has mastered the art of long-form storytelling — relationships develop gradually and characters evolve over time, but everything pays off in the end. Although it feels like we know the characters so well at this point, there’s no telling what will happen in the coming weeks as the series races towards its conclusion.