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Succession Isn't Wasting a Moment of Its Final Season

The series finale is in sight, but there's no time to tread water as the Roy siblings take another run at Logan.
  • Sarah Snook, Kieran Culkin, Jeremy Strong on Succession (Photo: Claudette Barius/HBO)
    Sarah Snook, Kieran Culkin, Jeremy Strong on Succession (Photo: Claudette Barius/HBO)

    One of the great things about Succession is that it doesn't allow you to look too far into the future. The show keeps you busy enough wondering who's going to come out on top at the end of a given episode that you barely notice the pieces moving into place. Who will ultimately fulfill the series's titular promise and assume the (tainted, mostly evil) legacy of Logan Roy (Brian Cox)? That's probably going to get answered before all is said and done, but there are power struggles happening at every turn that demand attention.

    So it goes as Succession kicks off its fourth and final season. The aftermath of the Season 3 finale hangs thick in the air. Kendall (Jeremy Strong), Shiv (Sarah Snook), and Roman (Kieran Culkin) are still banded together, even after their attempt to block Logan's sale of the company was thwarted by, among others, their mom and unlikely power player Tom Wambsgans (Matthew Macfadyen). They're huddling up somewhere out west, working on plans for a new media startup that Kendall describes as "Substack meets MasterClass meets The Economist meets The New Yorker." So if nothing else, Succession retains its ability to give anybody who's ever worked in digital media a post-traumatic stress attack.

    What the jilted Roy siblings are mostly doing, though, is figuring out if they can really trust each other. After a lifetime spent pitted against one another, both personally and professionally, it was bound to take time. Whenever one of them steps out to take an unexplained phone call or says they got stuck in traffic, the other two have an excuse to wonder who’s making side deals.

    Meanwhile, Logan's still the king, though "of what?" is a pertinent question. The sale to Gojo is imminent, which he schemed against his own children to ensure. But now he's banging against the walls of his own obsolescence. That’s partly why he’s keen on acquiring Pierce media, two seasons after failing to land it the first time. Cherry Jones returns as Nan Pierce, one of Succession's finest bits of guest casting. She drills down to Nan's essential liberal hypocrisy — it's all such ugly business, but could you up your offer by a billion or so? — while reveling in her justified hatred of everything Logan represents.

    The re-introduction of Pierce Media gives these early episodes a jolt of competition. Kendall, Shiv, and Roman see an opportunity to throw their collective hat in the ring, screw over their dad, and get into the business they think they understand best. This kicks off the season with a head-to-head battle on this newly divided playing field, and it's a thrill to watch Kendall, Shiv, and Roman working together.

    Separately, of course, each one is still a mess. Shiv in particular is struggling, as the balance of power in her marriage has shifted since Tom's betrayal last season. The gobsmacked, stung Shiv best epitomized in that reaction shot in the final moments of Season 3 hovers over her character this season. Tom now has enough of an upper hand in their relationship to blow her off when they start arguing, the sight of which is genuinely destabilizing to the viewer, much less Shiv. The two are in a kind of trial separation/open relationship no-man's-land. She's furious at him, but he doesn't regret the choice he made to throw his lot in with Logan. Shiv being this powerless allows Snook to be empathetic towards the character while still tracking her series-long descent from cool quasi-outsider to frustrated heiress.

    Similarly, Kieran Culkin is putting in maybe his best work of the series, as Roman quite improbably seems to be going through the most emotional turmoil. He's always been the one most terrified to defy Logan; that part isn't news. The genuinely surprising part is how much he seems to be enjoying this new business venture with his siblings, even as he laments their distracted motivations. "[Kendall] wants to f*ck Dad, and [Shiv] wants to f*ck Tom, and I'm the only one who wants to start a business as a business and not f*ck anything," he says at one point, and if you dig past the icky sexual imagery, you almost feel bad for him. It's rare to see a moment of accurate self-reflection from anyone on this show, much less Roman, even if the root of it all is how terrified he still is of going up against his dad. He even seems to be growing weary of his own penchant for reflexively saying the most disgusting thing at any moment.

    As with any long-running and popular show, Succession is aware of its fans' pet obsessions — don't worry, there's plenty of Tom and Greg material to go around. (Greg has now revoltingly dubbed them “The Disgusting Brothers.”) Gerri (J. Smith-Cameron) and Roman don't seem to be on speaking terms at the moment, though she's working hard to position herself for a soft landing for after the Waystar sale to Gojo. We also get more of Zoe Winters as Logan's "friend, assistant, and advisor" Kerry, who seems to be using her presumed sexual relationship with Logan to get a gig as an ATN anchor, to… interesting results.

    Yes, Logan's decided to hang on to cable news property ATN, the show's Fox News analog. There's still an election upcoming, after all. How's he going to sway it otherwise? The prospect of Logan Roy becoming more hands-on with the day-to-day operation of ATN is understandably terrifying to everybody, from news division head Cyd Peach (Jeannie Berlin) to the underlings over whose shoulders he's now literally looming.

    Micromanaging cable news and making one last bid to acquire Pierce are indicative of the way Logan is handling the prospect of being put out to pasture. Is there a term for "empty nest syndrome" but about businesses? This is a man who can't bear to sit around and wait for a phone call for fear of feeling powerless. One wonders how he’s going to handle selling most of his company to some streaming-video Swede, even if it does scratch the itch of denying his children the empire he doesn't believe they deserve.

    Logan's birthday celebration in the season premiere seems to intentionally bookend the birthday celebration in the pilot episode. Then he was surrounded by his children, all angling for his favor, even some grandchildren. Now he's just got the empty toadying of his underlings to keep him company. He even gets momentarily reflective with his security detail, Colin (Scott Nicholson), about the nature of people ("just economic units that form a market") and whether there's life after death (probably not).

    Season 4 really flexes its tonal muscle as it hops around the dozen or so characters in what's truly become TV's best ensemble. Alan Ruck shines as Connor, the forgotten eldest Roy sibling, and as his wedding looms, his bride-to-be Willa (Justine Lupe) looks more green around the gills about it with every passing day. J. Smith-Cameron, Peter Friedman, David Rasche, Dagmara Dominczyk, and Fisher Stevens consistently deliver some of the best micro-comedy on TV. Given the dark places this season goes, it's a marvel that Armstrong and company can still cut the tension with a nasty turn of phrase or a perfectly timed moment of corporate obsequience.

    Even though they’re arranging the pieces for Succession’s conclusion, the four episodes provided for review are never content to tread water. Every episode — every scene, practically — is crackling with tension, or a new angle on characters we feel like we know so well, or the opportunity for a laugh. There's even a scene set at a karaoke bar in Koreatown. With only a handful of episodes left, Armstrong and his team aren't about to waste a minute.

    Succession premieres its fourth and final season on March 26 at 9:00 PM ET on HBO. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.

    Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: Succession, HBO, Brian Cox, Cherry Jones, Jeremy Strong, Jesse Armstrong, J. Smith-Cameron, Kieran Culkin, Matthew Macfadyen, Nicholas Braun, Sarah Snook