'Succession' review: Thrilling, shocking final season begins
WHEN|WHERE Season 4 premieres Sunday at 9 p.m. on HBO.
WHAT IT'S ABOUT The third season wrapped with Tom Wambsgans (Matthew Macfadyen) betraying wife Siobhan "Shiv'' Roy (Sarah Snook), when he told her father Logan Roy (Brian Cox) about the siblings' secret plan to block the merger with Lukas Matsson's (Alexander Skarsgård) streaming giant, GoJo. As the fourth and final season gets underway, Roman Roy (Kieran Culkin), Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong) and Shiv are trying to launch a media brand that (per Kendall) is "Substack meets Masterclass meets the Economist meets The New Yorker." Meanwhile, the Waystar Royco merger with GoJo is two days away. What follows is based on the first four episodes made available for review.
MY SAY While certainly thrilling (and shocking), there's still a melancholy vibe to these early episodes, with their pervasive aura of dissolution and decay. Shiv and Tom's marriage is over. Connor's (Alan Ruck) quixotic run for president has made him a laughingstock. The three other siblings don't seem to realize that their "disrupter news brand" is a dead-idea-walking. No longer united in their desire to succeed "pop," they now only want to destroy him. Embittered and isolated, Logan ruminates about the afterlife but doesn't see much going on there either.
For just one last obligatory reference to "King Lear," to which "Succession" has been so obsessively compared, it's as if nothing has finally and irrevocably come to nothing.
The siblings continue to devise their chess positions on a game board that constantly changes, leaving each vulnerable and self-loathing. United and divided, they operate in some weird liminal space where they have only the illusion of control.
Meanwhile, someone or maybe one of them must still succeed Logan at Waystar Royco — that is the inherent promise of the title, after all — but as Lily Tomlin observed so long ago, you're still a rat if you win the rat race. None of these potential successors are without deficits. There can't be a come-to-Jesus moment for any of them because the moment for that is long past due. (Logan has made certain of that.)
Instead, their only creed now is the creed of Logan, which means that if hypothetically Kendall were to "win," that would ipso facto make him most like Logan. A victory wouldn't necessarily make him any more likable or heroic, but simply the inevitable endpoint of Logan's social Darwinist experiment in child-rearing. Same with Shiv and Roman. As the Fredo of the Roy clan, Connor still remains out of the conversation — at least for now ("Succession" still has that wonderfully wicked sense of irony.).
Someone will either take over Waystar Royco or the pieces will scatter to the winds. It's nothing personal — just business. Shiv or Roman, Matsson, Tom or (heaven forbid) bumbling himbo cousin Greg (Nicholas Braun)? Does the "who" really even matter?
In fact, the real tragedy of "Succession" — scarcely hidden these past three seasons and this fourth one too — has been a real world one: The failure of the American media military-industrial complex, with lightly veiled references to the Murdoch empire in particular, to curtail some of its worst and most pandering impulses. That's been the story of "Succession" all along and viewed from that angle, it's easy to see why the fourth season has to be the last. We already know who the winners are, who the losers are too.
BOTTOM LINE "Succession" is going out with a bang, but — at least in the early episodes — a resigned one.