We open at a sumptuous gathering, full of disaffected people reeking of money. A white-haired man is moving through the crowd – a nod here, a smile facsimile there – the purest essence of them all, distilled into one be-cardiganed frame. It can only be Logan Roy’s birthday party and it can only be Succession. It’s back for the fourth and final season to a mix of lamentation and relief among even – possibly especially – the most devoted fans, who hardly have the strength to survive one more round of the densest, cleverest, most emotionally pulverising drama on TV.
Logan (Brian Cox) is 48 hours away from signing the sale contract, possibly in his children’s blood, that will hand over his media empire to Gojo. This not being enough to keep a man of his appetites satisfied, he is also scoping out a large acquisition to be made before then.
Three of his children (or “the rats”, as Daddy calls them) are busy elsewhere, creating The Hundred – “a one-stop info shop” that gathers the brightest minds in various fields and offers them as an easily accessible resource to anyone who can pay for them. “It’s Substack meets Masterclass meets the Economist meets the New Yorker,” says Kendall (Jeremy Strong). They are, in Roy sibling terms, remarkably united.
Only Shiv (Sarah Snook) is having “talks about talks” with another employer, in case The Hundred becomes a zero, but she does pass on to her brothers some news that her semi-estranged husband, Tom (Matthew Macfadyen), lets slip – that their dad’s planned acquisition might be of the Pierce conglomerate from season two. Should they try to snaffle it instead of launching their new venture? Stick with what they know – legacy media and aiming at Daddy’s aorta? Kendall is drug-free and in need of a sufficiently absorbing alternative project. They pivot to patricide. Again.
The stage is set once more for a corporate battle Roy-al, which includes the bonus return of Cherry Jones as Nan Pierce. She is a more subtly monstrous creation than the Roys, with a heart made of fetid hypocrises rather than steel, and is perhaps the most enjoyably loathsome of them all. It is “disgusting” to talk money and have to play one bidder off against another to secure the $10bn price she wants, but she bravely drags herself through the mire to get it.
Meanwhile, would-be president Connor (Alan Ruck) is polling at an unsolid 1% that is likely to disappear in the remaining 10 days unless he spends $100m to shore it up. His fiancee, Willa (Justine Lupe), gives less than 1% of a hoot what he does; her disdain for Connor – bone-deep, but so lightly worn! – is a joy to watch.
Everything we want and need is still here. Tom is now an official turncoat rather than the turncoat-in-waiting he – the feeble, needy chickenshit – has always been. His greatest concern now is whether he will stay within the fold if and when he and Shiv divorce. That conversation, if his shadow entreaties and Logan’s noncommittal grunts can be honoured with the term, is as fine an example as you will see of the exquisite agony of embarrassment Succession (or Jesse Armstrong, its creator) has made its own.
Cousin Greg (Nicholas Braun) is still a clodhopping fool. He brings a random date to Logan’s party, as if he is in the world of normal people and normal celebrations. “What’s her full name?” demands Kerry (Zoe Winters), “Logan’s friend, assistant and adviser”. “Is it Randomfuck? Is it Bridget Randomfuck?” Tom has his fun, too, remarking on Bridget’s large handbag (“Big enough for her lunch pail? Flats for the subway? You’re a laughing stock in polite society.”) They do have to leave when she asks Logan for a selfie, though.
The opening episodes of each season of Succession tend to subsume the family dynamic in the corporate intrigue, because there are always so many pieces not just to set up but to explain to a lay audience. This seems to have opted for a more equal balance, perhaps to personalise the tragedy, or tragedies, that are surely to come.
It even gives Logan a dark night of the soul. He takes one of his henchmen out to dinner to escape the party and muses on whether there is an afterlife. “We can’t know,” he says. “But I’ve got my suspicions. I’ve got my fucking suspicions.” Succession limns that void in every scene. It’s a drama set in the heart of darkness, with comedy set round to illuminate its inescapable, eternal depths. Gather your strength for one last look into the abyss.
Succession returns on 26 March on HBO in the US and on 27 March on Sky Atlantic and Now in the UK