39. The Disruption (season 3 episode 3)
Even a show as good as this has to have a worst episode. Luckily, picking one wasn’t a particularly tough decision. The Disruption was a largely pointless episode of ping pong between Kendall and the rest of the Roys, notable for how uncharacteristically heavy-handed it was. Shiv published a damning open letter about Kendall’s mental state; he played Nirvana’s Rape Me while she was making a speech. A bewildering outlier for such a good series.
38. Lifeboats (s1 e3)
Aside from the pilot, Succession’s first season took a few episodes to fully hit its stride. Nothing really happens here – some characters get nudged around the board to little consequence – which isn’t a great thing to say about a show’s third ever episode.
37. Honeymoon States (s4 e4)
The big gimmick of season four, according to Brian Cox, is that every episode takes place on subsequent days. In retrospect this might have been a slightly silly thing to announce in public because, while Connor’s wedding was a masterclass in depicting real-time grief, Honeymoon States (the next episode) was basically back to business as usual. Less than 24 hours after the death of their father, little of what the siblings did here rang particularly true.
36. What It Takes (s3 e6)
Succession has never had the easiest relationship with politics. A general election has long been brewing here, with Connor announcing himself as a candidate and a shady populist Trump alike angling for office, but it often got relegated to background chatter. What It Takes was the show’s attempt to put politics front and centre for once (if ever there was an episode with Something to Say About the World, this was it), but the lack of prior focus meant it landed badly and disrupted the season as a result.
35. Sad Sack Wasp Trap (s1 e4)
There are signs of the show Succession would become here, but they are few and far between. This is the episode where Tom first learned he had inherited a world of problems as head of the Parks and Cruises division, but a lot of it comes off as meaningless busywork given the bombshells to come.
34. Mass in Time of War (s3 e2)
The season two cliffhanger was so vast it seemed to even destabilise Succession’s own writers. Unsure where to go after that, they offered up this choppy, fragmented episode. The biggest plot point revolved round the delivery of some doughnuts.
33. Secession (s3 e1)
Season two ended with Kendall Roy’s loud attempt at regicide, and viewers had spent two agonising years waiting for the fallout. What they got, however, was a lot of people muttering in a lot of airports. In truth, nothing could have met the rabid expectations of fans at that point, but this deliberate anticlimax nevertheless felt a little deflating.
32. DC (s2 e9)
Much of this episode takes the form of a senate hearing committee, which would have been incredibly novel if The Thick of It (which shares much of Succession’s writing staff) hadn’t got there earlier and better seven years before. Still, it did give us the line “You can’t make a Tomlette without breaking some Gregs”, which is one of the standout quotes of the entire series.
31. Tailgate Party (s4 e7)
This largely existed to build the stakes for the big election episode, moving all the characters into place for what was always going to be a showstopper setpiece. However, it eventually kicked into gear with Shiv and Tom’s fight. Four seasons of resentment exploded at once. It was worth the wait.
30. The Summer Palace (s2 e1)
Now that we’re able to view the series as a whole, it’s clear that Succession’s favourite pattern is to end each season with a bang then begin the next with a whimper. This was the first instance: a quietly tense episode where Kendall leaves his expensive rehab to do some menial tasks for his dad.
29. The Munsters (s4 e1)
Another careful reentry into the world of Succession. The Roy siblings are united for once, overreaching in their efforts to scupper their father. Meanwhile Logan mopes around his mausoleum of a house on his birthday. Exciting enough at the time, although given what we all know happens in episode three, this retrospectively seems a little like deliberate sleight of hand.
28. Shit Show at the Fuck Factory (s1 e2)
The best episode title of the series is also a chance to see who these horrible people really are. Logan’s stroke puts him out of action for the majority of the episode, and those around him essentially become a pack of grieving vultures; worried about their father, but eager for the spoils of his death. When people said they found the Succession characters too hard to like at first, they were almost definitely referring to this episode.
27. Chiantishire (s3 e8)
The gang travel to Tuscany to watch their mother get married, and their behaviour disintegrates accordingly. You may remember this as the one where Roman accidentally sends a “dick pic” to his father, but really this episode belongs to Shiv. She is torn apart by her mother (who tells her she never wanted children) then takes it out on Tom in the cruellest way imaginable.
26. America Decides (s4 e8)
Had it landed anywhere else, the big election episode would have been a very good episode of Succession. The full-body dread of watching the 2016 Trump victory play out again – aided by the show’s protagonists, no less! – represented some of the most stressful moments of a programme full of them. However, America Decides was let down a little by the fact that it was the antepenultimate outing. At this point in its run, Breaking Bad stunned us with the searing finality of Ozymandias. This, meanwhile, was a good episode of Succession that could have slotted into almost any previous season.
25. Lion in the Meadow (s3 e4)
The one where Adrien Brody’s Josh Aaronson, an outerwear-clad Jack Dorsey analogue, was wily enough to test the stamina of Logan Roy by basically walking him around until he collapsed.
24. I Went to Market (s1 e5)
History will show that this was the moment Succession really began to motor. Kendall formulates his first vote of no confidence against his father. Logan’s brother comes in roaring about the evil family business. Logan hits his own grandson. It is extraordinary.
23. Argestes (s2 e6)
This is where Logan punches Roman in a fit of pique about the unravelling Pierce acquisition. Logan also ends this episode screaming at a car. We never saw him this untethered before, and we’d never see it again. That’s probably for the best, because it is a genuinely terrifying sight to behold.
22. Rehearsal (s4 e2)
Officially this is a quiet episode, full of background machinations, and itwould have been lower down the list were it not for the jackhammer emotions on show. This would be the last time Logan Roy would ever speak to his children – he planned to apologise, but ended up telling them they were not serious people.
21. Kill List (s4 e5)
Flown to Norway at the height of their grief to negotiate an acquisition, this had the potential to be another slightly boring game of chess. But Kieran Culkin’s third-act rant, full of sarcasm and resentment and unprocessed bereavement, belongs on his lifetime showreel. It’s been said that Culkin will be put forward as a lead actor for this year’s Emmys. On the basis of this, it isn’t hard to see why.
20. Safe Room (s2 e4)
A beautifully dark hour of TV. A gun goes off in the Waystar offices, which not only forces the main characters into close proximity but allows Succession one of its bleakest ever punchlines; the shooter wasn’t a vengeful gunman as feared, just a depressed employee killing themselves. What’s more, this is the episode where Connor – fearing public backlash – gives an astonishingly empty anti-eulogy at the funeral of a sex pest. Possibly Succession’s funniest episode.
19. Tern Haven (s2 e5)
And here’s possibly the most excruciating episode. The centrepiece of Tern Haven is the ostentatious toe-curling dinner party with the Pierce family where Shiv tells everyone she will succeed her father. If that wasn’t enough, it’s also where Roman and Gerri’s HR nightmare of a phone-sex relationship hits horrifying new heights.
18. Pre-Nuptial (s1 e9)
Succession is at its best when it throws all its characters together for a fancy event. On paper, Pre-Nuptial exists to simply ramp up the tensions ahead of the season one finale. But it does so in such a wildly baroque way that you have to stand back and applaud. Tom was put through so many slights and humiliations from his soon-to-be family here that you can forgive his later betrayals.
17. Retired Janitors of Idaho (s3 e5)
Also known as the episode where Logan Roy has a urinary tract infection and becomes, to quote his children, “piss mad”. The episode performs a neat trick, both being incredibly funny while reminding us that Logan Roy probably won’t live for ever.
16. Vaulter (s2 e2)
Vaulter has little connection to the rest of the series, but it is one of the most brutal takedowns of online media companies you will ever see. Vaulter – essentially the hybrid baby of Buzzfeed and Vice – is juvenile and self-congratulatory, and colossally overvalued by legacy media outlets. As soon as employees start to unionise, the whole site is shut down without warning. For many young journalists, Vaulter hit uncomfortably close to home.
15. Return (s2 e7)
Like it or not, Kendall is the main character of Succession, and Return is where he is most brutally put through it. His father forces him to visit the family of the waiter whose death he was responsible for. Then his mother abandons him via a handwritten note. No wonder Kendall turned out like he did.
14. Living+ (s4 e6)
Here, Kendall gets the taste of victory for once. Charged with selling investors on a haywire scheme – a gated community where all the residents will live for ever – the episode set up the seeds for Kendall’s downfall. And then, with a manic glint in his eye, he somehow pulls it off.
13. Prague (s1 e8)
Given the emotional torment of later episodes, there’s something fun and breezy about Prague. This is the one where Tom eats his own ejaculate at his stag party.
12. Church and State (s4 e9)
For a penultimate episode – especially for those of us invested in how Succession actually ends – this was a frustrating 73 minutes, with very little momentum. But as a showcase for the sheer talent Succession has at its disposal, the funeral of Logan Roy couldn’t be better. It had series-best performances, coupled with a script by Jesse Armstrong that deserves to be carved into marble. What a wrenching, visceral watch.
11. Too Much Birthday (s3 e7)
Kendall spent much of season three a dead man walking, surrounded by more on-the-nose suicide metaphors than the last half of Mad Men combined. His messiah complex became overloaded by the hollow excesses of the birthday party until you knew something awful was going to happen, but you didn’t know what or when. In the end, Kendall suffered a complete breakdown – and you had to remind yourself to breathe as the end credits rolled.
10. Connor’s Wedding (s4 e3)
The big one. The episode that launched a thousand online thinkpieces about spoiler etiquette. This was (and look away now if you still haven’t seen it, you weirdo) The One Where Logan Roy Dies. His death wasn’t exactly a surprise – you can’t have a succession unless the guy in charge snuffs it – but the execution, playing out in real time without warning as the corpse remained off screen, was masterful.
9. Celebration (s1 e1)
The pilot, in which we are introduced to the selfish, scheming, thoroughly unpleasant Roy clan. If you ever want to show a newcomer what Succession is actually like, your first choice has to be this episode’s softball game, in which Roman Roy taunts a child with the promise of a million dollars then reneges, instead paying him off with an expensive watch and an NDA.
8. All the Bells Say (s3 e9)
The Roy siblings finally put their pettiness behind them to rally with Kendall against Logan, but Logan recruits their mother (and Shiv’s husband) to cut them out of the family business for good. A masterly, seismic finale.
7. Hunting (s2 e3)
Succession’s biggest gift is its ability to force you to shift allegiances between the characters. By the end of Logan Roy’s life, you could broadly see why he was so disappointed in his entitled, inept offsprings. In season two, though, he was nothing short of TV’s greatest villain. And make no mistake, this episode – in which he makes his family and underlings crawl on the floor making pig noises while he hurls sausages at them – saw Logan at his most villainous.
6. Dundee (s2 e8)
Not just the episode where Kendall raps for his father, but the greatest episode of television where someone raps for their father ever.
5. Nobody Is Ever Missing (s1 e10)
Although this was the episode where Shiv told Tom she wanted an open relationship on their wedding night, you’ll remember this for the car crash. When the waiter dies and Kendall flees the scene. The only way out is to ask his father to cover it up. Logan agrees but, in doing so, ensures that Kendall will be for ever under his power. A bleak, incredible way to end a season of TV.
4. Which Side Are You On? (s1 e6)
The first truly great episode of Succession. Kendall has slowly arranged the pieces to take down his father with a no-confidence vote, but the motion fails due to the heft of Logan’s intimidating presence. He barks, he cajoles, he threatens. A masterclass of menace.
3. Austerlitz (s1 e7)
This is the episode where the warring Roy family retreat to Connor’s New Mexico ranch for a group therapy session. The genius here lies in its ending; after an hour of listening to his rich, cosseted children whine about their birthright, Logan retreats to a pool by himself and removes his shirt. He is riddled with ancient scars, presumably at the hands of his abusive uncle. For better or worse, they are what made Logan Roy. You will never see a moment of character exposition as elegant.
2. With Open Eyes (s4 e10)
Jesse Armstrong has long said that the title of the series was a promise, and this is what the finale delivered. But the story of who controls Waystar Royco was never the real story. This was a show about siblings, and the final episode showed us this in all its messy glory. It was warm and silly, then bloodthirsty and genuinely disturbing. The final scene of the Roy kids together was one of the most agonising you will ever see. Just incredible.
1. This Is Not for Tears (s2 e10)
In the end, though, this – the season two finale, the one on the yacht – is just too packed with classic moments not to win. The blood sacrifice discussion. Tom eating Logan’s chicken. Logan telling Kendall he isn’t a “killer”, and Kendall retaliating by publicly burning Logan at the stake. Logan’s enigmatic smile at his son’s betrayal. Was it pride? Fear? Excitement at finally meeting a worthy opponent? Either way, this episode is the reason you love Succession. God, what a show.