Major spoilers for Succession season 4
After the third episode in Succession’s final season flawlessly executed one of the great rug-pulls of recent TV history, the question was: could it follow up?
And the answer is: of course it does. In fact, the best just got better. Not only that, it drops another bombshell just minutes in – Shiv is pregnant… this season really is bringing us the circle of life. But given the subject isn’t mentioned again, it’s likely more of a ticking timebomb as the series plays out.
Episode four takes place the day after Logan Roy dies on his private jet. The various family members, friends, business associates and assorted hangers-on have gathered in Logan’s palatial Manhattan apartment. They’re ostensibly there to pay tribute to the founder of Waystar Royco, though plenty are taking the opportunity to jockey for position in the new world, kickstarting what Shiv describes as “the coronation demolition derby”.
The opening of the episode is almost elegiac; initially the lack of Logan is keenly felt. We follow Kendall as he navigates the ornate rooms which feel so much emptier for the lack of Brian Cox’s patriarch, all backed by a slow, mournful piano.
But then it shifts to the siblings, how they are coping, and the business nightmare hurtling towards them. A board meeting is scheduled that morning to appoint an interim chief executive to pick up Logan’s mantle and sell the company.
This is an expert exploration of this most complex of family dynamics. The children struggle to deal with their feelings of grief, anger, emptiness and even guilt (“he died on the plane, he wouldn’t have been on the plane except we made him get on there” Shiv says in reference to how they forced their father to renegotiate the deal). But some of the most glorious comic writing also comes in those scenes, particularly as the children hand around the obituaries of their father – “the reviews are in” – and deliciously translate the euphemisms used to describe him.
Beyond the displays of grief, this quickly becomes about naked ambition, shifting factions and how quickly the losers are cut out. Everyone is brutal about everyone. The kids are referred to as “screw-ups and dipshits”, the old guard of Carl, Frank and Gerri dismissed as the “Keystone F**ks”. Tom is brutally cut adrift by everyone and Greg’s misguided attempts to act the statesman and a power player are cringingly laughable (not that he realises).
When the real positioning starts, it quickly turns nasty. Especially with the discovery of an undated, legally dubious piece of paper in Logan’s private safe that appears to anoint Kendall as his successor. But are the later additions in pencil from Logan himself? And is Kendall’s name underlined or crossed-out?
The jittery camerawork pulls the viewer in close making us accomplices and conspirators to each faction as they plot. The children ultimately carve it up between them, though Shiv looks the most precarious with Kendall and Roman taking dual leadership roles. “Long live the king,” the cry goes up after they leave the successful vote, followed by the slightly wobbly refrain, “and long live the other king.”
Throughout, though, the viewer can’t help but think, which of these characters can actually do the job? Given the foibles and fatal flaws of each, gloriously mapped out over the previous seasons, it’s impossible to come up with more than two names who wouldn’t immediately tank this billion-dollar empire. Just for the record, if I was a major Waystar Royco shareholder, I would not be confident in the way things are going.
It’s unlikely to be smooth sailing either way, especially with this acquisition on the horizon. At one stage, Kendall and Roman are in Logan’s office; the empty chair behind his desk looks malicious, a 21st century Iron Throne, ready to consume whoever sits in it.
This episode marks the welcome (for viewers at least) return of Logan’s wife Marcia, an avenging angel dressed in widow’s weeds (“Death becomes her”, Shiv jokes). Her confrontation with a seemingly broken Kerry is awful, driving Roman – of all people – to show compassion to his father’s mistress. It is a quietly devastating scene. Earlier, on a handshake, Marcia agrees to sell the apartment where this psychodrama is all playing out to Connor.
“History is happening, you can smell it,” gurns Greg at one point. “Yep,” replies Tom, “roses and rotting corpses.”
The coronation demolition derby is already thrilling, brutal, razor sharp but poignant too – television writing at its very best – and despite two Roys seemingly coming out on top, it feels like the destruction has only just begun.