In Succession’s tender final season, family + business is still a terrible idea

The fourth and final season of HBO’s hit drama Succession reminds us that behind the billions and betrayal, the Roys are human after all. Eliza Janssen gives the forecast on the concluding chapter’s brilliant tragedy, comedy, and F-bomb-packed dialogue. 

It’s Logan Roy’s birthday again. Brian Cox’s tyrant CEO hit the big 8-0 back in Succession’s pilot, but so much has changed since then: after one too many betrayals and failed attempts at family therapy, all three of his kids turned against him in season three’s thwarted coup of a finale. (Oops, I almost forgot about other failson Connor [Alan Ruck]—but hey, so does Logan and everybody else.)

The opening episodes of Succession’s fourth (yay!) and final (awwww) season aaaalmost manage to make us feel bad for Logan, trapping him in a bitter bday surrounded by moneyed ghouls he calls “the Munsters” while the three rebellious Roy siblings hatch plans and soak up sun in LA. But when he asks after them—“have you heard from the rats?”—we remember why we’re here. Succession is about to go out on an explosive, emotional bang, concluding the Shakespearean tragedy and F-bomb-laden comedy we’ve obsessed over since the beginning.

A few big family moves are on the horizon as season four begins, with a nation-crushing election fast approaching too: there’s WayStar RoyCo’s massive pending deal with Swedish tech power player Lukas Matsson (Alexander Skarsgård), and the hollow wedding between political wannabe Connor and his reluctant bride Willa (Justine Lupe). Both marriages are on thin ice for different reasons, and they just drive home something we’ve learnt from any good mob movie or royal-obsessed tabloid: mixing money and family sucks. Placing one’s success and reputation in the hands of the people who intimately know you—or in the Roy’s case, resent you—can only lead to stabbed backs.

That’s why it’s so “heartening”, in the words of weaselly Tom Wambsgans (Matthew Macfadyen), to see our three main Roy kids standing in shaky solidarity with one another. Kendall (Jeremy Strong) is seemingly done with his clout-chasing, Elon Musk era of season three, backing up the trio’s new journalistic start-up with the following all-timer description of their dynamic: “Shiv (Sarah Snook) the yummy dummy Demi, my profile as the fearless fighter of the good fight, you (brother Roman, Kieran Culkin) as the dirty little fucker pushing the buttons…new-gen Roys, we have a song to sing.”

But of course, as soon as an opportunity arises to buy out one of their dad’s allies from under him, the project is quickly and hilariously ditched. What does this mean for the “rats”: can they truly best their beast of a father, or are they doomed to merely become three little versions of him? Even when they’re there for each other, with Roman making less jokes about Shiv’s vagina than ever, there’s always the worrisome question of who might crack and run back to daddy first.

Back at WayStar headquarters, Logan has gone full King Lear, casting shmucks Tom and Greg (Nicholas Braun) as his hapless court jesters and trying to push his new arm candy Kerry (Zöe Winters) as a potential anchor for his Fox News-esque media conglomerate. Cox still hasn’t clinched an Emmy for his towering role as Logan, but his terrifying pep-rally to the newsroom here should do the trick: he yells at his underlings to deliver “news” that’s “so fucking spicy, so true, something everyone knows but nobody says because they’re too fucking lily-livered”.

It shows that we haven’t strayed far from creator Jesse Armstrong’s original plan to craft a biopic of the Murdoch family, the angst of privilege and global power still ringing true as Succession’s highest material stakes.

And yet, season four also proves, more than ever, that a series about spoiled, misanthropic elites can be startlingly human and relatable when it needs to be. We get what’s perhaps the first truly romantic, albeit ironic, moment between estranged power couple Shiv and Tom. The mostly useless WayStar executives and counsels reveal a long-lacquered-over soft side, reminding us that characters like Frank (Peter Friedman) and the unflinching Gerri (J. Smith-Cameron) have been watching over the Roy kids since their painful childhoods.

In this last chapter of the Roy story, Succession seals its deal as the great tragicomedy of our time. New, glimmering compositions by Nicholas Britell and emphatic zooms from returning director Mark Mylod only add further, tender drama to the cast’s tremendous work. But as it’s all leading to what feels like a bitter end, don’t worry—there’s still plenty of genius one-liners to take home with you on the way out. To single out just one fresh bit of brilliance, let’s end on Greg’s bewildered description of Logan: “it’s like Jaws, if everyone in Jaws worked for Jaws”.