All empires must fall eventually, and thus HBO’s Succession is coming to an end. The smash-hit, awards-bedecked series premieres its fourth and final season on March 26, closing out a dynastic family drama that has captivated millions with its heady blend of ribald language and vicious power playing. Expectations are high, and based on what I’ve seen of the season so far (four episodes), they will not be dashed.
They may be subverted, though. To elaborate on that, I’m afraid, would lead me into spoiler territory—a land I dare not tread. What I can confirm, at least, is that Jesse Armstrong’s sleek and engaging series remains just that as it begins its last lap.
When last we left the Roy family—rulers of a media conglomerate known for its conservative cable-news network, theme parks, cruise line, and other ancillary businesses—they were confronting a schism like never before. Children Kendall (Jeremy Strong), Shiv (Sarah Snook), and Roman (Kieran Culkin) had conspired against their father, Logan (Brian Cox), to block the sale of the company to an oddball Swedish tech zillionaire, Lukas Matsson (Alexander Skarsgård). But Logan got wind of the plan—thanks to Shiv’s sneaky husband, Tom (Matthew Macfadyen)—and the children were sent reeling into the chaos and embarrassment of defeat.
Season four picks up with the kids regrouped, about to meet with potential investors for their shiny new media startup (some sort of bullshit news portal they’ve called The Hundred). It’s here that Armstrong gets to flex his keenest satirical abilities—the way the kids, especially Kendall, talk about this new venture will sound eerily, nauseatingly familiar to anyone who has trudged through the media mines in the past 15 years. This is Succession at its best, both silly and high-stakes, a guiltily enviable glimpse into monied people’s well-appointed existences and a giddy skewering of their noxious vanities.
Each actor is working in peak form: Snook’s agile depiction of Shiv’s slippery attempts to keep the moral high ground, Culkin’s biting-sad rendering of Roman’s defensively caustic humor, Strong’s petulant dork convinced that money has made him sharp and cool. Cox’s Logan, glaring at his children through many layers of assistants and fixers, is as hectoring and scary as ever, but the wintry, Learian unease of the first season has, perhaps, crept back in.
Logan the fading titan might actually miss his children, even if only for their reliable nuisance. The kids probably feel the same way, though they’ve (perhaps tragically) convinced themselves they are finally free of his thrall. In the early episodes, the Roy children secure what looks to be a major victory, finally getting one over on mean old dad and installing them as the standard bearers of the family name as the future rushes at them.
But success is tenuous on Succession, which pitches the show somewhere between thriller and pathetic comedy. That make-or-break tension, its lunacy and its dread, is amped up in the episodes I’ve seen, though not to a glaring degree.
At the same time, a melancholy has descended on these awful people. Yes, because the show is ending. But also because none of the characters seem prepared to actually, finally get what they want—Logan’s massive cash-out, the kids’ escape from under his thumb. They are facing the finality of life after the scramble, a prospect that ties them into new and restless knots. On occasion we hear them speak of alternate lives, ones in which the Roys (and those in their close orbit) are off somewhere else simply enjoying their money—using it to “buy snowmobiles and sushi,” or living in Milan, “shopping forever.” But they’ll probably never get to that languid Eden because, as the trite old analogy goes, if a shark stops swimming, it dies.
It’s interesting to see Armstrong and his writers rounding the bend like this, circling back to the first season’s mood of impending, irreversible change. This temperature shift makes the show a little bit less fun, maybe. But it also might lead to Succession meaning something in the end. The show’s ultimate point may not be a comforting one, nor one with any kind of actionable entreaty. But just as Shakespeare and the Greeks tended to have something heavy to say about their ruinous and ruined royals, so too might Armstrong.
At times, still, the show can be too pert and snarky for its own good; Cousin Greg (Nicholas Braun), the lanky oaf stumbling up the company ladder, has become particularly cartoonish, too meme-able over the years. His inhuman bumbling is way out of place this season, as various other characters around him seem to be drifting back down to earth, albeit slowly and with much thrashing.
But that’s a relatively minor critique of what is otherwise satisfying and surprising—based on what I’ve seen, anyway. Succession could still crash and burn right along with the Roys. Or it could end on a perfectly unsettling note, the same one that Armstrong has been playing, with impressive steadiness, since season one. It’s the sound of the floor above us (and these are high ceilings) creaking under the weight of its inhabitants. It’s the insistent worry that they will come tumbling down on top of us or, much worse, keep ascending until we cannot hear them anymore—their gilded kingdom so impossibly faraway from the mess they’ve made for the rest of us. Either way, I fear I’ll miss them when they’re gone.
#Succession #Good #Beginning