Succession Season 4 Episode 1 review: Electric, hilarious TV

A still from Succession Season 4 Episode 1HBO

The stage is set for Battle Roy-al in Succession Season 4 Episode 1, as HBO’s peerless drama walks the dollar-green mile in its harshest, funniest form yet.

“Nah, that’s getting f*cking old,” Roman (Kieran Culkin) tells Kendall (Jeremy Strong), when ragged about being scared of going up against dad. Succession has enjoyed a cyclical pattern of internecine squabbling among the most despicable, vainglorious family in America; but no matter how deftly they seem to outmanoeuvre their sweary daddy, regardless of their serpentine deal-making, just like the house, Logan (Brian Cox) always wins.

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Jesse Armstrong and co. could have dined off the Roys’ Machiavellian blunders and betrayals for years – somehow, each “f*ck off” still gives me a dopamine fix – but that’s the practice of a good show, rather than great television. This series is destined for the all-time pantheon, but it needs to go out on its own terms earn such stature.

With the first episode of its fourth and final season, Succession charts new storytelling ground; the deals, the people, the tempers – they’re all the same, but the emotionality is presented with more clarity (and finality) than ever before. Spoilers for Succession to follow…

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Succession mirrors its beginning with Season 4 Episode 1

Season 4 opens just as the show’s first did, with a birthday party for Logan – but his kids, with the exception of runt-of-the-litter Connor (Alan Ruck), are nowhere to be seen. He shuffles through his open-plan palace, cardiganed and sporting a strained smile, unmoved by the pasty-faced socialites (or “piggies”, as he brands them) ostensibly celebrating his life.

Elsewhere, Logan’s “rats” – the not-so-affectionate nickname for Roman, Kendall, and Shiv (Sarah Snook) are nit-picking the branding for their new “high-disruption, execution-dependent” brand: The Hundred, obnoxiously billed like an editorial pick ‘n’ mix as “Substack meets Masterclass meets The Economist meets The New Yorker.” Their prospects are absurd; one figure in a background slideshow poses a ready-made global audience of 180 million people – I wish!

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Nevertheless, there’s a real sense of calm and unity between the once-warring, ever-distrustful siblings: Kendall, a ruptured soul still on the mend, is composed and clinical; and Roman, while still a crude, rude motormouth – “You look tired and your face is giving me a headache,” he tells his sister – has the most level-headed business acumen of the trio.

Shiv is the exception, still recovering the most devastating double-cross of the show so far: Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) tipping off their last-resort mutiny to Logan in the Season 3 finale, fortifying his own position within Waystar Royco after years of being side-lined, underestimated, and disrespected. They’re in a “trial separation”, but the rift between them is causing cracks in her sturdy façade, and she clearly feels a need to get back at him, her dad, or anyone, somehow.

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Logan Roy goes after Pierce one last time

On the day of the party, we’re 48 hours away from Waystar Royco being sold to Lukas Matsson’s (Alexander Skarsgård) Gojo, but Logan can’t resist another sip from the poisoned chalice he’s been chasing in the closing act of his career: Pierce, and Nan (Cherry Jones) has inexplicably landed on him as her preferred bidder… or has she?

After a sus phone call from Tom, Shiv does a bit of digging and finds out Pierce is in play. The siblings weigh up the pros and cons – aka, Roman accuses his brother and sister of wanting to ditch everything they’ve built for their own venture just to spite dad, and Kendall and Shiv propose a “new-age Roys” resurrection of a legacy media conglomerate. They don’t so much as compromise as force Roman into a lonesome corner, and they decide to make a bid for their dad’s treasure.

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Back at the party, Greg (Nicholas Braun) is accused of making a massive faux pas by bringing a fresh-faced, iPhone-waving date, armed with a “capacious, monstrous, gargantuan bag.” Logan catches sight of her, and his assistant Kerry (Zoe Winters, who enters this season with scenes that position her to be a major player – and the brunt of low-hanging, no-less hilarious jokes) demands details from Greg. “What’s her name – her full name? Is it Bridget Randomfuck?” she quips.

Straight away, Greg’s constitution isn’t as gormless as it once was. He’s still a gullible, effortless target for Tom, his “disgusting brother” – yes, that’s the actual nickname they’ve given themselves and their sexual exploits – who never misses a single opportunity to make him squirm. But we see him fight back, even if it’s weak-willed; he defends himself to Kerry as an “honorary child” who Marcia always welcomed, but Marcia isn’t around anymore. She’s “shopping in Milan forever”, Kerry says, or killed off-screen like Leslie in Bridge to Terabithia.

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And then there’s Connor, the hapless presidential wannabe floating like a balloon waiting to be burst in the periphery of the Waystar backstabbing. In the most exquisitely embarrassing moments, he talks about spending $100 million to get “more aggressive” so he can hold his 1% polling rating. “If I was to fall under 1%, I fear I’d become a laughing stock,” he hushedly confides in Willia (Justine Lupe), and tries to convince her to spend millions on “hoopla and razzmatazz” on their wedding day so he can enter into the news cycle for free. He is a pathetic shell of a man, a tragic figure destined for a painful reckoning as the show draws to a close.

Logan considers the afterlife of his legacy

With Tom’s inevitable divorce from Shiv on the horizon, he has a major concern: will he remain in the inner circle if and when they “bust up”, in Logan’s words? He excruciatingly waffles his way to addressing his worries, which are met with nothing but a grunt, an “uh-huh”, and the bare-minimum comfort of Logan saying: “If we’re good, we’re good.”

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“Why is everyone so f*cking happy?” Logan asks Kerry. Even with a gun to his head, he probably wouldn’t admit missing his children; he craves their affection just as much as he wants to unload on them. He takes one of his henchmen out to dinner, and uncomfortably, depressingly describes him as his “best pal.”

This scene should be recognized as one of the most significant in Logan’s on-screen history. “Nothing tastes like it used to, does it? “Nothing is as good as it was,” he says, as his eyes wander around a restaurant full of strangers, or “economic units” in a market, as he’d see them. It’s a sensitive piece of writing from Armstrong, astutely observing the crisis looming in Logan’s heart: what’s left when you’ve already ruled the world, and nobody cares about you? How can you enjoy anything, anywhere, when you’ve had to digest the world with such cynicism? “Do you think there’s anything after all this? I’ve got my f*cking suspicions,” he adds, coldly, fearing his legacy could be lost to time.

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Logan, Nan and the rats start a “disgusting” bidding war

When the siblings arrive at Nan’s mansion, Kendall takes a moment with ex-girlfriend Naomie (Annabelle Dexter-Jones) amid rumors of her sleeping with Tom. However, their tension remains unspoken and focus is placed on the matter at hand: Nan’s wobbling over the sale of Pierce to Logan, which would bundle it with ATN, his right-wing, tabloid news corporation.

When they eventually come to face to face, it’s all pleasantries and genial chitter-chatter… until it isn’t. Nan is a particularly insidious businesswoman; not more so than Logan, but her demeanor is that of a WASP-ish purse-glancer who never wants to seem like the money-driven swindler she really is. Her name being Nan suggest some sort of inbuilt, maternal warmth, but she’s more ruthless than she lets on.

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As they talk, Nan stresses that their trip was in vain, as they’ve already landed on a preferred bidder – but Kendall plants the seed, and Nan is prepared to water that plant and let it grow into a money tree. Logan gathers his posse and low-balls the Pierces with an “insulting” offer of $6 billion, while the kids play it smarter with $8 billion, with the chance of more upside.

This back-and-forth grips the last third of the episode. While Shiv, Kendall, and Roman liaise with their witless banker, Logan taunts his entourage out of boredom. Fascinatingly, after nervously confessing to “having a rummage” in his date’s pants after Tom convinced him he was caught on CCTV, Greg takes the bait.

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“You’re a mean old man,” he says, as others give in to their urge to watch, while Logan sits giddily, mouth agape, waiting to fire back. “Who wants to smell Greg’s finger, eh? Guess the scent,” he says, probably earning the episode’s biggest laugh (we should applaud how Succession constantly refuses to become a ‘funny, but not ha-ha funny’ drama, aiming for cackles even while sustaining heightened emotional drama). Gregg holds his own, shouting: “Where’s all your kids?” Logan, never one to be rattled, responds: “Where’s your old man, still sucking c*ck at the county fair?”

The negotiations heat up and reach appalling financial highs when the kids decide to offer $10 billion, an amount only Roman seems to recognize as ludicrous. Alas, for Logan, he’s out of luck – it’s a “conversation-ending” number, and for the first time, the siblings seem to have defeated their dad. “Congratulations on saying the biggest number, you f*cking morons,” he barks at them down the phone, while they laugh among themselves – except Roman. Shiv and Kendall are delighted at “getting him”, but he seems unsure; Culkin’s performance is layered with subtle ticks, and this may become the most important season for his character.

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Shiv returns to her apartment, but she’s not home often, to the point her dog Mondale no longer knows her scent. Tom wakes up, kicking off a mighty uncomfortable conversation between the crumbling couple. He has the emotional leverage – “Do you really want to do a full accounting of the pain in our marriage? Because I could do that,” he says without a hint of anger – which is a huge source of pain for Shiv.

She’s always favored self-protection over anything else, but Tom formed part of her armor. When he realized the “sad he’d be without her is less than the sad that he’d be with her”, she lost a crutch. He’s better without her, and she doesn’t have anyone to anchor her selfishness. “I think we should move on,” she tells him, on the brink of tears, before they both sit on the bed together. “We gave it a go,” Tom says, as they hold hands and fall asleep.

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In the twilight hours, Logan is slumped in his chair watching late-night ATN, balking at the “ballsack in a toupe” presenting the show. He calls Cyd Peach and complains, but what’s the solution? The truth is, Logan may never be happy.

Succession Season 4 Episode 1 review score: 4/5

Succession opens with a razor-sharp, table-setting episode that promises high emotional stakes for the final season; there’s f*ckery afoot, and it’s good to be back.

Succession Season 4 Episode 1 is streaming on HBO and Sky now. Episode 2 will be available to watch on April 2 in the US and April 3 in the UK. Check out the rest of our coverage here.

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