Years ago, a colleague sharper than myself struck upon the ideal way to sum up “Succession”: It’s “the only good show on TV.” Of course, if taken flatly, such a statement isn’t entirely true. There are other good shows, some of which air on the very same network as HBO’s genre-bending Greek tragedy. But when “Succession” hits fever pitch, does it feel like anything else exists? When the commanding chords to Nicholas Britell’s beloved score blast over the opening credits, do you not fully succumb to a world dominated by Waystar Royco? Amid a tense negotiation over professional spoils, personal reprisal, or some knotty version of both, are you not as viscerally, gleefully, and distressingly invested as the sickeningly wealthy central characters? During the rollout of any one season, is there another TV series that holds you captive the way “Succession” does?
Certainly some of you will come back with, “Yes!” “Duh!” or “Enough with the shows about rich white people!” But for the millions wrapped up in the most moneyed and muddied of family financial drama, “Succession” has long felt like the end all, be all of TV. The heinous zingers shouted every Sunday night become Monday morning’s viral memes. The abject devastation suffered onscreen fuels heated conversations over who’s to blame, who’s deserving, and why. Few programs can pivot from the peak of comedy to the pit of gravitas like “Succession,” let alone overwhelm the audience with the simultaneous precision and depth given to each element.
To say “Succession” is the only good show on TV is hyperbolic. But… is it? In Season 4, Brian Cox’s formidable media titan Logan Roy reminds the troops at his flagship news network, ATN, of their assigned identity by shouting, “We are pirates!” It’s an odd sentiment. A bunch of reporters and newsroom staffers shouldn’t really relate to throat-slashing plunderers, yet they rally around their pirate king, just as the show mimics his take-no-prisoners mentality. “Succession” hasn’t spent the last three seasons carving its own path amid the clutter of “too much TV” so much as it bulldozed anything in its way and anyone foolish enough not to get on board. Now, as the final season gets underway, Logan’s battle cry is exactly that: a call to arms for a series that’s still on the attack.
“Succession” won’t rest on its laurels. No, the final season is here to annihilate you.
Graciously, Season 4 also looks to the future. Amid the ferocious intensity unleashed within many a memorable scene, creator Jesse Armstrong carefully pushes the plot forward. Last season saw the Roy siblings unite to defeat their dastardly daddy, only to be bested once more by his ruthless scheming. Jump ahead to the Season 4 premiere and Logan is days away from finalizing the sale of Waystar Royco to tech visionary Lukas Matsson (Alexander Skarsgård). Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) remains by his father-in-law’s side, after betraying his wife in the waning seconds of Season 3, and Greg (Nicholas Braun) is a few rungs down on the same ladder.
Shiv (Sarah Snook) is restless. Not only is her marriage on the rocks, but going into business with her two brothers is a prospect that should make anyone of even moderate intelligence wary (and Shiv is much, much smarter than that). Nevertheless, the Roy trio is trying to make the best of things. The sale they failed to nix will still net them billions, and the distance it’s created from their not-so-dear dad has only buoyed their spirits. Roman (Kieran Culkin) is actually working (not just jacking off in his office), and Kendall (Jeremy Strong) isn’t so sad anymore.
Naturally, not even the most tentative peace can last. Armstrong stacks world-shifting pressures on top of the Roys’ blood feuds while pushing the family back together: Coupled with the sale, there’s a presidential election bound to affect business (and the Roy family’s influence), and beyond those two historic moments, there’s, well, let’s just say “more.” To go any further would venture into spoiler territory, and by now, viewers shouldn’t need any additional teases to tune in for an ending bound to exhilarate and devastate in equal measure.
“Succession” is satire unleashed. Its targets are so deplorable no insult is too insulting, yet each mark is instilled with such humanity that every slight still stings. Such righteous censures on the uber-rich and unabashedly privileged are contrasted beautifully by the empathy evoked in understanding how they became who they are and why they do what they do. Similarly, the high emotional intelligence shown in each episode’s construction pairs perfectly with the low-brow vernacular shared by every character. (Even when the name-calling is strung together like poetry, the cast makes each curse word come across as spontaneous and dirty.)
Long the series’ staples, one has to wonder if they could endure had Armstrong chosen to continue “Succession” for an additional two or three seasons. It’s not a question of if the formula could work, but whether its potency could be sustained, along with the show’s ability to pivot toward bolder choices. No matter. The final season is about to begin, which means the series is about to end. Soon, it may feel like the only good show is gone, over, finito — that’s the goal, at least, for Jesse Armstrong and his talented creative team: to be remembered among the best, to end strong, to find a goodbye as fitting as it is stirring. Based on the first four episodes — as well as the three preceding seasons — there’s no reason to think such a finale is out of reach. And after these initial ending hours, it’s also clear that “Succession” isn’t slowing down. So you can let it consume you or, as a wise man once said, you can fuck off. It’s still the Roys’ world, for at least one more year.
“Succession” Season 4 premieres Sunday, March 26 at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.