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HomeEntertainmentDrama‘Succession’ Season 4: The Shakespearean Satirical Drama Approaches Its End

‘Succession’ Season 4: The Shakespearean Satirical Drama Approaches Its End

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Editor’s Note: This review contains spoilers for HBO’s “Succession.”

HBO’s “Succession” premiered its fourth and final season on March 26. The thirteen-time Emmy-winning series follows the uber-wealthy and uber-dysfunctional Roy family, the owners of an international media conglomerate called Waystar Royco.

The previous season left off with Roy patriarch Logan (Brian Cox) deciding to sell Waystar, despite the best efforts of his children Kendall (Jeremy Strong), Shiv (Sarah Snook) and Roman (Kieran Culkin) to stop the deal. The attempted coup was foiled by Shiv’s husband, Tom (Matthew Macfadyen), who had endured enough of her emotional abuse and informed Logan of their ploy. The final goosebump-inducing shot of her silently seething over his betrayal stays with viewers long after the credits roll. 

Season four begins months later on Logan’s birthday — a callback to the pilot episode — but his children are absent from the celebration. Their father is planning on buying Pierce, another media company, and they decide to swoop in with a rival bid. Roman resists at first, not wanting to cross his father out of a combination of love and fear. But the siblings take the chance to screw him over and ultimately succeed, to which he hisses, “Congratulations on saying the biggest number, you f**king morons.” It’s the first time viewers see Logan lose.

A key aspect of the show’s focus is how characters respond to information. Oftentimes, even the camera will move in a way that mimics a person sitting in on and reacting to the conversation. After the bidding war, Shiv and Kendall are shown gleefully reveling in their success at finally one-upping their father. They even give each other a fist bump. Affection is a foreign concept to the Roy family, who communicate almost exclusively through insults, so it’s pleasing to see these rare moments that offer the audience a glimpse into their childhood. But unlike his siblings, Roman is made visibly uncomfortable by this victory. He manages a small grin, but his furrowed brow betrays his inner worry: can this family retain any semblance of unity?

Logan, alone and miserable at his birthday celebration, steps out to share a moment of morbid reflection with his bodyguard. Everyone operates in a market, Logan tells him. People should just do their job, because that’s all there is to living. There’s nothing after. He’s disappointed by his ungrateful children, who can’t seem to comprehend this truth. He loves pitting them against each other, but can’t stand their avarice now that he’s their enemy.

The familial power struggle is compounded by the tension between Tom and Shiv. The first episode ends with a tragic scene in their apartment, in which Tom asks to talk through the failings of their marriage, but Shiv tearfully tells him to leave things unsaid. Their power dynamic has been inverted, and it’s not in her DNA to be vulnerable and admit that fact.

“Succession” may be a satire about late capitalism’s ruling class, but at its core, it is also a Sophoclean tragedy about human connection poisoned by greed, power and cycles of abuse. The corporate dealings and family strife are not distinct elements of the show, rather they are two sides of the same coin. 

When the Roys make a depressing attempt at reconciliation in the second episode, it is motivated by financial interests. Connor (Alan Ruck), the siblings’ half-brother, invites his father because he doesn’t want to lose his shares. Logan offers a measly apology because it’s the only way he might get through to the people who currently have power over him. 

Bumbling Cousin Greg (Nicholas Braun) started out providing a much-needed sincerity to the show’s otherwise cold and calculated exchanges. He was the most sympathetic of the bunch, completely unfamiliar with the cutthroat corporate culture. But the Faustian bargain he makes at the end of season three marks his point of no return. Greg is still charmingly idiotic, but he’s one of the “Disgusting Brothers” now, as he loves to call himself and Tom.

Is there any hope for the Roys? Or are they condemned to an endless succession of trauma and corruption? If the siblings are going to end the war with their father, he will need to demonstrate genuine remorse for the lifetime of pain he has caused them. They know Logan will never do this. After the family get-together fiasco in the second episode, a miserable Connor declares, “The good thing about having a family that doesn’t love you is you learn to live without it.” It seems everyone else is learning to do the same.

When Connor arrives at home, he finds his fiancée Willa (Justine Lupe) waiting for him. The course of their relationship is reminiscent of the disheartening season one finale of HBO’s “White Lotus,” in which the demoralized trophy wife chooses to remain with her egocentric husband, fearing the harsh realities of a life without financial security. 

It’s possible “Succession” is painting a similarly bleak portrait of humanity’s fate under these systems of power. But despite their relationship being largely transactional, there seems to be something more between Willa and Connor, an idea Lupe touches on in an interview with Harper’s Bazaar

Though the series is fast approaching a “night of the long knives,” a sickening allusion to Hitler’s purge of rivals made by Logan, hints of optimism can be found. Perhaps some semblance of love can be born anew from these poisoned relationships. 

Perhaps this story won’t end in tragedy after all.

Fei Yang is an Arts and Entertainment Intern for the spring 2023 quarter. She can be reached at feiy11@uci.edu