This episode contains spoilers for season four episode one of Succession
Phew. Succession is back and Sky Atlantic’s dynastic drama is its reliably vicious self.
Creator Jesse Armstrong has made it clear that he isn’t going to over-stay his welcome with repetitive storylines by making this fourth season also its last. Mind you, a critical minority has already suggested that this was becoming the case as Brian Cox’s media mogul Logan Roy dreamt up ever more ruthless ways of thwarting his children’s ambitions.
The concluding season has been teed up nicely with last year’s finale. Logan had foiled the attempted coup by offspring Kendall (Jeremy Strong), Shiv (Sarah Snook) and Roman (Kieran Culkin), thanks to the treachery of Shiv’s husband Tom (the splendid Matthew Macfadyen).
And so, episode one takes us into a a straight fight between Team Logan (including Tom and his sidekick Cousin Greg (Nicholas Braun), now both ladies’ men and dubbing themselves “the disgusting brothers”) and the “kids” (or as Logan prefers, the “rats”).
It begins at Logan’s birthday party, which he manages to escape with Colin the bodyguard (Scott Nicholson) in tow after grimacing his way through the sycophantic greetings and a round of “Happy Birthday”. It seems the sweary old curmudgeon is suffering an existential crisis, calling a surprised Colin his “best friend” and wondering about the existence of an afterlife.
Later he asks his loyal underlings Gerri (J Smith-Cameron), Frank (Peter Friedman) and Karl (David Rasche) to tell him jokes and to give him a “roasting”, but none of them dare rise to the challenge. King Lear is missing his fool: in Logan’s case that would be Roman.
Meanwhile, Kendall wants to screw over their father, Shiv wants to screw over Tom and Roman just wants to build an ambitiously high-minded new business: a “Substack meets the Economist meets the New York Times” content hub called The Hundred. I don’t fancy its chances.
An opportunity to fulfil all three ambitions arises when Shiv gets wind of Waystar Royco attempting to purchase the rival media dynasty run by the family of Kendall’s ex-girlfriend Naomi Pierce. Jetting off to the Pierces’ swish mansion, they enter a bidding war with Logan, having wisely decided to ditch their own idea of a start-up.
This propulsive plot is, as usual, only half the story, for Succession is also one of the funniest comedies on TV. I almost feel sorry for the cast, who will probably never again get the opportunity to utter such gorgeously well-crafted dialogue. All credit to them for never over-selling lines whose throwaway nature is part of their hilarious effect.
Inevitably, one of the two funny subplots involves Cousin Greg and his uninvited date to Logan’s birthday party. Proudly telling Tom he has had sex with her in Logan’s apartment, Tom dutifully and gleefully informs him that all the rooms were covered with CCTV.
The other features Connor (Alan Ruck) and his doomed run for the US Presidency. Polling at just one percent, he fears being “squeezed” by the other candidates. Fiancée Willa (Justine Lupe) rightly wonders how much one percent could be squeezed. “There are decimals,” he suggests.
But the episode concludes on a touching note, as Tom and Shiv finally discuss their impending divorce. Will Tom still stay in Logan’s good graces should they finally separate? I doubt it. After broaching the subject and receiving Logan’s ambiguous reply (“if we’re good, we’re good”), I am left with the distinct impression that Tom probably won’t be “good”.
So, who will inherit the empire? The undervalued Shiv would be the most deserving, although Greg is the cognoscenti’s outside bet. Whatever way, with a whole season to go, Succession is going down to the wire.
The only thing we can rely on is that Armstrong won’t disappoint.