Understandably, fans were a bit shocked when it was suddenly announced mere weeks before the premiere of Succession Season 4 that this would be the show’s last season. Creator and showrunner Jesse Armstrong had always been conscientious by telling a story that didn’t overstay its welcome, but given the abrupt ending of Season 3 and the change in course, it seemed like there was still so much more to explore in the HBO original series. In fact, the cast didn’t even know it would be the end until the final table read before filming. However, when looking at the Succession Season 4 premiere, directed by Mark Mylod no less, it’s possible to theorize why they decided to cut it short here.
Season 3 ended with the rug being pulled out from under the youngest three Roy siblings. To prevent Lukas Matsson’s (Alexander Skarsgård) GoJo from acquiring Waystar Royco and becoming its CEO, they attempt to enact a clause in their parent’s divorce that allow them veto powers when it comes to changes in company ownership. Instead, their father, Logan Roy (Brian Cox), gets tipped off and quickly renegotiates his divorce contract to lock them out of the decision. In a shocking final scene, it’s heavily implied that youngest sibling Siobhan “Shiv” Roy’s (Sarah Snook) husband, Tom Wambsgans (Matthew Macfadyen), was the one who had told Logan of their plan and betrayed his wife.
So, where do the siblings go after this? An emotional confession scene at the end of the third season united them, and they remain united going into Succession Season 4. They pool their resources to try and get their own media company off the ground to compete against Waystar Royco. Not only are they trying to compete against their father (still trying to fight for his approval or prove him wrong? Probably both), but there is also the pressure of the upcoming presidential election which seems to be a major focus of this fourth season.
The second youngest sibling, Roman Roy (Keiran Culkin), helped his father choose a fascist as the Republican candidate in Season 3. Waystar Royco owns ATN, a huge conservative media outlet, which heavily impacts the outcome of the political election. While it would be nice to not appoint a fascist as leader of the free world, politics have always taken a backseat to personal interest in HBO’s Succession. The Roy siblings are primed to fight against fascism in this final season, although the alignment is made more out of convenience than any real spin of the moral compass.
The rest of the cast are settling into their places for the upcoming election as well. Oldest Roy sibling, Connor (Alan Ruck), is still running for president. For him, it’s more of a vanity project than a legitimate political goal, which is why his father doesn’t see it as any real threat to his own presidential pick. Yet, Connor needs his father to bankroll his candidacy, so the two remain aligned. Cousin Greg (Nicholas Braun) continues to blithely follow Tom as he cozies up next to Logan. It is worth considering just how long Logan will allow Tom by his side though. Tom gained access to the upper echelons of Waystar Royco through being married to a Roy sibling, and not many marriages can survive a betrayal of the Season 3 finale’s magnitude. Especially one that began dissolving the night of their wedding.
Tom and Shiv still wear their marriage rings during the Succession Season 4 premiere, though there isn’t much marriage left. Sarah Snook and Matthew Macfayden continue to play off each other in an awkward, almost endearing sort of way. This does, however, get stripped back as they nail Tom and Shiv’s vulnerability during heavier scenes in the premiere episode. Viewers can expect the following episodes to further explore their crumbling relationship as they wrestle with the aftermath of Tom’s betrayal.
Logan, too, is deeply unsatisfied. As much as he tries to console himself with the savvy business moves that have placed him on top, he feels the loss of his three youngest children. At the end of the third season, as his kids were trying to convince him not to sell away the company, Logan asked Roman, “What do you have in your fucking hand?” Roman responds with, “I don’t know, fucking… love?” Logan rejects that notion and shuns his children, and now, he has to cope with the loss of that love. It’s very lonely at the top, especially after beating everyone else down to get there. As for his performance in the Succession Season 4 premiere, Brian Cox manages to debut his final journey as Logan Roy with just as much gnarled and curt as always.
The only character not mentioned so far is Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong), who is surprisingly quiet during the Season 4 premiere. There hasn’t been a plotline established around Kendall or Roman yet outside of their sibling pact with Shiv, but here is where we can start theorizing. Going into Succession Season 4, we can expect a large portion of it will be about Roman’s breaking point. Season 2 was about how Logan pushed Kendall into breaking by depriving him of psychological help, using his trauma to control him, and finally attempting to sacrifice his career to save his own skin. Moving on, Season 3 was about how Logan pushed Shiv into breaking by refusing to recognize her accomplishments, pressuring her into aligning herself with a fascist candidate even though she’s a democrat, and finally turning her own husband against her.
And so, Succession Season 4 could potentially be about Roman, at last, making up his mind concretely about Logan. He’s the least comfortable with confrontation, something acknowledged in the Season 4 premiere, and has a habit of siding with his father over his siblings (i.e. the season one vote of no confidence where he told Kendall he would vote against their father but then ultimately changed his decision). Between the three Roy siblings, Roman is the most likely to return to his father’s side, something that’s already been teased in the trailers, and Succession Season 4 will more than likely explore him grappling with that decision.
If anything is disappointing about this show, it’s how quickly the plotline regarding the sexual assault scandal on the cruise ships was dropped. It’s realistic that none of these people would suffer any real consequences for their actions, but it had been a huge conflict since the beginning of the series and it resolved itself pretty much off-camera while conflicts for the next season were brewing. If Succession is to truly feel cohesive by its final episode, Jesse Armstrong and his team of writers should bring the scandal back, or at least mention it again.
For fans of Succession, it looks like we’re gearing up for a very good final ride. The comedy is still sharp (they still somehow have found new ways for me to audibly say “no… no” at my television and groan in secondhand embarrassment), the writing is still precise and pointed, and the cast ensemble continues to bring layered performances that make each of these characters so compelling. No one really knows how it will end, but it seems that the final season was never really about who ends up as CEO of Waystar Royco. Instead, it’s about family, it’s about love, and it’s about how far they’re willing to go to end up on top, whatever that means.