Succession series 4 episode 7 review: sexting, screaming and Shakespearean scheming

·4-min read
Matthew Macfadyen as Tom Wambsgans and Sarah Snook as Shiv Roy ( )
Matthew Macfadyen as Tom Wambsgans and Sarah Snook as Shiv Roy ( )

Any doubt that Succession was a genuine TV phenomenon was laid to rest last week. A special screening of the final episode at the BFI at 2am, the same time it is broadcast in the US, sold out in minutes.

It’s not hard to understand why, especially as season four has included at least three of the show’s best episodes – and probably three of the best episodes of TV in recent years – before even reaching its half way mark.

That’s what made last week’s a bit of a come down and while it’s back on the up-and-up, it certainly feels like the series is in a holding pattern, seeding storylines, foreshadowing big events, teasing emotional turmoil, but keeping its powder dry.

The US election has been looming in the background of the series, and it hoves into view in episode seven. As a storyline it’s important, not just for Connor and his laughable tilt at the presidency, but for the siblings’ political influence via their Fox News proxy ATN, and their relationship with one of the (viable) candidates.

It’s the eve of the election and Logan Roy was due to host a party to mark it; instead Tom steps into the breach, inviting the great and the political and media great and good. And when Lukas Matsson turns up – ruining a moment of silence Kendall has called for his dad – the passive-aggressive battles begin.

Kieran Culkin as Roman Roy and Alan Ruck as Connor Roy
Kieran Culkin as Roman Roy and Alan Ruck as Connor Roy

The episode makes clear quite how terrible Kendall and Roman are as chief executives – trying to scupper an overpriced deal could hardly be called working on behalf of the shareholders, and also raises all sorts of regulatory issues – but what wasn’t clear until now was how terrible Matsson was.

This “coder from Gothenburg” turned billionaire tech bro is not only displaying ever more examples of his toxic masculinity, it becomes abundantly clear that there’s a major financial issue at his company. And he doesn’t really care.

Kendall and Roman may be “dumb and dumber” according to Shiv, and the “dumpster brothers” according to Tom, but they now have a clear, legitimate path to tanking the deal so they can run Waystar Royco themselves.

All this powered by the need to earn affection from a father who is no longer there. As Matsson says, “They will do what he did, but they will do it stupider and uglier.” And in a show about how much damage a father like Logan Roy can wreak on his family, it also follows that the damage echoes through the generations. In this episode, a meeting with his ex-wife makes it abundantly plain that in following his father’s path, Kendall has abandoned his own kids. And so the cycle begins again.

In the previous episode, a recording of Logan appeared on a big screen at the investor day with a message for his sons, as if it was Hamlet’s ghost. And it’s about to get more Shakespearean still with Kendall preparing to knife both siblings. “I love them but I’m not in love with them,” he says with brutal simplicity. “One head, one crown.”

Sarah Snook as Shiv Roy and Alexander Skarsgård as Lukas Matsson
Sarah Snook as Shiv Roy and Alexander Skarsgård as Lukas Matsson

Though if Kendall – now believing his hype as “Waystar Jesus” following the successful launch of Living+ – had been reading Henry IV part 2 there’s another line that may shortly resonate: “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown”.

Another theatrical reference struck me in this episode – and it’s how Tom and Shiv’s relationship has been set up almost along the lines of Private Lives, currently on at the Donmar Warehouse, where the leads are either fighting or, well, something else beginning with f, with no middleground.

But does it work? For a show that is so expertly plotted and characterised, their to-ings and fro-ings are beginning to feel almost scattergun. One week they’re up, the next they’re down – in this episode they go from the heights of rekindled romance – well sexting at work at least – to a blazing row, spitting out barbs of shuddering cruelty that surely marks the end… until next time.

There were still moments of dark comedy – Greg firing a load of international ATN staffers on Zoom while Tom made mocking boo-hoo gestures with his hands behind the camera. Tom trying to offload his terrible German red wine on the guests he despises and Connor scrolling through which US embassy he may or may not want in return for dropping the presidential run – “I don’t want to go anywhere that doesn’t have nukes” – but it felt a little like the handbrake was on, and like the joke writers had taken a step back (though of course there were still a megaton of one-liners that would turn most sitcoms green with envy).

From the election, to the takeover bid – which is surely going to collapse now – the impact of firing Gerri, to Logan’s funeral and the big split between the siblings… even if the fireworks were muted in this episode, there are clearly plenty more to come.

Succession is on Sky Atlantic and NOW TV