Succession, series 4, first-look review: TV's most monstrous dynasty approaches the end

Brian Cox prepares to bow out as media mogul Logan Roy - HBO/HBO
Brian Cox prepares to bow out as media mogul Logan Roy - HBO/HBO

Now, you’re not allowed to criticise Succession at North London dinner parties, but, whisper it, it’s not perfect. For all its radiantly awful characters and shark-toothed dialogue, the drama has felt at times as if it was in a holding pattern. The delicious bitching and backstabbing have given way to a certain lassitude. At the start of the fourth and final outing the billionaire media tycoon Logan Roy (Brian Cox) is still in charge. He has not decided which of his four children ought to take over, if he ever will, nor have any of them managed to wrest control from their gruff patriarch. The episodes have slipped into a familiar rhythm: some combination of Logan, his children and their outriders are hauled together in a more-or-less glamorous location, where they plot and snipe. For all the emotional blackmail, manipulation and betrayal under the bridge, we are no closer to knowing who will inherit the firm than we were at the start.

With the end in sight, however, Succession is free to aim for the landing, and those of us who have been wishing the Roys would get a move on will not be disappointed – at least on the evidence of the first four episodes given to reviewers. Until now it has looked like any of Logan’s children Kendall (Jeremy Strong), Shiv (Sarah Snook) and Roman (Kieran Culkin) might win the Waystar Royco kingdom, only for them to self-sabotage at the crucial moment. In the opening scenes of series four – and possibly for the first time ever – the children present a curiously united front against their father.

To defend his business, Logan has joined with Shiv’s estranged husband, Tom (Matthew Macfadyen), and the hapless cousin Greg (Nicholas Braun). The children are toying with the idea of a new media company called TheHundred, which occasions an excellent dig at the garish real-world cricket tournament of the same name. Multi-billion dollar deals involving Waystar, Lukas Mattson’s (Alexander Skarsgård) GoJo, and Pierce Global Media, the genteel Waspish rival media dynasty who pretend not to care about the money, hover in the background.

Sibling rivalry: Jeremy Strong, Sarah Snook and Kieran Culkin - HBO
Sibling rivalry: Jeremy Strong, Sarah Snook and Kieran Culkin - HBO

Logan, meanwhile, is in the form of his life, energised by the threat to his legacy and back to his fighting best, telling people to “f— off” and displaying the fearsome instincts that made him a tycoon in the first instance. At heart he’s a streetfighter, not an armchair general. It’s him versus the world, and that’s just how he likes it. One motivational speech to his employees at the Fox News-a-like ATN is positively rousing. If Cox has had enough of the programme – and of Strong’s tiresome method acting – as some of his interviews suggest he has, it doesn’t show.

Everything Succession’s fans love is here: the acid dialogue, the private jets, the horror its characters feel whenever they are forced to brush up against the real world. One memorable scene involving a karaoke bar and eldest son Connor (Alan Ruck), a brat so spoiled that his hobby job is running for the presidency, is purest Succession.

When the series’ inciting incident comes, it is beautifully done. The cast have been doing this for long enough to wear their parts like meltingly soft cashmere jumpers, and they rise to the moment. The first episodes aren’t as explosive as Succession gets, but they serve another purpose. In all the machinations, there are glimpses of what a sibling team might look like: bound by kinship, with talents that complement each other, not endlessly waylaid by sex and drugs and avarice. It can’t last. This grand dark comedy about money will not have a happy ending.

"Jesus, you're such f—ing dopes," Logan tells his four children. "You're not serious figures. I love you, but you are not serious people." He strides out into the New York night, shaken, and walks past a homeless man. "They should get out here," he says to nobody in particular. "Some c— doing the tin cans for his supper. Take a sip of that medicine. This city, eh? The rats are as fat as skunks. They hardly care to run any more."

It is as though the penny has finally dropped for the old curmudgeon. If only the Roy children had worse prospects, they might have made something of themselves.

Series 4 of Succession begins at 2am/9pm on Sky Atlantic and NOW on Monday 27 March