Succession season 4 review: Razor-sharp satire bowing out on a high
The farewell tour gets off to a blistering start.
For weeks, the hype surrounding Succession season 4 has focused largely on its dramatic potential, following the surprising reveal that it would be the final entry in Jesse Armstrong's satirical saga. And yet, this opening chapter is easily among the most overtly comedic episodes we've seen to date, coming close to all-out farce as the Roy children desperately try to get one over on dear old dad. There's a palpable sense that the writers are having as much fun with these characters as they can before the toy chest is closed for good – and that makes for some electric television.
The episode picks up some time after the season 3 ending, as Logan Roy (Brian Cox) celebrates an unspecified birthday with all the enthusiasm of someone stuck in line at the Post Office. Notable by their absence are his three youngest offspring – Kendall (Jeremy Strong), Roman (Kieran Culkin) and Shiv (Sarah Snook) – who are busy trying to streamline the idea that will finally bring them out from under their father's shadow. Armstrong and co don't hold back here, with the increasingly ridiculous descriptions of the siblings' disruptor news service and knowledge hub exposing them as little more than talentless frauds.
It should come as no surprise that the Succession cast – all generously decorated with award nominations and wins – slip effortlessly back into their roles, with the excellent scripts propelling them to new heights. Cox explores an intriguingly playful side to Logan that we haven't seen much of between his recent business attacks and health scares. Culkin is manic as ever playing the depraved middle child, but there are glimmers of growth in moments where he somehow sounds like the most sensible person in the room.
Snook and co-star Matthew Macfadyen are dealt the most sincere material as Shiv and Tom's ailing marriage is placed under the microscope, but the latter also finds time to resume his role in the most beloved comedy double-act in prestige drama. That's right, Mr Wambsgans and cousin Greg (Nicholas Braun) are mischievous as ever, gifting the episode with a surreal subplot that effectively breaks up the business discussion. Yes, after five years, the Roys are still fighting over potential mergers and acquisitions.
It's an impressive feat of writing that these never-ending negotiations have gone virtually nowhere since the beginning of the show, and yet remain genuinely thrilling. I'd be lying if I said I could remember all the back and forth, the counter-offers and the double-crossing that has led us to this point, but I'll still jump out of my seat when someone says a big number. That said, there's also a meta-acknowledgement that these corporate theatrics can't go on forever, which could be interpreted as Armstrong defending his controversial call to end the story here.
By the closing credits, any sceptics of that decision will likely be silenced. This is, after all, Succession at its most punchy, provocative and unpredictable. Rather than the rush job that some feared, this episode feels like the beginning of a natural conclusion, but where exactly it will go remains tantalisingly unclear.
What is certain is that, if it can maintain this level of quality – and all signs suggest as much – then we'll be witnessing one of the greatest television events of the decade.
Succession is available on Sky Atlantic and NOW – sign up for Sky TV here. Check out more of our Drama coverage or visit our TV Guide and Streaming Guide to find out what's on.
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