Love offers power, but power seldom offers love. In a show where its lead characters mostly get neither, the time for resolution is here. The time to find out whether the power of love, however twisted and turbulent, can stave off the love for power. Succession, whose fourth and final season premieres on Disney+ Hotstar on March 27, is arguably the finest English TV show of the 2020s. But unlike its protagonist, Logan Roy (played to eccentric perfection by Brian Cox), the show has learnt that it is better to go when others ask ‘why?’ instead of ‘why not?’. In what is shaping up to be its most compelling instalment yet, Succession has a lot to take care of — from sorting adversaries from allies to completing character arcs to living up to its title, the latest of which means that the inevitable has become imminent.
The promise and the purpose
According to Succession’s showrunner Jesse Armstrong, there is a “promise” encoded into the title of the show. In other words, the show’s purpose stems from identifying the successor(s) to Logan. The longer the succession is delayed, the greater the risk of the show being pointless. It is to Armstrong’s credit then that for three seasons Succession has been anything but pointless, creating a cauldron of anticipation where every moment feels like a story of its own. This in spite of taking 29 episodes to arrive no closer to naming the next commander of Waystar Royco, Logan’s tainted but tremendously lucrative media kingdom.
At the end of Season 3, Logan, whose greatest talent is winning, outsmarts his children (whom he lovingly calls “rats”!) and initiates a sale of his conglomerate to upstart media mogul, Lukas Matsson (Alexander Skarsgard). Season 4 is expected to start with three of the Roy siblings, each of whom is gunning for Logan’s seat, working in tandem, at least to begin with (there is a fourth, the eldest, who would rather be President of the United States). What follows should make for an unmissable Battle Roy-al but before the creative odds are stacked to predict who could come out on top, it is worthwhile noting the second promise that Succession has come to imply. The promise of Shakespearean theatre in a realm of suits, swearing and surreptitious sycophancy, a 21st century version of King Lear-meets-The Godfather.
Regardless of who triumphs in Season 4 of Succession, the show’s triumph till date has relied on its unique ability to create villains who resonate with our deepest instincts. We may not like a single character on Succession, but we can understand them all. Through its larger theme of how wealth and influence often function for their own sake, Succession has shown that what corrupts people is not just their position or power, but their struggle to balance who they are versus who they want to be. And yet, in tackling such a profound idea, Succession has refused to take itself too seriously. It has come to terms with the fact that the journey of ambition need not be wholly comic or tragic, especially when it can swing between the two to create the most memorable farce.
And the successor is…
For all we know, Succession may come to a close with US regulators stepping in and dividing Logan’s previously too-big-to-fail empire into multiple autonomously-run units. Or, in an even unlikelier scenario, Logan somehow endures as the one in charge, rattling off a barrage of f-words (mostly at the title!) while drinking to his indestructibility. However, the greater potential for drama exists in imagining one of the many frontrunners (and even the odd darkhorse) taking over.
On paper, Siobhan or Shiv Roy (Sarah Snook) is best placed to succeed Logan. Her practical cynicism matches that of her father, but as opposed to him, Shiv is nimble enough to set aside her beliefs, even her grudges, to pursue larger goals. Roman Roy (Kieran Culkin) seems too self-indulgent for his own good, but beneath his insulting humour and rollicking one-liners, there is a more serious urge to be ruthless, which could make the ultimate difference. Then there is Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong), the prodigal son who has returned once too often, and cannot decide whether his insecurities are greater than his inhibitions. That Kendall has been hurt by Logan the most might just turn out in his favour. After all, he knows more than anyone else what does not work when pitted against one’s own blood.
Beyond the incestuous boundaries of sibling rivalry, there is the dark horse pair of Tom Wambsgans (Matthew MacFadyen) and Greg Hirsch (Nicholas Braun), two unsure outsiders who grow into temerous turncoats last season. If either of them succeeds, it will invariably involve support from and eventual betrayal of the other. Lastly, there is Gerri Kellman (J. Smith-Cameron), the least insufferable and the most qualified of all the contenders. Which is precisely why, in the unfairness of reality that Succession captures so well, Gerri stands no chance.
Nothing succeeds like Succession
There is no shortage of great shows whose concluding seasons have had a ruinous impact on their legacy. HBO is already wary of that, thanks to the debacle that was Season 8 of Game of Thrones. But Succession is about as bankable as it gets, not least because it has built a sense of controlled chaos into itself, where the pace is never too fast, the writing never too taut and the characters never too tempting to lose sight of the plot. In its combined responsibilities to entertain and enlighten, Succession is so sure of itself that it does not have to play to the gallery. Armstrong knows his magic formula and tweaks it just about right for each successive season to appear fresh yet familiar.
Having said that, could Succession be guilty of not doing enough for its last lap? After years of stirring the pot, could the show lose its footing when it comes to the final service? If so, the main concern might be Succession’s tendency to move in circles, usually between boardrooms and phone calls. For Season 4 to hit home, the show has to be displaced from its usual poise at some point. It has to take a decisive stance on its characters, coronating one or more and consigning, if not condemning, the rest. Should it make this choice as engrossingly as it has handled the long-drawn prelude, Succession will take its rightful place among the greatest TV shows of all time. The likes of Mad Men and Breaking Bad will have some much-needed company.
Irrespective of how Logan Roy’s legacy lives on, a characteristically strong finish for Succession will be a fitting way to bid farewell to a show that has become symptomatic of our times. Times when corporate avarice has ushered in a post-shame world, where every scandal is an opportunity, every truce is a transaction and every value exists solely for validation. A world where love and power are so inseparably intertwined that a family that is desperate for both can no longer protect its members from each other.