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HBO's Succession Pulls No Punches in Final Season

After two long years, “Succession” is finally back. The prestige drama's previous season promised war between the Roy siblings and their father, Logan Roy, after a fracturing of the company led to their expulsion. Since then, viewers and fans have been able to stew in theories as to what season four would hold. Is Logan going to end up on top? Will the kids get back at their dad for what he's done to them? Or maybe, by the end of the show, there won't be a Waystar Royco to fight over at all?

In late February, ahead of this season, it was announced that this would also be the last for “Succession.” "I've never thought this could go on forever. The end has always been kind of present in my mind," creator and writer Jesse Armstrong told the New Yorker. Fans and critics alike were saddened, although many praised the creators' resolve: it's nice when a crew knows when to quit while they're ahead.

“Succession” has remained one of HBO's essential vehicles, gaining multiple awards and a healthy online fanbase. The show gives insight into a fictional billionaire family at the head of the media conglomerate Waystar Royco, held together by the crass patriarch, Logan Roy (Brian Cox). "Succession" continues to up the ante, propelling its most beloved characters into dire situations they can't escape, haunting them throughout each episode. Season four is no different, immediately pushing you headfirst into the shark-infested waters of Waystar Royco.

The final season begins just like its first season did, with a birthday party. This time though, Logan and his three youngest children are apart, a fate that weighs heavy on each side of the playing field. Despite his big house being filled with colleagues and old friends, it's clear something is missing, and Logan feels it too. Logan's resolve is failing, with the titan of media succumbing to philosophical ramblings about the afterlife and snapping at those still on his side.

He's the same Logan we hate to love, uttering insults you can't help but laugh at, although this time, there's an underlying sadness to him. During a family therapy session in a neon-lit karaoke room, he looks at his children with disdain, all the while trying to repair their broken relationships, although the motives are again blended with business and personal needs. He, like his children, doesn't know how to articulate his feelings and instead succumbs to anger, berating his team of seasoned veterans almost like they're stand-ins for his kids. He's a master gaslighter, and here is where Roman (Kieran Culkin), the most sensitive of the Roy siblings, starts to waver.

The relationship between the core three—Kendall (Jeremy Strong), Shiv (Sarah Snook), and Roman (Culkin)—is stronger than ever, but cracks are still visible even to the most casual watcher. More stable than last season, Kendall is still his typical self, although his mania seems to be spiraling down into something more sinister, a cliffhanger in episode four proving that he can be just as ruthless as his siblings. Shiv and her husband Tom are on the brink, separated but still married after Tom's season finale betrayal, attempting to one-up each other into submission. And then there's Roman, who is still the most perplexing of the three, motivations wavering just as much as his relationships are.

If you weren't already uneasy while watching the first two episodes, episode three is a game-changer, pulling out career-defining performances from all three of the main actors. Jeremy Strong is a powerhouse, lips trembling and nose dripping with no amount of shame, proving once again why he's one of the best actors on television. It's also a vehicle for everyone to show their chops, not just the main cast but its supporting actors. Peter Friedman, who plays Frank, is finally able to delve back into the inner workings of the character, and his relationship with Kendall can breathe again.

“Succession” is famously about bad people doing bad things, but season four seems adamant about making its audience sympathize with them. It works, and instead of feeling preachy, it feels like Armstrong battling with the inner workings of the characters he created. Is a bad person still bad if they're suffering? Can we be absolved of our sins? The answer isn't quite clear yet, though if the audience consensus means anything, Kendall—who could be called the show's main protagonist—is already on his way there. This latest season allows its characters to breathe, and hopefully, the following episodes make them confront their place within the world.

While it's hard to tell what the show will bring to the table from a glimpse at this season, if these four episodes are anything to go by, the show isn't pulling any punches. It's clear that Jesse Armstrong knows what he's doing, and this season still feels like the show that captured everyone's attention (and hearts) back in 2018.

Season four marks a shift within not only Waystar Royco but the lives of the people within the company. There's tension even in the tender and comedic moments, a doom hanging over the heads of the core characters. Composer Nicholas Britell's reprise and reworkings of themes we've already heard prove that while the world that "Succession" takes place in may stay the same, its characters and audience will be changed by the end of it.

Four episodes were screened for review. Season Four of "Succession" premieres on HBO Max on March 26th.

Kaiya Shunyata

Kaiya Shunyata is a freelance pop culture writer and academic based in Canada. They have written for RogerEbert.com, Xtra, Okayplayer, The Daily Beast, AltPress and more. 

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