Succession season 4 review: everything burns

In the final season of the HBO series, the Roy children showed themselves to be no less than their late father.

Akhil Arora, a member of the Film Critics Guild and a Rotten Tomatoes-certified film critic

Justine Lupe as Willa Ferreyra, Alan Ruck as Connor Roy, Kieran Culkin as Roman Roy, Jeremy Strong as Kendall Roy, and Sarah Snook as Shiv Roy in Succession season 4
Justine Lupe as Willa Ferreyra, Alan Ruck as Connor Roy, Kieran Culkin as Roman Roy, Jeremy Strong as Kendall Roy, and Sarah Snook as Shiv Roy in Succession season 4 // Photo: Macall Polay/HBO

Early into its fourth and final season, Succession finally delivered on the promise of its title, killing off the abusive billionaire patriarch and the source of everyone’s trauma—Logan Roy (Brian Cox)—in the most unexpected of ways. One minute he was walking onto his private jet, the next we heard, he had passed out on the toilet seat and his heart had given way. Now that he wasn’t around anymore to interfere, Succession could finally explore the questions it had been teasing ever since it began roughly five years ago. How would the Roy siblings—Kendall (Jeremy Strong), Roman (Kieran Culkin), and Shiv (Saran Snook)—go about their business? More importantly, could this not only help bring them closer but also set them on the path to heal from the wounds that had routinely been picked upon?

Alas, as we discovered in the following episodes, that was not to be. Even without their dad around to pit themselves against one another, and despite the next-gen trinity that had formed in the wake of that brutal season 3 end where Logan twisted the knife, they slowly—and inevitably—turned on each other. In hindsight, we shouldn’t have expected anything else. For all the shared hatred of their father, the Roy children—save for to-be-or-not-to-be ambassador Connor (Alan Ruck)—are more like Logan than they will ever admit. Though Cox had disappeared off our screens, his abrasive mean-spirited octogenarian cast a long shadow over the remainder of Succession. (His funeral didn’t happen until like six episodes later, as the penultimate chapter, and he made an archival video appearance in the series finale.)

Every man and woman for themselves in Succession season 4

At times, it was like a farce—while everyone else rightly questioned an undated document that emerged from Logan’s locker in episode 4 “Honeymoon States”, Kendall spent half of that Succession chapter wondering if his name was underlined or crossed out. Still, the eldest of the trio managed to corral the votes, with then-COO Roman and Kendall switching into co-CEOs. Privately, they told Shiv that they would involve her in all operational decisions, briefly hinting at an actual partnership and a rejection of the old ways. But they almost immediately began freezing her out. So, when everyone was forced invited to Norway in episode 5 “Kill List”, Shiv—naturally—schmoozed with GoJo CEO and tech-bro-who-can’t-code Lukas Matsson (Alexander Skarsgård) to get herself a backup in case her brothers walled her off entirely.

Sarah Snook as Shiv Roy and Alexander Skarsgård as Lukas Matsson in Succession season 4
Sarah Snook as Shiv Roy and Alexander Skarsgård as Lukas Matsson in Succession season 4 // Photo: David Russell/HBO

By then, the endgame was clear: it was every man and woman for themselves. Sure, the Roy brothers seemed like a tag team in Norway up against Matsson, but they had been sabotaging things from the start really. At the very end of “Honeymoon States”, Kendall actioned Waystar’s communications chief Hugo Baker (Fisher Stevens) to tarnish his dad in the media, even though Roman had been against it. In episode 6 “Living+”, Roman tried to be “the man” and began impulsively firing off senior (female) management without considering the repercussions. Meanwhile, Kendall pushed a new product launch into overdrive, not just to kill the GoJo–Waystar deal but more to boost his own image. He drove straight into highly unethical deepfake territory, making their dead father say things he never did.

Full-scale war in Succession season 4

Unable to shake off Matsson with the board, the poisoning of the GoJo deal took on a whole other political direction in episode 7 “Tailgate Party”. It was essentially a full-scale war between the two sibling factions at this point. While Kendall and Roman tried to build an antitrust case, Shiv invited Matsson himself, in the hopes of putting a face to the acquisition and getting the political insiders to like him. Shiv might’ve done better to keep his entourage away though, what with GoJo’s mightily-annoyed head of PR, Ebba (Eili Harboe), casually dropping bombshells—that the Swedish tech giant had massively inflated its subscriber numbers in India and been covering it up—to spite Matsson. Like, imagine if there were two Indias, caught-with-his-pants-down Matsson tried to explain to Shiv.

On the sidelines, Shiv’s marriage imploded, with Tom Wambsgans (Matthew Macfadyen) boiling over the fact that everyone, including his wife, was happily toasting to rumours of him being fired from ATN, while they were drinking his wine. Roman tried to curry favour with far right-wing presidential candidate Jeryd Mencken (Justin Kirk) by casually trying to persuade Connor to drop out of the presidential race on election eve—showing zero regard for the hundreds of millions his (foolhardy) stepbrother had plowed into his campaign. And Kendall began setting up the stage for himself, indicating to his mentor-godfather and the only one of the Waystar old guard he trusted, Frank Vernon (Peter Friedman), that if things went south, they could potentially swallow GoJo. But Frank ultimately deserted Kendall.

Kieran Culkin as Roman Roy in Succession season 4
Kieran Culkin as Roman Roy in Succession season 4 // Photo: Graeme Hunter/HBO

The darkest hour of Succession

Then came the ugliest and most revolting Succession episode of all, “America Decides”. Things went unbelievably off the rails, as the Roys forced themselves on the news floor on election night, something their dad apparently never did. In its darkest hour, Succession showed us their truest selves, how they were happy to let America burn as long as they could get what they wanted. This was the episode where we were reminded how terrible every single person in this show really was. I hated episode 8 while I was watching it, and it was only in the days after that I realised that it was exactly what Succession had been going for. As Roman granted himself seemingly-unlimited power, I couldn’t stand Kieran Culkin for another second—that showed how good he was in the role.

It wasn’t just Culkin though. Every major main cast member knew their character so well. Jeremy Strong, Sarah Snook, Matthew Macfadyen, and Nicholas Braun got the most amount of screen time in season 4, and they all shone. Succession asked so much of them—they had to convey anger, grief, sadness, regret, desire, or disappointment, come off as incompetent, unlikeable, or disapproving, and project confidence, a mean streak, or a suave nature—and they did all of it with aplomb.

For the Roys, Waystar always comes first

His character didn’t enjoy those heights for long though. Roman went from up top to all the way down to the bottom, after flubbing his funeral speech in episode 9 “Church and State”. Though much of that Succession hour was sombre by the very nature of it—given what we had witnessed the week prior, it seemed like we had been thrown into a different genre for a moment—at the same time, the ugliness wasn’t very far. Everyone was queuing up to introduce themselves to Mencken, now believed to be the next US President, partly thanks to those at ATN. But as Roman lost his image and descended into the depths of the protesting crowds, Kendall and Shiv each found a way to Mencken. And they showed themselves willing to sacrifice everything close to them to achieve their goals.

Jeremy Strong as Kendall Roy in Succession season 4
Jeremy Strong as Kendall Roy in Succession season 4 // Photo: David Russell/HBO

Kendall, who seemed torn over supporting Mencken in “America Decides” given the bullying of his daughter and the slippery slope of fascism, decided to rubbish those concerns in “Church and State”. And instead of fighting Roman and Co., he chose to fight his wife Rava Roy (Natalie Gold) for custody rights. This is not a solution—instead of having a conversation and listening to Rava on her very real fears and concerns, absentee-father Kendall thinks it’s best to just take the children away from her. Elsewhere, the most liberal of the Roy trio, Shiv, revealed the extent of her beliefs. She may not agree with Mencken’s policies, but she respects ATN’s audience. It’s utterly disgusting. At the end of the day, what Shiv and Ken both cared more about is Waystar—their families and values came second.

A seat at the table

And they paid for it, dearly. In the tenth and final episode “With Open Eyes”—with Roman out of the picture due to his funeral gaffe—Shiv and Ken ran their dual campaigns to be Waystar’s future, each convincing themselves that they had the votes and everything under control. Except, as the episode showed, they were scrambling. They ran from pillar to post, trying to “bag and tag” all board members, including their own brother who had run off to their mother’s. There—after they received scathing insider info from Greg Hirsch (Nicholas Braun) who put a translation app to very good use—the Roy siblings briefly showed a united front again, concerned for their futures and a slice of the pie. The king-anointing scene in the kitchen was touching, a fleeting glimpse of their shared bonds.

And we got a bit more at the sticker-driven auction at Logan’s, as the trio welled up over a video memory of their father they didn’t know existed. But upon their return to the corporate world, all of it imploded spectacularly. Finding herself in the position of being kingmaker—with the board vote for the GoJo sale tied—Shiv turned at the final moment. It got violent, histrionic, and petulant, as the Roys verbally spat at each other in front of everybody. No one walked out with a good deal. Roman had already lost. A dejected Kendall thought he might die. And Shiv showed she was willing to stomach anything—even after flipping him off, she went back into puppet-CEO Tom’s arms—as long as she had a seat at the table.

Matthew Macfadyen as Tom Wambsgans and Nicholas Braun as Greg Hirsch in Succession season 4 episode 10
Matthew Macfadyen as Tom Wambsgans and Nicholas Braun as Greg Hirsch in Succession season 4 // Photo: David Russell/HBO

No spine, no ethics, no morals

If it furthered their goals, and if it suited them, the people of Succession were willing to throw everything under the bus. It’s depressing, and yet painfully real, commentary on how our world functions. No spine, no ethics, no morals, no beliefs, no convictions—no boundaries that cannot be crossed. Succession made us follow a bunch of terrible people for four seasons. Being in that place and seeing things from their viewpoint naturally helped to humanise them. But it’s at our peril to see them as humans, as Logan’s brother Ewan Roy (James Cromwell) sort of noted at the funeral. Sure, each of them has their own form of trauma—but what they have wreaked on the world and the ones closest to them is beyond comparison.

They don’t deserve our empathy—it’s one thing to be stuck in a cycle of abuse, and another to wilfully reciprocate and pass it on. Succession has always been a tragedy, and its ending was a fitting reminder that when you play the game of thrones, you are left with nothing or end up an empty suit.

All episodes of Succession are now streaming on Max.

Akhil Arora