The first episode of the fourth and final season of HBO’s Succession finds us at the birthday celebration of Logan Roy (Brian Cox). It’s a not-so-subtle callback to the very first episode, which began at Logan’s 80th birthday. This year, it’s not clear who organized it. Not his wife, Marcia (Hiam Abbass), who left him in season two and is now “in Milan shopping, forever.” Maybe it’s Kerry (Zoe Winters) — the new girlfriend who introduces herself as Logan’s “friend, assistant, and advisor.”
As a reminder, here’s the latest on the business side of things in Succession-world: Logan is, pending a shareholder vote, selling Waystar to tech company GoJo, but retaining control of ATN, their broadcast news network. In season two, the Roys spent a lot of energy trying to buy PGM, a rival, but it fell through as the Pierces realized the Roys (and especially Logan) were toxic and about to be embroiled in scandal.
The thing is, money is love. The Roys are so rich that all they can do is create their own dramas, Icasruses who fly so high that even when they near the sun, the still wont fall to the ground, they will only hurt their pride. The only ways they can hurt each other are petty and foolish. They seem like literal dealbreakers to mortals like myself and (most likely) those who are reading this, but they are just immature shows of ego in expensive labels and at ritzy vistas.
“If we’re good, we’re good,” Logan responded cryptically, distracted by the two huge deals looming over him and his company, Waystar Royco: The overall sale of the media titan to tech mogul Lukas Matsson, and his long-simmering dream to acquire the very Dow Jones-like Pierce Global Media, which obviously echoes Rupert Murdoch’s real-life pursuit and eventual acquisition of the Wall Street Journal’s parent company in 2007, putting a prestige institution under the stewardship of a ruthless tabloid pirate.
As usual in the world of succession, the “new gen Roys,” as Kendall referred to himself and his siblings, appear to be mismatched in a contest with their father. Their proposed venture, called the Hundred, is exquisitely inane — an assortment of buzzwords and reference points posing as a new-media company. Here are the various ways it’s described to investors: “Substack meets MasterClass meets The Economist meets The New Yorker.” “It’s an indispensable, bespoke media hub.” “Greatest writers. Top minds in every field from Israel-Palestine to A.I. to Michelin restaurants. One-stop info shop, high-calorie info snacks.” At best, the Hundred sounds like a warmed-over, start-up version of Vaulter, the hip company Kendall brought into Waystar at an extravagant fee only to have his father force him to kill it like Old Yeller. Now Kendall would theoretically have the power to give himself all the runway he wants to set the greatest minds to work on high-calorie info snacks, but the Roy children are too distractible to build their own Vaulter from the ground up.
True to form, they immediately find another shiny thing to run after. Then Shiv gets a call from Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) that sets off the drama of episode one. He gives his estranged wife a heads-up that he’s just had a drink with Naomi Pierce (Annabelle Dexter-Jones), who is not only a cousin of Pierce Global Media owner Nan Pierce (Cherry Jones) — the Roys tried to buy PGM in season two — but also Kendall’s ex. Tom makes it sound like it was a date, all while claiming it was not a date. He’s toying with her a bit, which is understandable considering how much of a head start Shiv has had in the “play mind games with my spouse” department. It works, momentarily, until Shiv realizes what “a drink” actually means: Logan is trying to buy PGM again.
The negotiations turn into a bidding war between Logan and the children, though even Logan seems to have enough business sense to keep himself from overbidding. Nan Pierce fakes a migraine and considers every multibillion-dollar offer for her company too vulgar to even discuss, but her resistance to Logan over the years has always seemed more personal than ideological. Shiv’s assurances that the Roy children will not mess with the Pierce brand are all well and good, but she wants the best deal for her shareholders and her family. Put simply, she’s going to accept the highest bid.
When the kids eventually get the victory, it costs them $10 billion, because they don’t want to “nickel and dime it” by bidding, say, half a billion dollars less. “Congratulations on saying the biggest number, you fucking morons” is all dad can say after the negotiations are over, and it’s hard to know whether he’s mocking them for overpaying or steaming about losing the company he’d always dreamed about gutting. These are games all of them can afford to play, and their billions put them in the same arena regardless of whether they’re on speaking terms.
Logan, ever the doting father, asks after his children. “Have you heard from the rats?” he asks Tom. Tom lies that he hasn’t, and then in his typical unsubtle way probes Logan about whether their relationship might change if he and Shiv divorce. “Whatever happens, we’ll always be good, right?” he asks, making the mistake of so many Roy children in seeking reassurance from a family patriarch who purposely ensures they’re never on sure footing.
Just a whisper of what their father is up to, and the kids are back in his orbit, ready to abandon The Hundred to make a rival bid for PGM. They’re all addicts of the family feud and can’t seem to resist scoring on their dad. Roman worries about his siblings’ vengeful motivations: Kendall wants to get back at Logan. Shiv wants to get back at Tom. Roman, as usual, is the only one who “doesn’t want to fuck anyone.”
After Logan is informed there’s a rival bid for PGM, some of his verve returns — there’s work to do. Logan’s war council — Gerri (J. Smith-Cameron), Karl (David Rasche), and Frank (Peter Friedman) — soon suss out that it’s the kids, but how did they find out about the PGM bid? Tom tries to cast off any suspicion, but his tip to Shiv is probably going to come back and bite him in the ass.
Kendall, Shiv, and Roman travel to Nan Pierce’s home. Naomi, who is now rocking a wolf cut, tells them Nan needs five minutes because she has a headache. In other words, she’s spotted that the Roys will pay any price to destroy one another and plans on milking every cent out of it. Nan also worries that one of the new owners of PGM might be married to Tom, who heads its rival, ATN. Without missing a beat, Shiv says, “I’m getting a divorce.” It doesn’t seem like she’s announced it to anyone else. Kendall looks surprised.
The piece de resistance comes toward the end of the episode, Tom and Shiv reconvene in their penthouse for the first time since, presumably, agreeing to a trial separation in the wake of Tom’s stunning betrayal last season. Tom wants to talk. Shiv doesn’t. And that’s perhaps the fundamental difference between them: The Wambsgans-Roy partnership may seem like a wedding of convenience for a go-getting executive type like Tom, but of the two of them, he seems to have understood their relationship as a real marriage. “Do you want to talk?” he asks. “Because there are things I wouldn’t mind saying and explaining.” Shiv shares some of his sadness — they clasp hands wistfully at the end of the scene — but not the same desire and facility for real intimacy. Her father talks earlier in the episode about human interaction as “markets,” and she inherits his thinking. She’s selling her shares in the marriage market.
Tom has mostly been a buffoon on Succession; he’s a social climber who has weaseled his way into one of the most powerful families in America, and his usual obsequiousness is often played off as comic relief. But his hurt here is palpable, and his sincerity is clear. No one can doubt that Tom really loves Shiv, even if part of what he loves is her power and status — and maybe Shiv realizes now, when it could be too late, that what she feels is love, too. Why else would his betrayal still hurt so much that she can’t even talk about it? Tom wants to discuss things, but she shuts it down. She doesn’t want to probe through her feelings. “I think it might be time for you and I to move on,” she says, holding back tears. Tom doesn’t beg and plead. They both lie to each other, claiming they gave it their best try.
It’s a question Logan would be better off posing to himself. During his party, he escapes the apartment for a lonely evening walk in the park, his bodyguard Colin (Scott Nicholson) trailing behind him. At a diner, Logan tells Colin that he’s his best pal. He’s suddenly an old man bitter about the turning of seasons. “Everything I try to do, people turn against me,” he says. “Nothing tastes like it used to, does it? Nothing’s the same as it was.”
“Come on, roast me!” he orders. The king wants a jester. He turns to Greg.
“You’re mean,” Greg offers feebly. “You’re a mean old man, you’re a mean old bastard. And you scare the life out of folks, that’s your thing — you’re scaring me right now, and that’s why I don’t even know what to do.” Logan mocks Greg, pushing him to go further.
“Where are your kids?” Greg asks. “Where’s all your kids, Uncle Logan, on your big birthday?”
It’s a direct hit, but Logan knows how to hit harder. He throws Greg’s absent father right at his grand-nephew’s face. It’s just too easy. No one can wound Logan the way he can wound his peons, no one can beat him at a game he invented: When they go low, he goes to the ninth circle of hell. It’s a place reserved for very few people — and he wonders why he feels so alone.