This article contains spoilers for Succession’s fourth-season premiere, “The Munsters.”
We’ve seen Logan Roy in a Shakespearean rage many times, roaring with frustration or lowering his voice with cold, terrifying precision. But I don’t know if we’ve ever seen him as purely miserable as in the opening moments of Succession’s fourth season, on the occasion of his own birthday party. Not even when he was “piss-mad” from a UTI did he seem so ill at ease as when he’s surrounded by well-wishers and sycophants, in a scenario in which his only purpose is to smile and enjoy it. He can’t even make it the length of “Happy Birthday” without itching to leave the room.
It doesn’t seem to be the reminder of his advancing his age or his own mortality that discomfits Logan so much as the inherent requirement to be so fucking nice. Fortunately, for him and for us, it won’t last. Elsewhere, his three children—minus Conor, who’s preoccupied with trying to ensure that his polling doesn’t drop below 1 percent before the looming presidential election—are, for once, trying to build something of their own, a “disruptor news brand” called the Hundred that Kendall describes as “Substack meets MasterClass meets the Economist meets the New Yorker.” Succession’s satire of media culture is usually the source of its lowest-hanging gags, easy layups designed to be followed by a round of high-fives from long-suffering bloggers, but listening to Kendall confidently join incompatible ideas as if he’s redefining paradigms—“It’s like a private member’s club but for everyone”; “We have the ethos of a nonprofit but a path to crazy margins”—underlines how at sea the younger Roys are when they’re starting on the ground rather than making tweaks to a preexisting company. For all their massive wealth—and by the end of the episode, they will be tossing around billions with such ease that the show has to pause and have Roman remind us just how many dollars a billion is—they’ve got next to no ideas of their own.
In fact, it seems as if everyone is out of ideas. Logan, on the verge of selling his media conglomerate to a tech billionaire, plans to turn the proceeds right around and buy another, the left-leaning media company PGM, and when Tom gets caught meeting in public with PGM scion Naomi Pierce, he has to pass it off as a social engagement—and then has to make excuses for that excuse, explaining to his estranged wife Shiv that it wasn’t a date, which puts the younger Roys wise to the possibility that Logan is going after Pierce. (It doesn’t help that Cousin Greg is swanning around Logan’s party with a date “from the apps” who tags another Pierce in her Instagram post.) The news that Pierce is in play quickly pulls the kids’ attention away from their shiny new toy—“Maybe … fuck the Hundred?” Shiv offers—because the idea of disrupting old media isn’t nearly as enticing as taking it away from their father.
The difficulty of moving forward instead of regressing is a part of any family dynamic, even one less defined by abuse and neglect than the Roys’. But it’s also been an issue with Succession, which has been running low on plot even as it’s grown almost unbearably acute in its depiction of the slow-release poison in the Roys’ bloodline. When Kerry reaches out to the Roy children and tells them Logan would love to hear from them on his birthday, it’s not clear whether she’s making it up out of whole cloth or capitalizing on some passing remark (the chances that he actually asked her do so seem beyond remote), but it doesn’t matter, because neither side is willing to leave themselves open to injury by admitting they want anything. The kids won’t call Logan and he won’t call them, and Logan’s assistant/girlfriend/whatever Kerry’s attempt to bridge the gap having Logan text a request for a call (one that presumably she would be the one to write) just falls into the abyss. It’s not until they outbid him for Pierce—mostly by grotesquely over-leveraging their share of his still-unsold company—that he finally gets on the phone, and that time it’s only to say, “Congratulations on saying the biggest number, you fucking morons.”
Kendall compares the rush of starting the Hundred with his history of substance addiction—“I’ve smoked horse, and I need something super fucking absorbing in my life”—and there is something pathological about the way the Roys keep coming back for more, either seeking to acquire their father’s approval or demonstrate conclusively to him that they don’t need it, when they could just pocket their billions and walk away at any moment. Logan has kept them close but mostly by dangling something he’s never been ready to give, leaving him so alone that in the middle of his party he decamps to a diner with his bodyguard and proclaims poor, confused Colin “my pal … my best pal.”
That’s about as close to a genuine expression of vulnerability as anyone on Succession ever gets, which is what makes it so devastating when Tom tells Shiv, as “The Munsters” nears its end, that he is, simply, “sad.” Shiv was the one who wanted an open marriage in the first place, an arrangement made more explicit during their separation, but the idea that Tom might actually have gone through with it turns her vicious and spiteful when she drops in at their apartment unannounced. Tom suggests that diving into “a full accounting of all the pain in our marriage” might not be a wise course of action, but he does want to talk, or at least do something other than spit venom at each other. (Sex does seem out of the question, unless “I could see if I can make love to you” sounds like a potent come-on.) We’ve known for a long time, although never with great clarity, that Shiv almost fell apart once and Tom was there to keep her on track, and that’s been the core of their relationship ever since, even as they’ve found themselves plotting against each other. But that’s over now—or at least Shiv very much wants it to be. They might be the characters on Succession who came closest, at least at one point in time, to actually loving each other.
But the fact that the series is in its final season gives it an opportunity to act with finality rather than reshuffling the same old estrangements, and Tom and Shiv’s rupture is a harbinger that everything will not just keep going back to the way it was. The Roys have been broken for a long, long time, but they’ve always had a chance of putting themselves back together. Instead, they seem more inclined to ensure everyone around them is as broken as they are.