It is true that redemption, positivity, and our better angels are nowhere to be found on “Succession,” HBO’s bitingly funny drama about the super rich and powerful. And they’re even harder to find during the show’s fourth and final season, which premieres Sunday at 9 p.m. Based on the four episodes available for review, the show’s last chapter will be as brilliantly sarcastic, as strategically plotted, and as crammed with betrayals and patricidal urges as we’ve come to expect from this TV monument of dark wit.
While Ted Lasso and his merry band of underdogs cultivate karmic glory, the Roy family continues to revel in nihilistic power-mongering. Unheroic to the core, they live in a world — like so much of the real world of politics and political media — where trust and truth are for suckers, and they lick their chops at the smell of weakness. Without withering irony and hidden agendas, the Roys are nothing, which is especially apparent as the endgame approaches and the fight for the throne — waged from grand ballrooms, private planes, and ginormous New York City apartments — grows fiercer than ever. The gloves, always off, have been cut to shreds.
When we last saw them, Kendall, Shiv, and Roman had banded together to prevent their father from selling the aging Waystar, an act that, like so many things these crazy kids do, is bound up with their unmet paternal needs for love and for respect. Alas, Tom told Logan about the plan, threatening the kids’ strategy and his already shaky marriage to Shiv. The season picks up before the board votes on the sale, with chaos and anger unleashed. The siblings remain as troubled as ever. Shiv (Sarah Snook) is, as always, more vulnerable due to her gender. Roman (Kieran Culkin) is still brutally honest, but is there still some allegiance to dad underneath the savagery? Is Kendall (Jeremy Strong) as pathetic and unequipped to lead as he seems? Meanwhile, Connor (Alan Ruck) is too deluded over his political viability to care about any of it.
The amorality of the “Succession” characters — not just the Roys but the toadies and flunkies buzzing around them — is the reason some viewers can’t stand the show. I’ve heard the complaint a hundred times or more from readers: Where’s the pleasure in seeing the worst of human nature on proud display?
My response: Villainy written and acted at the highest levels, as they are on “Succession,” is extremely entertaining. I will happily track these vile creatures until the end, which is likely to be bitter. The hotter the water gets — and it does heat up significantly after the first two new episodes — the more incendiary and amusing they become. I can certainly savor the goodness of more affirming shows, but I can also relish the facets of deception and narcissism on display in “Succession.” Scoundrels may not be aspirational figures for most of us, but a good scoundrel, shameless and hypocritical, can be a lot of fun. I don’t need a Krystle to appreciate a good Alexis.
This season, the struggles of the Roy children seem even more psychologically compelling. They are self-serving, and yet they haven’t figured out how to serve themselves a bit of peace. They are monsters, but they are monsters born of insecurity, children who were raised by a beast — and, as Logan, Brian Cox continues to be one of the beastliest dads in TV history. Among all the sharp acting on “Succession,” his stony performance has been particularly potent, a ripple of ill will that has spread over everyone involved in the story. He’s the model of cruelty the others are selling their souls to replace.
Starring: Brian Cox, Kieran Culkin, Matthew Macfadyen, Sarah Snook, Jeremy Strong, Alan Ruck, Nicholas Braun, J. Smith-Cameron, Peter Friedman
On: HBO. Sunday at 9 p.m.
Matthew Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.