Succession season 4 episode 1 review: ‘The Munsters’ marks the beginning of the end for the Roys
A spoiler-filled review of Succession's Season 4 premiere
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This review contains detailed spoilers for Succession Season 4 episode 1 'The Munsters', right from the beginning.
Let’s start at the end, because this is indeed that. There’s been some back and forth, for a while, as to whether Succession would be concluding with its fourth season. Creator Jesse Armstrong raised the possibility not long after Season 3 ended, though conceded there was a point during the writing of both previous seasons he'd decided they'd be the last. More recently again, when it finally came time to reveal that the HBO drama was winding down – announced in the New Yorker, which feels fitting in its way – Armstrong admitted that that hadn’t necessarily been the plan when they started. “The decision to end solidified through the writing” he said, “and even when we started filming: I said to the cast, 'I’m not a hundred percent sure, but I think this is it.'”
For all that, though, there’s something final in the air. It’s Logan’s birthday again, a deliberate parallel to the very first episode that gives the sense of a cycle reaching completion (has only a year passed since then? Sort of, maybe, don’t think about it too much). The end is clearly on his mind, too, as he talks to at security guard Colin about what might come next. “You think there’s anything after all this? Afterwards?” It’s fantastic work from Cox, where an unusually almost-vulnerable Logan proves more intimidating – creepier, even – than ever.
Also raised again is the possibility of Logan’s death. It’s been hanging over the show since the beginning – at different points, there were plans for him to die at the end of the first series, or even the very first episode – and the question of who the four children would be if their father was genuinely truly gone from their lives is maybe the last big idea left for the series to explore. (I’d long assumed Series 4 would end with Logan’s death, leading into a fifth and final series structured around his absence.) Listen to that news report at the end, though, about a family that suffers “a series of life-threatening injuries as a result of a brawl gone wrong”.
If it’s foreshadowing, it’s deliberate, pointed, and (too?) obvious – not so much leading you to a certain conclusion as, well, playing it in primetime broadcast news. What sort of show is Succession, and what sort of ending is it building to? Will someone die? Is it leading to something a little more Peep Show-esque, with all the Roys trapped in the same old patterns, miserable and isolated still in exactly the same way – always playing out the same old resentments in new patterns at different birthday parties and weddings and boardroom negotiations? Is it both: will any of the progress the kids might have made be eventually undone by Logan’s death, setting in motion the next endless spiral of schemes and betrayals?
For the moment, though, the siblings are united, in a way they haven’t been in years – if not indeed ever. Yet the back and forth over prices with Nan Pierce is essentially meaningless (and its conclusion telegraphed early – “What comes after nine?”), a game of one upmanship they blithely walk into just as easily as Logan does. Roman is right that he’s the only one not motivated by some particular resentment, but much the same is playing out in reverse in a different boardroom in a different city, Logan caught in the same spiral; for all that Kendall appears genuinely unburdened, and Roman newly matured, their being united doesn’t diminish the ways in which this is an echo of what we’ve seen before.
The biggest disruption to the status quo, really, is in the continued breakdown of Tom and Shiv’s marriage. After keeping them apart for the entire episode – and with the kids only ever confronting Logan over the phone – there’s almost a jolt to actually finally seeing them together. What follows – understated and repressed as it is – is some of Matthew Macfadyen and especially Sarah Snook’s best work on the series, as Shiv reaches for a divorce she doesn’t entirely want to try and protect herself from pain she doesn’t want to feel. But it’s clear on their faces, though, that the sad Tom and Shiv are without each other really is worse than the sad they get from being with each other.
NRPI (Not Really Particularly Insightful) Observations:
Of course, speaking of that sense of finality, there’s the question of Tom and Shiv’s potential divorce. The first episode saw Tom propose, and the first series finale saw their marriage: maybe, in the end, Succession’s big throughline is the beginning and end of that relationship?
The title of this episode, ‘The Munsters’, is a reference to a 1960s sitcom about a family of monsters, mashing up the classic 1930s Universal Studios monster movies with a suburban family sitcom. Think Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein meets Leave It to Beaver (or The Addams Family, even, a near-identical series airing at the same time on a different channel). In any case, the central joke of that show – an ostensibly monstrous family find themselves in a wholesome sitcom – is ironic when applied to Succession, to say the least.
‘The Hundred’ is pure nonsense, of exactly the kind these people would think is genius.
The preview screener didn’t have a news chyron joke in the opening credits; hoping that just means they were still writing it, and I can find it on twitter when I wake up.
Not for the first time, a stray line from Roman predicts the ending. Worth paying attention to any glib remarks he might make, really – does his “I’m the only one who cares about running a business” mean that, maybe, in the end, he’s the one who gets the business throne?