Succession season 4, episode 1: For the first time, we feel something other than hatred for these narcissistic nitwits

Manipulation, backstabbing, a sex tape and a rare moment of tenderness kick-off the final season of this pitch-black comedy

Sarah Snook, Kieran Culkin and Jeremy Strong in the final series of Succession. Photo by Claudette Barius/HBO

Chris Wasser

Sometimes I have no idea what’s happening in Succession (Sky Atlantic/Now) until after it’s happened. Frustrating? Nah. It’s all about the chase. Just as Logan’s head-the-ball children spend most of their days trying to get one over on dad, I spend most of Succession trying to understand what the Roy kids are saying to each other.

Kendall (Jeremy Strong), the emotionally stunted prince of the tale, is especially good at bullshit. Our boy says things like “let a thousand sunflowers bloom!” when he enters a meeting. He describes the siblings’ clownish new business venture, The Hundred, as a cross between Substack, MasterClass, The Economist and the New Yorker (your guess is as good as mine). He is, by some distance, the most ridiculous Roy in the room. More ridiculous, even, than Shiv (Sarah Snook), who no longer bothers trying to hide when she is lying.

Shiv is reliably cagey about her commitment to the new business. But she’s not looking for a job elsewhere. Nope. Definitely not. She’s just had some “talks about talks”. Or something. And then there’s Roman (Kieran Culkin), the twitchy, twisted sidekick brother who tells his sister that her face gives him a headache. Never change, Roman.

Somehow, a show about deplorable rich people being horrible to one another ended up being the most unmissable screen event of our times. And now, after four seasons, it’s coming to an end. Is creator Jesse Armstrong right to bring down the curtain on his beloved Emmy magnet? Yes. Might he have squeezed another season out of the Roys? Probably. But where’s the fun in fizzling out?

We begin at another New York birthday party for loathsome Logan (Brian Cox), the fire-breathing billionaire patriarch who is about to sell Waystar RoyCo to Lukas Matsson (Alexander Skarsgård), the opportunistic CEO of streaming platform GoJo.

The “rats” (Shiv, Kendall and Roman) are on the other side of the country. At the end of season three, Logan found a way to remove his clumsy, calculating kids from the WayStar table. Kendall and Co lost whatever control they had in daddy’s business – and they’re not one bit happy about him handing over the family’s legacy to a bumbling tech bro.

The only child left in Logan’s corner is Connor (the brilliant Alan Ruck) whose embarrassing presidential campaign is in such a bad state that he has now asked his long-suffering fiancée Willa (Justine Lupe) to participate in a performative wedding parade beneath the Statue of Liberty. Apparently, it’ll improve his popularity. It’ll also cost him $100m.

Also lurking around the boss is Shiv’s traitor husband, Tom (Matthew Macfadyen), who jumps when Logan tells him to. Tom has convinced himself that, in the likely event that he and Shiv divorce, he’ll still be of value to Logan. Whatever happens, he’ll always have Cousin Greg (Nicholas Braun).

Tom and Greg now call themselves ‘the Disgusting Brothers’ (that’ll be on T-shirts everywhere by summer). The older one continues to manipulate the taller one. The taller one continues to out-eejit everyone around him. In one scene, poor Greg believes that he may have inadvertently made a sex tape in Logan’s house. This cringe-inducing debacle culminates with the poor lad telling Logan about what he got up to with his date in his granduncle’s spare bedroom.

Anyway, the important bit is this: the rats are set to press go on their media start-up when, suddenly, they learn that Logan is once again after Pierce Global Media (remember them from season 2?). Kendall, Shiv and Roman eventually decide that it would be so much more fun to get back at their conniving old man than to launch their own business. A bidding war ensues.

Later, Shiv returns to her New York apartment to find a needy Tom wondering if they can save their marriage. It might be too late. The scene ends with the two lying next to one another in bed. Neither is keen to move. They hands hold on for dear life. For the first time since this show began, we are inclined to feel something other than absolute hatred for these nasty, narcissistic nitwits. Well played, Armstrong.

A busy hour, then, but Succession makes the most of it. As a pitch-black comedy, it ranks among the funniest ever devised. As a tantalising boardroom drama, you’d be hard pressed to find a slicker tale about the oily, wretched mechanics of wealth.

The one-liners – the best of which are unrepeatable here – are as sharp as ever. The performances, too, are impeccable, and the Machiavellian plotting (the reason we tune in) will leave your head in a spin. There are no guarantees of where this thing will end up - but know this: Succession is officially at its peak. I believe we are on course for the mother of all finales.