Anthony Pantalone, Editor
Header image credit: HBO
HBO’s hit show “Succession” returned for its fourth and final season a month ago to much anticipation from viewers. To quickly sum up the premise, “Succession” is about Logan Roy, an aging patriarch and CEO of a global media conglomerate, and his children who vie for power against him and each other. The Jesse Armstrong-written show has received heaps of critical and audience acclaim since first airing in 2018—including forty-eight Emmy nominations and thirteen Emmy wins. Among these accolades were the Outstanding Drama Series Emmy in 2020 and 2022 and Best Television Series-Drama Golden Globe in 2020 and 2022.
If the copious amounts of awards and accomplishments cannot convince the casual viewer to tune in, there are a myriad of other reasons why a person should give “Succession” a chance. In my opinion, it is the best show currently airing on television. It follows in the tradition of other prestige shows in the “Golden Age” of television—like “Breaking Bad” and “The Sopranos”—wherein it continuously challenges the expectations of its viewers and crafts characters far more compelling than relatable. There is no other program on cable or streaming quite like it. Between the acting, scripts, and score, “Succession” has everything to offer to a viewer looking to watch a show above the rest Here are some more assorted reasons to watch:
Family Matters and the Cycle of Abuse
A major theme permeating throughout the work is the continuing cycle of abuse based on perceived hierarchies of power. These cycles can also be passed on from generation to generation. References are made throughout the show to Logan’s harsh experience as a child living in Canada with his uncle Noah. The details of this uncle’s physical abuse are never described in detail, but Logan’s back is shown to be covered in deep brutal scars that had been seemingly given to him by this relative as a child. With his own children, Logan likes to think of himself as better than his uncle, but his own abusive behaviors and manipulations have only continued this cycle in different ways.
The cycle of abuse passes down from generation to generation, and the Roy siblings are imprisoned by their own love for their abusive father even whenever they try to break free. With Connor Roy, the eldest son who was interested in politics at a young age, he deeply loves his father and half-siblings yet is repeatedly forgotten. His mother received both physical and mental abuse at the hands of Logan, and Connor is constantly perceived as a disappointment and embarrassment by his father. With the other three younger siblings, their father’s abusive parenting is best summarized in a remark by their mother Caroline Collingwood: “He never saw anything he loved that he didn’t wanna kick it just to see if it would still come back.” This assertion can be heavily applied to Roman Roy—who tries again and again to justify the abuse suffered at the hands of his father. Roman is even physically hit by his father during the second season and then the next episode acts like it never happened. The marriage between Shiv and Tom is built upon an incredibly shaky foundation of emotional manipulation by both parties. Shiv is incapable of ever truly loving or respecting Tom and therefore finds herself ready and willing to hurt him. On Tom’s end, his relationship with Shiv only began when she was in an incredibly vulnerable state—which has substantially aided his career. When the first season begins, the audience is also introduced to Cousin Greg, a newcomer to the company, and Tom takes out his frustrations and insecurities about his own marriage on this relative—furthering the cycle.
Nicholas Britell’s Score
Already an Oscar-nominated composer, Nicholas Britell delivers with the score for “Succession” his magnum opus. His dazzling, intense work on the first season won him an Emmy Award, and he has been nominated for the seasons two and three scores as well. The main theme for the show perfectly captures the essence of the show while evoking a specific mood in the viewer. During the opening credits, one hears Britell’s music and is reminded of wealth, extravagance, and the upper class. Particular highlights include his score for the final scene of the season three episode “Chiantishire” and the entirety of his work for season four so far—which sounds far more grandiose and again perfectly matches the tone of the final season.
Perfect Blend of Drama and Comedy
Again, while the show functions as a prestige drama, its comedic elements are so abundant that I would be remiss to not call it a comedy as well. So many different scenes and lines are either intentionally or unintentionally funny. The comebacks and insults offered by the characters are so sharp and genuinely witty—specifically Roman who is especially irreverent and played by Kieran Culkin to perfection. Entire characters are played off as a joke—an example being Connor and his political aspirations. Much of the comedy within the show comes from the Tom-Cousin Greg dynamic. Whether it is embarrassing themselves in front of Congress, talking about the “sog factor” of pizza, or worrying about a potential “attack child” breaching a panic room, these two are the comedic heart of the show.
I cannot sing any higher praises of the Emmy-winning performances in this show. Every actor in the cast consistently delivers. Brian Cox as the patriarch Logan Roy offers his best angry/abusive King Lear/Rupert Murdoch and has again and again been nominated for the Best Actor Emmy. Jeremy Strong—through his intense method acting—has captured lightning in a bottle with one of the all-time great television performances as Kendall Roy. For his work in this role, he was awarded a Best Lead Actor Emmy, Golden Globe, SAG Award, and Critics’ Choice Award. Sarah Snook’s performances as Siobhan Roy have only gotten stronger and stronger as the seasons have gone on, and I would be surprised if she was not the frontrunner for the best Supporting Actress Emmy for season four. Kieran Culkin—playing Roman Roy—is very similar to Snook and is reportedly being submitted for Best Lead Actor for his season four performance in this year’s Emmys. Matthew Macfayden as Tom Wambsgans recently won a Best Supporting Actor Emmy last year for his work on season three. J. Smith Cameron has also consistently delivered great work as Gerri Kelliman and was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Emmy last year.
One of the best things about this show is watching and growing attached to the characters. You could say that about almost any television show, but “Succession” is different. It’s a prestige drama that never wants to be taken too seriously, and the writing for almost every single character is indicative of that fact. Imagine you have a group of about ten or so people in a field, and that field is littered with rakes in every direction. Now, imagine every single person in that group says, “There aren’t any rakes here. I’m going to walk out and be CEO of a major media conglomerate.” And every last one proceeds to again and again step on rakes. And we laugh. And enjoy it. And love it. That’s what watching the characters on “Succession” attempt to do anything is like.
Kendall, to whom the audience is introduced as the protagonist, so consistently self-sabotages and self-destructs that he makes it look like a skill. Siobhan so desperately wants to cut herself off from her father and work in politics yet still feels herself intrinsically tied to the family business. Roman comes off as the sly sarcastic younger sibling yet in reality is emotionally repressed and desperate for love and approval from others to a shocking extent. Connor is the eldest unemployed son and needs you to know that he was interested in politics from a young age. Now, I want you to imagine a cartoon dog getting a pie thrown in its face. That sums up the character of Tom Wambsgans, and I am entirely serious. He is a big ball of insecurities, cunning, and repressed homoeroticism all bunched up in one man. Finally, Cousin Greg is our point-of-view character in the earlier seasons—an earnest naive twenty-something looking to coast purely on nepotism for a career despite his incompetence.