(Bloomberg) -- When HBO’s Succession first aired in 2018, it was billed as a modern day King Lear. Patriarch Logan Roy, played by Brian Cox as a thinly veiled Rupert Murdoch, slowly lost his mind while his children and staff jockeyed for power. Throne rooms were replaced by boardrooms, and Gulfstream G650s stood in for horses, but the basic structure of alliances, treachery and internecine bickering was much as Shakespeare wrote it.
I haven’t read Lear since high school, but I’m pretty sure the show veered off-script well before the end of its third season. I don’t recall, for instance, the king’s children finally setting aside their squabbles to topple their father, and I definitely can’t remember the kids’ palace coup being thwarted by their mother.
But here we are, entering the show’s fourth and final season (it premiers March 26), with three of the four Roy children stuck in Los Angeles, which I believe is Succession’s shorthand for purgatory. It’s seemingly been several months since their plan to seize control of Waystar Royco, their father’s conservative media and entertainment empire, blew up in their faces. Licking their proverbial wounds but still, you know, billionaires, they’ve become entrepreneurs, conceiving of a terrible-sounding media company called “The Hundred,” which is billed as “Substack meets MasterClass meets the Economist meets the New Yorker.” Kendall (Jeremy Strong) has seemingly shaken his substance abuse problems and at least the outward manifestations of his mental health issues. Siobhan (or “Shiv,” played by Sarah Snook) has separated from her husband, Tom (Matthew Macfadyen), who stabbed her in the back last season in exchange for a promotion. And a subdued Roman (Kieran Culkin) just wants everyone to get along.
Logan, in contrast, is riding high in New York. He’s triumphed over his children and lined up a buyer for his company, while keeping the news division for himself. In the meantime, the younger Roys’ idiot libertarian half-brother, Connor, continues to burn money in a quixotic presidential run—keeping his 1% of the vote, he learns, will cost him at least $100 million in the race’s final stretch.
Soon enough the two generations of Roys are brought back together. Logan seems to genuinely miss his rebellious offspring, who for their part remain desperate for his attention. There’s also the inconvenient existence of the children’s company shares, which give them voting rights. When Logan sells the company, everyone will seamlessly transition from billionaires on paper to billionaires in practice—assuming they don’t get in their own way and ruin the deal out of spite.
And they might! Because one of the most astute aspects of Succession is that none of the Roys actually cares about money, at least not in ways they understand. In that respect, the show is a pitch-perfect recreation of the effortless, obscurely depressing realities of the global rich. Whether in Bel Air or the Upper East Side or the Hamptons, interiors are interchangeable blurs of travertine and parquet; suits are tailored, shirt collars are crisp, jewelry is perfect and ignored. Planes are always private and waiting on the tarmac—no scanning Kayak for flights or jockeying for overhead bin space. No one ever takes out a wallet or pays for a cab or actually touches cash.
Money, in other words, has basically been transcended: The Roys want more, not because they intend to use it but because there’s nothing else to want. Only Logan—cynical, cruel and shrewd—has an instinctive relationship to the pragmatics of everyday life. And yet, there’s one brief scene where he finds himself grim and disgusted on a lively downtown sidewalk: Reality is only palatable from behind the tinted windows of a Maybach or the upper stories of a glass skyscraper. He might know what the hoi polloi want, but that’s very different from knowing how they live.
That’s partially why the entitlement of the Roy children is both explicable and absurd, and why the show itself has been one long, occasionally very good joke: Kendall, Shiv and Roman are utterly unqualified for anything, let alone running a giant corporation, but they unquestionably believe they’re destined for the C-suite. Who could blame them? Their entire lives have consisted of people deferring to their money and, by extension, to them. Princes inherit kingdoms, they don’t earn them.
Reality has an annoying tendency to seep through the cracks of even the most sumptuous interiors. Watching the younger Roys dance around tangible proof of their inadequacy has been the source of the show’s funniest moments. Left unquestioned, by the show’s first three seasons and by the characters themselves, is what might happen if they actually get what they want. Wasn’t it another of Shakespeare’s kings who warned us how uneasy lies the head that wears a crown?
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