Ready to reinvest in “Succession”? Skim the Roys’ portfolio to get up to speed in time for Season 4

On the verge of any new season of “Succession” premiering, taking stock of what the wealthy people who inspired the Roys are doing augments one’s appreciation for the show’s accuracy.

Let’s see …the Murdochs‘ cable news channel Fox News is the target of two defamation lawsuits by voting technology companies. The first, a $1.6 billion glove slap from Dominion Voting Systems is set to kick off next month. The second, courtesy of Smartmatic, seeks $2.7 billion in damages.

Who cares? At 92, Rupert Murdoch, who is thought to be the main inspiration for Brian Cox’s Logan Roy, has found true love for the fifth time with 66-year-old Ann Lesley Smith, his Kerry (Zoë Winters). Everyone else can f**k off!

Then there’s Peter Thiel, whose Founders Fund is said to have kicked off the run on investors pulling $42 billion out of Silicon Valley Bank in a single day, lead to its failure. The entrepreneur insists he had nothing to do with that, and we believe him! Just like we believe Elon Musk will make Twitter better, create self-driving cars that don’t kill people, and slingshot humanity to Mars.

But if you really want to appreciate where “Succession” re-enters the conversation, help yourself to this logorrheic spout from the former President and possibly soon-to-be indicted 2024 Republican candidate, in which he pats himself on the back for getting rid of the death tax on farms during his administration.

“[W]hen you do pass away, on the assumption that you love your children, you can leave [your farm] to them and they won’t have to pay tax,” he brayed. “But if you don’t love your children so much, and there are some people that don’t, and maybe deservedly so, it won’t matter because frankly, you don’t have to leave them anything. Thank you very much. Have fun.”

Nowadays we accept that the ultra-rich are as terrible as they are inevitable. They’re simply going to do whatever they want to do and get away with it. Or as Logan puts it, “Money wins.” Even if Dominion prevails the likelihood that Fox News will change its ways is miniscule, at best. Murdoch could pay off the damages out of his personal wealth and still be an obscenely wealthy man.

His “Succession” counterpart Logan, still the reigning head of Waystar Royco, may be even wealthier, has survived congressional scrutiny and dodged federal indictment, and is preparing to sail off into the sunset on a yacht freighted with gold from the sale of his media conglomerate to tech mogul Lukas Matsson (Alexander Skarsgård), who bears a passing resemblance Spotify’s Daniel Ek, but kookier. 

SuccessionAlexander Skarsgård in “Succession” (Photograph by Courtesy of HBO)

But if there is one comfort that keeps the poors warm at night, it’s the fantasy that true happiness eludes the astronomically rich. We like to picture them hollowed out and loveless, which is part of the reason the “Succession” merry-go-round could go on forever. Logan is a foul-mouthed devil, but he’s a clever and devastatingly hilarious one, and series creator Jesse Armstrong and his writers arm Cox with lines that hit like armor-piercing rounds.

“Succession” may have arrived in 2018 like an awkward beast unsure of what to do with its teeth but leaves us at its roaring apex, the finest of the best.

The deadliest he saves for his children Kendall (Jeremy Strong), Shiv (Sarah Snook), and Roman (Kieran Culkin), especially when they team up in the third season finale. When the blundering trio thinks they have the power to stop daddy from selling what they see as their birthright  and bust into the lion’s den, they suddenly find their figurative guns have “turned to f**king sausages,” as Logan cruelly teases.

Logan end-runs them yet again because, as he viciously bellows in their faces, “I f**king win.” It’s worse than that – this loss, the kids’ latest in a string of them, is courtesy of treachery delivered by Shiv’s obsequious husband Tom (Matthew Macfadyen). 

As “Succession” enters its fourth and final 10-episode season, Shiv, Kendall, and Roman refuse to cede any momentum, and neither does Daddy or the show. The show may have arrived in 2018 like an awkward beast unsure of what to do with its teeth, but leaves us at a roaring creative apex, the finest TV has to offer. When it’s all over but the crying there’s no doubt we’ll wish for more time with the Roys while appreciating that Armstrong and the cast are ending the show while its thunderclaps still shake us.  

Fortunately the scripts roll booming peals in every hour made available for review, all of which is best experienced fresh and with as little exposition as possible. All that needs to be said is there’s no dead space at these farewell parties, and each hour needs to be watched closely and savored fully. Before it all kicks off, here’s an update on where we left the Roys and the people (un)fortunate enough to be caught in their gravitational pull.

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Image_pSuccessionBrian Cox in “Succession” (Photograph by Macall B. Polay/HBO)laceholder

The first season of “Succession” drops us into Logan’s life on his 80th birthday and immediately shows him as a man so laser focused on expanding his empire that tending to family concerns is secondary at best. His right-wing network ATN is dominant but increasingly losing relevance in the digital age. 

His initial strategy is to embark on a takeover of ATN’s left-leaning rival PGM, the drama’s CNN equivalent that is also family-owned, by the liberal, erudite Pierces (the show’s send-up of the Bancroft family, which owned The Wall Street Journal before the Murdochs’ purchase). But the Roys’ first dealmaking attempt falls apart when Waystar Royco’s dysfunction spills into public view, in the form of a scandal involving their cruise line arm.

As loudly as Logan is praised for his business acumen and cutthroat style, his lack of wisdom with regard to grooming one or all of his children to take over his company continues to nip at him. Nevertheless, throughout “Succession” he can’t resist creating fresh gauntlets of psychological games masquerading as competency tests, although they’re designed to be unwinnable. By pitting Ken, Shiv and Rome against each other, Logan is convinced he can remain on the throne. Their imploded team-up in the third season finale proves him right,  he thinks.

But as the media titan greets another birthday and prepares to tie a bow on his corporate legacy by selling to Matsson, he may not have considered the wider ramifications of his heartlessness.

Recommended viewing: Season 3, Episode 9: “All the Bells Say”

Supplemental reading: The New York Times Magazine’s 2019 multipart profile of the Murdoch family.

Image_placeSuccessionJeremy Strong in “Succession” (Photograph by Claudette Barius/HBO)holder

One of the lingering debates about “Succession” revolves around whether Logan has any affection for his children, or if paternal love is merely a carrot he dangles to keep the donkeys moving forward. If that’s so, Roman’s probably the most susceptible to that bait followed by Shiv.

Kendall has it worst of all, since it’s obvious that Logan sees himself in his second eldest son, and may truly love him. But that only dooms Ken to a greater degree, since his father simultaneously expects the most of him and the least, bringing him to heel after he botches a hostile takeover in the first season. After that he punishes Kendall by kicking his legs out from under him whenever he experiences a smidgen of success, leaving him to take the blame, or tortures his boy by reminding him that he cleaned up an old mess of Kendall’s that left a young man dead.

If Logan has conferred any version of an early inheritance on his second born, it is some Timex version of resilience: the man takes a licking, even poops his bed, and somehow keeps ticking. Some slice of his survival instinct is flavored by the hope for redemption, and another part probably comes from a desire to successfully pull off the regicide he keeps bungling. But Kendall’s biggest curse is of his own making, as PGM’s former CEO Rhea Jarrell (Holly Hunter) observes in the second season. He’s a man who “has all the shots, but he doesn’t know when to play them.”

Image_placeSuccessionKieran Culkin in “Succession” (Photograph by Macall B. Polay/HBO)holder

“You act the f***knuckle, but you know, people like you,” is one of the most heartwarming compliments Logan ever bestows on his youngest and most twisted issue.

Nobody takes Roman seriously in the first season, until he moves into the hole left by Kendall’s defenestration when the opportunity presents itself. And while Waystar Royco’s COO isn’t especially  intellectually gifted – none of the Roy children are – he’s charming and blue enough to make moves based on ballsy instinct, which Logan appreciates enough to give him more apparent responsibility without functionally increasing his power.

But he’s also an entitled manchild with bizarre sexual kinks, including frantically throwing himself at Waystar Royco general counsel Gerri Killman (J. Smith-Cameron), which Gerri both encourages and discourages, using Roman to make her place within the company’s precarious structure more secure. Their secretive verbal dominatrix-submissive arrangement works well enough until Roman accidentally sends an unsolicited picture of his junk to his father. 

Because of this, when Roman sides with his siblings – who he hates, but he recognizes may be his best option for staying in the game – Gerri refuses to save him. She knows where the real power sits, and it isn’t with the boss’ horny failson.

Recommended viewing: Season 2, Episode 8: “Chiantishire.”

Image_placSuccessionSarah Snook in “Succession” (Photograph by Claudette Barius/HBO)eholder

Rhea also had Shiv’s number when she told Logan that his dear little Pinky thinks she’s smarter than she is. That may be a tad crueler than the reality, given Shiv’s reputation as a somewhat effective political strategist. But in the corporate world that means next to nothing if you don’t know the playing field or the game, especially in a company run by a man who has no intention of leaving his company to his little girl. 

Logan does make Shiv a verbal assurance that she would inherit the throne in Season 2, but if he were ever serious she blew up that distant chance by failing to keep her cool during a weekend with the Pierces. By inserting herself into delicate negotiations over dinner, Shiv nearly ruins the deal; after that, Logan leave her out of key meetings except when he needs a woman’s face to make the company look good in times of crisis.

To Shiv discredit, she complies on many occasions, including buying a woman’s silence to keep her from testifying before Congress about negligent labor practices on Waystar’s cruise lines, or standing beside a presidential candidate with fascist views to prove her loyalty when Logan endorses that Nazi. “Shiv’s character is neither myth nor aberration,” observed former Salon writer Kylie Cheung. “Rather, she’s the norm in a world of powerful women who gleefully screw over less powerful women to collect more power”.

Unwisely for her, she also chose her family and her own selfish needs over her husband too many times, never dreaming that her simpering Tom would ever turn on her.  

Recommended viewing: Season 2, Episode 5, “Tern Haven.”

ImageSuccessionNicholas Braun and Matthew Macfadyen in “Succession” (Photograph by Macall B. Polay/HBO)_placeholder

The two jokes of the Roy clan rose so high and so quickly despite their utter fecklessness for the same reasons remoras thrive in the meanest oceans – they know its better to stick to a shark than go against it. For a time, Tom’s loyalty was to the sleek beautiful predator he landed for a wife, until she cheated on him during their wedding celebration. After that Shiv continued to betray Tom in small ways, and bigger, eventually handing him to Logan to feed to the Feds.

Tom survives, in part, because he has teeth of his own and someone dumber to kick around in Cousin Greg (Nicholas Braun), the Greggs he breaks to make his Tomlettes. Together, they’re fabulous. Tom moves to classier cars on the nepotism train because he’s viewed as harmless, eventually landing the position as head of ATN News because he’s so easily fireable. Cousin Greg swoops along with him because he’s utterly forgettable, impressionable and fun to kick.

But when Shiv places a target meant for her on her husband’s back a few too many times, Tom realizes that instead of taking a bullet for his faithless wife, Roman, and Kendall, he’s better off standing with the firing squad, tipping off Logan about their ambush so the old man could outflank them. Greg, naturally, goes right along for the ride when Tom asks him, “Do you want a deal with the devil?”

“What am I going to do with a soul anyways?” the idiot answers. “Souls are boring. Boo souls!” .

Recommended viewing: Season 2, Episode 3: “Hunting”; Season 3, Episode 6, “What It Takes.”

Image_SuccessionJ. Smith-Cameron in “Succession” (Photograph by Macall B. Polay/HBO)placeholder

At any Waystar Royco meeting Gerri is the smartest person in the room, including when Logan is present. The Roy paterfamilias may have had the smarts and capital to construct his conglomerate, but Gerri knows how to play the long game, patiently enduring Roman’s juvenile goading and refusing to allow emotions to slip her up.

Nominally as interim CEO Gerri’s job is to serves the financial interests of the company’s shareholders, precisely as she tells Roman when he pleads for her help on his way to the guillotine. Her next words are equally true, which is that she doesn’t make any moves that don’t serve her interests. 

Gerri and Roman’s psychosexual dalliance is one of the filthier weird delights to emerge from the drama’s second season, a major sign of its launch to much grander heights than the show proposed in its uneven first. Presumably, though, that bizarre flirtation is finished, potentially leaving Gerri more securely placed within the corporate structure. Then again, the Roys are mercurial brood, so it’s better to expect Gerri to be more on her guard than ever. Roman harassed her, flagrantly and unapologetically, but he also protected her whenever he could.
Image_plaSuccessionAlan Ruck in “Succession” (Photograph by Macall B. Polay/HBO)ceholder

Logan has another son, his eldest child Connor (Alan Ruck) from a previous marriage. If you’re wondering why he’s only being mentioned now, it’s because Connor doesn’t rate.  To Logan, he’s a waste of genetic material. To his half-siblings, he’s a drain on the reputation whose only value is to provide relief. Regardless of how badly they’re screwing up, at least they’re not this guy. 

If Shiv, Roman and Kendall are lacking in common sense, Connor is downright useless. His only contribution to the family legacy is an aborted run for president on a platform that boils down to abolishing taxes. Beyond that he offers little more than a warm body at the table during Roy family gatherings and a meal ticket for his fiancée Willa (Justine Lupe), who accepts his marriage proposal with, “C’mon, how bad can it be, right?”

Nevertheless, Connor may be a living warning to us and the other Roys as to what can happen to someone who is wealthy, unencumbered by responsibility, and emotionally abandoned. But considering how miserably Shiv, Roman and Kendall fare under their father’s attention, he may end up being in the best situation of all. 

Recommended viewing: Season 1, Episode 7: “Austerlitz” 

“Succession” returns for its fourth season at 9 p.m. Sunday, March 26 on HBO.

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