Succession Season 4 Episode 1 Review: “The Munsters” Returns with a Flourish
On the seventh day, the skies parted – and as the gods foretold, Succession reappeared on the airwaves, with the emotionally charged, vibrant “The Munsters”. However, its divine return is marked a bit by the recent news of season four being the final go-round for the Roy family (a decision I firmly stand behind, by the way), incidentally raising the stakes for a season premiere – which, quickly reveals itself as a mirror of the series premiere, with its twin backdrops of Logan’s birthday party and a major potential acquisition (with a touch of mortality thrown in for good measure).
All of a sudden, what is mostly a typical episode of Succession – albeit one existing in the wake of the revelations of “All the Bells Say” – becomes heightened, a vibe it seems even Logan Roy could pick up on as the brilliant 70-minute premiere played out. And although it keeps its cards for the nine episodes to follow incredibly close to its chest, Succession‘s season premiere is a great (if slightly subdued) catapult to kick off this final run of episodes – and in one of the most unexpected places imaginable, features perhaps the most powerful, emotional image of the entire series.
Months after Logan and their mother pulled the wool from their eyes, the prodigal children have… learned exactly fucking nothing about themselves. Kendall’s still flying around the world, making proposals about buzzwords, Shiv’s trying to keep her feet on both sides of every personal and professional line she can, and Roman’s sitting around firing off one-liners in a desperate attempt to be the logical one in the room (in his own backwards, special way, of course). As they discuss the new, ‘exciting’ and ‘revolutionary’ cross between Masterclass and Uber Eats or whatever the fuck they’re “thinking” up, Jesse Armstrong’s script smartly sits like a fly in the room, and watches as the three of them convince themselves into an idea they know is morbidly stupid – to stake their impending fortunes on acquiring Pierce, the very firm Logan’s spent three seasons pissing and moaning about.
As always, Shiv/Roy/Roman proves to be Succession‘s ace in the hole, as the three of them masterfully manipulate each other’s soft spots, both economically and emotionally. Of course, none of them are addressing the obvious thing the audience already knows – the only reason Pierce drew their interest is because they realized their father almost had it in his pocket. Like children, the Roy children want to play with their father’s tools, and are willing to immediately abandon any sense of creative function or values to chase whatever shiny thing is in front of Daddy; you know when Roman is suddenly the logical voice in the room, things have gone desperately off the deep end (I mean, Roman’s logic has led to… dick pics to Gerri and a failed rocket launch? Not a great track record).
As magnificent as those scenes are (once again, Succession‘s visual aesthetics and costuming are dynamite), they only comprise half the episode; the other half, is spent with the Logan Roy faction, at a birthday party full of fucking happy people and The Disgusting Brothers. It’s a difficult balancing act, to show two sides of a ping pong match where the net, ball and table are all invisible; it would be easy for “The Munsters” to begin feeling choppy, especially with Greg, Tom, and Connor (who has joined a new form of the 1%, in the form of his presidential polling) filling up additional space in Logan’s house.
Rather, Succession (and specifically, the editing team) treats this strange rhythm as its own structure of sorts, letting the overt narrative shifts (an offer goes out, a bit of information sparks between the two isolated parties) define the episode’s progression, in ways that help to tease out some of the show’s familiar themes of identity and legacy (my favorite is a small one, when Gerri runs away from giving Logan the news of his children’s Pierce bid – even the powerful are not above running as fast as they can in the opposite direction).
Of course, while the bidding war is the most important thing to the Roy children, Logan could probably give a shit less; sure, he wants the firm, but Logan’s mind is far and away, in the distant lands of existential dread. Though he’s not explicitly reflecting on the last time he had a birthday party and what happened, one can see it in Logan’s eyes as he talks to his security guard and “best pal” and ponders the one question he cannot buy an answer to – what happens when this is all over? (and the silent, deeper part of that inquiry: … and there’s no family around to see you off?)
It’s a question we’re all asking alongside Logan: with the Pierce acquisition being neatly resolved in an hour’s time, what are the dramatic stakes for this season? “The Munsters” concludes by reminding us the stakes of this game are only life and happiness themselves, and how we have the power to manifest and manipulate it, until our entire world breaks down around us. Hope does incredible things to human beings; it gives us drive and purpose, a sense of being – and as Logan recognizes, it blinds us from the cold, difficult truths of human existence, a road littered with betrayal, selfishness, regret… and at the end of it all, infinite nothingness, as least in Logan’s eyes (“I’ve goy my fucking suspicions,” he snarls while reading a diner menu).
Pair that with the episode’s final scene, where Shiv clings to any sense of control and Tom reluctantly searches for peace, and “The Munsters” is about so much more than just the Pierce bidding war or its resulting fallout. Succession, at its core, is about broken people trying to be loved (even Logan, whose gone from his third marriage to fucking the only employee obligated to take care of him): Tom and Shiv, in their incredibly broken ways, are poignant in their representation of this, of our desire to be illogical in the face of loneliness and uncertainty, and just how much connection is formed when two people are vulnerable with each other (even if everyone, including them, knows they’re not ‘meant’ for each other).
Snook and Macfadyen are always terrific scene partners, and this might be their best yet; from the dichotomy of their individual physical motions through the apartment, to the incredibly painful final shot of them reaching out for each other’s hands, Succession provides a powerful reminder of the toxic, disillusioning power of love and hatred – and how the right combination of it can mystify and confound us for a lifetime.
Again, “The Munsters” presents itself as a typical episode of Succession – but never in the Roy empire is anything clean cut. What “The Munsters” is, is an hour balancing the smaller and larger plot elements of its overarching story, with some particularly devastating character moments, elevated by the knowledge of this being the beginning of the end – something Succession and Logan Roy both know is imminent. What else can you ask for but these 70 minutes?
- Welcome to Succession season four reviews – or if you’re returning from season three, welcome back!
- Nice glow up, Willow! That poor woman is starting to realize what marrying Connor actually means, and believe me, that is something I’m keeping an eye on (given the images of the trailer, it’s no surprise there is a wedding episode this season!).
- “Let a thousand sunflowers bloom, baby brother!” – Kendall, being his father again (“Speak – let a hundred flowers bloom.”)
- Shiv, lovingly assessing her father: “He’s not a good torturer; he doesn’t have the patience”.
- “bit of a rummage” is one of those genius Succession phrases that is bound to enter the cultural lexicon… it’s not quite “boar on the floor” good, but goddamnit, it’s genius.
- “We must, each of us, do what we see fit.” An important quote to remember this season, methinks!
- “What comes after 9? 9B?” Shiv, killing it with negotiations as usual.
- Boy, nothing sums up the state of the American economy than “It’s worth what somebody will pay for it today”.
- Nan Pierce is a such a great profile of a very specific brand of supposedly ‘liberal’ billionaire. Cherry Jones, as always, is a fucking treasure.
- “Congratulations on saying the biggest number, you fucking morons.” Such a simple turn of phrase, but loaded with so much family history. A brilliant moment.