Legacy creator Jesse Armstrong recently announced that the fourth season of the HBO action drama will be its last. So it’s fitting that the new season, which begins Sunday, March 26, focuses like never before on a central theme: who will succeed Brian Cox’s monstrous patriarch Logan Roy as head of the Waystar/Royco media empire?
In the first quartet of episodes given to reviewers, the tone of serious business comes through in the sometimes silly, ever-shifting equations of loyalty, favoritism, and betrayal that have been so terribly entertaining since the drama series premiered in 2018. Although this formula did not exhaust the melting steam of morality, the question still arose of how many more combinations could be made from it before the pattern became tedious.
A more serious sense of completion does the trick. Along with maybe hints of decency from some of the Swarms. This doesn’t mean that Logan has abandoned his “fuck it all, all the time” attitude or speech patterns. Or that his kids, especially the crazy rebel Kendall (Jeremy Strong) and the provocative pervert Roman (Kieran Culkin), still don’t use their inherited toilet mouths to the point of hilarious anguish. Now they are much more pop culture figures than Murdoch supporters as they were originally meant to be, the Roy all seem a bit more reflective than we thought they could be, perhaps as a by-product of all the crap they put on themselves and each friend. through.
Of course, any newfound sincerity can be fake, as has happened many times in the past. But anything that turns Strong’s extreme acting method, so well-suited to depicting Ken’s delusional vertigo for three seasons, into compelling naturalism is welcome, whether the character is honest or not. Cox may still find Strong’s acting style “fucking annoying,” but Kendall isn’t as annoying as he used to be.
Though she’s still closest to the heart of this icy show, Siobhan (Sarah Snook) throws piercing word darts just as well as her brothers. Especially her husband Tom Wambsgans (Matthew Macfadyen) – when, that is, she’s not in palpable despair over the latest betrayal of a corporate weasel. With her fluid spontaneity, Snook remains the show’s most versatile cast member.
At the end of last season, Tom warned Logan of his childish scheme to block the sale of Waystar to Swedish tech mogul Alexander Skarsgard, Lukas Matsson. True to his nature, Logan took steps to remove the siblings from the company entirely. Season 4 opens with Kendall, Roman and Shiv wooing investors for a rival media startup called The Hundred, which Ken describes as “Substack, MasterClass, The Economist and The New Yorker” with typical misplaced grandiosity.
Despite such stupidity, along with ongoing internecine gunfights and mistrust, the trio act with a newfound purpose and even a swarm-like variant of respect for each other. With 48 hours to go until Matsson’s Waystar GoJo sale, the Kids (or, as Logan now calls them, the Rats) signed their resignations. There’s business sobriety, if not great financial judgment, in The Kids’ attempts to get back at dad while they’re all waiting to get their share of GoJo’s money.
The risky gambit exposes the sheer skill of both the ensemble cast and the team behind the lens. In one of the first episodes, Strong, Snook, and Culkin showcase their most profound and empathetic performances in the entire series. Complicated, often conflicting feelings lead to a gracefulness and behavior that we never thought we could display to these characters, while each remains true to its basic nature.
There are also pragmatic yet humane images of Waystar’s executive players: Peter Friedman (Vice Chairman Frank Vernon), J. Smith-Cameron (General Counsel Jerry Kellman, who doesn’t have time for Roman’s special needs yet), David Rush (CFO Carl Müller), Dagmara Dominczyk and Fischer Stevens (PR Specialists Karolina Novotny and Hugo Baker).
It all fits into the show’s excellent set of strengths: Machiavellian plot, comic rationalization, and withering insults. The entire gang is in a better calculating state, striving to survive at the business and emotional stakes.
The season could continue in several directions. If somehow Logan engineered his most powerful game of all, could Armstrong and company pull it off without the show’s entire audience feeling cheated? This may at least come close to what Roy would have done, but now that the younger ones have shown some tenderness and maturity, wouldn’t it be more satisfying to make these qualities the source of anyone’s ultimate triumph or downfall? Will Matsson become more like Elon Musk or Peter Thiel?
As always, one of the few things we can be sure of about Descendants is that we’ll watch with dismay until the bitter end.
Legacy season 4 premieres Sunday, March 26 at 9:00 pm ET/PT on HBO and 9:00 pm ET/6:00 pm PT on HBO Max.