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The case for 'Succession' season 5

The case for 'Succession' season 5 Tom and Shiv at the end of Season 4, with Ken, Rome and Connor inset.

Count me among the hordes of Succession fans who regarded the season 4 (and series) finale as a triumph, and applauded showrunner Jesse Armstrong for sticking the landing. Also, count me among the untold numbers who have spent weeks refining a dream storyline that could yet be told after that ending. 

It's a very Succession-like situation — dissatisfaction and desire for control, even in the face of the inevitable end — and one that makes me feel like the worst kind of fanfic writer. 

So it was nice to learn I could never be as rabid a Succession season 5 fanfic writer as...Jesse Armstrong. "He just pitched an amazing fifth season, and another and another": that's Kieran Culkin in Variety on Armstrong's tactics to keep everyone guessing on the set of season 4. Culkin believed him. Sarah Snook had "very clear ideas" on season 5's contents until the last table read. Armstrong was conflicted in February when he told the New Yorker there would be no season 5: "I'll probably be calling you up in six months asking if people are ready for a reboot." 

So, in the unlikely event Armstrong does indeed change his mind next month and start pitching season 5, what would be in it? Why, if the finale tied it all up so well, was there still doubt in his mind? What formed the basis for all those "off the top of my head" season fives Culkin and Snook were blessed with? 

Only Armstrong knows for sure, of course. But as far as I'm concerned, there is one plot thread that is clearly dangling out of that neat ball of a final season. Pull on it, and the whole notion of "final" starts to unravel. A fascinating new battle emerges in a war that Succession had been setting up for several seasons. 

One word: Pierce.  


Pierce Global Media, owner of an array of storied left-of-center outlets, is the yin to Waystar Royco's yang. PGN is the sensible alternative to ATN's election-denying brain rot. Matron of the clan Nan Pierce is everything Logan wasn't: a calm, polite small-talker and big smiler. But she was every bit Logan's equal in behind-the-scenes maneuvering.

She lured the Roy family into wanting to buy her company, then pushed them away, then lured them in again — but them plural, them squared, Logan versus the kids, two sides playing for Pierce and driving the price up to a stratospheric $10 billion. 

The kids won that contest in "The Munsters," season 4's opener. So much has happened since then, it's easy to forget that Shiv, Ken and Roman are still on the hook for that $10 billion. They promised as much directly to Nan Pierce, in person, with witnesses. The Roy trio are supposed to be paying for it with their winnings from the sale of Waystar Royco to Lukas Mattson's tech giant GoJo, which happened when they failed to block it right at the end of Season 4. 

Given season 4's one episode per day structure, the Roy-Pierce handshake deal happened just over a week before the Waystar-GoJo merger. Nan and her family's lawyers have plenty of time to follow up, and no doubt they're leaving a decent period to let the kids grieve, because Pierce is classy like that. (Unlike Mattson.) 

But rest assured, the call is coming. This isn't like anything else in those episode-days that the kids were all in on then discarded, like their terrible new media brand The Hundred, or Kendall's one-keynote-only promise of eternal life or, god help us, caring about the presidential election. This one has legal teeth. 

Kendall, Shiv and Roman Roy in the Pierce mansion
The $10 billion promise. Credit: HBO

If the kids were to try to back down from their obligation to Pierce — perhaps on the grounds that they've, y'know, kind of torched their sibling relationship, possibly for good — they might soon find themselves in a similar situation to Elon Musk, who tried to back out of his promise to buy Twitter at the ridiculously inflated price of $44 billion only to have a judge force his hand

Still, we don't think Nan Pierce would need to get the lawyers involved. Because there is one member of the Roy clan who would welcome the distraction, the challenge and the revenge-based opportunities that result from purchasing Pierce. 

What's next for Shiv

Did you think the daughter of Logan Roy was going to stay meek and still in the back of that limo with her husband Tom Wambsgams, the new Waystar CEO? Well, yes, Sarah Snook's look kind of helped sell her defeat in that moment. But how long was that going to last? 

If we know Shiv, and we kind of do at this stage, she would leap at the chance to introduce more mind games into her marriage. Owning Tom's chief rival would allow her to subtly sow the seeds of his destruction during the day, while playing the dutiful wife (and soon to be mother) at home in that horrible beige apartment every morning and night. 

PGN under the Roy kids could start aggressively covering Waystar Royco's every misstep. It could go after Tom personally, using all of Shiv's inside knowledge, while allowing her a line of plausible deniability: "oh honey, they're journalists, you know? They go where the story is. I can't interfere with their independence, it's not like it's ATN!" 

Tom isn't the only man in her life that Shiv would want to bring low with her new toy. Let's not forget that she has really damning information on Mattson, the new owner of Waystar Royco, who earned a lifetime of enmity by screwing her over on the CEO position. Something else the investigative teams at Pierce's properties would be keen to look into: a rumor that Mattson sent packages of blood to GoJo's head of comms, Ebba. 

What's next for the U.S.

Meanwhile, there's the small matter of a a new president-elect. Succession season 4 leaves the result of the election ambiguous, but its final episode hints that a successful court challenge over the ballots burned in Milwaukee means that the Democratic ticket led by Daniel Jiménez will beat GOP authoritarian Jeryd Mencken in the end. 

That outcome makes the most sense for the story. Not just because Mencken would stoke his side's sense of a stolen election while gathering his fascistic forces for a rematch (shades of our reality), but also because Shiv would be a power player in Jiménez's Washington.

Jeryd Mencken leers while wearing a flag pin on his lapel
Jeryd Mencken: more dramatic if he isn't POTUS? Credit: HBO

As the co-owner of the most Democratic-friendly media organization, Shiv would find a lot of doors open to her in D.C. — including the door of Nate Sofrelli, Jiménez political strategist and Shiv's on-again, off-again lover. 

Resuming an affair with Nate, barely bothering to cover it up and yet denying it to Tom: this would amp up the nightmare of the Wambsgams-Roy marriage to levels previously unseen in the show, especially once the pair have a kid. 

Shiv's maneuvers might also drive Tom to finally, fully explore that simmering tension with Greg, his once and future underling. Tom's comparison between their relationship and that of the Roman emperor Nero and Sporus, a favored slave whom Nero castrated and married after the death of his wife, has yet to bear fruit. 

Succession season 5 would be an opportunity to dive in — and upend the expectations of Greg-Tom shippers. Because as great as they are together, a full-on romantic Nero-Sporus situation in the workplace has the potential to get really toxic, really fast.          

The broken brothers

Speaking of toxic relationships, Shiv could not claim her Pierce prize without the literal buy-in of brothers Kendall and Roman. You might think that their boardroom breakdown at the end of Season 4, during which Shiv decided not to vote for Kendall at the last minute and Kendall tried to gaslight Shiv and Roman about the death of that waiter in season 1, would break the siblings apart forever. 

And if you think that, you might not have noticed their pattern from, oh, pretty much all of Succession

Hell, it was just a few episode-days prior to the board meeting that Shiv was damned as a traitor for working with Mattson behind the scenes; then they supported each other at Logan's funeral the next day. That was in theory a truce, but also these kids have been through a lot, and have the short-term memories of goldfish.

No vendetta in this family appears to be permanent, because there's always one member who wants something from the others — and because Logan primed them for this kind of manipulation, there's a subconscious part of them that welcomes it.

That said, there would have to be a lot of manipulation from Shiv to get Kendall and Roman to buy Pierce with her. The threat of legal action if they back out would not work; indeed, if the way the brothers dug in their heels against Mattson is any guide, they would welcome a court challenge. The most effective tactics, and the most interesting from a story perspective, would be psychological. 

Kendall doesn't have to be the broken, near-suicidal wreck that we saw at the end of Season 4. In fact, it's more interesting if he isn't. What if he's actually done the work on himself that he needed to do all along — intensive therapy, rehab, a full public accounting of the way he helped Waystar mess up America, maybe even a tentative reconciliation with his ex-wife Rava and their kids? 

That would make it even more heartbreaking if Shiv pulls Kendall away from the light in order to seal the Pierce deal. She (and Nan Pierce, who would no doubt tacitly support anything Shiv had to do to get her $10 billion) have a secret weapon: Kendall's former girlfriend, Naomi Pierce.

Put the two of them together in the right place at the right time with the right amount of drugs, whisper the right quid pro quo about buying Pierce, and boom: Ken's off the wagon and back in the media game. 

And what of Roman? Last we saw, the most physically-broken brother (with a literal head wound!) was in the process of becoming the world's wealthiest barfly. But he too still has potential motivating factors, and it wouldn't take Shiv much digging to figure out what they are. Two words: dick pics. 

Gerri Kellman at a conference table
Fear her. Credit: HBO

Roman is afraid of Gerri, and the information she could reveal about their shenanigans, even if releasing that information isn't in Gerri's best interests. (If Tom got his way, she's still part of the Wayco Roystar team). Shiv may have to be pretty damn immoral to use this fear to manipulate her brother, perhaps by manufacturing evidence that Gerri's phone was hacked.

But again, she's Logan Roy's daughter. And Roman, more than any of them, is primed to come crawling back to anyone who cajoles him into action by shining the spotlight of attention Roman's way, just like daddy did. 

Seeing Shiv in the Logan position at last, effectively draggin her broken brothers around Pierce like pets on leashes, would certainly give us something new in the Succession world — while providing more than enough drama for one final season. The brothers would eventually realize they're being played, and begin scheming to bring Shiv down from her Pierce perch.        

Conheads, the sequel

Last, and as usual least, there's Connor Roy. If Mencken isn't president, Connor doesn't get the Slovenian ambassadorship he coveted as his reward for dropping out of the presidential race at the last minute. 

But must that mean Connor doesn't go to Slovenia? Quite the opposite. Sucked into Mencken's "stop the steal"-type election lie, egged on by Maxim Pierce (the advisor who keeps saying "my liege"), Connor could consider himself an ambassador in waiting. Visiting the country to prepare the ground for his ascendancy has plenty of dramatic potential — not least because it gets him far away from the tragic fact that his new wife Willa was looking forward to him not being in New York City. 

Once in Slovenia, a Connor subplot almost writes itself. The oft-ignored eldest Roy son is clearly open to manipulation, particularly from his "Conhead" fans. Any bad actors in this part of the world, be they East European neo-Nazis or Russian intelligence, could entangle him in their web by pretending to be enthusiastic local Conheads. 

Maybe he gets kidnapped, and his siblings have to pay the ransom; maybe he starts spouting propaganda and the Roys have to extract him. Either way, there is plenty of potential in the situation for Succession to do what it does best: subtle commentary on the state of our world, masked under layers of comedy and tragedy.    

Connor Roy looking off camera with a flag lapel pin
Connor Roy deserves a vacation. Credit: HBO

Given all that, would Armstrong have to ransack the cupboard for more subplots to fill out a season? If he does, there are a few more tiny loose ends to explore.

On the tragedy side, there's the palpable sexual tension between Mencken and Roman. Which, like the tension between Tom and Greg, has never been fully explored, and could go south very quickly, perhaps leading to an even greater political nightmare than the night Roman stole the election for him. There's Mattson, who isn't likely to sit still if Shiv sends the might of Pierce against him.

And on the comedy side there are characters like poor Peter Munion, husband to Lady Caroline and would-be stepdad to the Roy siblings, who had his precious cheese violated in the "meal fit for a king" scene. No doubt he hasn't lost an ounce of obsequiousness. 

In the end, however Succession season 5 may be nothing more than a dream. Armstrong, as much as he might be tempted to reverse his decision and make his own season 5 dreams a reality, is not likely to risk his beloved show jumping the shark. The chance to see what the Roys would do with the Pierce empire, as much storytelling opportunity as it offers, may not be quite as compelling as season 4's answer to the question posed by the title.

"Succession" also has the definition of "what comes next," of course. "We could go on for ages and turn the show into something rather different, and be a more rangy, freewheeling kind of fun show, where there would be good weeks and bad weeks," Armstrong told the New Yorker. To keep up a consistent quality, however, the story seems to require Logan Roy swirling at its center, alive or dead. "You think there's anything after this?" Logan asked his bodyguard Colin in "The Munsters." For both him and the show, the answer is: probably not.

Still, at least those of us who indulge in fanfic dreams can comfort ourselves with perfect visions of the final Pierce-Waystar showdown between the Roys on one side and Mattson on the other. So long as it is never actually filmed, season 5 can remain the best Succession season ever.