Succession Just Delivered Its Most Terrifying Episode Yet

The show brilliantly deconstructed tech’s unruly optimism.

The Roy siblings and executives of Waystar Royco huddled around a phone
David Russell / HBO

This story contains spoilers through the sixth episode of Succession Season 4.

The human machine is designed for planned obsolescence. The hardware ages at predictable rates. The software degrades on cue. The system may have its reasons, but the experience, for the end user, is decidedly suboptimal. Fortunately, the children of Logan Roy have a solution. They found the killer app. It’s the one that will stave off death.

Tonight’s episode of Succession finds the people in Logan’s orbit still reeling from his passing—and preparing for the launch of Waystar Royco’s latest attempt to combat its own obsolescence. Living+, a Waystar-branded retirement community, will expand the company’s current portfolio of news and entertainment—“hate speech and roller coasters”—to include real estate. Viewers learn about Living+ from Logan: In the episode’s first scene, he looms from a wall-mounted television, snapping at staff like a Lazarus with anger-management issues. He is being filmed, presumably just before his death, to add his endorsement to the project: “I’m convinced that the Living+ real-estate brand can bring the cruise-ship experience to dry land,” he says. Later, we’ll learn one of the new brand’s taglines: “Gated communities. Infinite freedom.”

Succession, focused as it is on the Roys’ Murdoch-esque media empire, has typically aimed its satire at the failures of old media: the bigoted news shows, the sensationalist tabloids, the movies that serve as perfunctory vehicles for drab IP. In its fourth and final season, though, the show has expanded its gaze to include new media and tech. “Living+” offers its sharpest satire yet. It finds Kendall and Roman caught in a doom loop of ideation: fantasies of progress, unmoored from present realities. Through them, the episode considers the wayward optimism that too often plagues tech’s titans, leading them to mistake hype for facts, people for users, and money for a limitless resource. The Roys’ pitch deck writes itself: They will save their company by extending their customers’ lives.

Things start, as they so often do on Succession, with a very human failure. Kendall and Roman, having decided that they don’t want to sell Waystar Royco to the Musk-like mogul Lukas Matsson, try to sow doubts about his leadership abilities among the company’s top executives. They are unsuccessful. They pivot. The solution is obvious, Kendall concludes: To prevent Matsson from taking over, they simply need to stop needing his money.

“I have a pitch,” he says. “Unbelievable growth. Price-rocket. Drive the price—we make the deal impossible.”

Nobody has the heart to remind Kendall that “make a ton of money” is not, in the strictest sense, a strategy. But Kendall also has a plan—or, more precisely, an idea. During an earlier strategy session, while scanning some printouts of the Living+ marketing materials, a bullet point caught his eye. “Personalized longevity programs. What is that?” he asked the room. “Is that something?”

It isn’t, really. But Kendall is inspired. What if their real-estate brand could include life-extension therapies? Why not turn immortality into a commodity?

“I’m telling you,” Kendall later tells Roman, giddily, “this is the killer app: ‘Maximize your physical potential. Live’—well, not forever—”

“Why not forever?” Roman interrupts.

“Well, sure,” Kendall replies. “If not forever, live … more forever.”

The two, to be clear, have no immediate means of carrying out this vision. Nor do they know what the vision itself would actually look like. (Roman: “I mean, you know, get loaded onto a chip and fired up someone’s ass. Float around as a gas. Live in a tortoise. I don’t know.”) What they agree on, though, is that death is “bullshit.”

As always, Logan looms. The roots of the sons’ desire for a death-defying “killer app” are … not subtle. Their dad died; they wish he hadn’t. They’ve grown up believing that wealth is a form of exceptionalism—that it buys them a kind of immunity from the bodily humilities that constrain everyone else. Logan’s death turned the singular promise of their lives into a lie. They feel powerless against the magnitude, and finality, of the loss. Maybe, by extending the brand that Logan had approved, they could somehow undo his death. It’s irrational. It’s reckless. But so is grief.

As the sons scheme, Succession’s cameras operate in the mode of surveillance so common on the show. The lenses swing and zoom, implying voyeurism and vulnerability. The camerawork heightens the sadness of the scene, as Kendall and Roman try to mourn their father and market him at the same time. In its acknowledgment of an unseen audience, though, the intrusion also reminds viewers that the Roys’ whims have a way of becoming everyone else’s problem.

Kendall, in that earlier strategy meeting, described Living+ as what it really is: a plan to “warehouse the elderly and keep them drunk on content while we suck ’em dollar-dry.” He has now found a way to make the idea even more repugnant. He is treating death as one more market to be tapped, one more narrative to be controlled, one more piece of IP to be claimed and manipulated. He is taking one of the sorriest features of American culture—our habit of dismissing older people, rather than venerating them—and trying to turn it into profit. He wants to insist that the land-locked cruise will never have to end.

You might see, in the Roys’ gambit to sell “more forever,” the broken promises of Theranos, or the software entrepreneur who is spending $2 million a year to “reboot his body,” or the start-up that is “harvesting the blood of the young.” You might also see the life-extension efforts that are subjects of ongoing research in tech. (“Can Google Solve Death?” Time magazine asked in a 2013 cover story.) What Succession is more broadly satirizing, though, is the posture that puts the hype before the horse. “Living+” takes place in L.A., primarily in the gleaming, mood-lit environs of Waystar Studios. The setting is apt. Hollywood and Silicon Valley can be, at times, spiritually akin. Both put their faith in the reality-defining power of illusion. Preparing for the Living+ presentation, Kendall decides that he wants a Living+ model home constructed on the stage. A producer balks: The presentation is set for the next day. Kendall grins. “Hollywood, though, right?”

Kendall’s presentation, in some ways, works like an internet in miniature. It is casual in tone. It is very, very sure of itself. It puts on a good show. It obeys, through a plot twist, Godwin’s Law. And it takes for granted one of Logan’s abiding convictions: that people are best understood as creatures of markets—bundles of anxiety and desire, problems ever in search of solutions. The pitch, in the Roys’ world, takes on a kind of purity. It is aspiration stripped of everything else: hope unhinged, lucratively. And Kendall, on that stage, is both selling a new brand and rehabilitating an old one. Not very long ago, the “cruise-ship experience” that Living+ is based on was implicated in murder, assault, and other crimes not typically associated with a carefree retirement. But savvy marketers do not pitch facts. They pitch progress, gleaming and new. Kendall understands the same thing his father did: The future, wielded dreamily enough, can make the present seem obsolete.

This is also, as it happens, a principle of the industry the Roys are now trying to infiltrate. In Silicon Valley as in Hollywood, fantasy is a currency. It has to be. “Move fast and break things,” after all, is tenable only until people start paying attention to what is being broken. Kendall, in his talk, also spreads misinformation. To drive the pitch home, he uses that old footage of Logan—video that he has manipulated, using artificial intelligence, into submission. As the son talks, his father hovers, Oz-like, from the theater’s massive screen. The two briefly engage in uncanny conversation. This Logan, edited in post-production, eschews the hedged promises the real Logan had made; the deepfake professes his confidence that Living+ will double the parks division’s earnings. The audience is enthralled. Kendall is thrilled. Waystar’s executives are horrified. The lie, made public, is now a reality they’ll have to contend with. Hollywood, though, right?