‘Succession’ Recap: Logan Roy’s Messy, Devastating Funeral
This post contains spoilers for this week’s episode of Succession, “Church and State.”
“Today is just about today,” Kendall Roy insists early in “Church and State.” He is trying to broker a truce among his siblings on the day of their father’s funeral — to push aside thoughts of the GoJo deal, of Roman getting a Nazi elected president, Shiv betraying her brothers, and all the other drama currently swirling around them. But today is never just about today, even for those of us without billions of dollars or the ability to make or break nations. Today is always about the events that led us to today, and the events that today will lead to. And it is especially about all of those things as Logan’s kids and everyone important from his world gathers together to officially see the old man off in his journey from this world to whatever may or may not lie beyond it. You cannot separate the past from the present from the future any more than ATN could manage a similar church-and-state divide while Roman was running amok with democracy.
“Church and State” wants nothing kept apart. It is epic and intimate at once. It brings back most of the show’s major recurring characters to say goodbye to Logan: longtime rivals like Logan’s brother Ewan, ex-wives and ex-lovers like Caroline and Kerry, would-be partners like Matsson and Mencken who only got to know him briefly. It gathers them all under the awe-inspiring stone masonry and stained glass of the church, and surrounds them with the chaos and tension of all the people protesting the election results. Yet in the midst of all these people, and all this spectacle, it is a tale of the three main Roy siblings once again trying desperately to connect and have each other’s backs, only to once again fail. Logan’s legacy is out there in the streets, in the burning rage of a nation he helped destroy, and it’s there in the church, in these children who instinctively resort to battling one another for supremacy. The son of a bitch would probably be very pleased to witness it all. (And not just because it would mean he wasn’t actually dead.)
The plan, as we’ve seen, has been for Roman to be the only member of the family speaking at the funeral. Connor tries and fails to get Shiv’s approval to deliver a “formally inventive” and perhaps legally actionable eulogy that Willa clearly wrote for him. But ultimately, four members of Logan’s family get up to speak, even if only three of them make it through their remarks, be they planned or made up on the spot. Those three-and-a-half speeches provide a sweeping and mostly accurate portrait of the man — why so many wealthy and powerful people are in that church, why his death is being cheered at least as much as it is being mourned, and why, even near the end of this long, strange, sad day, the depths of Logan’s sins remain so unknowable that Shiv Roy feels compelled to ask her father’s two closest employees, “How bad was Dad?” (Frank and Karl insist he was OK, all things considered, but after Shiv walks away, it’s clear they are lying to themselves at least as much as they are to her.)
The first of these speeches comes from Ewan (James Cromwell), who refuses to let his repugnant nephews, niece, and grandson bar him from the rostrum. Ewan is a complicated man, who vehemently opposed everything his brother stood for, and did, but who largely decided to make his opposition behind the scenes. Was Ewan, for all his loudly-stated principles, afraid of in some way endangering his own huge fortune? Did he believe that Logan simply couldn’t be stopped? Or was he just, on some level, unwilling to do public battle with his brother? His eulogy offers some clues. He opens with a pair of sad anecdotes from their childhood, starting with the two of them having to sit in complete silence for days when their ship’s engines gave out while crossing the Atlantic during World War II, followed by the story of how Logan blamed himself for their sister’s death of polio — and how their parents did not try to convince him otherwise. Is it any wonder that Logan would grow up to be a man whose affection only manifested itself infinitesimally, like crumbs to his love-starved children?
But Ewan has come not to praise his brother, but to bury him, in a literal and figurative sense. After working many of the mourners to tears, Ewan finally says the words we know he has always believed: That Logan has “wrought the most terrible things,” done so much to make the world smaller and uglier. “He made a mean estimation of the world,” Ewan suggests. “He fed a certain kind of meagerness in men. Perhaps he had to, because he had a meagerness about him. And maybe I do about me, too. I don’t know. I try. I try. I don’t know when, but some time, he decided not to try anymore. And it was a terrible shame.” It is at once an attack and a lament, though of course Kendall and the others can only recognize the first part of that, because even after Logan is just a lifeless body in a wooden box, they remain victims who have been conditioned to protect their abuser.
It’s the presence of that box that brings Roman to his knees. Earlier, we see him practicing his eulogy in his obscenely expensive palace in the skies above Manhattan. He has it down so cold that he can toggle between the prepared remarks and juvenile self-flattery, like when he brags, “Bow down to me. I selected the president.” But as the saying goes, great rehearsal, bad show. As Shiv likes to joke about regarding other areas of her brother’s life, when the moment comes for Roman Roy to perform, he can’t get up to do the job. He stands at the lectern, his voice shrill and halting, fumbling through his pink note cards, incapable of coherent speech, or thought, or anything beyond staring at the casket. He is finally grieving his father, but also still afraid of him, pleading for someone, anyone, to get Logan out of that box. If it wasn’t for his full-throated endorsement of fascism on election night, this would be among the saddest moments in Succession history. Instead, it reveals Roman once again as someone capable of being overwhelmed by his own feelings, even as he so rarely considers those of others. As another infamously abusive HBO parent once liked to say, poor you!
Mencken’s apparent victory had seemingly made Roman into, as he colorfully puts it to himself, “King Dong.” When he breaks down, his siblings are protective of him, but it also gives Kendall an opening, both to rebut the mean things Uncle Ewan said, and to finally claim the title of Number One Boy in front of his family, his peers, the president-elect, and everyone else who matters to him(*). It is perhaps dramatic license on Jesse Armstrong’s part to let Kendall — whose attempts at inspiring rhetoric generally come out as halting word salad, reflective of the small mind he is rather than the great man he fancies himself — briefly turn into an Aaron Sorkin character. But we should allow it for two reasons. The first is that Kendall’s improvised eulogy is the moment he has been waiting his entire life for, in some ways even more than the chance to run his father’s company. It is a chance to step out from the shadow cast by his father, to speak up for Logan in front of the only people his dad ever even pretended to care about, and to win their respect in a way he never could from Logan himself. A mother whose baby gets trapped under a car can get an adrenaline boost necessary to lift it up and rescue her child. In this case, Kendall is the child who is trapped — has always been trapped — but his 40-plus years of being Logan Roy’s neglected, scorned son have prepared him for this moment of superhuman oratorical strength.
(*) Well, almost everyone. Rava very smartly decides to pack up the kids and get the hell out of town to avoid the collateral damage of the post-election riots. Kendall, still in denial over the implications of choosing control of Waystar over the physical and emotional well-being of his daughter, is predictably outraged over this, and assumes this will give him the leverage he needs to get full custody — presumably right before he outsources all care of Sophie and Iverson to the hired help.
The second is that the substance of Kendall’s extemporaneous remarks says so much about both the man in the casket and the man at the podium, and about all of the people assembled to see them both. Kendall alludes to what a brute Logan could be, but when it comes time to highlight the legacy that Ewan tried to throw dirt on, where does he spend most of his time and energy? On the money. Because the answer to every question with these people is money. Kendall calls it Logan’s lifeblood and oxygen, and insists that this money made the world a better place, even though we know that it only made Logan’s own world more comfortable — if still never happy in any discernible way. All Kendall sees are the dollars that his father earned, and the things built with them, and considers that enough — and most of the people in the church would agree with him. But give Kendall credit for at least ultimately recognizing that Logan’s greatest strength wasn’t his intelligence, but simply his willpower — “that magnificent, awful force of his” — which allowed Logan to dominate anyone who wasn’t willing to take matters as far as he always was. Logan did unspeakable things to Kendall, and Kendall’s ultimate response is not to take offense that a father would treat his son this way, but to wish that he could be strong enough to do the same. As he acknowledged last week, the poison drips through.
Shiv impulsively decides to follow Kendall. It’s not for personal or professional glory, though she spends the rest of the day successfully maneuvering herself into the job her brothers so desperately want to keep. Nor is it a further attempt to rebut Ewan. Instead, Shiv just needs to talk about her dad, in a manner that straddles the line between Ewan and Kendall’s speeches. She simultaneously compliments Logan and paints an accurate picture of him as an emotionally distant bully whose desire to keep his family in darkness meant that the rare bursts of light felt like everything to her and her brothers. She acknowledges that Logan was “hard on women,” but then forgives him, insisting, “You did OK, Dad. We’re all here, and we’re doing OK.” It is a briefer eulogy than Kendall’s or Ewan’s, but perhaps the most vulnerable, to the point where we even see cold fish Matsson choked up listening to it. And it’s the one that seems the most human of the three — the most like something you might hear at the funeral for a man who did not regularly dine with heads of state and force his employees to play Boar on the Floor.
Because ultimately, Logan Roy was all those things: The frightened, grief-stricken child. The builder of an empire. The shatterer of worlds. The monster in the box. The figure to aspire to be, but also to fear. The dad who never knew how to be a dad. All of his multitudes are on display in those speeches, and on the faces of the people in the cathedral.
Armstrong and director Mark Mylod take great advantage of the episode’s super-sized running time, giving grace notes to nearly every significant character, some of whom we likely saw for the last time here. There is, for instance, that startlingly lovely sequence where Marcia, Caroline, Kerry, and Sally Ann (“My Kerry, so to speak,” as Caroline puts it) all assemble in a front-row pew, the four of them sharing an unmistakable bond that they can only properly appreciate in this context. And there is Jess finally deciding she wants off the Kendall Roy Express, and the way that it is so clearly because of Mencken, even if she won’t outright say it. Or there is Gerri openly asking the rest of the inner circle how glad they secretly are that Logan is gone, and accusing Karl of Stockholm Syndrome when he claims to miss him. Though the focus was always ultimately the Roys, Succession built such a huge and indelible ensemble, and this felt like a send-off for many of them at least as much as it was for Logan.
That incredible, heavy funeral sequence is followed by one that is so light it would almost be endearing if we weren’t still stinging from the events of the election episode. The siblings arrive at the mausoleum that Logan purchased from an online pet supply mogul — as Shiv amusingly dubs it, “Cat Food Ozymandias,” while Kendall is impressed with the good deal Logan once again made for himself — and for a few minutes are as at ease with one another as we’ve ever seen them. Shiv jokes during the burial service about how they expect Logan to get out of this one, which functions as an in-universe comment about how often they watched their father turn inescapable ruin into yet another triumph, but also as something of a meta-commentary about shows like this, where audiences and writers are always wondering how Tony Soprano, Walter White, Don Draper, Cersei Lannister, et al will wriggle off the end of the latest fishing hook that has snared them. It is the never-ending question of this kind of drama, but only until they end. Logan is gone, and so will Succession be after next week.
But “Church and State” has quite a ways to go after the ceremony ends, and the funeral truce right along with it. Kendall, still feeling his oats from the speech — and, just as much, from seeing Roman so humbled — channels his father more than ever before when he tells Hugo, “Life isn’t nice. It’s contingent. People who say they love you also fuck you.” Logan used to rule the world, and now Kendall wants to, and will make Hugo his well-paid dog in that fight. (Hugo, a realistic man with no pretensions of dignity: “Woof. Woof.”) Even when Kendall is at the reception at the St. Regis, and realizes that Mencken feels no loyalty to him and Roman whatsoever(*), and sees that Shiv and Matsson for the moment have gained the upper hand, he is not shaken. He makes like Logan and recognizes that the best way to motivate Roman is to make him feel bad about himself, playing up the humiliation of his recent failures until his brother is yet another obedient dog to sic on Shiv, Matsson, and the board. Like Logan, Kendall has driven his own family away in pursuit of corporate glory, and perhaps Succession will end with him attaining it, oblivious to how empty it is and how much it has cost him.
(*) See the lesson on scorpions and frogs from two weeks ago.
Or maybe Shiv ends up on top. This is certainly a successful day for her, between a well-received speech, her success with Matsson and Mencken, and even getting to have a relatively nice moment with Tom at the St. Regis. It is hard to imagine them reconciling after the things they did and said to each other in the two previous episodes, but here they at least seem to recognize that they will remain in each other’s lives forever, and will have to find ways to get along for that(*). (It helps that Shiv has to spend parts of the day interacting with the insufferable Caroline, and thus being reminded of the many things she does not want to be as a mother, or even as an ex-wife.) But the way the series is usually structured, Shiv is arguably doing too well here; for her to end up on top in the finale after her victories here wouldn’t quite follow the roller coaster pattern that’s been in place for her and the other two since the show began.
(*) At one point, Tom refers to being the first one in with Logan when he died. The phrasing leaves some ambiguity as to what happened on the plane: either Tom means he said his goodbyes right away, and knew that Logan was already dead before he put the kids on the phone; or that he waited until after the compressions stopped to say it.
And that is perhaps the best news for Roman, who otherwise has himself a real fiasco of a day, going from King Dong in the morning to ding-dong by nightfall — and thus putting himself in position for one last surprise reversal of fortune in the series finale. Mortified by his failure at the funeral — both for his own reputation and as the last thing he felt he could do for the dad he could never quit — and belittled by Kendall at the reception, all Roman has left to take pleasure in is drinking the tears of all the liberals rioting in the streets over the election whose results he largely ensured. If he can’t be happy, at least he can assure himself that others are more miserable, right? The cruelty is the point. Or maybe the point is for Roman to be cruel to himself — to inflict the pain that Logan used to cause for him — by climbing over a police barricade to get caught up with all the fleeing protesters. The episode has offered glimpses of the uprising in the background of scenes, or on ATN TV screens, with Tom at one point describing the situation as “a little bit Tianneman out there.” Now, though, Roman is in the middle of it, and so are we. At first, it is a chance for him to taunt the peasants more directly, but soon he is being shoved and hit and pushed to the ground, so angry at himself and the world that he shoves away the hand of a person trying to keep him from getting trampled. When last we see him, he is disappearing into this panicked, frenzied crowd, lost in his own pain even as he looks indistinguishable to all these people he hurt because he wanted to win at all costs.
Today is never just about today. But what an amazing job “Church and State” does of dramatizing this historic day in the world of Succession.