‘Succession’ Season 4 Shocks Audiences, Dropping Its Biggest Bomb Yet
THIS POST CONTAINS spoilers for this week’s episode of Succession, “Connor’s Wedding.”
Logan Roy is indestructible. Logan Roy is eternal.
This is the ethos on which he has built his empire, and was seemingly the one on which Jesse Armstrong had built Succession. Everyone keeps making moves against Logan, and failing. His will is indomitable. His tactical acumen is unmatched. Even his age and relatively poor health seem like minor inconveniences rather than warning signs that the end is near. Logan will always win. Logan will always crush his opponents. Logan cannot die.
Until he does.
You may recall that in the Succession series premiere, Logan suffers a stroke on a company helicopter. Kendall and the others assume that whether or not he survives the incident, he will not be returning to the helm of Waystar Royco. In his absence, the power games begin. Instead, Logan inevitably comes back, somehow stronger than ever, ruining Kendall’s plans and setting the natural order of things right.
But the Grim Reaper is undefeated, and in “Connor’s Wedding,” he comes for Logan.
It is an incredible episode, designed to make the audience feel every bit as shocked as Logan’s kids are. It seems unfathomable that the show would kill Logan off with so many episodes remaining — and that the news would come so early in an episode in which he had barely appeared, last seen getting on the corporate jet right before the opening credits begin. This is why it works. We assume the episode will be about Logan once again harming his children through both inaction (skipping the wedding to fly to Sweden) and direct manipulation (bringing Roman back into the fold and making him fire Gerri), that the kids will keep plotting against him, etc. Their ability in the season premiere to steal Pierce out from under him suggested the dynamics had shifted a little, but last week’s episode in turn showed that Kendall and the others were as self-destructive and incapable of sticking to a plan as ever. So it’s no surprise at all that Roman is already back to doing the old man’s bidding.
But then the brutal surprise comes not long after we’ve arrived on the yacht where Connor and Willa are preparing to get married. Nothing in the pre-wedding festivities offers a hint of what’s about to happen. We’re reminded once again of what a thorough number Logan did on his oldest son, as we see Connor melting down over the wedding cake, because he associates all cake with the day Logan had Connor’s mother institutionalized. So he’s freaking out, Willa is once again wondering if the money will be worth everything else that comes with her terrible fiancé, Roman has fired Gerri and is once again trying to ruin Cousin Greg’s sexual escapades, etc. The usual stuff. Despite all the torment over the years, Connor still wants to believe Logan will be coming. For once, though, his father has a good excuse that will apply to all future social obligations.
Even this news sneaks up on us, as Shiv screens Tom’s repeated phone calls, assuming he’s once again trying to make nice with her when she’s not in the mood. Finally, while Shiv is out of the room, Tom tries Roman, Roman actually picks up, and Tom has a lot of news, none of it good.
Logan is very sick.
It seems very bad.
Someone had to break into the bathroom to check on him after Logan was short of breath.
Logan is non-responsive.
The flight attendant is doing chest compressions.
All of this adds up to a conclusion that Tom is too kind and/or terrified to say outright, and that puts Kendall and Roman into an extreme case of denial. It is a condition the episode seems to share. The camera tilts, as if the world has gone off its axis. And Logan is always just out of frame when we return to the jet, as if seeing him lying there, receiving CPR, would make this impossible thing feel real. The brothers attempt to follow Tom’s suggestion to say goodbye to their father while they still can, each being true to themselves and their dysfunctional relationships with Logan. Roman — who, only moments before, left his dad a voicemail that included the query, “Are you a cunt?,” along with complaints about being put in such a terrible spot with Gerri — pitches Logan on his own legend. “You’re going to be OK,” he says haltingly, “because you’re a monster, and you’re going to win. You just win.” Despite suffering physical abuse at the man’s hands, Roman has always been more affectionate and forgiving toward Logan than his siblings, and concludes by claiming that Logan is a good dad, who did a good job. Kendall, who has always felt the most fear and loathing toward Logan, and who remains largely trapped inside his own head as a result of all the psychological torment, stammers his way through goodbyes where he professes his love, attempts to bring up a list of past grievances, then stops himself and simply says that while he can’t forgive Logan, he loves him.
It is a testament to Armstrong’s writing, Mark Mylod’s direction, and the performances of Kieran Culkin, Jeremy Strong, and Matthew Macfadyen that this sequence is as affecting as it is. These are three trash humans, each going through various stages of grief about the impending demise of the worst person on the planet. Yet in the moment, it is impossible not to feel for all of them. Logan is a beast who turned them all into little beasts, but Roman and Kendall didn’t exactly get to choose their father, and they are still, after all this time, desperate for his approval, even when they know it is now too late to get it. And Tom, who can so often be cruel and craven and weak, manages to be incredibly gentle and empathetic as he has to give Logan’s children a play-by-play as he watches his father-in-law die. It’s not at all the expected choice, but it instantly feels like the right one, both for the character and to illustrate what a seismic event this is.
Then comes Shiv. My goodness, Shiv. You would not necessarily expect her reaction to this news to be the episode’s most devastating and powerful moment, and yet it is. While her relationship with Logan is in no way healthy, it’s easily the least dysfunctional and complicated of the four kids. Logan has never wanted or expected Shiv to succeed him, and this hurts her deeply, but despite this, they get along in a way that none of her brothers really do. She does not exactly like him, as we saw when she unloaded on him at the karaoke bar in “Rehearsal,” but nor does she fear or feel tormented by him in the same way. So her grief is not guarded or uncertain in the way it is for Roman and Kendall. She just lets all of the fear and the pain out at once, and it is extraordinary to watch Sarah Snook hold nothing back on that phone call scene(*). And even before she gets on the phone, we watch her have to race through the stages of grief — “No, I can’t have that,” she croaks upon realizing that Logan has likely died before she can talk to him — in an even more painful manner than we saw with her brothers.
(*) Snook spoke with Rolling Stone about filming that scene, and the whole episode, including the fact that Mylod had her, Culkin, Strong, and Alan Ruck film a 30-minute continuous take of the yacht sequence, on top of shooting it in pieces, just to see what their performances would be like if they were doing the full thing in order without breaks.
If Succession is a black comedy first and foremost, Armstrong and company recognize the gravity of this situation and lean into that tone. There are still bits of comic business, like Cousin Greg nearly blurting out the truth about Logan to his wedding date(*), or Karolina coldly asking Kerry to leave the room while Kerry is in the middle of a breakdown over the sudden death of her lover and patron. But characters like Frank and Karl are, like Tom, completely serious, rather than frustrated clowns forever dancing to Logan’s tune.
(*) On the one hand, you might wonder why Tom would entrust this highly sensitive news to a public idiot like Cousin Greg. On the other, he is desperate to get those files deleted before there is potentially some kind of company-wide lockdown in the wake of Logan’s death, and Tom is not particularly bright himself. And he’s in shock over losing, as he puts it, his protector. The two of them betrayed the rest of the family — including Tom’s wife! — to side with Logan. Now he’s gone, and Tom is just self-aware enough to recognize how fucked they now are.
Between their enormous wealth and the emotional abuse and manipulation they’ve suffered from Logan, the siblings often do not know how to behave like ordinary human beings. One of the most effective ways the series has demonstrated this is with how bad they tend to be at physical affection, because they were never taught how to do it properly. When Kendall told Shiv and Roman about his role in the cater waiter’s death last season, for instance, the most they could do for him is to put their hands on his shoulder and head. Here, we get Roman struggling to give Shiv a proper hug at the end of her phone call, and later Roman falling onto Connor’s arm before hugging his older half-brother.
Alan Ruck has to play the least showy response of the quartet, but Connor’s more muted reaction is just as awful, because it speaks again to what he said last week about growing up with a family that didn’t love him. And so much of all the siblings’ response is informed by that final in-person encounter with Logan. It’s not just that their father died, but that he died right after Shiv and Kendall tore into him for all the ways that he failed them — and on a stressful flight that was only necessary because the three of them were holding the GoJo deal hostage. And on top of that, Roman has the guilt about the voicemail, and the uncertainty of whether Logan listened to it. They want their actual final words to him to be more loving, even as they realize that it is really too late for that.
But at a certain point, the pain has to be set aside. There is business to be done — calls to be made and other maneuvers to try to staunch the bleeding that everyone knows will come when the news gets out. Once he is able to accept that his father is gone, Kendall recognizes how public and vulnerable their position is, warning his siblings, “Let’s not do anything that restricts our future movement.” Shiv is able to keep herself together long enough to deliver the official statement to the reporters at the airport. (Roman stays more in the background, though, trying to get sympathy from Gerri — who has functioned as both a mommy figure and an object of desire for him — and of course receives none of it. If she genuinely ever cared about him — and J. Smith-Cameron has always played that with beautiful ambiguity — she clearly no longer does after he did her so dirty on Logan’s behalf.)
If the episode’s title feels like misdirection to keep the audience from realizing just how pivotal the hour is to the entire series, it is also accurate. Connor and Willa do get married, while everyone else is over in New Jersey dealing with the body and the press. You could look at their choice as Connor finally accepting that he meant nothing to his father, and thus that his father’s death should not interfere in his big day. The image of the two of them, saying their vows in front of a tiny crowd that lacks anyone from his family, speaks volumes about how his entire life has been an afterthought.
For that matter, “Connor’s Wedding” lives up to the series’ title. Calling the show Succession implies that at some point, we will stop seeing people jockey to inevitably succeed Logan, but will actually watch one or more of them get to do it. There is a version of this season that could have kept Logan around throughout, rather than setting up Brian Cox to inevitably win a guest actor Emmy. But Logan is just too dominant a figure for any succession attempts to feel real so long as he’s still alive. In hindsight, his death was inevitable, even if none of us could have imagined it coming this way, this soon. And Armstrong and company made sure the episode was able to meet the moment, in part by demonstrating how the Roy kids were not able to do the same.
Kendall tells Shiv and Roman at one point that history is going to remember every single thing they did in the immediate aftermath of their father’s death. “Connor’s Wedding” feels like an episode that TV historians will be analyzing and praising for a long, long time.
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