We need to talk about that Succession episode

We need to talk about that Succession episode

Warning: Spoilers for Succession season 4, episode 3 to follow. 

We didn’t really think that Logan Roy, the bellicose media tycoon at the centre of Succession, would get a tearful deathbed goodbye, did we? Jesse Armstrong’s series, while certainly soapy at times, is just not that kind of program. Blunt and mean as Logan could be, it’s fitting that his death — which finally came in season four, episode three — was just that, too: off-camera and ignoble and sudden, as so much death is in the real world.

Logan didn’t even make it to the penultimate or final episode of a series that has, arguably, revolved around him for four seasons now. Which is shocking in the best way, especially as Logan, so shrewdly played by Brian Cox, seemed to be gearing up for yet another existential struggle to secure his legacy. As it turns out, there will be no new Logan era at ATN, no protracted campaign to sell his company, no uneasy reconciliation nor ultimate disowning of his needy and vexing children. He’s just dead on a plane, having collapsed in a bathroom on his way toward another battle.

That’s certainly a more realistic end for someone his age whose health has been a question since the premiere of the series. Death is often quick and inconvenient, a sentence cut off without punctuation. There is something artful in Armstrong’s choice, then, a kind of Euro indie-film sensibility toward the comic harshness of the world. Logan was there one minute and then he was gone, disrupting (or, really, destroying) his eldest and most-mocked (but perhaps most loyal) son’s wedding as one last “fuck off” to his frivolous family.

I suppose one could look at this plot twist as a cop out, as damning evidence that Armstrong and his writers just weren’t sure how to close the loop on Logan. Some viewers will no doubt feel a bit cheated, denied some vindication or clear defeat that would have given Logan’s arc a satisfying conclusion. That’s an understandable complaint when so much time has been invested — how could such a huge part of the story run into a brick wall like this?

Well, one reason might be that now the Roy kids’ scramble will get that much scramblier. Without the common enemy of mean old Dad — and, yes, while dealing with some genuine grief — how long can Kendall, Shiv, and Roman stick together? We’ve already seen their briefly aligned interests starting to diverge, as Roman tentatively returned to the lap of his father while Kendall and Shiv got greedier about the GoJo sale. With the king dead, someone new must be placed in charge — but none of the other kids, nor presumably most of Logan’s underlings, know about the conversation between Logan and Roman at the end of episode two. Will Roman try to claim his undocumented bequeathment? There’s pretty much zero chance his siblings would honour that, right?

This is, perhaps, the ultimate chaos the show has always been driving at — the inevitable explosion that, yes, removes the physical obstacle of Logan, but creates more mess and instability than maybe he ever could while alive. As much as we’ll miss Cox’s fiery performance, we can hopefully look at this shockingly stark development as an opportunity for the show to boldly realise its endgame.

And what fine work it’s already coaxed out of the actors. The snap-of-a-finger upending of the kids’ entire world was beautifully rendered by Jeremy Strong, Kieran Culkin, Sarah Snook, and Alan Ruck. Perhaps never before on Succession have we gotten to see the Roy children in such frayed disarray, stammeringly trying to figure out the banal aftermath of death — what do we do now? — and confronting the strangest and biggest of losses. Their enabler, benefactor, rival, torturer, and, yes, protector is now gone; they have ostensibly beat him in at least a single crucial way. (Though they had nothing to do with that victory.) But who are they without the frustrating, shielding loom of their father’s shadow?

I’d expect that question to define the last seven episodes of the series, perhaps bringing the kids toward some kind of humane epiphanies or pushing them further into amoral cynicism. Maybe they can never fully escape Logan’s shadow, and that realisation will send them all spinning into Shakespearean ruin. The war of Succession may end with no Roy holding the crown, a noble house that cannot hold without its patriarch. If that’s the case, then I say all hail Queen Gerri, who narrowly avoided banishment because, well, the guy who wanted her out just dropped dead on an airplane. Maybe that’s the kind of dumb luck that gets you to the top in the end.

This article originally appeared on Vanity Fair.

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