After Ewan Roy delivers an excoriating remembrance of his brother Logan in front of friends, family, and a Labrador’s pile of senators on tonight’s Succession — “It was a good hard take that you gave,” Greg hilariously assures his grandfather afterward — the Roy siblings are eager to present “the other side,” as if this were an episode of Crossfire or a Sunday talk show. Roman has prepared just such a tribute to his father’s greatness, summarized neatly on index cards that probably read like a heavily redacted Wikipedia post, sprinkled with happy memories that are tastefully manicured. Roman cannot bring himself to give this eulogy because too large a part of him has died along with his father, and no one will pass the baton to Connor and his “formally inventive” remarks. And so it falls to Kendall, who opts to put away his brother’s note cards and speak extemporaneously.
The speech is incredible, albeit plainly written by a man of sharper intelligence than Kendall, who lacks the poetry to offer money as “the corpuscles of life” and remains at best the lead singer of the “tribute band” Matsson so shrewdly labeled him and his siblings. Nonetheless, series creator Jesse Armstrong uses this speech to sum up his most important insights about America and Kendall himself, who keeps inching his way back to the show’s center. His take on Logan echoes his Uncle Ewan’s: Ewan says, “He was mean, and he made but a mean estimation of the world,” and Kendall calls him “a brute,” which feels not only more economical but more personal. Ewan put a country’s distance between himself and his brother while Kendall faced that brutality every day, whether he was playing the role of battered protégé, exiled addict, or corporate rebel without a cause.
The eulogy Kendall gives could apply broadly to the other colonialists and captains of industry who built this country through a “terrible force” of will that a person of conscience could never duplicate. From the snippets we hear of Roman practicing his speech, he was going to make the strongest argument on his father’s behalf: Logan’s greatness was tied to all the long-lasting things he made, regardless of how he went about doing it. That’s where Kendall goes, too, but he’s studied his father closely enough to understand that his vision and toxicity are intertwined, a God-like instinct to create and destroy at his discretion, without much thought as to who might be affected by it. One of the benefits of incredible wealth, as we often see in this episode, is that you’re walled off from the consequences of accumulating it. Here’s the key excerpt from the speech:
“He made life happen. He made me and my three siblings. And yes, he had a terrible force to him. And a fierce ambition that could push you to the side. But it was only that human thing — the will to be and to be seen and to do. And now people might want to tend and prune the memory of him, to denigrate that force, that magnificent, awful force of him, but my God, I hope it’s in me.”
Dear reader, it is not in him. It’s not in any of them. That’s the core joke of Succession. These failchildren have inherited none of the qualities that made Logan’s Waystar such a magnificent, awful engine for change other than a petty duplicity that inevitably bites them in the ass. We surely could not forget that Kendall, on that same day, lacked the force to stop his ex-wife from taking their children out of the city rather than attending their grandfather’s funeral. His threat to lay down in front of the car is comically ineffectual, as is his pissy request to meet with a family lawyer about taking custody from Rava. Those are temper tantrums. And when his longtime assistant Jess tries and fails to tuck her resignation later in the calendar, Kendall throws another temper tantrum, castigating her for losing the “extraordinary access” that no other employer could give her. Never mind that the most extraordinary access she ever had was witnessing the potential end of democracy.
With only one episode left, “Church and State” does at least have succession on its mind, with all sorts of maneuvering from the Roy siblings as they grieve the man who raised and razed them. Roman “fucked it,” as Kendall so bluntly and correctly puts it to him. His devil-may-care impishness on Election Night may have helped to serve Mencken a premature call, but he found a bad spot to expose his humanity. Breaking down at the mic is common and understandable for eulogists under normal circumstances, but Roman knew when he took the gig that his performance was important (“See Shivvy cry, see Kenny die, see Roman the showman light up the sky”), and he blows it. That gives Kendall a clearer avenue to take the helm on his own, which he’d planned to do anyway, but now he has to deal with Mencken, whose assurances about blocking the GoJo deal are suddenly murky, and Shiv, who is counseling Matsson to hire an American CEO to mollify the ostensible president-elect about the Waystar deal.
Maybe Succession ends next week with Kendall successfully persuading the board to reject Matsson’s deal or even increasing the company’s value so much that he buys out the Swede. Or maybe it ends with Shiv slipping into the CEO role, having proved herself flexible enough to abandon her principles and make nice with the fascist she once tried to avoid for a photograph. I’m terrible at guessing where TV shows are headed, but neither of those outcomes seems likely based on the evidence. The Roy siblings are all useful stooges for men like Matsson and Mencken — they provide nothing if not “extraordinary access” — but there’s nothing really binding them to an extended relationship with the kids, as their brief conversation at the funeral reception suggests. They can see as clearly as Logan did that the surviving Roys are “not serious people” — unimaginative, powerless, and feckless. If any of them were really up for the job, they’d have won that kiss from Daddy.
Then again, what will they have inherited anyway? Armstrong isn’t so caught up in the Roy family drama to miss the larger picture of what Logan’s legacy has actually wrought. The context for this entire episode is that ATN has sowed the sort of chaos that weakens a democracy that we shouldn’t take for granted. America is a young country and more vulnerable than we assume, which is what Matsson suggests when he tells Shiv, “You are nearly as mature a democracy as Botswana.” Both the Bush v. Gore decision and the January 6 insurrection were recent phenomena, and the fact that we cannot agree that these events were, in fact, bad for democracy makes the torching of an election center in Wisconsin a plausible straw to break the camel’s back. Watching Succession these last couple of weeks has felt terrible because it feels familiar.
For folks like the Roys, though, we’re left to wonder if it matters. The great privilege of being among the superelite is that the changing of the guard doesn’t matter: Your life will be the same whether Obama or Trump or Jiménez or Mencken are president. The chaos that consumes New York City on the day of Logan’s funeral is viewed from inside the limo, above the streets, and outside the barricades. The mourners are totally insulated from the world they’ve created. When Roman decides, in the end, to ignore those protections and take out his fury and fecklessness on the little people he holds in such contempt, there’s a little satisfaction in seeing the results. He’s the rare billionaire foolish enough to fuck around and find out.
Sad-Sack Wasp Traps
• Solid advice from Shiv about burying GoJo’s bad numbers via this vivid exchange with Matsson: “I don’t know. If you have a little dickie, maybe you don’t go to the nudist beach.” “A tsunami just came in and washed everything away. No one is checking the dicks.”
• Pretty clear why Shiv dragged her feet in telling her brothers about her pregnancy. (Roman: “If I see you breastfeeding, I am going to have to jerk off.”) And hilarious that her mother knows right away.
• Gerri answering her own question about how her fellow executives feel about Logan passing: “Stockholm Syndrome crossed with a little China Syndrome.”
• Fantastic episode for Marcia. After her icy return home following Logan’s death, she shows a little mercy to Kerri when Caroline brings her to the row with his other wives and mistresses. They share a knowing laugh about Logan grinding his teeth when he sleeps. And when she encounters a vulnerable Shiv at the gravesite, she also puts aside their bad blood with a touching acknowledgment: “I loved him very much. I miss him very much. He broke my heart. And he broke your hearts, too.” The two scenes are connected by Marcia coming to terms with the fact that she shared this man with other people, and they’re feeling her ambivalence, too.
• Ewan’s speech is wonderfully wrought, too, but the note about Logan carrying guilt over his sister’s death from polio stands out. “He always believed that he brought the polio with him,” says Ewan. This echoes an important line from Kendall last week about family and inheritance: “Maybe the poison drips through.”
• When Shiv gets her opportunity to step to the podium, she offers an anecdote about playing outside her dad’s office that’s perhaps meant to be a light joke about his fiery temperament, but doesn’t land what way. The key line flashes back to that moment at the family’s country estate when her father made a promise to her that he wouldn’t keep. “When he let you in, when the sun shone, it was warm,” she says. “It was warm in the light.” (See also: Gwyneth Paltrow talking about Jude Law’s narcissistic character in The Talented Mr. Ripley: “It’s like the sun shines on you, and it’s glorious. And then he forgets you, and it’s very, very cold.”)
• Everything about Logan’s tomb is amazing. The gaudy enormity of it (“Was he in a bidding war with Stalin and Liberace?”), the fact that he picked it from a dot-com pet-supply guy (“Wow. Cat food Ozymandias.”), and the stack of available spaces in the walls (“I wouldn’t say no to a top bunk”). Roman cannot get in the fun, however. He can’t even bring himself to go inside.
• Shiv and Tom, about his skipping the big event: “You would never have dared not to come to his funeral when he was alive.” “The thing about your dad is he’s lost a lot of influence over the last few days.”
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