The title Succession has been a tease, if not a running joke, from the very beginning of the series — like Game of Thrones as a devilishly sadistic round of musical chairs. Which one of Logan Roy’s three relevant children will take over his media empire after he dies? (Or will Cousin Greg bumble his way to the top like Dennis Price killing off the eight Alec Guinnesses between him and the Duke D’Ascoyne in Kind Hearts and Coronets?) That’s the question that obsesses Kendall, Shiv, and Roman enough to drive the rivalry between them. And it’s what we’ve been asking, too, reasonably expecting an answer by the end of this fourth and final season. But now, even though we’ll discover — in the short- and long-term — who will take over Waystar Royco, Logan won’t be the person making that decision. What’s more, he probably decided years before the show’s opening scene that none of his idiot children were suitable for the job. It’s just the big, fat carrot he dangled at the end of the stick.
He probably also assumed, like everyone does, that he would live forever. Throughout the series, Logan survived multiple health scares, from that first hemorrhagic stroke on his helicopter to the UTI that affected his cognitive function to the heat exhaustion he suffered on Josh Aaronson’s Long Island estate. He also survived multiple attacks from inside and outside the business, including at least three involving Kendall — the failed “no confidence” vote, the cruise scandal that briefly exiled him to Balkan airfields, and the kids’ attempt to sabotage the GoJo deal in last season’s finale — and hostile moves by Sandy and Stewy. All the while, he never had an actual plan for succession unless you’re inclined to believe that his family and his inner circle (Gerri, Carl, and Frank, basically) were perpetually auditioning for the job. Now he’s gone, leaving a power vacuum akin to someone popping open the capsule hatch in deep space.
The staging of Logan’s death is brilliant. He goes out without a big speech, surrounded by sycophants, not loved ones. The combined forces of “the best heart doctor in the world” and “the best airplane doctor in the world” could have never affected the outcome. He’d been teetering on the precipice of death for a long time — and surely had the resources to cheat it longer than a normal person — and it finally came for him as it comes for us all. And so we get the sad, surreal spectacle of the Roy children, gathered together on a yacht for Connor’s wedding, dealing with this crisis on the end of a bad cell phone connection, confused and utterly helpless, each taking turns improvising their last words to him.
And so the tortured relationship between a father and his children ends appropriately, with Kendall, Shiv, and Roman speaking into the ear of a man who isn’t listening. It’s a heartbreaking spectacle, even if you’re disinclined to feel much sympathy for the Roys, who use their media empire to pump familial toxins into the national bloodstream. The fact that Logan’s kids are still so terminally immature — even the profanity evokes adolescents who are abusing new verbal weapons — makes it all the more touching because they react as children would, with a raw, unprocessed neediness. Nobody on the plane wants to tell them they’re talking to a dead man, so there’s some confusion over the endless “heart compressions” that might bring him back to life. But it’s safe to assume that Logan is never conscious from the moment the call to the kids is placed.
The entire cast is up to the task, but Kieran Culkin is particularly devastating as Roman, whose recent realignment with his dad suggested a vulnerability that’s every bit as deep as Kendall’s but expressed through attachment rather than rebellion. And for all the back-and-forth about Brian Cox and Jeremy Strong’s conflicting approaches to the thespian craft, Culkin has quietly turned Roman into James Dean in East of Eden type, adding layers of melancholy and self-loathing to the expected arsenal of nasty put-downs and “quirky sits.” Roman’s denial is the strongest of anyone in the group — he won’t believe his dad has died until he literally steps onto the plane and sees for himself — but the moment that really stabs at the heart is his assurances over the phone. “You’re a good dad,” he says to a corpse. “You’re a very good dad. You did a good job.”
The implications of Logan’s death are so immense that they’re almost impossible to comprehend, which is the genius of detonating this dramatic bomb when it will produce the most chaos. The GoJo deal will be, in Karl’s words, “heavily fucking delayed,” if it happens at all. Logan’s related “night of the long knives” isn’t happening, either, despite Roman moving excruciatingly forward with his plans to fire Gerri. The remaking of ATN under Logan’s supervision is also stalled, which means that Cyd, another woman executive he intended to can, and Tom can resume their mutual cattiness for now. Logan doesn’t appear to have drafted any plans for the company in the event of his death, and so the free-for-all commences before his body has even gone cold.
In a simple, brilliant plotting device, series creator Jesse Armstrong, who co-wrote this episode, expresses all this immediate dysfunction with the drafting of a statement announcing Logan’s death. As head of public relations, Karolina thinks clearly enough to realize that the company needs to get ahead of the news and control the fallout. The kids are initially too freaked out to understand what needs to be done — Calm the markets?! At a time like this?! — but circumstances have neatly divided everyone into two separate parties: The plane people and the kids. The plane people are Tom and the three executives (Karl, Frank, and Karolina), who can actually run the day-to-day competently while the kids, with Hugo as their liaison, have to scramble to make sure their voices are included — their futures depend on it.
The kids ultimately do have a hand in giving the statement to the press, with Shiv reading off the PR-massaged boilerplate (“Logan Roy built a great American family company…” and “This nation lost a passionate champion,” etc.) for the scrum of cameras. In the remaining episodes, she and her siblings will have to fight hard for a piece of a “family company” that their dad did not bequeath to them or anyone else, as far as we can tell. One thing’s for certain: The market is not calmed. There’s a seismic dip in the stock price as news circulates, reflecting the investors’ (correct) understanding that Waystar Royco was a one-man operation.
“There he is,” says Roman at a graph that descends like a flatlining heartbeat. “That is Dad.”
Sad-Sack Wasp Traps
• Hard to overstate how badly Logan’s death weakens Tom’s position, and he knows it. He’s lost his “protector,” the man who rewarded his loyalty by giving him the ATN job that made Syd redundant and expendable and by helping him freeze his daughter out of access to the city’s best divorce lawyers. The news isn’t good for Greg, either, though both of the Disgusting Brothers have proven to be survivors in the past.
• Connor and Willa going through with the wedding anyway is a lovely touch and further evidence that Connor’s disconnection from the rest of the family serves him well on occasion. Those two stand a good chance of having the healthiest love relationship in the series.
• Tom and Greg are a buddy team that cannot be broken up, but Tom still likes to dangle Greg over the balcony whenever possible, like when he talks about the three or four “Greglets” doing things for him while the real Greg is not available.
• Roman’s attempted firing of Gerri goes about as well as Greg trying to let Kerry down easy over her lousy audition tape. “I danced us through a fucking thunderstorm without us getting wet,” she says in response to his wan declaration that Logan was unhappy about the company’s DOJ dealings. Past weird intimacies aside, Gerri has been sharp with Roman when it matters.
• “I do not want to see the internal qualities.” — Connor, upending the cutting-the-cake part of the traditional wedding reception.
• Roman on news that his dad’s heart and breathing have stopped “for a while”: “But that doesn’t mean that he’s dead, medically.”
• Incredible Tom line in reference to Kerry, the queen of inappropriate smiles, flashing one on the plane: “It looks like she caught a foul ball at Yankee Stadium.”
• A wedding day exchange between Connor and Willa: “Are you just with me for money, Willa?” “There is something about money and safety here, yeah. I’m happy. I’m not going to walk. Not today, anyway.” Of the three catastrophic weddings on the show—preceded by Tom and Shiv’s and Lady Caroline and Peter Munion’s — theirs is by far the most romantic.
• Kendall: “We’ll get a funeral off the rack. We can do Reagan with tweaks.”
• It’s a brief shot, but the look on Colin’s face is like a dog without its master.
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Scott Tobias will be answering comments in this very recap of Succession episode three. He’ll monitoring the comments for next 48 hours after the post publishes and respond to questions about the episode. Join the conversation in the comments!
This article has been updated to correct an error.