Succession Was Never Really About Logan Roy

6 minute read

Spoiler alert: This article discusses the events of Succession season 4, episode 3.

Succession was never really Logan Roy’s story, even though he was at the center of the conflict that gave the show its name. A protagonist has to be vulnerable and mutable and at least occasionally surprising. Logan, as masterfully portrayed by Brian Cox, was none of these things. Failing health aside, he was never going to voluntarily show weakness. Which also essentially guaranteed that, whether he’d admitted it to himself or not, he was never going to name a successor, because that would’ve meant ceding much of the power he wielded over not just his affection-starved children, but also his employees, lovers, American politics, and the public.

So it makes perfect sense that Logan’s long-awaited death, in Sunday’s excellent episode, unfolded almost entirely offscreen, as the ridiculous characters who had spent three seasons vying for his favor scrambled to figure out what was happening and how they should respond. Of course, he wouldn’t have died surrounded solely by sycophants like Karl (David Rasche), Frank (Peter Friedman), Tom (Matthew Macfadyen), and Logan’s self-described “friend, assistant, and adviser” Kerry (Zoë Winters) if he hadn’t been traveling across continents to see Lukas Matsson (Alexander Skarsgård) while the rest of the family was attending his oft-forgotten eldest son Connor’s (Alan Ruck) wedding. It’s a fitting demise, because it captures the whole point of Logan as a character: he makes monstrous decisions from on high and then leaves everyone around him to cope with the consequences.

Sarah Snook and Jeremy Strong in Succession Season 4, Episode 3: "Connor's Wedding"Macall B. Polay—HBO

The overarching symbolism of Logan’s death is spot-on, but “Connor’s Wedding,” written by creator Jesse Armstrong, also excels in detailing how each of the show’s true main characters receive and react to the news. It’s Roman (Kieran Culkin) who gets the mid-flight call from Tom after Logan collapses in the bathroom of his private jet, as flight attendants are performing chest compressions. This is significant in part because Roman has already secretly returned to the Waystar Royco fold—he has just, at the wedding, awkwardly fired his mentor/harassee Gerri (J. Smith-Cameron) on Logan’s orders—and in part because, well, Tom phoned his estranged wife, Shiv (Sarah Snook), first, but she didn’t pick up. It’s hard to tell if Shiv is more upset about her father’s death or how long it took for her brothers to alert her that it was happening.

At least they eventually thought to get her on the phone to bid farewell to their probably-already-unconscious dad. Minutes away from wedding a woman who’s been openly questioning her own choice to hold her nose and marry him for his money, Connor doesn’t even get that courtesy. It’s impossible not to think of his sad karaoke monologue from episode 2: “The good thing about having a family that doesn’t love you is that you learn to live without it… You’re needy love sponges, and I’m a plant that grows on rocks and lives off insects that die inside of me.” This is true of his relationships with Logan and the half-siblings he thanklessly helped raise. They’re too wrapped up in their own internecine power struggles to worry about Con.

Alan Ruck and Justine Lupe in Succession Season 4, Episode 3: "Connor's Wedding"Macall B. Polay—HBO

There are other sharp callbacks to previous episodes, like there always are on Succession. Remember the standout season 3 episode “Retired Janitors of Idaho,” in which a UTI-afflicted Logan blows up a crucial truce with Sandy (Larry Pine) and Stewy (Arian Moayed) over their insistence that the Roys give up their private jets? Maybe he should’ve listened to his board. How about the metaphor Tom chooses in congratulating his father-in-law on the Matsson deal, in the season 4 premiere? “You landed the plane, Logan.” Guess he spoke too soon.

More than anything, though, what I admire about “Connor’s Wedding” is the way it brings all of the Roys and their closest associates together in their fundamental confusion about how to feel and how to act in the aftermath of Logan’s death. For a while, on the plane as well as on Connor’s nuptial boat, there’s also confusion over whether Logan is definitively dead. Shiv, Ken, and particularly Roman’s initial refusal to believe that he’s gone is strangely moving; denial is, after all, the first stage of actual human grief. The specific variety of magical thinking with which they approach the situation, e.g. Ken frantically trying to source high-end doctors, is certainly unique to their super-rich upbringing. But the emotional turmoil Culkin, Snook, and Strong convey in those moments is universal.

Macall B. Polay—HBO

Throughout the episode, we see grief and tears mixed with corporate pragmatism and ruthless jockeying for position. In one call to Greg, a red-eyed Tom manages to instruct his errand boy to destroy evidence of malfeasance on his computer, express how harrowing an ordeal Logan’s death was, and declare that “people should know that I was with him.” The Roy children keep bristling at Logan’s underlings for drafting statements and gaming out how to play the morbid turn of events with Matsson, but they can’t stop fixating on that stuff, either. “We are highly liable to misinterpretation,” Ken cautions his siblings. “What we do today will always be what we did the day our father died. So let’s grieve, and whatever, but not do anything that restricts our future freedom of movement.”

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Are they monsters trying to behave like humans or humans trying to convince themselves they’re tough enough to be monsters? I think they’re both at once. You can see it in the scene where Roman and Gerri are alone together, after he’s fired her and his father has died (which renders that final whim of Logan’s moot). “I’m pretty sad,” he tells her, obviously angling for sympathy. “Yeah, well, the room’s all yours,” she stiffly replies, and makes her exit. Both are wounded, for different reasons, and neither wants to acknowledge the other’s pain. Let the obituary writers trot out words like titan and mogul. It’s this fundamental confusion over the meaning of personal relationships, over whether he or anyone else in his kids’ lives can ever be separated from their market value, that defines Logan’s legacy. “What are people?” indeed.

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