(Note: this review contains spoilers for the third episode of Succession season 4)
It has happened. Before I begin a post-mortem of this week’s episode of Succession, I warn you that this cannot be a coy column, pussyfooting around the bush. There will be spoilers, and if you are not caught up with the series, then, to use the commonplace phrase actor Brian Cox has made implausibly iconic, “Fuck off.”
Connor’s Wedding, the third episode of the final season of Jesse Armstrong’s spectacularly savage Succession, takes an off-screen death—a death that has been in the offing not only from the start of the series but promised in its title—and traps the show’s characters and viewers in the same boat: We hear awful news, the worst news, and are scrambling to keep up, desperately hoping we have heard wrong, hoping some hope remains. We hope—since it has happened this abruptly and ignominiously, and because we haven’t actually seen Logan Roy keel over—that something may have been lost in translation.
Armstrong and his crack team of writers also catch us off-guard with the timing, by killing off Logan Roy with seven episodes yet to come, and furthermore, terminating him so early in the one-hour episode that it makes us think it can’t possibly be over. Not already. We are used to deaths that fade to black, with end credits sounding the knell. This abruptness leaves us viewers—and Logan’s kids, the Roy children—completely blindsided. Death isn’t known for knocking.
Connor’s Wedding is one of the most overwhelming episodes in television history and while I will sing its praises, before the kudos come the kerchiefs. The episode cut so deep it felt personal: In the last three years, I have answered the phone to hear my father tell me my mother has passed, I have had to call my father to tell him his brother has passed, and, months later, I have stood by a hospital bed and talked and talked to my father without knowing if he could, in fact, hear me. This raw grief courses vividly through this in real time. The heart bleeds for the bereaved children, floundering and unprepared. Like Logan Roy, my father is gone. Like the Roy siblings, I had to immediately start dealing with paperwork.
We bond uniquely with characters on television: We know them too well, you see, living with them over weeks and seasons, as actors’ hairlines recede and waistbands expand, and characters inevitably marry or kill one another. There is an intimacy in the way we can literally finish their sentences. Their losses sting. I could see my grief ricocheted through Logan’s confounded children: There is Roman Roy, wondering if he told his father he loved him; there is Kendall, trying to take charge of the way the situation is handled; there is Siobhan, refusing the news itself—“No, I can’t have that,” she says—and then wondering if her father can hear her. There they all are, sitting around a speakerphone, helplessly far from a man on a plane being given chest compressions.
Siobhan, played by Sarah Snook, delivers the sharpest cut—in a desperate instant, the daughter Logan called Pinky starts calling her father “Daddy”—and with that, living up to the name “Shiv”, she leaves us bloodied. She stands out among this phenomenal cast. Jeremy Strong is powerfully internalised as Kendall, who refuses to forgive his dying father—perhaps the most assertive the character has ever been—but the news he has waited for since the first episode of the series has hit him hard; When told by a faraway aide that it is probably over, Kendall swallows the news looking as lopsided as a stroke victim. Alan Ruck’s Connor wears his grief briefly, from a distance—“My father’s dead and I feel old,” he says after collecting himself—but he knows, like we do, having seen the three other siblings remember him unforgivably late, like an afterthought, that this is less his cross to bear than theirs.
Roman, played by Kieran Culkin, is in denial. The younger son who has always held out hope of fraternal love, the son eternally fearful of his father’s demise, can’t stomach Logan being pronounced dead when, as he says, technically accurately, “No doctor has actually seen him.” Shiv tells him that they all know their father is dead, but Roman is indignant as he falls back on the show’s boardroom-speak: “What am I, out-fucking-voted here?” It’s heartbreaking to see Roman rallying against reality, the way we do when we witness vitals falling, waiting for miracles that never come.
Director Mark Mylod keeps the action claustrophobic as he boxes in the stunned siblings, these great actors riffing off each other in monstrously long takes, the cameras unforgivingly close to what feels like a painfully private moment, thereby turning the viewers into eavesdroppers. Written by Armstrong, the episode batters us with insight after insight about the immediacy of grief, so much so that watching it feels—nearly—wrong. We should not be this privy to a family’s grief.
Yet it is also our family. When we watch a television family closely enough, we become part of it, thus we too have lost a patriarch. The unkillable Logan Roy has left a world in chaos, a family in flux, and a company on the verge of crashing. “That is dad,” Roman smiles as he shows his brother and sister a flat-lining graph—the only vitals we see all episode are the stock falling to $145. Succession began with Logan Roy chiding a son for attending his father’s 80th birthday instead of closing a deal, and the patriarch died while skipping another son’s wedding to finalise a deal. Always be closing.
It’s fascinating that the slaying of a monster should hurt in such an overwhelming way, that we are weeping instead of rejoicing. This should be credited to Brian Cox’s mammoth performance, of course, but it is also because loathing is more intense a feeling than we would like. We feel the bereavement even of those we can’t forgive. Dislike, after all, cuts both ways. Contempt breeds familiarity.
Streaming tip of the week
Australian dramedy Wellmania (Netflix) features comedian Celeste Barber as a woman with an excessive lifestyle suddenly faced with a major health scare. It’s a clever show, prickly and unexpectedly poignant.