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What Logan Roy’s sad birthday party tells you about the new season of Succession

It’s Logan Roy’s birthday party and he’ll further alienate his kids if he wants to.

Brian Cox as Logan Roy in HBO’s Succession, wearing an all-black outfit with a black baseball cap and white beard.
Brian Cox as Logan Roy in HBO’s Succession.
David Russell/HBO
Whizy Kim is a reporter covering how the world's wealthiest people wield influence, including the policies and cultural norms they help forge. Before joining Vox, she was a senior writer at Refinery29.

Note: This article contains spoilers for several Succession episodes, particularly season four, episode one, “The Munsters.”

The first episode of the fourth and final season of HBO’s Succession finds us — not for the first time — at the birthday celebration of Logan Roy (Brian Cox). This year, it’s not clear who organized it. Not his wife, Marcia (Hiam Abbass), who left him in season two and is now “in Milan shopping, forever.” Maybe it’s Kerry (Zoe Winters) — the new girlfriend who introduces herself as Logan’s “friend, assistant, and advisor.” Or perhaps Connor (Alan Ruck), the only one of his children that he’s currently on speaking terms with, planned it. The party looks more like a work function or a political fundraiser than a birthday celebration — adult kids Kendall (Jeremy Strong), Roman (Kieran Culkin), and Shiv (Sarah Snook) are conspicuously absent, and we don’t recognize most of the people in attendance. And Logan is miserable. “Munsters,” he grumbles, eyeballing the guests. “Meet the fucking Munsters.”

It’s a not-so-subtle callback to the very first episode, which began at Logan’s 80th birthday. Marcia has planned a “surprise” party for him. He’s surrounded by his family. Even Kendall, who’s trying to close a media acquisition deal that he hopes will please his father, takes a breather from the touch-and-go negotiations to join the festivities. Of course, it’s not all sunshine and cake — when is it ever where Logan’s involved? At the party, Logan tries to steamroll his kids into accepting a change to the trust that will give his wife Marcia more power — but there’s no doubt that the billionaire CEO of Waystar Royco is enveloped by people who care about him and know him intimately.

If Logan is having a bad birthday in the season four premiere, however, that’s of his own making. In last season’s finale, Kendall, Shiv, and Roman tried to stop him from selling Waystar to the streaming video company GoJo. First, they tried to force his hand. When that didn’t work, Roman pleaded with him, invoking love as a reason why a parent who has all the power in the world might still stand down, show compassion, and not crush his children. “You come for me with love?” Logan scoffed ferociously. “You bust in here, guns in hand, and now you found they’ve turned to fucking sausages. You talk about love?”

In denying the possibility of his kids ever taking over the family business, Logan crossed the Rubicon. This time, the Roy children don’t even deign to show up for their beloved father’s birthday. On what looks like the opposite side of the country, Kendall and his siblings are strategizing for the launch of their own venture, a brand-spanking new digital media outlet called The Hundred that promises to be “Substack meets MasterClass meets The Economist meets The New Yorker.” A lot has changed since Italy and the end of season three, where the kids were left sick to their stomachs at the thought that their own father would lock up Waystar forever and throw away the key. They’ve all written resignation letters for Waystar and seem (somewhat) excited about starting their own company as they prepare to meet with potential investors.

Logan and Tom at Logan’s birthday party.
Logan and Tom at Logan’s birthday party.
Macall B. Polay/HBO

Succession has always been largely about the ruthless competition between the Roy siblings — scions of a powerful media mogul inspired by real-life media families such as the Murdochs — to inherit the top position at Waystar from their aging father. Kendall, Shiv, and Roman have each suffered a litany of betrayals, manipulations, and cruelties from Logan; trauma that would be worth it in the end, the children told themselves, if Logan chose one of them to follow in his footsteps. That all seems to have changed, perhaps irrevocably, in season four. (For a more complete backstory on the Roys, check out Vox’s pre-season preview.)

The trio, who are usually at each other’s throats, are suspiciously in sync. Throughout the episode they’re affectionate; they still rib each other, but it doesn’t have quite the same bite. They actually listen to what the others have to say, instead of waiting for the perfect moment to inject a devastating insult. “Let a thousand sunflowers bloom, Romie,” Kendall says early on — meaning, let’s throw all our ideas at the wall. It’s not clear if he recognizes that this phrase (attributed to Mao Zedong) is an echo of something his father said in season three, egging on his terrified advisors to suggest someone to replace him temporarily: “Let a hundred flowers bloom,” Logan tells them, though it underscores how little Logan actually listens to other people. The kids, on the other hand, might earnestly be equals in this new partnership and already look lighter now that they’re no longer under Logan’s thumb. It’s jarring to see and also a little sad — a glimpse of who these people might have been if they hadn’t grown up the way they had.

The kids bag a minor victory against their father

Then Shiv gets a call from Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) that sets off the drama of episode one. He gives his estranged wife a heads-up that he’s just had a drink with Naomi Pierce (Annabelle Dexter-Jones), who is not only a cousin of Pierce Global Media owner Nan Pierce (Cherry Jones) — the Roys tried to buy PGM in season two — but also Kendall’s ex. Tom makes it sound like it was a date, all while claiming it was not a date. He’s toying with her a bit, which is understandable considering how much of a head start Shiv has had in the “play mind games with my spouse” department. It works, momentarily, until Shiv realizes what “a drink” actually means: Logan is trying to buy PGM again.

As a reminder, here’s the latest on the business side of things in Succession-world: Logan is, pending a shareholder vote, selling Waystar to tech company GoJo, but retaining control of ATN, their broadcast news network. In season two, the Roys spent a lot of energy trying to buy PGM, a rival, but it fell through as the Pierces realized the Roys (and especially Logan) were toxic and about to be embroiled in scandal.

Back at the birthday party, Tom and Logan confirm that they’re once again close to a deal with PGM. This time around, things aren’t going well at PGM, apparently. Nan seems to have lost interest in running the business, according to whispers from her own family members. “Savages,” Logan says without a hint of irony. “They eat their own.”

Logan, ever the doting father, asks after his children. “Have you heard from the rats?” he asks Tom. Tom lies that he hasn’t, and then in his typical unsubtle way probes Logan about whether their relationship might change if he and Shiv divorce. “Whatever happens, we’ll always be good, right?” he asks, making the mistake of so many Roy children in seeking reassurance from a family patriarch who purposely ensures they’re never on sure footing.

Just a whisper of what their father is up to, and the kids are back in his orbit, ready to abandon The Hundred to make a rival bid for PGM. They’re all addicts of the family feud and can’t seem to resist scoring on their dad. Roman worries about his siblings’ vengeful motivations: Kendall wants to get back at Logan. Shiv wants to get back at Tom. Roman, as usual, is the only one who “doesn’t want to fuck anyone.”

Kendall leans on Roman’s penchant for mischief. “Just think about how fucking funny it would be if we screwed Dad over his decadeslong obsession,” he points out. Unbeknownst to them, they actually do have the upper hand for once. Logan is downright despondent over his absentee children and also angry that he misses their presence.

Back at the party, Kerry calls Roman, and the kids are absolutely vicious to her, but she suffers the humiliation of asking them to give their father a call. They want their father to call them, but that’s unlikely. Kerry says she could maybe get him to text a request for a call. It’s just one more business-like negotiation to the Roys, yet another game of one-upmanship.

Shiv, Roman, and Kendall finally get on the phone with their father.
Shiv, Roman, and Kendall finally get on the phone with their father.
Claudette Barius/HBO

After Logan is informed there’s a rival bid for PGM, some of his verve returns — there’s work to do. Logan’s war council — Gerri (J. Smith-Cameron), Karl (David Rasche), and Frank (Peter Friedman) — soon suss out that it’s the kids, but how did they find out about the PGM bid? Tom tries to cast off any suspicion, but his tip to Shiv is probably going to come back and bite him in the ass.

Kendall, Shiv, and Roman travel to Nan Pierce’s home. Naomi, who is now rocking a wolf cut, tells them Nan needs five minutes because she has a headache. In other words, she’s spotted that the Roys will pay any price to destroy one another and plans on milking every cent out of it. Nan also worries that one of the new owners of PGM might be married to Tom, who heads its rival, ATN. Without missing a beat, Shiv says, “I’m getting a divorce.” It doesn’t seem like she’s announced it to anyone else. Kendall looks surprised.

The bidding war for PGM begins, with each side trying to figure out how high the other has gone. Logan low-balls. The kids go much higher, offering a conversation-ending number: $10 billion. (“Eight, nine,” Nan hints earlier in the episode, “who knows what someone will say next?” “9b?” Roman guesses.) Logan is told that Nan is not accepting any more bids. “Tell them I’ll go up,” Logan says. “She says they’re content,” replies Tom. Logan can’t fathom how someone could be content when there’s an offer for a bigger number.

Logan finally gets on the phone with his kids. “Congratulations on saying the biggest number, you fucking morons,” he tells them. The kids know that this is a concession, of sorts. Shiv and Kendall actually do a fist bump, while Roman looks relieved.

Shiv and Tom call it quits

At night, Shiv returns to a dark New York apartment. Her dog barely recognizes her. We learn that Shiv and Tom aren’t living together anymore. Shiv is full of rancor, needling Tom with crass questions regarding his love life. She’s jealous, and has been all day, of the other women Tom may or may not be sleeping with. She may also be on a mission to push forward the divorce she promises Nan earlier, which Tom doesn’t know about. But Tom is in a rare moment of blunt honesty. “Do you really want to get into a full accounting of all the pain in our marriage?” he asks gently. Shiv has no comeback to that.

Tom has mostly been a buffoon on Succession; he’s a social climber who has weaseled his way into one of the most powerful families in America, and his usual obsequiousness is often played off as comic relief. But his hurt here is palpable, and his sincerity is clear. No one can doubt that Tom really loves Shiv, even if part of what he loves is her power and status — and maybe Shiv realizes now, when it could be too late, that what she feels is love, too. Why else would his betrayal still hurt so much that she can’t even talk about it? Tom wants to discuss things, but she shuts it down. She doesn’t want to probe through her feelings. “I think it might be time for you and I to move on,” she says, holding back tears. Tom doesn’t beg and plead. They both lie to each other, claiming they gave it their best try.

Logan doesn’t find life funny anymore

At the end of a very long, strange day, Logan is still up watching TV. He calls Cyd Peach (Jeannie Berlin), an executive at ATN, to complain about the channel’s late-night coverage. “Are you losing it, Cyd?” he asks.

It’s a question Logan would be better off posing to himself. During his party, he escapes the apartment for a lonely evening walk in the park, his bodyguard Colin (Scott Nicholson) trailing behind him. At a diner, Logan tells Colin that he’s his best pal. He’s suddenly an old man bitter about the turning of seasons. “Everything I try to do, people turn against me,” he says. “Nothing tastes like it used to, does it? Nothing’s the same as it was.”

It’s his birthday, and the man normally allergic to existential waxing asks his employee, “You think there’s anything after all this?”

“I don’t know,” replies Colin.

“We don’t know. We can’t know,” says Logan. “But I’ve got my suspicions.” It’s the first time we’ve seen Logan meditate on the reality of nearing the end of his life, and what his legacy might be. He’s shown before that he doesn’t like to think of the past, but in this episode, he’s full of nostalgia for the way things were before. In an interlude during the PGM bidding war, Logan abruptly says to the room, “Nobody tells jokes anymore, do they?” Karl, Frank, Tom, Gerri — a room full of sycophants — look at him like deer caught in headlights.

“Come on, roast me!” he orders. The king wants a jester. He turns to Greg.

“You’re mean,” Greg offers feebly. “You’re a mean old man, you’re a mean old bastard. And you scare the life out of folks, that’s your thing — you’re scaring me right now, and that’s why I don’t even know what to do.” Logan mocks Greg, pushing him to go further.

“Where are your kids?” Greg asks. “Where’s all your kids, Uncle Logan, on your big birthday?”

It’s a direct hit, but Logan knows how to hit harder. He throws Greg’s absent father right at his grand-nephew’s face. It’s just too easy. No one can wound Logan the way he can wound his peons, no one can beat him at a game he invented: When they go low, he goes to the ninth circle of hell. It’s a place reserved for very few people — and he wonders why he feels so alone.