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Succession: Well, that happened

With a shocker of an episode, Succession sets the succession in motion.

Logan Roy (Brian Cox) and Tom Wambsgans (Matthew Macfadyen) standing on the tarmac in front of a black luxury car and a private jet.
Logan Roy (Brian Cox) and Tom Wambsgans (Matthew Macfadyen) embark on a trip to Sweden in season 4, episode 3 of 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 three, “Connor’s Wedding.”

Logan Roy is dead.

Succession is a show that’s always taken delight in throwing out treacherous twists and turns, and in some sense, we knew this one was coming: By the end of this season, Logan would somehow abdicate his power. Still, for his death to come so swiftly, and in a frenetically paced third episode of the season, is a punch to the gut. It’s Succession’s Red Wedding.

But this is “Connor’s Wedding,” and the show has killed off its central character offscreen, leaving his children lost at sea. How could the show say goodbye to Logan (Brian Cox) with so little fanfare? But the anticlimax is what compounds the tragedy, and it serves as a final reminder of who Logan was — an unsentimental, unpredictable curmudgeon who lived by an inscrutable code, who once told his son Kendall (Jeremy Strong) that life wasn’t knights on horseback but a number on a piece of paper, a fight for a knife in the mud.

The news comes as the rest of the Roy family embark on the yacht where Connor (Alan Ruck) is getting married (with Jamie Chung making a cameo as the wedding facilitator). As usual, the Roys are distracted by various numbers on various pieces of paper. But it wouldn’t be a Roy wedding without high drama; at Shiv’s (Sarah Snook) wedding, Kendall accidentally kills a young cater-waiter. At their mother Caroline’s (Harriet Walter) wedding, Logan pulls out a reverse Uno card when his children attempt to betray him. And now, the central tormentor of the Roy progeny has gone and left them forever.

Shiv, Kendall, and Roman (Kieran Culkin) are all dressed, appropriately enough, in black, and trying not to roll their eyes at the festivities when the phone call comes. Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) first tries to call Shiv twice; she ignores him. He finally gets ahold of Roman, and he and Frank Vernon (Peter Friedman) try to relay through the static-ridden reception that Logan is very sick. They’re on the private jet to visit GoJo CEO Lukas Matsson (Alexander Skarsgård) in Sweden, ostensibly to try to salvage the sale of Waystar to GoJo. There was talk of Logan maybe trying to make Connor’s wedding afterward, but Logan has collapsed in the bathroom. “They’re doing chest compressions,” Tom says.

Then viewers get a flash of someone lying on the floor of the plane. Tom reports that Logan’s heart has stopped and that he hasn’t been breathing for a while. It’s likely already too late, but they maintain the pretense that he’s still hanging on. So, thousands of miles away, the younger three Roy children tearfully take turns on the phone, trying to convey in a handful of seconds a lifetime’s worth of honest feelings — that they love their father beyond reckoning, that they would have done anything for even a whisper of his respect.

In their last words to Logan, the children try to absolve him as much as they can; Roman — who hours before had been cruelly tasked by Logan with informing Gerri (J. Smith-Cameron), Roman’s former ally, mentor, adviser (and object of his sexual interest), that she’s out at Waystar — tells him he was a good dad. On the other end, there’s silence. Kendall tries to take charge of the situation, calling his own doctor and trying to get hold of the pilot, as if by taking decisive action, he can change the outcome. But Frank tells Kendall gently, again, that he’s probably gone.

A long spell of sadness, chaos, and panic passes before anyone has the wherewithal to remember that Connor still hasn’t been told about his father’s death. Poor Connor.

“He didn’t even like me,” Connor says after receiving the news. He amends the outburst by adding that he never felt like he got a chance to make Logan proud.

Logan dies basically alone, surrounded by none of his family. Roman, after the discussion with his dad at the end of the last episode, has decided not to miss the wedding for the jaunt to Sweden. Instead of Logan’s family, a motley crew of hangers-on and opportunists surround him in his final moments: Tom, Waystar execs Frank and Karl Muller (David Rasche), Karolina Novotney (Dagmara Dominczyk), who heads the PR team. They’re not grieving so much as they are simply stunned. Kerry (Zoe Winters) is in shock — Tom thinks she’s grinning like “she caught a foul ball at Yankee Stadium” — and also a nuisance to the rest of the inner council, who immediately set their minds on who to contact first about Logan’s death and drafting a statement. There’s only so much time before someone notices that Logan Roy’s private jet turned back around mid-flight and suspects that something has happened.

Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong) and Shiv Roy (Sarah Snook) attend their brother’s wedding.
Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong) and Shiv Roy (Sarah Snook) attend their brother Connor’s wedding.
Macall B. Polay/HBO

Back on the party yacht, the kids don’t like that Karolina and Hugo’s first thought is a press release (even though it’s their job), but it’s also deeply understandable. A public statement makes the thing real. In a single, extended scene that stretches for nearly 30 stressful minutes, the family looks for any private place at a packed wedding to plan their next moves. There’s a brief argument about whether Logan’s plane should circle for a bit to buy the family some more time, before everyone else finds out and the market reacts. But Karolina reports that there are already reporters sniffing around. None of the kids want to take charge of saying anything to the public, but they also don’t want anyone else to take the reins when it’s their father’s death.

Denial comes first in the stages of grief, and it’s only deepened here by the fact that none of the Roy siblings have seen their father. The Roy children are especially ill-equipped to face a parent’s sudden demise, having spent a lifetime suppressing the expression of big, raw feelings. Maybe a part of them even thinks, given how willing he has been to traumatize them, that this is just his latest act of cruelty. Logan is just in another room, plotting his next move.

Succession is inhabited by characters who believe, on some level, that they’re invincible and eternal. That was especially true of Logan, who built a great media empire from the ground up and lives in a world where reality bends to his will. With so much power, why wouldn’t he be immortal, too? Early in the first season, as Logan lies unconscious in the hospital after a brain hemorrhage, Roman proclaims that chronologically, Logan might be 80 years old, but “physically he’s, like, still in his 70s.”

Throughout the series, however, Succession reminds us that Logan Roy is a man whose power, and health, is in decline. When we first meet Logan, he’s stumbling out of sleep and pissing himself in the dark. By the end of the pilot, he has a brain hemorrhage. In season three, Logan faints from heat exhaustion and in a later episode briefly becomes delirious due to a UTI, almost leading Waystar to disaster due to his impaired faculty. In “Connor’s Wedding,” he goes to the bathroom and doesn’t come back out.

Yet Logan was a man who imagined he had many more chapters to write: He had just given a fervent speech at ATN headquarters about building a better, faster, lighter, meaner, wilder media business. Still, viewers have known from the jump how this story ends. His children, of course, know, too, on an intellectual level that Logan won’t be around forever, and they love to remind one another when convenient that he’s losing his edge. At the same time, does anyone ever really grasp that their parents will die one day?

The last epithet Logan hurled at his children, at a private karaoke room in the second episode of season four, was that they were “not serious people.” All that was on Shiv’s and Kendall’s minds was revenge, spitting some venom back at the man who had never made an apology in his life. The last thing Logan and Roman talked about was whether Roman was ready to dispense with the farce of collaborating with his siblings, but Roman was frustrated and noncommittal. Will Logan’s death finally force them to become weightier people, without his domineering presence bending them one way or another, like reeds in the wind?

Logan’s plane lands back in the US, and the boat returns to the harbor so the Roy children can get off. But Connor goes through with his wedding to Willa (Justine Lupe). He admits his fear, rising to the surface even amid his grief: If they don’t get married today, will Willa run away for good? She’s happy, she tells Connor, for now, at least. Meanwhile, his siblings rush to the airport as Logan’s body is carried out on a stretcher. The press are already swarming the place, and Shiv gives a brief statement. She’s shaky, crying, and clearly bereft. “Logan Roy built a great American family company,” Shiv tells the media. “This nation has lost a passionate champion and an American titan. And we lost a beloved father.” She also assures the reporters that she and her brothers intend to shepherd Waystar through its future.

Tom hugs her, and she leans into it at first before walking away dismissively. Only Roman, who spends much of the episode insisting Logan may not actually be dead, looks at the body. Kendall can’t seem to bear the idea. But that, too, happens offscreen, and it maintains the sliver of doubt about whether this giant of a man is really gone.

In an illuminating episode from season two, the Roy family travels to Logan’s native Scotland, where a new plaque will commemorate the five decades since he founded Waystar. The setting provides a chance for everyone around him to reminisce, but Logan is strangely detached. “The future is real,” he tells Shiv. “But the past? It’s all made up.” Over the past three seasons, we’ve seen the fear and awe Logan can command; we’ve seen how cunning he can be, how cruel and petty. But what do we really know about Logan? He was born in the town of Dundee, Scotland; he came to the US with nothing and built a kingdom that he has ruled over with an iron fist. Everything else about him is a blur.

He’s a man that the audience, and his children, never really knew. Yet there’s one brief scene in season one where Logan emerges from a pool, revealing a back striped with angry old scars — lashings he must have received as a boy. With his sudden death, Logan ensures that he will never not be an enigma. As the show’s nostalgic opening credits have shown us all these years, he’s the man whose face we never really see, walking off into the distance.

“I fucking win,” Logan told his children at the end of the last season, when they lost the fight to stop him from selling the family empire. In his abrupt and banal death, Logan has pulled off the ultimate victory, one that has no counter. His children will never get the acknowledgment and love they so keenly yearned for; there can be no real closure now, no satisfying conclusion, even for the one who eventually takes the crown.

Already, you can see the potential for new alliances being formed while the old ones disintegrate. With Logan gone, the rest of the season will inevitably be about the yawning vacuum of power he has left behind — or, as next week’s trailer shows Shiv referring to it, “the coronation demolition derby.”

“This is a show about succession,” show creator Jesse Armstrong told the New Yorker in February. “I’ve never thought this could go on forever.”

It means that Tom and Greg’s defection in season three was for naught — all they’ve managed to do is piss off the Roy heirs. Will Tom try to sidle up to Shiv again? Who will Greg cling to now? Meanwhile, Gerri avoids the ax, thanks to Logan’s death. It’s basically a given, though, that the camaraderie between Kendall, Shiv, and Roman will sour. It was a tenuous union to begin with, due to Logan’s lifelong habit of pitting them against one another.

What will the last episode of Succession be called? Every season finale so far has taken its name from a line in John Berryman’s “Dream Song 29,” a poem about grief unending. It begins with these lines: “There sat down, once, a thing on Henry’s heart / so heavy, if he had a hundred years / & more, & weeping, sleepless, in all them time / Henry could not make good.”

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