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On Succession, it’s time to face Logan Roy’s legacy

Trauma, chaos, and a nation in peril.

The four Roy children attend their father’s funeral in HBO’s Succession.
The four Roy children attend their father’s funeral in HBO’s Succession.
Macall Polay/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 nine, “Church and State.”

Last week’s episode of Succession took place inside the ATN headquarters on Election Day with barely a glimpse of the outside world. Now, in Church and State, the penultimate episode of the series, it’s the day of Logan’s funeral, and we see that New York is burning. In the aftermath of the fishy election of right-wing demagogue Jeryd Mencken, there are roving bands of protesters, stores boarding up their windows, gridlock in the streets, and police everywhere. Logan Roy is dead; the city is alive with fury.

This chaos has been building up for years, and we’ve been shown brief glimpses of how the world reacts to the right-wing, politically polarizing media empire the Roy family has created. In season one, activists disgruntled by ATN’s racist, misogynist coverage threw a water balloon of piss at Logan. A few episodes ago, a racist ATN fan physically attacked Kendall’s daughter. Now that slow buildup has erupted, propelled by a seething energy that the Roys — especially Logan — spent their lives stoking but can’t control. Logan isn’t even around to see what he’s wrought.

The last episode of Succession airs on May 28, which is hard to believe because the lives of these characters — and the world around them — are in shambles.

Given that Succession has always been most fascinated by the ambiguities, the blurry margins, of power and human greed, it now seems unlikely that it will tie up everything with a neat bow. Kendall and Shiv’s naked ambition to succeed their father as the sole leader of their company still hasn’t come to a head; the corporate GoJo-Waystar war to gobble up the other wages on. The question of who “wins” Succession has always been a half-serious, reductive way to describe what might happen in the series finale, but it’s become vanishingly difficult to imagine any of these broken, nasty people emerging with a sense of inner peace. It’s even harder to envision that the Roys will inherit a world that hasn’t been utterly polluted by their presence.

The antics of this family in the last few episodes have been a disquieting reminder that, beyond the fandom’s memes and jokes, there is actually no one to root for. That was never the point. The question is, what do we have left to learn about how their narrow, privileged world intersects with ours? Church and State zooms out and shows us more bluntly than ever before.

Disarray and disorder after Mencken’s election

Kendall (Jeremy Strong) drives past disturbing, apocalyptic scenes of New York in post-election disarray — it’s never made explicit whether the protesters are for Daniel Jiménez or Jeryd Mencken, or a mix of both, though a TV chyron in the background of one scene reveals that at least some of them are Jiménez supporters. The vote results for Wisconsin, which lost a significant chunk of ballots in an election-night fire, can’t be certified until all the lost absentee ballots are counted. The pandemonium isn’t likely to resolve any time soon.

Ken calls Roman (Kieran Culkin), wondering if they should advise Mencken to tone down his rhetoric. Roman, who is delivering the big eulogy and has been practicing it in the creepiest daddy-issues way, is delighted by the discord — it’s great for ratings. Kendall, having witnessed the bedlam, is both concerned and guilty about it, yet can’t contain his anger when his ex-wife Rava (Natalie Gold) tells him she’s taking the kids and going upstate for fear of their safety, missing the funeral. Rava is firm; she’s already loading up the car. “This is my decision,” she says with finality.

Unable to stop her, he’s spitting mad. “You do not fuck with me today,” he shouts, pointing a menacing finger at Rava. He’s an echo of his father here, trying to bully someone into submission and jumping immediately to revenge when they don’t fold. Kendall threatens to get an emergency court order to stop her from taking his children out of the city. Later, he informs his assistant, Jess (Juliana Canfield), to set up a meeting with a family lawyer for next week. Perusing his schedule is how he discovers that Jess had blocked off time to inform him that she’s taking another job. “It just feels like time,” she tells him. Though he senses that ATN’s role in pushing Mencken as the president has something to do with her decision, Kendall takes Jess’s leaving as a deep betrayal, too. He snaps at her as if she’s one more child who won’t be attending Logan’s funeral, ungrateful of all that Ken has done for her.

The siblings ride to the funeral together, and protesters bang on their car window. The highway is gridlocked, so they get out before they reach the church and walk the rest of the way. It’s an unusual experience for the billionaire family, typically flown in private jets and driven around in private cars, to be out on the street and moving on their own two feet, especially as the city is reacting explosively to the self-serving decisions they made yesterday.

Logan Roy’s chaotic funeral

Church and State is an episode that highlights the dichotomy of movement and stillness. The funeral mass, held in the grand, solemn Church of St. Ignatius Loyola on the Upper East Side, is unsurprisingly tumultuous. Naturally, the Roy children aren’t staying still, not even today — they’re scurrying around to check on the various irons they’ve stuck in the fire. The world doesn’t stop even if their world, in one sense, has stopped with Logan’s death.

Shiv (Sarah Snook), even in mourning, recognizes that it’s the perfect time for CEO Lukas Matsson (Alexander Skarsgård) to make public that GoJo made up fake subscriber numbers in India, because everyone will be so distracted by the election unrest. Roman, almost as soon as he arrives at the church, suggests to Kendall that they make the rounds rallying the Waystar board members in the continuing fight against GoJo’s proposed acquisition of Waystar. Matsson is at the funeral himself as a ploy to get in Mencken’s good graces, just in case the man really does end up president. Shiv comes up with a contingency plan: Tell Mencken they’re willing to create a US CEO position at GoJo, which Mencken could spin as a win he helped secure against a foreign company, while also having close access to a top executive at a powerful tech firm. That CEO role, of course, should go to Shiv.

Meanwhile, Greg (Nicholas Braun) desperately pumps the pedals of his Citibike in order to make it to the funeral on time; he wants an intro with Mencken, too, considering he’s “amongst the crowning committee.” Connor (Alan Ruck), at the last minute, announces he wants to give a eulogy, one that his wife, Willa (Justine Lupe), clearly co-wrote. In a rather bold move, Kerry (Zoë Winters) — Logan’s former assistant and lover — arrives at the funeral, too. When we last saw her, at Logan’s wake, his wife, Marcia (Hiam Abbass), savagely kicked her out. There’s a flurry of activity as always, with characters trying to preserve or steal power, like swinging metal balls in a pendulum toy.

When it’s time for the eulogies to begin, Logan’s brother Ewan (James Cromwell) stands up and decisively moves toward the podium. He’s not supposed to give a speech, and the kids (and Greg) try to stop him, but Ewan forges on. He has always been an austere figure, disapproving of others’ moral failures, particularly his brother’s. But he unveils some tender insights into the bonds of brotherhood and, perhaps, why Logan was the way that he was. They were sent to America during World War II, and during the voyage their ship got separated from others in the convoy for a few days. “They told us children that if we spoke, or coughed, or moved an inch, that the U-Boats would catch the vibrations through the hull, and we would die…” Ewan recalls. “Three nights and two days, we stayed quiet.”

We finally find out what happened to their sister Rose — someone Logan never spoke of, but whom viewers heard a mysterious snippet about in season two, when the Roys traveled to his native Scotland. It turns out he believed all his life that he had brought home the polio that killed her. Later, when he became a father, he often demanded silence from his children. The sickly child grew into a terrible adult, in Ewan’s accounting, “who has wrought the most terrible things.” He was someone who “darkened the skies a little, closed men’s hearts.” He was not generous, Ewan declares, but mean, and “fed a certain kind of meagerness in men.”

Ewan’s denunciation rings thunderously throughout the church, and it seems to paralyze Roman, who is supposed to give his eulogy next. Early in the episode, we see him moving restlessly around his apartment, practicing the beats of the speech with bravado and smugness. That energy is sapped now. He mumbles feebly, barely coherent. He can’t do it. “Is he in there?” he asks like a little boy, pointing to the casket as he breaks down in tears.

Kendall takes over; someone has to do it, because, as Shiv points out, they have to point out “the other side,” giving Logan’s memory a positive spin to follow Ewan. Ken emphasizes all that his father did in life, for better or for worse. He was a doer. He acted. “He had a vitality, a force,” he says. It mowed people down, wrought a lot of suffering, but it was also a magnificent sight to behold. People were enraptured by the arc of his motion the way they can’t help but watch a lion pouncing on prey. Kendall tells the funeral attendees that he hopes this force exists within him, too — all the Roy children do. They’re in constant movement, scheming and whipping their heads this way and that, because it’s what their father did. But they’re the wind-up doll versions of their father, moving stiffly and clunkily.

“He made life happen,” Kendall says. Not just with Waystar and its many sprawling entities, but for Kendall and his three siblings. The eulogy only underscores Logan’s cruelty. He was a creator who acted carelessly with his creations, making out of clay four misshapen monsters — emotional imps who feel pain just as deeply as any other human, but lack the capacity to deal with it — and then unleashing them onto the world.

Bonded by trauma

The vast cast of Succession is brought under one roof this episode not by their love for Logan, but because they all experienced the hurricane that he was, tossing their lives into disarray. The funeral is a chance to look around at the wreckage and realize that they’ve survived. They’re bonded by trauma.

All of Logan’s old lovers are there. Caroline (Harriet Walter), his first wife, greets a woman named Sally Anne at the funeral almost with affection. Introducing her to Marcia, she says, “Sally Anne was my Kerry, so to speak.” Marcia doesn’t react to Kerry’s presence with anger, but the contrary. Sensing that Kerry’s on the verge of sobbing, she puts her hand over Kerry’s. They share a silent moment of understanding and forgiveness. These four women are briefly brought together by the indignities they suffered while they were with Logan: his unfaithfulness, his selfish behavior.

The Roy siblings, too, are conjoined by their mutual pain. Despite having a ragingly nasty fight just the day before over their presidential loyalties, they hold each other close today, because no one else in the world could understand the gaping hole left by Logan’s absence.

Logan was so full of vigor, his children say, but that great force has dissipated now. After the funeral ends, they continue on to the cemetery. The siblings are struck by the cavernous emptiness of his $5 million mausoleum, where he’ll be entombed. It’s completely still here, and sterile of life.

This is it — the official send-off. The kids look around in disbelief and make their last confessions about what their father did to them. “He made me breathe funny,” Roman admits.

At last, the funeral is over and done with, but the scheming continues full steam. Kendall learns that Matsson is floating an American GoJo CEO to Mencken; he orders Hugo to leak to the press that key members of the family are no longer on board with the buyout. Brushing off the hurt over Jess leaving him, he recruits Logan’s former security guard Colin (Scott Nicholson). With his father laid to rest, he’s more determined than ever to take his place.

Shiv, meanwhile, has succeeded in appeasing Mencken, aided by Matsson behaving surprisingly sincerely for once. Kendall and Roman know they need to act quickly to stop her; it’s all-out war with their sister now. The Roy children strive endlessly to emulate their father as if to justify the pain they suffered at his hands, that it was all worth something, that there was some purpose behind it that bore fruit.

Roman, blamed by Kendall for messing up their original plan to thwart the GoJo deal, is in a foul mood. He steps out into the night, watching protesters continuing to run down the streets. For a moment, Roman appears proud of the fire he started. Hopping into the bullpen, he faces the people marching down the street and yells, “Fuck you,” at each of them. A man finally body-checks him and hits him in the face.

The Roy children think they’re builders of civilization, of empire. They consider themselves movers and shakers, whose actions have real weight. But they don’t see all the ways in which they’re hamsters spinning in wheels, repeating the same mistakes and inflicting the same suffering that was foisted on them. For a moment, Roman lies on the street, immobile, while a current of people rushes past him. However much these titans achieve, and despite their immense power, one day they, like Logan, will be dead, and life will keep churning. The world and all the people in it are still big enough to crush them.