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'Succession' Season 4, Episode 3: 'Connor's Wedding'

In this week's episode, Logan Roy (Brian Cox) continues his unbroken streak of perfectly calculating his every move to make things as painful as possible for everyone else.
Macall B. Polay
/
HBO
In this week's episode, Logan Roy (Brian Cox) continues his unbroken streak of perfectly calculating his every move to make things as painful as possible for everyone else.

It is hopefully clear that a recap of this episode will spoil this episode, but this week I'm issuing an extra warning: watch before you read, if you're ever going to watch.

I wasn't surprised, but I was shocked.

Longtime viewers had probably figured this season of Succession might include the death of Logan Roy. The show has teased his fragile health again and again — in his helicopter in the pilot, at the shareholder meeting, at the table at Argestes, and while walking Josh's massive property with Kendall. But it didn't seem imminent. At the beginning of this third episode of the season, there was so much other stuff in motion. We were building to a board meeting, to a wedding, to a crisis of conscience and allegiance for Roman, to a showdown between Kendall and Shiv and their father, to tests of the new power of Tom and even Greg, and to an exploration of Kerry's motives and next steps.

In other words, things were moving according to pretty well-established Succession patterns of power struggle, sibling rivalry, and corporate maneuvering that rest on constant reshuffling of alliances. The show tends to be additive over the course of a season, setting conflicts in motion and then watching them build for many episodes until they finally blow up.

And then Tom called and said Logan wasn't breathing.

He just wasn't breathing? Here, in the middle of the wedding, in the third episode? Nothing earth-shaking ever happens in the third episode! The patriarch doesn't just up and die in the third episode! Where was the obviously portentous final sighting of Logan? Where were the ominous hints? Where were his different, defining, meaningful last words? The last time we saw him, he was stomping up the steps of his plane, just like always!

Let's take a step back. This episode begins with the reveal that Roman is not going with Logan to see Matsson. Roman is instead going to Connor's wedding, which is being held on a big, fancy boat. They talk about this on a phone call in which Logan gives Roman a particularly agonizing assignment for the day: fire Gerri, personally, face to face. As if proving that Roman is back under his thumb and will not have relationships of any kind that he doesn't know about, Logan will now both take Gerri's job and make Roman tell her. Logan boards his plane still grumbling as always about everything that needs doing: getting rid of Gerri, getting rid of Cyd, pushing through the deal with the ATN spinoff intact.

There goes Logan: Grumble, grumble, usual bluster, evil plans evil-ing along, get on plane, exit show fooooorrrrreverrrrrr.

Connor is all smiles at the wedding, meanwhile, cutting up with Willa's mother, seemingly quite recovered from his emotional karaoke experience and his fear of being left at the altar. But Roman is miserable, and he soon stumbles into breaking the news to Gerri that she's out.

This relationship is complicated to Roman, but it isn't complicated to Gerri. She's angry about losing her job after getting the company through several consecutive crises, but she's not particularly betrayed that this is coming from Roman. Even when they were engaging in a little kink together, she saw Roman the same way she always had: as a goofy, amusing screwup for whom she had some sympathy and who might be useful to her. But for Roman, their relationship is fraught — he's a little in love with her, he's a little hot for her, and he's a little bit looking for her to be his surrogate mother. I mean, it seems fraught, right?

Having seen this ugly task through, Roman calls his dad and doesn't get an answer. He leaves a message that's casual in tone, but intense in its specifics. In a way he usually doesn't, Roman asks whether his father is being cruel to him on purpose, being a jerk just to be a jerk. What a revelation.

Shiv, Roman and Kendall decide to get away from the bustling wedding crowd, and they decamp to a secluded room upstairs on the boat. Shiv is screening and ducking calls from Tom — hardly surprising after the ugliness of last week's divorce business. Shiv heads out to do some glad-handing, leaving Kendall and Roman together.

Then Roman's phone rings. Tom explains from the plane, via a bad air-to-ground connection, that Logan is "very sick." That's why he's been trying to get Shiv. While it's hard to understand every word, what does come through loud and clear is "chest compressions." The change in Roman and Kendall is instantaneous. They both move directly into worry about their father, worry about his well-being, and arrogant, insulting suggestions that nobody is handling the situation (that they aren't present for) with any competence.

Then Tom, for all his clumsy, awful, ugly instincts at the worst times, offers to hold the phone to Logan's ear so the brothers can speak to him. At first, Roman and Kendall don't understand what the point of that is, if Logan is unconscious. But Tom — gently, believe it or not, and kindly, believe it or not — explains, without precisely saying, that it's because Logan is dying, and if they want a chance to speak to him, they need to do it now.

The brothers try, in ways very similar to how they've always handled their father. Roman focuses on how tough and strong Logan is, how he'll be fine, how he'll win because he always wins. But even as Roman says this, you can tell he doesn't believe it, and, panicky, he hands the phone to Kendall. Kendall has been dabbling in therapy-speak and a veneer of acceptance about the reality of his father for a couple of seasons now, and he finds himself both repeating that he loves his father and ultimately adding, "I can't forgive you." This is probably the truth: he loves his father and cannot forgive him, even in the last moment he may ever have. Logan is getting what he deserves here, where Kendall is concerned, but he's of course not around to appreciate it, really.

Kendall goes to get Shiv, and by the time she reaches Roman and the phone — and Tom on the other end — the news is beginning to settle in that Logan may already be gone. Tom holds the phone to Logan one more time for Shiv so she can speak to her father, even though everyone knows, but will not quite say, that he probably cannot hear her, that she is addressing his body.

Shiv falls apart on the phone in a way neither of her brothers allowed himself to do, crying, saying "It's okay, daddy, it's okay. I love you." This is the same Shiv, of course, who vented at her father in the last episode, calling him a human gaslight, telling him he isn't the sole arbiter of what is real, mocking him for the insignificance of his clearly fake apology. "I love you," she keeps saying.

When Shiv was so wounded and sad in the scene with Tom at the end of the first episode of the season, it underscored one of the real tragedies of the Roy family, which is that they rarely express love and tenderness to each other except when it's exactly the wrong time for it to do anyone any good. Shiv with her marriage, the siblings with their father whenever he's sick, even Kendall falling tearfully on Shiv's shoulder in the office back in season 2 when he said, "It's not going to be me." It's all so late, and it's all so futile.

Kendall takes a quick swing through a man-of-action response, demanding that Jess line up all the best doctors. He even gets on the phone with Frank — who has always cared about him a little more than everyone else — and says he wants to talk to the pilot. Frank tells Kendall the pilot can't talk to him, and Kendall insists that he can. "He's flying the plane, son," Frank says. And within that phrase, that gently delivered "son," are the unspoken words, "There is nothing to talk to the pilot about, because this is already over."

The next scene with Roman, Shiv and Kendall is arguably the first scene after Logan's death — not his medical death, but his narrative death, in that it's the first scene where his children understand him to be gone. They fret about their last words to him and realize, entirely too late, that they need to tell Connor as well, despite the fact that it's his wedding day. Did they fail to tell Connor because they didn't want to spoil the wedding? Or because they feel so bad for him? Or because their bond with each other is nakedly deeper than their bond with him? Or simply because nobody ever thinks about Connor? Whatever the explanation, now it has to happen.

Connor's reaction is the stunning, darkly funny, deeply painful line, "Oh man. He never even liked me." And this is not said through tears; it's matter-of-fact. This is the follow-up to Connor's speech last week about not needing love, because he's never had it. Connor is usually — not always, but usually — at peace with the fact that his father doesn't love him, in a way his siblings are not. It's not that he isn't sad about Logan dying, but his very first reaction is to lament the limitations of Logan's interest in him and the fact that he never got to change his father's mind. Connor doesn't want to be put on the phone to talk into a void.

We return for the first real scene up in the plane now that Logan is gone. Karl wants to drink, but Karolina has already started thinking about managing this from a comms perspective. They need a strategy. They need to keep anybody from finding out before they should. A shattered Kerry tries to crash the meeting, and nobody wants to tell her that now that Logan is dead, nobody here cares what she thinks at all. She wants to know what her role is. They try to speak gently to her, but their message to her amounts to "go take a nap, sweetie." Kerry has gone from a fearsome figure to whom Tom and Greg were afraid to deliver bad news to someone who will be lucky to be invited to the funeral, in the time it took for Logan's heart to stop.

Speaking of lost relevance, Tom calls Greg to tell him about Logan's death. Naturally, Tom — who showed some genuine kindness to Shiv and her brothers only minutes ago — is now thinking of the entire thing in terms of his, and to a much lesser extent Greg's, loss of position. It's hard to blame him. Tom gave up everything to stay on Logan's side on the theory that as odious as he was, Logan would always win. Now there is no "Logan's side." For Tom, having sucked up unrelentingly to this mean old goat for at least the last couple of years, up to the point where he betrayed his wife and broke up his own marriage, has all been for naught. Now, he doesn't have Logan and he doesn't have Shiv.

Back on the ground, the siblings are beginning to assert control over the death of their father. Hugo explains that those on the plane are working on a statement, and the siblings object, saying they'll do it themselves. This is where you see the first flashes across their faces that acknowledge that the game is afoot, that control of the company is now up for grabs in exactly the way they've all both dreaded and longed for. Dad is dead; it is on.

It might seem self-evident that Connor's wedding would be canceled, particularly as Logan's other kids leave, headed back to Teterboro Airport in New Jersey to meet the plane carrying his body. But when Connor talks to Willa, he doesn't really want to cancel. He wants to go ahead with it. And while it sounds crass to have the day of your father's death be your wedding day, perhaps Connor is the healthiest person in the family for refusing to arrange his life around someone who cared so little about him. Connor and Willa decide to go ahead with the wedding, even in the middle of all this chaos. Why not? Logan already wasn't coming.

Unfortunately, as Karolina explains, there are already rumors about Logan's health. Maybe these came from Greg, although suspicion also falls on Kerry.

Shiv, Roman and Kendall spend some time in a more ordinary Succession world, talking about statements and control and who needs to say what when. Gerri gives them some options and a couple of ideas about keeping things together as the scheduled board meeting approaches. Shiv and Kendall leave Roman alone with Gerri. He clearly wants her to comfort him, or at least care about him. "I'm pretty sad," he says. She leaves. Nothing doing, kid.

The siblings make their way to the airport, where there is already a press mob, to the point where even getting Logan's body off the plane will be tricky. So they do a press conference first.

It is Shiv, the political operative, who leads. She announces Logan's death to the assembled press, salutes him as a man who built a great family company, and says the board will be meeting to consider next steps. She and her brothers have lost, she says, "a beloved father." I mean, kind of? And as Shiv walks away from the microphones, she lays the top of her head on Tom's chest, and he puts his arms around her. The war, for the moment, is over.

The stock price has already dropped. Kendall watches from afar as Logan's body is loaded onto the ambulance. Absent flashbacks or ghosts, that's a wrap on the stunning, indelible performance of Brian Cox as Logan Roy.

This is the payoff for the choice to leave so much of the season's important action offscreen. Even before Logan died, big developments have taken place away from our attention, including Shiv and Tom's breakup, Willa's flight from her rehearsal dinner, and some of the key turns in the negotiations to buy Pierce. Here, we do not watch Logan die. All that we see of his medical emergency is a shot that looks down along his body from the top of his head, this thundering elephant now a silent tangle of gray hair.

Previous health setbacks have always shown us Logan as he weakens. But here, the story of his death is not only one of loss, but one of missed opportunity — or, really, missed opportunities, over and over again, to do better. It was easy to debate, after the karaoke bar, whether Logan meant any of what he said when he was trying to make nice with his children. I tend to think not. But they will always wonder.

Rather than focusing on the emergency, on the crisis itself, structuring the episode this way focuses on the helplessness of loss. Every relationship with Logan was unresolved. The constant push and pull of Shiv, Roman and Kendall against their father seemed like it could and would go on forever — in fact, that's part of what it means for him to always win. That's why, in a perverse way, his winning made them who they were. It kept them from having to build lives of their own away from him or take responsibility for their own identities. If he always wins, then the cycle rebellion and retreat continues, and they get to stay in the same posture forever, existing only relative to him.

Perhaps it was inevitable that this would happen so early, in the third episode. You need time to see what on earth these people are going to do now that the central dynamic that defined their lives has disappeared — or at least changed shape. What will happen to the new allegiance between these siblings? What will happen to the company? To the GoJo deal? To the acquisition of Pierce? What will happen to this thaw between Tom and Shiv? Who are they all now? What will all of the loyal lieutenants, including the unofficially fired Gerri, do as a power vacuum emerges?

This is ultimately a more honest portrayal of death than most that you'll see on TV. Real death doesn't happen at the end of a season, or right before the end. It isn't preceded by signs and obvious last words. It happens in the middle of everything else, before you're ready, when a thousand loose threads are still hanging. You often aren't even there for it; it comes to you in the form of a phone call in the middle of an ordinary Thursday, or phone calls that keep getting worse. There is no narrative neatness to real death. And there is no narrative neatness to the death of Logan Roy. It's right here in the third episode. What now?

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Linda Holmes is a pop culture correspondent for NPR and the host of Pop Culture Happy Hour. She began her professional life as an attorney. In time, however, her affection for writing, popular culture, and the online universe eclipsed her legal ambitions. She shoved her law degree in the back of the closet, gave its living room space to DVD sets of The Wire, and never looked back.