Monday, July 15, 2024

A Shocking Succession Strips Its Characters Back To Base Humanity

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The most entertaining part of Succession is often the baffling lack of a connection to the real world among its main characters. These are people whose wealth has elevated to a point where they simply have no idea what real life is. Logan literally calls people business units this season. Billions of dollars are mere bargaining numbers that Kendall and Shiv have no concept of. Just look at the family reaction to Greg’s date in the season 4 premiere. She’s a perfectly normal person and they treat her like some alien.

In the end, though, there is no escaping the shared human experiences that we all face in our lives. Episode 3, “Connor’s Wedding,” was a stunning reminder of this basic fact of life, and one of the very best episodes Succession has yet aired.

Kendall, Shiv, and Roman talk about their father from Succession

The shared human experience referenced here is, of course, the death of Logan Roy. Did anyone see this coming? It’s true that Succession literally began with the near-death of Logan, but who could have seen it actually happening with so much time left in this final season? The relationships between Logan and his children are the basic foundation of the show. To kill him off now is stunning. It throws the entire premise of the show into question. What in the world happens now?

It’s a fitting question, because you could see the same unspoken question tattooed on the faces of Kendall, Shiv, and Roman.

Again, for all that these three are spoiled, entitled, out of touch with the real world, with a lifetime of privilege and wealth that has warped them into capitalist machinery that grinds people into paste, they are still human beings. For all the differences between the Roy children and the average person walking the street, they still deal with the same things everyone does. Succession painstakingly makes this clear in the relationships between these characters.

I’d argue this has never been more apparent than it is in this episode. Watching Kendall, Shiv, and Roman spend the entire episode grasping with the slow-motion confirmation of Logan’s death is so painfully relatable, so heartbreaking and real and common to all of us. Just like any family dealing with the impending death of a loved one, each member of the Roy family reacts in their own fashion. Even better, Succession structures the episode so that the audience will hopefully react in the same way. At the very least, I sure did.

(I didn’t even believe it was happening when the call first came. Faking a medical emergency to avoid his son’s wedding and prioritize the Mattson meeting? Classic Logan Roy move if you ask me.)

Succession made a fascinating choice to have us never get a full look at Logan throughout this entire process. The closest we get is a brief shot of him unconscious on the plane, and otherwise we don’t really see him outside of blurry background shots. The audience spends the episode with basically the same lack of information that Kendall, Shiv, and Roman. We get fed the same tidbits, and deal with the same uncertainty.

In the end, they were all just children worried about their father, and with no idea what to do in a world without him, just like most of the Succession audience can’t conceive of the show without Logan around. Each reacted the way you would expect them to. Kendall tried to control the situation and make plans. Roman spent most of the episode refusing to believe this was real, and generally following the lead of others. Shiv was seemingly frozen in fear and grief, with no idea what to do. And Connor…well, Connor just avoided his father’s death entirely.

Of course, this is still Succession, so the brutally cold business concerns were still ever present. Logan’s death would inevitably tank Waystar Royco’s stock price and immediately endanger the sale to Mattson. While the kids are on Connor’s ship trying to process their father’s death, all of his underlings are sitting on a plane, six-feet away and reducing Logan’s death to numbers.

Thing is, this is the path Logan chose for his life. We have seen him tease and promise and retract power from his kids. We have seen him refuse to hand the reins over. He chose power and a bunch of sharks who care only about his financial worth over his children. He raised his children to see financial value over human connection.

Logan did want to have a better relationship with his children, there’s no question about that. He just thought he deserved more simply for the wealth he provided them, and prioritized said wealth over being a better father. This is where it leads.

And in the end, even his children had to take his lead, for the sake of the company. Hearing Kendall reduce his and his siblings’ reaction to the death of their father down to what would be best for the “historical record” is truly awful. They couldn’t even let themselves react naturally. Capitalism didn’t allow them even the time to cope with their feelings.

One of the major points of this episode was how ultimately petty and meaningless all the tension over the business really was. Think about the hate, and how seemingly irreconcilable the Roy family seemed to be even one episode ago. Even the start of this episode felt like the love was dead. Then Tom make that phone call and it’s all forgotten. You’d swear they were all just having a happy family dinner together the previous night.

There they were, brilliantly already dressed in funeral blacks for Connor’s wedding, nothing more than a broken family slowly realizing this was it.

What happens now? Just like the Roy children, I have no idea. Logan was Succession. Everything revolved around him. Each season was a cycle of the people around him either scheming to take him down or trying their best to get on his good side. Who are these characters without Logan Roy in their lives? I imagine they will struggle to answer that question.

It is a hell of a risk to take in the final season of such a celebrated, acclaimed TV show. This is the equivalent of killing Tony Soprano a third of the way through the final season of the Sopranos, or Walter White a third of the way through Breaking Bad’s final season. The very nature of Succession has fundamentally changed, and I can’t help but wonder where the story goes from here. Do the Roys fall apart entirely and lose everything? Does one of the children step up and take Logan’s place, freezing the others out and recreating the dynamic they had with their father? Do they come together and finally make a peace?

The one thing I know for sure is that episodes like this continue to cement Succession’s place in TV history.

Images Courtesy of HBO

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