Editor’s Note: Gene Seymour is a critic who has written about music, movies and culture for The New York Times, Newsday, Entertainment Weekly and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @GeneSeymour. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author. View more opinion on CNN.
This site is obliged, morally and otherwise, to warn its readers at the outset of spoilers in the forthcoming text for those who haven’t yet watched the third episode of the fourth and final season of HBO’s “Succession.”
But that episode ran on (Easter) Sunday night. And in the intervening 48 hours or so, there’s been a surplus of chatter about its contents to the point where it’s hard to imagine anybody, even those who haven’t seen it yet, not knowing about the Very Big Bomb it dropped: that Logan Roy (Brian Cox), the irascible, malign and misanthropic patriarch-founder-proprietor of the Waystar Royco media conglomerate and Succession’s center-of-gravity, was stricken with a fatal heart attack in the commode of his company jet.
By now, we should be used to HBO’s series pulling the rug out from beneath our expectations. They’ve done it so often, especially on such media landmarks as “Game of Thrones” and “The Sopranos,” that it’s easy to presume they own the patent on making sharp, wide turns in the middle of their storylines. (Like CNN, HBO is a part of Warner Bros. Discovery.)
Still, as more than one pundit observed of Logan’s death, this one shocked more than merely surprised. From the very beginning of “Succession,” two resolutions — successive, so to speak — seemed inevitable.
First, that the tightly-wound, perpetually ailing Logan would somehow die off, and second, that control of his Rupert Murdoch-esque business empire would then fall into the grasping hands of one of his four children, especially ill-starred, unstable Kendall (Jeremy Strong), impish, nihilistic Roman (Kieran Culkin) and icy, conflicted Siobahn a.k.a. “Shiv” (Sarah Snook). Now that the first development has happened, things already seem lined-up for at least six more episodes of nasty familial infighting.
Already there are wagers being made as to which Roy offspring will win what promises to be a mean, sloppy game of king-of-the-mountain with some betting that it will be none of the three, but someone along the periphery of the terrible trio’s wrestling match who’ll be Waystar’s king.
More on this later, but first, one is compelled to address sentiments expressed in some circles that Logan will somehow be “missed” by Succession’s avid spectators.
Not me, though I do miss Brian Cox already because few actors anywhere are as adroit at playing dyspeptic sociopaths. He’ll always be out-front in any stage or screen production in roles requiring ribald bombast and aggrieved dignity, applied with both delicacy and dynamism.
But I’ve had more than enough of Logan’s horse hockey. There likely were many viewers who got a perverse kick out of watching Logan’s spiteful outbursts of bigotry, rough-hewn snobbery and casual cruelty leavened infrequently by interludes of physical vulnerability and genuine bemusement with his family’s defects, most of which were his fault to begin with. , until that luck ran out. Period. Godspeed and good riddance.
The last thing “Succession” needed was more of Logan’s mind-games — especially with Waystar teetering on the edge of outright takeover, possibly even dismantling, by the flaky tech tycoon Lukas Matsson (Alexander Skarsgård).
If Matsson gets Waystar, whoever succeeds Logan will likely be more loser than winner. Which, given Kendall’s dismal run of luck over the last three-and-a-third seasons, makes him the inevitable fall guy for Waystar’s potentially depleted spoils. He wants to win more than anybody, but he can’t get out of his own way.
Roman, meanwhile, was always the most in thrall to the old man’s resiliency and drive without having either quality in any abundance. All he has in his favor (and they’re not much) are his dad’s jaundiced world view and wicked lack of remorse. But he also is too impulsive, too bereft in reflection to be trusted with a grocery bill, much less a multi-billion-dollar enterprise.
Shiv is smarter than Roman and tougher than Kendall. But ultimately, she’s neither as smart nor as tough as she wants, and needs, to be. In fact, while these three have become, by varying degrees, savvier about their respective situations, the last thing Logan said to all of them is the most perceptive assessment of them all: “You’re not serious people.”
This was also applied to Connor (Alan Ruck), eldest and least promising, or even consequential, of Logan’s children. The news of Logan’s death came as Connor was trying to raise the profile of his nascent, already faltering presidential bid with a splashy wedding on a yacht cruising New York Harbor. Connor’s immediate, poignant reaction to his father’s passing: “He never even liked me.” The American people don’t like him much either. But even if Connor doesn’t get the company or the White House, he seems to have found happiness with a wife who may want him mostly for his money but is likewise happy with him.
Of the relative outliers, Shiv’s estranged husband Tom Wambsgans (Matthew Macfadyen), who won Logan’s favor last season for essentially betraying Shiv and the others, seems the best positioned to win the race to the top. But without Logan’s presence, Tom’s penchant for toadying and betrayal has nowhere to play off.
For those of us with an overeager sense of the ridiculous: tall, ingratiating and hopelessly diffuse Cousin Greg (Nichols Braun) is the darkest of dark horses to somehow wind up on top of everybody else the way he’s been in their midst from the start: as a haphazard, mystifying accident. It would be at the very least ironic if “Greg the Egg,” the minion’s minion, stumbled into power as if he tripped on a sidewalk. It’s so unlikely that it’s… unlikely.
I’ll say no more on this except to suggest that you all try to remember who in the end won that “Game of Thrones.” It’s not inevitable. It’s HBO.