Karaoke, translated from Japanese, means “empty orchestra.” The term’s poetry should not be lost on “Succession” viewers.
The final season begins with Logan (Brian Cox), the embattled Roy paterfamilias, astride the proverbial peak of his Everest. It opens at his birthday party, although there’s no indication of which it is; all we know is that it’s a number north of 80.
As Logan strolls through rooms full of guests with his secretary/mistress Kerry (Zoe Winters), he counts his wins. He’s on the verge of selling his news network to streaming titan and GoJo CEO Lukas Matsson (Alexander Skarsgård). He’s about to buy out ATN’s liberal rival PGM, owned by the Pierce family. He has the next president in his pocket. “I got plenty on my plate,” he says.
Nevertheless, right before this, he scans the crowd of well-wishers and huffs about the quality of the guest list: “I thought there might be a churchman. A cardinal was mentioned. A bit of f**kin’ class.”
Every man who thinks he has everything lacks something. With Logan, it’s his humanity. When he sneaks out to a bistro with his body man Colin (Scott Nicholson), he puts his finger on what’s missing. “I mean, what are people?”
“Right?” Colin absentmindedly yeses, but Logan presses the question.
“What are people? They’re economic units. . . . But together they form a market. What is a person? It has values and aims, but it operates in a market. Marriage market, job market, money market, market for ideas, etcetera, etcetera.”
A person, to Logan, is an it. Not an organic being with a melodic soul, but a flat recording; not an individual capable of lyricism but a mechanism spewing a script. Logan Roy’s world is a gargantuan empty orchestra primed to play only his favorites and never interrupted by anything that may challenge him or help him be a better person.
“Rehearsal,” the second episode this season, demonstrates what that costs a man after a lifetime of bullying the world into dancing to his music. Since the dawn of “Succession,” creator Jesse Armstrong has primed viewers to expect some of the most consequential action to take place at grand events. This reckoning takes place at a locale near the venue Connor (Alan Ruck) and Willa (Justine Lupe) reserved to fete their guests the night before their wedding.
Logan Roy’s world is a gargantuan empty orchestra.
The hours before that sit-down dinner are abuzz with maneuvers as Shiv (Sarah Snook), Roman (Kieran Culkin) and Kendall (Jeremy Armstrong) celebrate the victory they eked out by, yes, forming a market to outmaneuver Logan, swiping PGM from daddy’s career-capping portfolio.
While mulling dunderheaded strategies to rebrand PGM, Shiv receives a sobering phone call from her assistant: all of the top divorce lawyers in New York have “conflicted out,” refusing to represent her.
This is a Logan move; only instead of lending that strategy to his daughter, daddy whispered it to his son-in-law Tom (Matthew Macfadyen).
Sarah Snook in “Succession” (Photograph by Claudette Barius/HBO)
On the heels of that, Stewy (Arian Moayed) and Sandi (Hope Davis) bend the Roy children’s collective ear, insisting they block Logan from selling to Matsson without getting more money from the deal.
If the three are hesitant to side with Stewy and Sandi at first, their minds change when Father cancels their private helicopter and cars, guaranteeing they’ll be late for Connor’s rehearsal dinner.
Logan is obviously shaken. He descends upon the ATN newsroom unannounced, wearing sunglasses indoors and “terrifyingly moseying” between the cubicles, all of which nearly causes Greg (Nicholas Braun) to soil himself. “It’s like ‘Jaws,’ if everyone in ‘Jaws’ worked for Jaws,” he whispers to a concerned Tom.
The duo hasn’t witnessed Logan’s private existential ruminations, so they don’t recognize this as an old man’s way of pushing back against impending obsolescence. In a loud speech to the plebes, he roars, “This is not the end. I’m going to build something better. Something faster, lighter, meaner, wilder. And I’m going to do it from in here! With you lot! You’re f**king pirates!”
Hooray. It’s all quite inspiring until he moves upstairs to accuse Gerri (J. Smith-Cameron) of being too eager to jump onto Matsson’s ship. Logan’s also cold on ATN’s current anchor lineup and suggests the Board consider Kerry’s audition tape. But nobody has the guts to tell Kerry, or Logan, that she’s abysmal on camera, although they love laughing at her behind her back. Until Logan catches Hugo (Fisher Stevens) mid-guffaw.
All of this is the walk-up to Connor’s rehearsal dinner, at which his half-siblings arrive in time to interrupt Willa’s drunken exit. Upstairs a distraught Connor reports that she announced, “I can’t do this, ” before disappearing into the bathroom for 40 minutes with her friends.
Kendall, Rome and a reluctant Shiv decide to take their brother out for a drink. Although Connor insists they go to “somewhere fun and real. Away from the fancy dance. A real bar! With chicks, and guys who work with their hands, and grease, and sweat from their hands, and have blood in their hair.”
A dive, then. Once they’re rubbing shoulders with the unwashed, Connor pretzels into an anxious fit, Matsson phones in a threat to walk away from the sale . . . and Shiv and Kendall discover Roman texted Logan on his birthday, violating their agreement to cut all contact with Logan until he apologizes to them. Although they’re upset, they agree to stick together and side with Stewy and Sandi. This further upsets Connor, who simply wants to get his money and be done.
And, well, maybe do some karaoke. “I’ve seen it in the movies, and nobody ever wants to go!”
This is how Shiv, Kendall and Rome end up watching Connor bleat a forlorn cover of Marissa Nadler’s “Famous Blue Raincoat” as Logan descends from on high to invade their musical bunker.
Kieran Culkin in “Succession” (Photograph by Macall B. Polay/HBO)
Connor invites Logan, to the others’ horror, and since he’s gotten wind of Sandi and Stewy’s plan, he agrees. The others assume Logan would never deign to set foot in such a low-rent establishment – and are shocked when for the first time in their lives their father comes to them, not the other way around, flanked by Kerry.
“I wanted to say something,” Logan says haltingly, ignoring their jibes before he confesses, “I guess . . . I guess I just wanted you there at my party.”
At this Kendall verbalizes the audience’s shock: “Holy s**t. Did dad just say a feeling?”
Logan keeps going. “Well, you know, I thought maybe it would be nice . . . Look. You knew I wanted Pierce, from way back. And when I lost out, that was not a good feeling.”
Shiv is unmoved, too long accustomed to Logan toying with them for fun and profit. Kerry, ever the loyal assistant, says what Logan can’t. “Your father wanted to address the personal stuff and not just launch into the business.”
But that’s the problem, isn’t it? This family’s dysfunction is entirely wrapped up in the business. Not once in Logan’s life has he given his sons and daughter an honest song from the heart. The right pitch eludes him at this moment, too.
Even when Logan tries to grant Kendall, Shiv, and Roman the priceless gift they’ve always wanted, he screws up. “Look. I don’t do apologies. But if it means so much to you then . . . sorry.”
This family’s dysfunction is entirely wrapped up in the business. Not once in Logan’s life has he given his sons and daughter an honest song from the heart.
Logan says this without detectable warmth or honesty, with zero true sentiment. It’s a cover of regret that none of his kids believe. “This deal push could be worth $100 mill to us, dad,” Kendall says. “How many ‘sorrys’ do we get for that?”
Roman tries to reel it back from the business negotiations to the personal: “What are you actually sorry for, dad?” he asks. If he weren’t completely tone deficient, Logan would apologize for everything, including stunting his children’s ability to trust or love each other or any other person; for treating them like pawns; for whipping them like mules.
All he can manage is, “Well, I’m sorry about the helicopter, for a start.”
At this they lay into him: Kendall lists Logan’s other grave sins. What about ignoring Connor his whole life, having his mother institutionalized and beating Roman? What about paying off their mother to betray them in Italy?
“What about advising Tom on my divorce, yeah?” Shiv pipes in. “That one, that took effort. That was above and beyond.”
Logan can’t help but revert to the language they all understand, warning the kids that if they try to squeeze Matsson for more money, he’ll walk. “I know that.”
And this is where Shiv loses it. “Just because you say it doesn’t make it true. Everyone just f**king agrees with you and believes you, so it becomes true. And then you can turn around and say, ‘Oh! You see? See? I was right. But that is not how it is. You’re a human f**king gaslight.”
Logan tries one last time, pleading with them that the deal on the table is real. But is he talking about whatever he thinks is love or business? It’s impossible to tell. Shiv, assuming it’s the latter, finishes the conversation with: “Go ask [Matsson] for more money.” With that, they’re done.
“You’re such f**king dopes,” Logan finishes. “You’re not serious figures. I love you, but you are not serious people.” He stalks out of the karaoke box with Kerry, then calls off the board meeting. He tells Kerry to arrange a face-to-face with Matsson, telling her to inform his inner circle – but not Gerri.
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Inside the room, Shiv and Kendall are gloating. Roman isn’t as pleased with himself, but Connor, recognizing his place in the band, is defeated.
“You know what? It’s fine. The good thing about having a family that doesn’t love you is you learn to live without it,” he says. “You’re all chasing after dad saying, ‘Ooh, love me, please love me, I need love! I need attention. You’re needy love sponges, and I am a plant that grows on rocks and lives off insects that die inside of me.”
If Willa has left him, he claims he’ll be fine. If she agrees to a loveless marriage, that’s OK too. “I don’t need love,” Connor says. “It’s like a superpower.”
Alan Ruck in “Succession” (Photograph by Macall B. Polay/HBO)
Kendall, heading home in a car, smiles with satisfaction. Shiv, tucked into her ride, stares at Tom’s contact page in her phone.
Back at his place Connor finds Willa in his bed and climbs in beside her.
Roman, predictably, runs back to daddy, tail tucked between his legs and mouth full of sorry. “Oh, we know what they’re like,” Logan replies conspiratorially. Then he gives his youngest a choice: he can join the meeting with Matsson or attend Connor’s wedding.
When Roman balks, Logan spells out the situation, telling his son there’s a “night of the long knives” coming, naming ATN’s top exec Cyd as the first name on the hit list. He then tells Roman he wants him to be “ATN’s ruthless fire breather.”
“You really want me at ATN?” Roman asks.
“More, Romulus,” Daddy coos, flickering on the figurative gaslight and cranking up their favorite singalong track. “More. I need you.”
New episodes of “Succession” premiere at 9 p.m. Sundays on HBO.