“Succession” mourns the Roy “family way” in all its tragic glory

In reviewing the entirety of “Succession” you’ll find that every character-building move has been leading to this penultimate episode, “Church and State.” Obviously, right? Logan Roy has been dead most of the season yet maintains a constant, leaden presence pressing upon each of his children.

During the span of days comprising this fourth season the truth of who Shiv (Sarah Snook), Kendall (Jeremy Strong) and Roman Roy (Kieran Culkin) are to each other and themselves, and the world, emerges more clearly with each hideous fit and start. Logan, meanwhile, remains a mystery to all of them and us, since it was never fully explained how he became such a ferocious despot.

It makes sense that Jesse Armstrong would save those revelations for this long-awaited funeral episode where we discover at long last why Logan despised weakness, what drove him to shape the world to his will and why he kept everyone at such a distance.

“You’re having a Wambsgans. Huh.”

Everything spirals back to his baby sister Rose, who died under “mysterious circumstances,” quotes intended. Logan always knew the circumstances, and so did his very estranged brother Ewan (James Cromwell), but he insisted that nobody ever speak about Rose.

This is part of the Roy Family Way, a term invoked by Shiv as she discusses how she’ll raise her baby. The “family way,” you see, involves rarely, if ever, interacting with one’s children. When you’re rich enough, you don’t have to be bothered with that inconvenience.

Her own mother’s response to that plan? “That will work fine,” says Caroline (Harriet Walter). “If you don’t see it, that’s fine.”

“I mean, they don’t grow up emotionally stunted, do they?” Shiv asks, her voice tinged with sarcasm that Caroline either ignores or doesn’t understand.

Mama Raptor replies, “I shouldn’t think so. What do you think?” Then she squeezes a frigid patrician laugh through her clenched smile.

Indeed, the Roy Family Way may have originated as a byproduct of Logan’s zeal for unparalleled world dominance. It could have been intended as an experiment to see whether he could raise killers. How did that turn out? The answer’s melody has been playing in the background all season long, but never so plaintively than on this grim day.

But we’re jumping ahead. Rewinding to the top of the day, before Shiv breaks the baby news, she nervously watches ATN’s reports of anti-Mencken protests breaking out in the streets of major cities, including in front of network headquarters. Ever the pragmatist, she calls Matsson (Alexander Skarsgård) and advises him to dump his news about GoJo’s inflated subscriber numbers immediately to bury them in the post-election horror.

Matsson is doubtful. “If you have a little dickie, maybe you don’t go to the nudist beach?” But ultimately, he follows Shiv’s advice and instructs Ebba to cook up a release.

SuccessionAlexander Skarsgard and Sarah Snook in “Succession” (Macall Polay/HBO)

High up in the sky, Roman merrily waltzes around his apartment to the tune of the world exploding, thanks to him tilting the election in favor of friend of “H” Jeryd Mencken (Justin Kirk). Channeling that energy, he rehearses his fact-heavy, feelings-scant eulogy.

“Sad, sad, sad,” he melodically freestyles, before pumping himself up with some positive self-talk: “I am the man. I am the man. As you can see, here I am talking loudly about my father,” he says. “Don’t I perhaps remind you of him, just a little? . . . Bow down to me. selected a president. Do you see his pecker in my pocket?”

Not everyone begins the day so confidently. In his car, Ken fields a call from Rava (Natalie Gold) letting him know she’s skipping the funeral and taking the kids upstate because the city doesn’t feel safe.

Enraged, he zooms to his ex’s place to accuse her of hurting him. But Rava’s maternal instincts are right: “Nothing is fine.”

In the office, Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) laments that the New York Times has a timeline of ATN’s decision-making chain in the paper, and it’s pretty accurate, down to his minimal role.  But Greg (Nicholas Braun) is only half-listening, expressing the need to be at the funeral, claiming he needs to grieve (read: network and kiss ass). “I do too! I’m a wheel man, I’m a casket wheel man. I’m front right!”

At long last this is the episode that shows, what drove Logan Roy to shape the world to his will, and why he kept everyone at such a distance.

Angry that he’s going to miss the saddest party of the year, Tom tells Greg to hoof it to the service expressly to tell their new president that he made the call. Greg huffs and puffs there on a rental bike.

Back in the car, Ken is joined by Rome and Shiv, who decides now is as good a time as any to announce she’s pregnant. They react as you’d expect. “You’re having a Wambsgans. Huh,” Rome deadpans, adding, “I just thought you were eating your feelings.” Then he goes blue, cracking a few incest jokes until Ken shuts him up.

They meet Jess near the church, and she immediately takes orders from Ken. Item one: book an appointment with family lawyers to sue Rava for full custody. Then he sees Jess scheduled a meeting with him for Tuesday. When he asks her about it, Ken’s loyal personal assistant tells him it can wait.

So of course he pries it out of her: she’s quitting. At this Kendall turns his fury on Jess, calling her juvenile and dumb before winding up with, “Nice timing Jess. Lovely day to tell me. Really thoughtful.”

Inside the church, as the crowd waits for Logan’s casket to arrive, the Roys press the flesh. 

SuccessionHarriet Walter, Kieran Culkin, Sarah Snook and Jeremy Strong in “Succession” (Macall Polay/HBO)

Ken and Shiv are standing together when their treacherous mother walks over. Caroline hugs Ken, and after icily embracing Shiv, kicks off a baby reveal exchange for the ages.

“Oh,” Caroline says, looking pointedly at Shiv. “Are you uh, OK?”

“Yup,” she says.

Caroline asks again, in a slightly different tone. “Yes?”


Caroline: “Blimey!”

Shiv: “Hmm. I know.”

Caroline: “Well  . . . I never. Well, well.”

Shiv: “. . . Thank you?”

Caroline: “Exactly.”

And that is about as close to a display of mother-daughter affection as we’re likely to see from these two.

Shiv excuses herself to find an uncharacteristically well-behaved Matsson pleased that Shiv’s advice was correct. Then she pitches her plan for a Mencken workaround: Offer her as an American CEO. Matsson, points out she’s very inexperienced – also, he hears, pregnant? She counters that she’s fine with the Swede pulling her puppet strings, speaking aloud her fantasy narrative about her kid never seeing her. Exactly what a sexist CEO loves to hear.

Elsewhere, we see Caroline pull Kerry into the exes and widows row along with a woman named Sally Ann, who introduces her to Marcia as “her Kerry, so to speak. So . . . it’s all water under the bridge now, so to speak. Shall we go pile in?” Is this magnanimous, or cruel? 

“Oh Logan would hate this,” Caroline says wickedly. Marcia offers, “At least he won’t grind his teeth tonight.” At this Kerry bursts into tears, and Marcia reaches over and takes the mistress’ hand in hers. It is the warmest we’ve ever seen of her. It’s also the least she can do as the woman walking away from Logan Roy with the most cake.

The casket arrives, signaling a somber procession followed by the officiant announcing that those who know and love Logan best will speak. Ewan shocks the church by getting up first and fast. Greg tries to stop him, as does Shiv. But Ewan shakes off Greg’s weak grip and heads to the podium.

“What sort of people would stop a brother speaking for the sake of a share price?” Ewan says, “It is not for me to judge my brother. History will tell that story. I can just give you a couple of instances about him.”

One is the missing piece we’ve been waiting for.

Once Ewan and Logan made it over to North America, their uncle, “who was a character” and had money, sent Logan away to a better school. Logan was sickly and hated it. Ewan says “he mewed and he cried, and in the end, he got out and came home under his own steam.”

By the time Logan made it home their baby sister Rose was there.

Ewan pauses, then continues, “He always believed that he brought home the polio with him, which took her. I don’t even know if that’s true. But our aunt and our uncle never did anything to disabuse him of that notion. They let it lie with him.

“I loved him, I suppose, and I suppose some of you did too, in whatever way he would let us, and that we could manage,” Ewan says. “But I can’t help but say he has wrought the most terrible things.”

Ewan goes on, poetically summarizing Logan’s sins until he reaches his closer. “He was mean, and he made a mean estimation of the world. He fed a certain kind of meagerness in men. Perhaps he had to because he had a meagerness about him. And maybe I do too, I don’t know. But I try. I try. I don’t know when, but sometime he decided not to try anymore. And it was a terrible shame. Godspeed, my brother, and God bless.”

“He has wrought the most terrible things.”

Ewan’s memorial is honest and unsparing, but genuinely moving. It refuses to lionize Logan, but it’s still a tough act to follow. And Roman is shaken. He heads to the podium with his cards full of his father’s accomplishments and nothing about who he was. 

He nervously tries to speak, but only a few whimpered words emerge. Then he steps away from the mic and he beckons Shiv and Kendall to him before he loudly breaks down, for the first time, and in front of some of the world’s most powerful people. “Is he in there?” Roman says, gesturing at the casket and emitting a whine in a high register before Shiv helps him to their pew.

SuccessionJeremy Strong and Sarah Snook in “Succession” (Macall Polay/HBO)

It falls to Kendall to deliver their rebuttal to Ewan. He looks at Roman’s notes for a moment, then abandons them entirely. “I don’t know how much I know, but I know my father,” he says.

Armstrong’s writing is consistently sharp and poignant, but Kendall’s funerary oration gives wings to this heavy scene. Between the dialogue, Strong’s devastating and impassioned delivery, and Mark Mylod’s intimate framing, it is near perfection.

“My father was a brute. He was tough. But also, he built and he acted. And there are many people out there who will tell you no, and there are a thousand reasons not to, to not act. He had a vitality, a force, that could hurt. And it did. But my god, the sheer . . . look at it – the lives, and the livings, and the things that he made. And the money. Yeah. The money.

“The lifeblood, the oxygen of this, this . . . this wonderful, civilization we have built from the mud,” Kendall continues. “The money, the corpuscles of life gushing around this nation, this world, filling men and women all around with desire, quickening the ambition to own and make and trade and profit, and build and improve.”

Armstrong’s writing is consistently sharp and poignant, but Kendall’s funerary oration gives wings to this heavy scene.

Matsson smiles at this, perhaps impressed, perhaps amused. Across the aisle, and a row or two behind him, Mencken also grins enigmatically.

Kendall continues: “I mean, great geysers of life he willed. Of buildings he made stand. Of ships, steel hulls, amusements, newspapers, shows and films, and life. Bloody complicated life. He made life happen. He made me, and my three siblings.” Caroline doesn’t seem to appreciate that.

Kendall goes on to admit that Logan could be terrible and push people to the side, but writes that off as part of his will to be, and be seen. “And now people might want to tend and prune the memory of him, to denigrate that force, that magnificent, awful force of him, but my God I hope it’s in me. Because if we can’t match his vim, then God knows the future will be sluggish and gray.”

He closes with, “He was comfortable with this world, and he knew it. He knew it, and he liked it. And I say, Amen to that.” The church breaks out in applause.

After this, Shiv takes the podium. She is not as eloquent as her older brother, but she is solid as she tells the story of how, when they were kids, Logan used to yell at them for being too loud as they played outside his office. They had no idea, she said, that he was speaking with presidents, kings, queens and heads of state.

“He kept us outside. But he kept everyone outside,” she says, tearfully. “When he let you in, when the sun shone, it was warm, really, it was warm in the light. But it was hard to be his daughter. I can’t not . . . It was. Oh, he was hard on women. He couldn’t fit a whole woman in his head. But he did OK. You did OK, Dad. We’re all here, and we’re doing OK. We’re doing OK. So, goodbye, my dear, dear world of a father.”

With that, the funeral mass ends, as does the sibling amity. Hugo whispers to Kendall about Shiv’s plan to step in as CEO if Matsson were to buy ATN, which Mencken may accept.

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At the cemetery, Shiv, Ken and Rome see the mausoleum Logan purchased that only Connor (Alan Ruck) seemed to know about, an architectural combination of Greek revival extravagance and brutalist intimidation. “Was he in a bidding war with Stalin and Liberace?” jokes Shiv. Dad didn’t want to go into the ground, Connor says. So apparently he paid $5 million for the monument at auction, the spoils of a pet supply website CEO who had it commissioned, then changed his mind.

With a few final prayers, they head to the St. Regis New York for the after party . . . er, repast.

Before Shiv gets into her car Marcia walks over and offers, “I loved him very much. I miss him very much. He broke my heart, and he broke your hearts too.”

SuccessionKieran Culkin in “Succession” (Macall Polay/HBO)

Kendall, meanwhile, enlists Hugo in his war. “Life isn’t nice. It’s contingent. People who say they love you also f**k you. So this is an explicit plan to f**k the deal, and me rule the world. And you can come, but it won’t be a collaboration, OK? You’ll be my dog. But the scraps from the table will be millions. Happy?”

“Woof woof,” Hugo says. Ken, satisfied, looks one last time at Dad’s perma-kennel before heading to the hotel as the sounds of unrest draw nearer.

Kendall’s first move is to emotionally blackmail Colin before ordering him to come to work for him. 

Then he makes a beeline for Mencken as Shiv and Matsson look on from a table across the room. Kendall congratulates the POTUS-elect, then says he wants to touch base – you know, seeing all that ATN did to catapult him from the racist fringes to the White House, pending lawsuits and all. Mencken coldly responds that Kendall is just the sound system. “Now you want to choose the track?”

Ken is taken aback, but presses Mencken to drop something publicly vis-à-vis his regulatory concerns regarding foreign tech – you know, the GoJo-killing tat Ken and Rome were expecting in exchange for pressing Mencken to ATN’s tit.

“I’ll try to help,” is all Mencken will say.

Try to help?” Then Cousin Greg stupidly lumbers up, bringing Rome into the mix, who Mencken greets with, “Hey, hey, hey! It’s the Grim Weeper. Tiny Tears. Kidding. You good?” – establishing whose pecker is in whose pocket. Then Connor skulks in to query Mencken on the ambassadorship he was expecting.

SuccessionJeremy Strong and Justin Kirk in “Succession” (Macall Polay/HBO)

Just when it’s looking like a s**t show at the Blood Sausage Fest, Shiv walks up, announces herself as the extraction team, and walks Mencken over to Matsson’s much quieter table, where the Swede delivers a clean, minimalist contrast to the Roy boys’ beta male desperation.

Matsson points out that ATN, as it currently stands, is outdated, whereas GoJo offers Mencken a multi-platform global bullhorn. 

So he offers Mencken a choice that never seems clearer than it does in this room: Tiny men in his pocket, or a gateway to worldwide cultural influence, through him, with Shiv as his American CEO.

Mencken hesitates, bringing up Shiv’s ideological opposition to him. “My dad was flexible. I’m flexible,” she says. “I know how things go . . . My feelings are irrelevant. Our audience loves Jeryd, and I respect our audience.”

With that, Mencken takes his leave.

Enter Tom, who demands to know why Shiv didn’t tell him about their pregnancy during their brief reunion. She offers a few weak excuses before boiling it down to: it seems so sad. That’s Caroline’s cue to bust in and congratulate her son-in-law.

“Well if it wasn’t such a total f***ing disaster, it would be a dream come true!” says Tom bitterly. That’s when Caroline’s girl mentions “the family way.”

Once Caroline releases her prey, Shiv takes pity on an exhausted, crying Tom, sending him back to their condo to recuperate. As he walks off, Shiv’s phone buzzes. It’s Matsson. “It’s a yes” from Mencken.

“Let’s make a meatball burger,” Shiv says, taking a moment to absorb her triumph, before shooting a gloating gaze at her brothers.

Kendall sits with Rome and tells him about Shiv’s gambit, admitting they don’t have a lot of leverage. Then, instead of offering him comfort, he tells his kid brother that he f***ed it.” Kendall’s right. Mencken was always in it for himself, and the one man that he might have listened to, Roman, publicly collapsed under the weight of an important task.

Kendall declares it’s time to officially position themselves as rebel boys versus Shiv. Entirely overwhelmed, Roman leaps off the couch and heads for the door.

As he speeds by the Village Elders’ table, we hear audio of Roman’s breakdown emitting from Karl’s phone. Somebody filmed and posted it online. “He sounds like a sow that’s about to get the stun gun and knows it,” Karl says. “It’s circulating!”

Outside, Rome barrels into the heart of the anti-Mencken protests and confronts a couple of demonstrators until someone knocks him down with a punch. He lays there as people step around and over him as if hoping to get trampled . . . but it doesn’t happen. Someone reaches down to help him up, and Roman swings on the guy, which gets him knocked down again. When Roman finally stands again, he surrenders to the flow in a grief-stricken daze.

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