There’s no better way to start this story than with a big, bold spoiler alert: If you haven’t seen the most recent episode of the HBO drama Succession, and you intend to today, tomorrow or anytime in the future, and you don’t want a major plot point to be spoiled: do not read on.
Logan Roy is dead. With that, Succession has killed off the main character who gave the show its title. The aging, ailing, abusive media mogul — whose cruel manipulation of his adult children and an assortment of sycophants has fuelled over three seasons of the corporate soap opera — died on the toilet of an airplane bathroom. How fitting.
Most viewers weren’t expecting L-to-the-O-G to die three episodes into the show’s final season, with seven still to come. But many were electrified by an episode of television that captured the suddenness of death and the confusion of grieving a loved one who you hated.
Roxana Hadadi, TV critic at U.S. pop culture outlet Vulture, thought that Succession, which airs on HBO, might follow the cable network’s tried-and-true formula: a penultimate episode shocker — such as those seen in The Wire or The Sopranos — to precede the series finale.
“But this was almost like a Game of Thrones, Red Wedding, coming-out-of-nowhere sort of reveal,” Hadadi said, referencing an infamous episode from the medieval fantasy drama that saw several major characters killed off in a bloody massacre.
“Some other shows, like The Sopranos, are very explicit in these deaths, right? There’s the shock of the death, and then there’s also the bloodiness, the brutality.”
Yet Succession strayed from that style by having Logan’s death occur off screen, only once giving viewers a brief glimpse of his head. Meanwhile, Logan’s children Kendall, Roman and Shiv are helpless, stuck at their older half-brother Connor’s wedding as they try to save their father’s life by phone (while still protecting their business interests, of course).
“What felt so interesting about how Succession handled this is we are in the same boat of confusion and uncertainty as the Roy children are,” said Hadadi.
“We do cut to the inside of the plane but I thought that the director Mark Mylod was very thoughtful in not showing Logan’s body. There is sort of a level of respect there, just [for] the dignity of human life, that we don’t see him,” she said.
Another HBO show, Six Feet Under, is perhaps the most fitting precursor to what Succession achieved with Logan’s death. The series, about a family who take over their father’s funeral parlour after his death, handled loss and grief — and, yes, the death of a major character late into the series — in ways that subverted expectations about how the medium could handle character deaths.
Chloe Maclagan, a Succession fan from Montreal, felt that the series’ anticlimactic depiction of Logan’s death and its immediate aftermath was true to reality.
“That’s really, I guess, kind of reflective of how life is,” Maclagan said. “How someone just dies and you don’t really have any time to process.”
Maclagan began watching the show during the COVID-19 pandemic. She expected that the Logan Roy character would die at some point — the show initially planned to have him die during its first season — but was struck by the show’s candid treatment of his demise, given his power and wealth.
“He’s just dying like everyone else does,” she said.
Logan’s kids call in every contact and resource at their disposal in typical Roy fashion. Kendall, for example, orders his poor assistant to find the world’s best cardiologist “in the next two minutes.”
“There’s nothing that they could have done to save him in that situation because he was going to die anyway,” Maclagan added.
The only question that remains: Who will be Logan’s successor?
Episode depicts ‘raw grief’
“What I really thought was so cool is it played out real time,” said Will Wong, an entertainment blogger from Toronto.
During a behind-the-scenes look at the show, episode director Mylod and actor Kieran Culkin revealed that the scene in which the Roy children get the call about their father was shot in a single, unbroken 27-minute take.
“You’re literally sitting in the room, and you’re stressing with them: How are they going to manage it? You’re watching them revert to their childhood selves. They’re fighting to be in the present,” said Wong.
WATCH | Succession director and star go behind the scenes of that bombshell episode:
The critic Hadadi notes that over the course of Succession‘s three plus seasons, the Roy children constantly discuss family, loyalty and love through the lens of their father’s emotional and physical abuse.
“They have this shared history. They sort of mock each other for their feelings,” she said.
That was well exhibited during one of the episode’s more humorous moments, as Kendall and Roman sit together, going back and forth: “We’re going to be okay.” “You’re not going to be okay.” “Well, you’re not going to be okay either.” “You’re not going to be okay.” “You’re f–ked.” “You are f–ked.” “You’re totally f–ked.” “You’re very f–ked.”
“It’s excruciating. It’s awkward. They don’t know how to grapple with it. All these weird emotions are coming out,” said Wong.
Each of the Roy children’s response to their father’s death offers a revealing look at their relationship to him. Kendall says he loves him but can’t forgive him, Roman lies and tells him he’s been a good dad, while Shiv begs him not to die — and their forgotten, older half-brother Connor isn’t told until much later.
“He never even liked me,” Connor says upon hearing the news, his father overshadowing his wedding just as he’s loomed over his entire life.
Hadadi said it’s an apt portrait of how these siblings relate to or don’t relate to each other and who is on the inside and who is on the outside of their circle.
“I thought that cycling through the kids, going through their emotional responses, all of them still reverting to the children that want to be loved by their father and [want] to tell him that they love them,” she said. “I mean, there is a lot of really raw grief there.”