[Editor’s note: This post contains spoilers for Succession Season 4, Episode 9, "Church and State."]
The pace of the fourth and final season of Succession has left the Roy family with little time to absorb Logan's death, as it's been less than a week since the domineering Roy patriarch kicked the bucket. Between trips to Sweden and Los Angeles, plus a terrifyingly consequential presidential election, Kendall (Jeremy Strong), Shiv (Sarah Snook), and Roman (Kieran Culkin) have been too busy playing on the chessboard of power to begin to honestly process their own grief. This week's episode, "Church and State," gives them no choice but to do just that, and the results aren't pretty.
Much of the early part of this season was spent on the three younger Roy siblings (Connor, as always, is removed from the discussion) attempting to define themselves apart from their father. They were going to band together, start a new media venture, maybe purchase Pierce Media. In the aftermath of Logan's death, they declared their bond to be sacrosanct and promised each other they'd make their decisions together, without the kind of cutthroat ratf*ckery that defined their father's business practices. But bit by bit, fueled by ego, mistrust, and their own inferiority complexes, each one of them has dismantled that solidarity behind each other's backs, just like we knew they would. The "what would Dad do?" of it all has crept more and more into their conversations. And so Shiv played the opportunist with Matsson, Roman stuck his thumb in the eye of American democracy on Election Night, and Kendall made the decision to screw over the country if it meant a more favorable business position.
At the episode's outset, Roman seems the most poised to take up Logan's mantle. He's embarrassingly confident as he rehearses his eulogy in the mirror ("I am the man, I am the man"). With his practiced cadence of cocksure authority, "Roman the showman" wants to use the occasion of this speech to step into his father's shoes and finally show people he's Logan’s natural successor. He's been trying to force people to realize that for days now. In Los Angeles, he fired Joy Palmer and tried to fire Gerri when they each basically laughed at the idea of him being as good as Logan. By getting Jeryd Mencken (Justin Kirk) elected, he thinks he's done it. Like his dad, he's now a kingmaker. He's confident enough to revert back to making disgusting, incestuous jokes at Shiv's expense on the way to the funeral.
Everything changes when Uncle Ewan (James Cromwell) gets up at the funeral to make his unscheduled speech. Ewan mourns the child Logan was, but is frank and unsparing when assessing the man Logan became and the effect he had on the world, having "wrought the most terrible things." Roman's prepared speech would have aggrandized Logan's impact on the world, declaring that his obituary was written in fire over seven continents, blasted out over satellites he launched, and on and on. Ewan tells a less flattering tale of a man whose life's work "darkened the skies a little, closed men's hearts, and fed that dark flame in men — the hard, mean, hard-relenting flame that keeps their hearths warm while another goes cold, their grain stashed while another goes hungry." It's a blistering speech, made all the more damning by Ewan's delivery, unsparing but not spiteful.
Ewan's speech throws Roman off of his carefully composed path, and it's thrilling to watch Kieran Culkin track Roman's loss of composure. Unable to begin his speech, Roman breaks down into hysterical, hyperventilating tears on the altar and at his father's casket, crying so openly and outwardly that it becomes a cruel meme after a video of it goes viral. In one display of uncontrollable public humanity, Roman forfeits his father's legacy, likely forever.
Of course, leadership was never going to be Roman's inheritance anyway. As we discover later in the episode when President-Elect Mencken backs down from his guarantee to kill the GoJo deal, Roman was never going to be a kingmaker. He was never going to wield the kind of influence over world leaders his father did. As we've clearly seen over the course of four seasons, Roman's real inheritance is Logan's cruelty. His sneering contempt for humanity, what Ewan called the "meagerness" about him. The joy Roman has always gotten in humiliating people, that's what Logan passed down to him. Stripped of his delusions of grandeur and reduced to being blamed for the Mencken f*ckup by Kendall, of all people, Roman heads out into the streets to take out the spitefulness that is his birthright on the marching protesters of Manhattan. That he gets his ass pretty well kicked is satisfying, even moreso than Logan getting a cup of urine splashed on him back in Season 2.
Kendall, meanwhile, spends the first half of the episode taking in the consequences of his actions. The aftermath of ATN calling the election for Mencken has led to unrest in the streets and a climate of anger and fear that pushes past the privileged bubble the Roys have built around themselves. Rava (Natalie Gold) decides against attending the funeral and takes Kendall's kids upstate where they'll feel safe, over Kendall's utterly impotent objections and threats. Jess (Julianna Canfield) tells him she's going to be looking for another job, with the clear implication that the Mencken election was her breaking point. And after all that, Mencken might not even live up to his pledge to kill the Matsson deal?
After Roman's breakdown, Kendall and then Shiv get up to essentially do damage control and end up rallying around their father's reputation in that classic Roy way. Whenever any of them is faced with shame or humility or the kind of mirror that Ewan holds up to them and their father's legacy, the response is to double down. So Kendall's substitute eulogy makes the case for his father's brutality as "vitality." He claims Logan's lifelong dedication to amassing wealth was virtuous. "The money," Kendall says, "the life blood, the oxygen of this wonderful civilization that we have built from the mud. The money, the corpuscules of life gushing around this nation, this world, filling men and women all around with desire, quickening the ambition to own and make trade and build and improve." A requiem for the 1%.
By the time the funeral procession has reached Logan's gravesite, Kendall has internalized this gold-plated vision of his father. With Roman a sniveling husk and Shiv aligned with Matsson, Kendall knows his only play is aggression. As he tasks Hugo (Fisher Stevens) with leaking uncertainty about the GoJo deal to the press, Kendall settles into his new worldview: "Life isn't nice, it's contingent. The people who say they love you also f*ck you." He says in no uncertain terms he's planning to torpedo the GoJo deal and "rule the world." No collaborations, with Hugo as his dog taking million-dollar scraps off of the floor.
With Roman having inherited Logan's cruelty and Kendall having inherited Logan's determination to win through brute force, Shiv can't leave this funeral empty-handed. Reeling from the election, Shiv is scrambling to keep Matsson, now her life preserver, afloat. She comes up with one good idea, which is to present Mencken with the pitch of installing an American — namely, herself — as CEO of Waystar post-acquisition. Having seemingly soured on Roman after his weeping fit and understandably never having much use for Kendall in the first place, Mencken is intrigued by the idea of Shiv, who so loathes his politics, being eager to play ball.
Shiv's journey over the course of four seasons has been the steady erosion of even the illusion of having principles, so it's no surprise when she fully adopts her father's moral bankruptcy when it comes to TV news. "My father was flexible, I'm flexible," she assures Mencken with a smile. "My feelings are irrelevant. Our audience loves Jeryd, so I respect our audience." She has to win, and to win, she has to surrender to the cretinous appetites of the ATN audience she's always despised.
After Ewan's speech, Kendall whispers to Roman that he has to get up there in front of the whole church and "say the other side." This phrase gets repeated a few more times before Kendall and eventually Shiv get up to speak. Neither Kendall nor Shiv can make it through their speeches without admitting their father was a hard, brutish, misogynistic, at best, mercurial man. But the siblings’ unflinching agreement that the "other side" of Logan must be honored speaks volumes about where they’ll end up. By the closing credits, all three have taken upon themselves a piece of Logan Roy's great and terrible legacy. How they wield it will likely determine how the series ends next week.
Succession airs Sundays at 9:00 PM ET on HBO. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.
Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.
TOPICS: Succession, Alexander Skarsgard, Jeremy Strong, Justin Kirk, Kieran Culkin, Natalie Gold, Sarah Snook