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Did Succession Just Reveal Its Endgame?

Episode 3, "Connor's Wedding," is rife with symbolism.
  • Jeremy Strong and Sarah Snook in Succession (Photo: HBO)
    Jeremy Strong and Sarah Snook in Succession (Photo: HBO)

    [Editor’s note: This post contains spoilers for Succession Season 4, Episode 3, “Connor’s Wedding.”]

    Logan Roy is dead. He survived a stroke and several bouts of catatonia, but in “Connor’s Wedding,” the third episode of Season 4, he’s a corpse at last, stretched on the floor of his private plane. Meanwhile, the people who have spent their lives (or at least their careers) trying to placate him are thrown into chaos. There’s a tidal wave of anxiety rolling through this episode, and it’s as much about the prospect of life without the north star of Logan’s judgment as it is about the fact that he’s gone. As the characters absorb that shock, scores of moments hum with significance, from lines of dialogue to silent gestures to choices in the set design. They hint at how things will or won't be changing now that the king has slumped off his throne.

    Of course there’s denial. Logan (Brian Cox) has returned from the brink more times than Michael Myers, so it makes sense that at first, Roman (Kieran Culkin) refuses to accept the news. That’s more than just his grief talking. It’s part of a family tradition of rejecting death whenever possible, from Kendall (Jeremy Strong) suppressing that he watched a cater-waiter drown to Logan refusing to discuss his late sister Rose. Ignoring the grave is a strategy like any other, meant to assert control. Never mind that it keeps failing, especially for Kendall. The impulse is ingrained.

    At first, viewers might be in denial, too, since the show has played coy with Logan’s health so many times. But the episode, written by series creator Jesse Armstrong and directed by Mark Mylod, is shaped to assure us this is real. When he’s on the phone with Frank (Peter Friedman), Kendall demands to speak to the pilot who’s flying the RoyCo plane. Gently, Frank says, “You can’t speak to the pilot, son.” That’s the literal truth, but it’s also a statement about death’s power. Eventually, we’re all just passengers in the plane, at the mercy of a pilot that won’t take instructions.

    There’s complementary symbolism on the yacht where guests have gathered for Connor’s wedding. As the kids are trying to speak to their dad through the phone they’ve been promised is being held up to his ear, the boat leaves the shore. All the characters are adrift in the air or on the sea, and that universal lack of agency underlines that Logan’s really gone. Nothing else could unmoor the story this way.

    But what happens when everyone's back on land? Even as it evokes the shock and sorrow of Logan's passing, the episode implies what comes next. When Kerry (Zoe Winters) wanders to the back of the plane, smiling awkwardly as she processes her emotions, she tries to muscle in on the corporation's official response. Karl (David Rasche) hisses that he won't let "Chuckles the Clown" anywhere near their crisis management team. This is mere moments after he raises a glass of whiskey to a man whose body is 12 feet away.

    With that (very funny) line, the show acknowledges that even though this cavalcade of bastards can feel, they will never become saints. They're too good at insulting people to let Kerry's creepy grin pass by unremarked. Likewise, Gerri (J. Smith-Cameron) is too adept at covering her ass to warmly embrace Roman when he tells her he's sad. He tried to fire her at the beginning of the episode, and with Logan dead, she sniffs a chance to slip out of that noose. Instead of a hug, she gives him a calculated cold shoulder.

    And again, the episode’s structure reinforces this behavior. Just as the wedding guests are getting on the boat, Shiv gets several calls from Tom (Matthew Macfadyen), but because they're fighting about their divorce, she declines them. Silenced phone in hand, we see her standing with Kendall, Roman, and Connor (Alan Ruck), and in retrospect, it's obvious Tom was calling her about Logan. If she'd answered, then all four of his children would've gotten the news together. Instead, Tom calls Roman a few minutes later, when Roman and Kendall are alone at the top of the boat. Isolated, they get the crucial information first. Eventually, they remember to tell Shiv, and much later, they get around to telling Connor. That flow of knowledge recreates the company’s hierarchy, and it almost mocks the conclusion of the series premiere, in which Shiv, Connor, and Roman watched their father have a heart attack in his helicopter while Kendall was on the ground. It’s like the show is saying that anyone can participate in the dress rehearsal, but only the chosen can be part of the actual performance.

    Despite this fatalism, however, the episode isn't entirely bleak. For one thing, it matters that it’s called "Connor's Wedding." In “Rehearsal,” Connor said he didn't need love, and when he learns Logan died, his knee-jerk reaction is to say his father never liked him. This comes after an earlier meltdown over the wedding cake, which is similar to the cake he gorged for a week after his mother was sent to a psychiatric institution. This could all send him into a tailspin, but while the rest of his siblings gather to support each other and plan their next moves, Connor sits down with Willa (Justine Lupe). They have one of the most loving, unguarded speeches ever to appear on this series, and then they decide to get married that day, in spite of everything. While the rest of the crew heads off to greet Logan's body, Connor and Willa stay behind to tie the knot. They exit the Roy family drama and have a moment of happiness instead. They may very well get sucked back in, but for a little while they demonstrate that another path is possible.

    Then there are the other three kids, holding onto each other. They've done this before, like when Kendall told Shiv and Roman about that dead waiter, and it's allowed them to be stronger together than apart. At the top of the yacht, they listen to each other and help each other. And when they take a smaller boat back to shore, it’s called Affinity. The camera lingers on its name, making a point about what happens when this trio is united.

    Or maybe that's the point. There are still seven episodes before the ramifications of this hour become clear. But no matter what happens, "Connor's Wedding" is obviously pushing the series toward its endgame. It demonstrates the limits of the characters' power and the opportunities for real change they could seize upon or squander. These touchtones will be worth revisiting as the battle for succession enters its final round.

    Succession airs Sundays at 9:00 PM ET on HBO. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.

    Mark Blankenship has been writing about arts and culture for twenty years, with bylines in The New York Times, Variety, Vulture, Fortune, and many others. You can hear him on the pop music podcast Mark and Sarah Talk About Songs.

    TOPICS: Succession, HBO, Brian Cox, Jeremy Strong, Jesse Armstrong, J. Smith-Cameron, Kieran Culkin, Mark Mylod, Sarah Snook