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Succession Is Setting Logan Roy Up to Fail

The Season 4 premiere puts several holes in his armor.
  • Brian Cox in Succession (Photo: Macall B. Polay/HBO)
    Brian Cox in Succession (Photo: Macall B. Polay/HBO)

    [Editor’s Note: This post contains spoilers for Succession Season 4, Episode 1, “The Munsters.”]

    Succession’s fourth season premiere is titled “The Munsters,” which might seem like an approving nod to Logan Roy (Brian Cox). After all, that’s what he sourly calls a group of his underlings as they scurry around trying to appease him. However, the story’s structure suggests that Logan himself is the Munster in question — a supposedly fearsome creature who’s not actually so scary. He barks and bellows as much as ever, but in scene after scene, he’s not the one making the moves.

    Take the Pierce deal: As he waits by the phone, it’s Shiv (Sarah Snook), Kendall (Jeremy Strong), and Roman (Kieran Culkin) who are face to face with Nan Pierce (Cherry Jones), offering to buy her media empire and rob their father of something he wants. In the end, they succeed, leaving Logan without a company he’s been lusting after for years.

    This would have been unthinkable in Season 2, when the Pierce posse first arrived on the show. In the episode “Tern Haven,” Logan led his team (including his children) into the Pierce mansion like soldiers. He gave them instructions on how to behave and scolded them for not meeting his standards. And while he certainly acted like a neurotic despot, he nevertheless muscled through the negotiations and landed the deal on his terms.

    At the end of that episode, he ostensibly gathered everyone for a celebration, but it was like bringing champagne into a battlefield hospital. Logan stood at the head of the room, looking imperiously at the others, who were seated. He let them stew on how their emotional outbursts and self-serving schemes disappointed him, and when someone congratulated him on his victory, he smirkingly said, “Yeah. Money wins.” In other words, his family and employees didn’t have what it took to help him. He had to conquer with capital instead. As he walked upstairs to his room, he was like a disgusted general who couldn’t bear to see his pathetic troops anymore. He was alone at the end of “Tern Haven,” but it was the loneliness of immense power.

    He’s also alone at the end of “The Munsters,” but this time, he’s not the champion. Sitting in front of the TV, nursing a drink and watching late-night programming on ATV, he salves his ego by calling Cyd (Jeannie Berlin) to complain that the on-air host is ugly. It’s a small-potatoes gripe — the flexing of power from a boss who has been pushed out of a much bigger game. He wants to expand his empire, but instead he’s yelling at an employee in the middle of the night.

    One could argue that his call to Cyd actually proves Logan’s remaining influence: Even without his children, he’s still got his lackeys, and he’s made it clear he’ll keep running ATN. But “The Munsters” destabilizes that dynamic, too. While he’s waiting for news on the Pierce deal, he suddenly commands everyone around to start roasting him. “Give me a drubbing!” he shouts, and it’s clear he wants to be insulted so that he can disembowel people in return. Because he’s still the boss, a few employees do make a half-hearted attempt to comply, but nobody really goes for it. Even Greg (Nicholas Braun) just asks a pointed question about where Logan’s children are, then shrugs it off when Logan insults him in return. Logan has commanded his monkeys to dance, and they’ve barely done a two-step.

    Two years ago, his mind games were like psychological nukes. In the Season 2 episode “Hunting,” when he wanted to sniff out the person who’d been trying to scuttle early talks for the Pierce deal, he unleashed a game called Boar on the Floor. WIth vicious skill, he got three of his employees (including Greg) to oink like pigs and wrestle on the ground for a piece of sausage. Several onlookers hooted and cheered like they were at a cockfight, clearly relieved they weren’t the ones being shamed. Logan didn’t even need to encourage Roman to film all this: The kid practically licked his lips as he documented the humiliation. Everyone in the room — including his children — debased themselves to make Logan happy. In its way, it was an impressive display, because it proved that in reality, the old man has so much more than money to make him powerful. He has his hands inside the minds of the people around him, and he squeezes whenever he wants.

    But now his grip is weakening. This has been teased as a possibility before, what with Logan’s declining health and the children’s regular attempts to usurp him, but as recently as the Season 3 finale, he always came back with a final move that returned him to power. As the series enters its final run, it feels especially significant that he doesn’t get the upper hand by the end of the premiere.

    To complete that structural blow to his authority, “The Munsters” also features Logan’s latest birthday party. In the pilot episode, that was an event where he held court. Now Shiv, Kendall, and Roman don’t even attend. Neither does Marcia (Hiam Abbass). Connor (Alan Ruck) only turns up to work angles for his presidential campaign, and when Logan wants to get away from the hollow spectacle, he’s reduced to making his security chief join him at a diner. Sitting under those sickly fluorescent lights, muttering his bleak philosophy about people being nothing more than economic units, he seems more impotent than he has in the entire series.

    Crucially, though, the Season 4 premiere makes a distinction between Logan as a human being and Logan as an idea that haunts people’s minds. Whether they’re egging each other on to bid on Pierce or planning to launch their own new media company, everything Kendall, Shiv, and Roman do in “The Munsters” is wrapped up with their father. They want to punish him. They want to prove him wrong. They want to outmaneuver him. It’s like they’re boxing him, even when he’s in a different city.

    Plus, the children and the employees behave the way Logan taught them to behave. The culture of abuse and manipulation that’s evident in something like Boar on the Floor doesn’t just vanish when the person who installed it begins to recede. At this point, the characters don’t need him in the room to reflexively turn on each other, scheme for power, and act like dogs who are used to getting kicked. As the season continues, it will be fascinating to see how this psychic legacy interacts with what’s happening to Logan in the present moment. Since the old man has colonized the thoughts of everyone else on the show, he may be inescapable, no matter how many people skip his parties.

    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, Cherry Jones, Jeremy Strong, Kieran Culkin, Nicholas Braun, Sarah Snook