This post contains major spoilers and sensitive details.
SUCCESSION follows in the footsteps of 80s privileged potential inheritors such as DALLAS and DYNASTY, but has a higher gloss and elevated interest in character dynamics that matches what you’d expect from an HBO series. It’s the story of four children of Logan Roy — basically a Hearst/Rupert Murdoch stand-in — trying to find their way in life, and appease their father. (Their mother left them far early in their formative years.)
There’s Kendall, the eldest brother who routinely relies on drugs and has repeatedly tried to kill himself; Shiv, the alpha woman who is perpetually unsatisified with her life, Conner, the half-brother who is way too over-confident, and lastly Ronan who has an extremely filthy mind and temperament but actually cares about people.
There’s a lot to talk about the series, but I want to focus solely on ‘Conner’s Wedding’, the third episode in the final season. So, if you aren’t caught up: I implore you to do so now.
The episode opens in a normal SUCCESSION way: a lot of corporate back-and-forth, as well as Kendall and Shiv giving Ronan grief about texting their dad (Logan, amazingly encapsulated by Brian Cox) as they’re trying to undermine him, because they’re pissed off about how he’s done the same to them all their lives.
Ronan visibly feels harmed by these accusations and tries to defend himself.
Then they get a call that Logan is undergoing cardiac issues on a plane, and it does not look good.
To be fair: this didn’t come out of nowhere. The first season set up his health issues pretty succinctly, but showrunner Jesse Armstrong played the long con and let the show go on long enough to allow that fact to sink away; it really wasn’t brought up again after the first season. Logan just seemed like an immortal force of nature!
We spend at least twenty minutes watching the siblings on the phone with Logan’s PR crew, and watch as someone persistently applies chest compressions — I’ll note that it seems a bit too long and too extreme, but I’ll accept it — and see how everyone handles the news.
I’ll note: my parents are still alive, but I’ve seen a lot of death in my day and, consequently, seen how family members handle the news.
This is a very exact display of the myriad of ways folks react to familial death.
It is a brutal episode, one of which I’ve already seen spoken of along the lines of BUFFY’s “The Body” (which I never want to rewatch). It’s not at all what I thought I’d deal with this Sunday night, and I was not prepared for. Truth-be-told, I spent most of the episode weeping. (Again, I’m over-emotional, so make of that what you will.)
However: it’s an exceptional climax to four seasons of build-up; not just with the death, but the character work. This is an astoundingly crafted character drama, and for it to pull the rug out from under the audience this soon in the final season is amazing.
This is an episode of TV that will be talked about for years to come, and is a grand accomplishment. They built up to this moment and then underplayed it, but it paid off ten-fold. It’s an amazing achievement, and one I’m happy that I watched the night of.
Lastly, while everyone is talking about Jeremy Strong as Kendell and Sarah Snook as Shiv, please direct your eyes to Kieran Culkin as Ronan, who is doing the bulk of the work in this episode, and frankly deserves an Emmy for all of it. His over-eager, over-sexed platitudes glossed over his humanity in the prior episodes, and we see all that armor fall away in this episode, and it is astounding work.
I recommend the following links, if you feel so inclined:
“Today is the day.”