Succession review, season 4 episode 9: Roman unravels at Logan’s funeral
Once again, it’s time for me to pour this week’s Succession recap directly into your eyes as if I were Gregory Hirsch wielding a can of lemony, medicinal LaCroix. I’m not privy to the titles of the episodes before they air but based on the two standout Roman scenes, I have to assume that this one will be “Kieran Culkin’s Emmy Tape”. The first arrives as we open on Roman rehearsing his father’s eulogy and proclaiming himself to be “King Dong”. It both beautifully illustrates Roman’s unbelievably complicated relationship with his own unusual masculinity, and establishes a strange theme for the episode – namely, d***s, mentions of which practically bookend the action.
“I selected the President,” Roman says in a faint impersonation of his father’s voice. “Do you see his pecker in my pocket?” “If you have a little d***y, maybe you don’t go to the nudist beach,” Lukas Matsson (Alexander Skarsgård) grimaces, when Shiv (Sarah Snook) suggests he use her father’s funeral as a smokescreen to leak his company’s dubious numbers. “He’s got our d*** in his hand,” Kendall (Jeremy Strong) says to Roman, about Mencken (Justin Kirk), “and we should have his d*** in our hand.” Who is holding whose d***, whose d*** is the biggest, who is the mightiest big d*** of all? It’s hardly a new preoccupation for Succession, but somehow this week’s phallic banter has a particularly Freudian vibe. Of course, as Roman’s other standout scene goes on to demonstrate, Logan Roy is always going to be the biggest swinging d*** in any room, even when he is a stiff.
I am the man
“I am the man, I am the man,” Roman intones to himself in front of the mirror, which is in – of all places – the closet, in that crackerjack opening monologue where he is practising the eulogy. “As you can see, here I am talking loudly about my father… do I perhaps remind you of him, just a little?” It’s a tragic question, and I found myself wondering exactly what it means when Roman, reading from his cue cards, calls his father “a great man, in the true sense of the word”. Maybe this is exactly the kind of meaningless thing you are meant to say at funerals; maybe he means to differentiate between great in the sense of “eminent and distinguished” and great in the sense of “good”. When he chirps “see Shivvy cry, see Kendall die, see Roman the Showman light up the sky,” it seems plausible that Jesse Armstrong, who wrote this week’s episode, is having a little joke at our expense. Who could forget the brief online hysteria that resulted from that season three shot of Ken face-down in the pool?
Elsewhere, protests are building outside ATN following the channel’s crowning of the sleazy right-wing Mencken in the previous episode, and Kendall’s ex-wife Rava (Natalie Gold) has decided not to attend Logan’s funeral so she can take their daughter out of town to safety. Kendall, his usual mournful Droopy Dog schtick briefly melting away to reveal a streak of scorned paternal rage, threatens to get an emergency court order to prevent Rava leaving the city. Even more pathetically, he then resorts to threatening to lie down in the street to block her car. Last week, we saw Kendall grappling with whether or not he should prioritise the wellbeing of his child over a desired business deal – here we see him reckoning with the result of his decision in real-time as if he were a man in a folktale who has made a deal with the devil.
Speaking of Satan: Tom Wambsgans (Matthew McFadyen) is displeased with the results of the election, too, not because he feels regret over having championed Mencken, but because in a newspaper expose about ATN’s shady dealings, he is barely mentioned. Of course Tom, like Andy Warhol, merely measures his press coverage in inches. “Make sure Mencken knows I made the call,” he tells Greg (Nicholas Braun) who departs for Logan’s funeral on a Citibike. En route in the family limousine are Shiv, Roman and Kendall who bicker about their mother. It’s now that Shiv finally decides to tell her brothers she is expecting. “Is it mine?” Roman jokes. (His derisive snort after Shiv says Tom is the father may be the first time I’ve felt simpatico with Roman Roy in weeks.) “If I see you breastfeeding,” he adds, “I am gonna have to jerk off.”
This tender family moment is abruptly interrupted by a group of protestors rocking the car. Once they arrive at the venue, Kendall’s personal assistant, Jess (Juliana Canfield), informs him that she’s handing in her notice. Politely and professionally, she simply tells him that “it’s time,” although given that she is a woman of colour and her boss has recently aided a fascist in becoming president, it doesn’t take a genius to decipher that this is yet another stop on Kendall’s journey to fully embodying that one viral tweet. Another blow: Matsson has used Logan’s funeral as a smokescreen to release his dubious subscriber numbers, and in doing so has managed to avoid any potential blowback. Worse still is that when the other Roys enter the church, they are met by Connor (Alan Ruck) who begins threatening to read a “formally inventive” eulogy, which sounds horrific.
Greg, sweating and panting from his cycle, asks if he and Mencken can be introduced. In exchange, he is put on “Ewanwatch” in an attempt to keep Logan’s socialist brother from delivering a damning speech. Because Tom can’t make the funeral, owing to his busy schedule covering the fires and protests that have sprung up in the wake of Mencken’s win, he also worms his way into helping to convey Logan’s coffin. Surprising nobody, Gregory “wasabi” Hirsch instantly fails in his mission of preventing Ewan (James Cromwell) from speaking, and his grandfather’s eulogy is both a fascinating window into Logan’s early life, and a gorgeous clarion call against capitalism itself. He reveals that as small children, the two brothers ended up adrift in a boat from Scotland to the US during wartime, and that they had to be silent for three days in order to avoid detection by a U-boat; he also suggests that Logan believed that he killed his baby sister by infecting her with polio, and that his uncle and aunt wouldn’t disabuse him of the notion. “I don’t know,” Ewan concludes, wrestling with his brother’s darkness. “I try. I don’t know when, but some time he decided not to try any more, and it was a terrible shame.”
Following this unscheduled interruption, Roman is expected to deliver his own eulogy, but something is amiss. The idea that there is a single moment when a person ceases trying to be good is especially resonant for Roman who in last week’s episode shrugged that it was fine to elect Mencken because well, “nothing f***ing matters”. Does Roman make this connection himself, and does the idea of turning into his father suddenly thrill him less as a result? It’s hard to say. What is obvious is that when he walks to the podium and sees the coffin, he reacts in much the same way that he always did when the still-living Logan walked into a room – his plans and his bravado vanish into thin air, and he becomes a little boy. Wailing, whimpering, he begs off, and then asks Shiv in a childish whisper: “Is he in there?” When she answers yes, he says, horribly and nonsensically: “Get him out.”
To save face, Kendall improvises an address that he believes will rebut his uncle’s depiction of Logan as a cruel, capitalist devil, and the dark irony is that his defence of Logan’s power and money-making acumen only proves Ewan’s point. Kendall’s speech is far less personal, all business and no heart. My God, though, it’s beautifully articulated. Succession’s dialogue is written in a clear, distinctive voice – whether or not that voice is to your taste will determine your enjoyment of the show, and I understand some viewers might dislike the way its characters speak, which is often theatrical and unnaturalistic.
When it wants to, as in the episode in which Logan died, Succession is adept at demonstrating the inarticulacy that surrounds grief, but here, Kendall and Ewan sound like poets. Few of us would stand up at a funeral and produce something like Ewan’s “he was a man who has, here and there, drawn in the edges of the world,” or Kendall’s “great geysers of life he willed…that magnificent, awful force of him”. Still, everyone who writes about or raves about Succession has been calling its narrative beats “Shakespearian” for years, and since when did anybody who was grieving speak in iambic pentameter, either?
If Shiv’s subsequent eulogy is rather less bombastic than her brother’s, it might be because her mind is elsewhere. With the threat of Mencken preventing the GoJo deal from happening, Shiv suggests to Matsson that he offers the incentive of a US CEO – someone like, oh, say, a certain pouting girlboss with a Wambsgans in the oven. “She’s one of those hard bitches,” Shiv says, offering up a kind of third-person personal statement, “who’s going to take 36 hours on maternity leave and email though her vanity caesarean.”
Throughout the day, Shiv seems to be coping better than her brothers, firing out a few Roman-style quips as their father is placed in the horrid, gaudy mausoleum he bought online from a dot-com pet food magnate. “How bad was dad?” she asks Karl (David Rasche) and Frank (Peter Friedman) after the service, sad but also genuinely curious. “He was a salty dog, but he was a good egg,” Frank replies. As far as statements go, this is as meaningless as “a great man, in the true sense of the word”, and one gets the feeling that nobody knows quite how to describe Logan beyond business because the most accurate words – “abusive,” say, or “evil”– are unspeakable, even for people who use “f***” as punctuation.
If each episode this season has been a contest over which Roy sibling can most closely resemble their father by the time the action finishes, this is Shiv’s week: she and Matsson convince Mencken to side with them over Kendall, and Shiv becomes the US CEO of Gojo. Kendall’s posturing to Hugo about “f***ing the deal” and “ruling the world” comes to nothing, even if Hugo does agree to be his faithful dog. Plummeting from the giddy heights of crowning himself King Dong at the beginning of the episode, Roman ends up a tragic wreck with an audio recording of his breakdown at the funeral circulating on the web. Losing both hope and his mind, he wanders out into the street and begins heckling the protestors, leaping the barrier and goading them until he’s punched and sent crumpling to the ground. Looking at him begging to be jumped, I recalled an exchange from earlier in the season, when Kendall reminded Roman that his father used to beat him to which Roman replied simply: “Everyone hit me, I’m fucking annoying.” Watch Shivvy lie; watch Kendall cry; watch Roman the Showman act as if he wants to die. I have to admit – I’m a little nervous as to what the final episode will bring.