Finally, Logan Roy has been laid to rest – but in peace? Not in this episode, the penultimate one in the entire series, which has claims to be up there with the very best of Succession. Taking place at Logan’s funeral, this managed to be genuinely moving, funny as hell and narratively gripping.
The show needed this. The final season has been extremely enjoyable – it is nothing but a delight watching these characters fighting it out between each other – but, as with the siblings themselves, it been a bit adrift since Logan died back in the third episode (which feels like a lifetime ago now, but is actually less than a week in the show’s time-frame).
It has been entertaining but not quite electric, often getting bogged down under the weight of its ambitions, as with the presidential election night story which really had to be stopped, paused, rewound and Googled to fully understand the machinations of the plot and quirks of American TV politics.
But now nine has hit, we have a reminder of why, when this show gets it right, it is up there with the very best TV of all time.
This funeral was always going to be a winner – a chance to bring all the characters together again for one-liners, manipulations, manoeuvrings and slapstick. There was so much to absorb, like Shiv’s alliance with Mattson bearing fruit as together they managed to get the ear of fascistic ‘pending’ President Mencken. And Kendell recruiting Hugo as he, in turn, plots to drag the situation back in his favour.
However, all the best stuff was in the church. Logan’s ex-wife and the kids’ mum, Caroline (a genius turn from Harriet Walter) walked into the church – “can’t you hear the dalmations howling?” said Shiv – to a frosty reception, though immediately clocking, as a mother might, that Shiv is pregnant.
Kerri turned up, and in delicious moment was invited to the front row by Caroline to sit next to Marcia and Sally-Ann who, she explained to Marcia “was my Kerri”. Surprisingly, when all four were sat together, Marcia held Kerri’s hand, a touching moment of humanity which prepped what was to come.
When Logan’s elderly brother Ewan decided to speak unannounced, ignoring Greg’s attempts to stop him – Greg pleading with the furious sibs, “What am I supposed to do, take his legs?” – he delivering a eulogy referencing previously unknown traumas that deeply affected the young Logan, and gave another layer of depth to that monstrous character. But Ewan was not about to use that as an excuse as he took Logan to task for his “meagre” outlook, the heartlessness of the vision peddled in his media empire, part of a system in which wealth was kept from the many by the few.
It was left to Roman to change this narrative and give the old man his due. Instead, alone on the stage in front of his father’s coffin, he cracked. And this was perhaps, more than any other moment, the most heart-breaking one in the series.
After being unable to read his cue cards, a dazed Roman stumbled towards his father’s coffin where he was intercepted by Kendall and Shiv: “Is he in there?” Roman said, “And he’s not coming back?” before breaking down in tears.
Oh Roman, the little damaged boy behind the impish dark wit revealed at last. What happened to the steamrolling livewire in the previous episode who took over ATN’s coverage and effectively put Mencken’s in the White House?
We have seen this before. Roman has always been “weak”, or rather vulnerable and traumatised, but he’s never been broken open publically to such an extent. The ending of the episode in which he left the wake to jump into the midst of a mob protesting against ATN should be read as an act of self-harm. A truly disturbing vision of a man-boy collapsing under the pressure. Kieran Culkin was unbelievable good in these scenes, Roman is far from just a one-liner machine in his hands.
Kendall and Shiv also had their own say as they stepped in for Roman – by the time the service was open, this reviewer was a bit of a teary state.
So… where to now? One last feature-length episode to go. Who will take over as CEO? Will we get an answer? Will it be able to deliver the goods and floor fans everywhere? It makes you tense just to think about it, given the decidedly mixed responses to the final episodes of Game of Thrones and The Sopranos.
In Jesse we trust, though…surely Mr Armstrong can pull it out of the bag with twists, turns and perhaps a few outright jaw dropping scenes. With the shock and awe delivered in episode 9, you would place all your money on him pulling it off.
Succession is available on Sky Atlantic now