In the season four premiere of HBO's award winning show, Succession, we saw Logan Roy's desperate and unlikely bid for sweaty attention verbally exposed in a room filled with Waystar Royco's top executives. In the same episode, we also got one of the show's most telling scenes as we watched a rather subdued Logan talk about life ahead with his bodyguard. "What are people?" He asks Colin and then goes on answering it himself. "They're economic units", says Logan, while acknowledging how he stands a hundred feet tall over them. I say that it's the show's most telling scene, because it gives us a direct insight into the show's central theme of the existential rot present at the core of capitalism. But it's Logan's fundamental flaw of flattening out the emotional dexterity of people and rendering them into economic units that elevates Succession into a tragedy. More so, it's the eventual spilling of business and politics into the personal that reverberates through all the character dynamics in the show, making it a prestige drama. It's this fundamental confusion over the meaning of human relationships that informs Logan's desperate plea for attention, knowing all too well that he's pushed his kids far too off this time.
In television, a familiar set of tropes tend to follow around a main character’s death, often accompanied with grand overtures and keyed up hoopla. How else do you reinforce the inevitability of something such as death? With this week's episode, called 'Connor's Wedding', the show creates suspense and shock out of the very thing that was staring right in front of our eyes both in the show's literal title and the events from its first ever episode. At the same time, we also know that Logan had told Connor he would be at the wedding, but ended up flying to Stockholm to try to placate Lucas Matsson about the important GoJo deal. “Today’s the day,” Logan declares as he boards his private jet along with Tom, his own lieutenant of the moment.
Meanwhile, all the Roy siblings board a yacht in the New York Harbor, decked with red-white-and-blue bunting and waving American flags. The wedding is, of course, meant as a setup to provide a free media hoopla in the hope of gaining an extra percent for Connor’s Presidential campaign. But a call awaits them, one that would soon resurface all of their dormant insecurities born out of the same cause, while amplifying the emotional as well as physical distance between them and their father.
Logan is “very, very sick,” Tom says to Roman over a phone call as we're kept away from seeing the full merit behind his words. It is “very, very bad", he adds on as we watch Roman and Kendall, later joined by Shiv. As the siblings surf along in a bizarre limbo for what feels like forever, so do we. Roman resorts to his child-like coping mechanism, manifested by denial, while Ken and Shiv tremble wondering whether it's a false alarm.
The possibility of one or another sibling pushing their father to a physical breaking point has always been a recurring theme that drove the suspense in the show. Alas, they had now done it, together. While Roman sits down on the deck-floor while thinking about the last mean words he had said to his father (his last words to Logan included, “Are you a cunt?”) and whether that would have triggered something, the other two - equally flustered - cope with the guilt manifested by denial in their own ways. After all, Logan had been traveling across continents to see Lukas Matsson out of the very consequence of their action. Now, that nightmare of a task sprinkles like gasoline over the yacht, as we watch the siblings in disarray with the American flag wavering outside the little VIP glass cage.
One of the more fascinating aspects of the episode remained is seeing each of the Roy kid react to the dreadful situation at hand. There are pleas made to talk with the pilot, getting the best medical expert over conference and surgeons who have no way of reaching Logan mid-flight. A desperate Kendall goes out to the deck and asks Tom and Frank to “do it right", only to later realize how futile his expectations are. While each new shot of Tom restricts the vision of the field as the scenes act as a punctuation marks to feed into the desperation of finding out the truth, the Roy siblings' excessive usage of 'fucks' too acts as punctuation that verbally reinforces their paranoia. After all, we already know their inability to process emotions, as even the trappings of wealth and power have necessarily ever afforded the Roy kids any special dignity.
"You're not serious people", Logan says to his kids in the second episode of the season after putting his guard down, while trying to convince them of the GoJo deal. Now with them literally ashore with their anchor gone, will their father's ruthless absence prove to be his greatest power move? The denial of each Roy sibling has a hard-hitting subtext to it, as they had devoted their entire lives around trying to impress and live up to the (undefined) expectations of their megalomaniac father. Is the denial partly coming out of the reality of now having to unlearn the ways of dealing with their generational trauma? Well, not all the siblings though. And this is what brings me to Connor, whose name appears in the episode title.
"He never even liked me", replies Connor to Ken and Shiv when they approach him to tell about what happened. With a straight face, he asks whether their father is dead for sure, and later even goes on marrying Willa by restoring to "can something good come out of something bad?" It's not that Connor doesn't have insecurities of his own, but it was his acceptance of his father's true self ever since the start of the show that always made sure he didn't chase his life behind impressing him by throwing empty hijinks, pretending to be someone he's not. In the sad karaoke monologue from the second episode, Connor also said, “The good thing about having a family that doesn’t love you is that you learn to live without it". He then goes onto add, "You’re needy love sponges, and I’m a plant that grows on rocks and lives off insects that die inside of me.” In his confrontation with Willa later on, he asks her whether she's marrying him just for the money. Hence, it's not that Connor is immune to the insecurities while being more susceptible to change (no one in the world of Succession is), but the character's tragedy lies in realizing that even what he said isn't true; he too is a needy love sponge seeking his self worth that his father never cared to make him see.
Most of Succession had always been about Logan making monstrous decisions from high on, and leaving everyone around to deal with the consequences. Now, he goes out while choosing business over his children and family, and yet the tragedy lies in how a man obsessed with control goes out with none. We get a few glimpses of someone administering CPR, and the closest we get of seeing him is a floor-height shot of Logan’s face, upside down, his torso foreshortened and blurred into the background. The death is minimized and underplayed, and we're left wondering whether Logan or any of his kids’ lives could ever be separated from their market value - one that defined their father's legacy and made him a figure to reckon with. When we get a shot of the three Roy siblings standing a few feet away from Logan's stranded PJ, the juxtaposition of the landscape betrays their own futile ambitions, making them look small, highlighting their emotions leak through, until the camera cuts away. In a show where even a minor move at corporate pragmatism, backstabbing and ruthless jockeying for position actively leads to serious consequences, the death of its main character in itself is played unceremoniously.
As the audience, we respond strongly not particularly because of our emotional attachment to Logan, but because of the depiction; the show emotionally involves our conscience while constantly pushing against the conventions of television. One could only hope that this tragedy helps the Roys introspect their positions, but their black outfits, serving a dual purpose here, say otherwise. After all, it's their indifference and lack of seriousness to the outside world that makes them so insular.