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Everyone Saw Themselves in Logan Roy. He Saw Himself in No One.

Very few characters on ‘Succession’ loved the Roy family patriarch. Even fewer understood him. The result is a complicated legacy of financial interests and little else.

HBO/Ringer illustration

Toward the end of “Connor’s Wedding,” as Logan Roy’s remains are being unloaded in a blue body bag from a private jet stocked with silk bedsheets and a handful of his corporate advisers, there’s a shot of Colin, Logan’s longtime bodyman and driver, standing stock-still and on the verge of tears. Behind him and out of focus, Kerry, Logan’s assistant and recent romantic fixation, climbs into the interchangeable Maybach that Colin’s driven onto the Teterboro tarmac; around him emergency workers, tabloid stringers, and Waystar executives swarm. But Colin is paralyzed. The image calls to mind those stories of dogs who curl up by the front doors of houses—still expectant—waiting for their late owners to come home from work.

Two episodes prior, in the Season 4 premiere “The Munsters,” Logan had slipped out of the birthday party he found stifling to have a private dinner with Colin—who was of course on the clock, there by default. “You’re my pal,” Logan nevertheless tells him. “You’re my best pal.” (“Thank you,” Colin says.) Logan, ruminating, goes on to talk about people as “economic units.” “It has values and aims,” he explains, the “it” being a human being, “but it operates in a market.” As abruptly as he had abstracted people into their measurable behaviors, he laments that “nothing tastes like it used to.” From there, he wonders about the afterlife. “My dad is very religious,” Colin offers. Logan cuts him off.

There’s an increasingly popular, extremely juvenile notion that characters in fiction have to die for their stories to have stakes. With Logan’s death, Succession is attempting something more difficult—and provocative—than underlining the points of dramatic tension that have already been located. This rupture in the show allows creator Jesse Armstrong (who wrote “Connor’s Wedding”) to simultaneously track the personal and psychological fallout on those who knew Logan while asking whether, outside that circle, this death matters at all. From the beginning of the series Succession has noted the way the corporate organism almost entirely swallows the individual—think of the executives who, in the second episode, show up to an ICU, commandeering a room toting boxes of computer monitors and an acute familiarity with Waystar’s bylaws. This is the ultimate test case.

By the final year of his life,* Logan is one of the most powerful people on the planet: not just one of its wealthiest, but the man at the levers of many of its most widely consumed news outlets. He is also the only character with his last name who is evidently any good at anything. Blunt and imprecise as the immense Waystar machinery (and its outsourced security, and its Russian nesting doll of insulating shell companies) can seem, nearly every string he pulls reverberates as he hopes it will.

[*An aside on timing: While Succession is comfortable allowing major events and key conversations to occur entirely offscreen—and therefore it would be conceivable for the show to skip one of Logan’s, or Kendall’s, birthdays—the timeline of the ongoing presidential election makes that impossible. Unlikely as it may seem for a DOJ investigation or a play as technically complex as Sands to be completed in the allotted time, we are currently weeks away from the general election that loomed over the primaries in Seasons 1 and 2.]

His public reputation is inextricable from ATN’s aggressively crude politics, but he’s well-read, composed, and able to modulate: contrast his speech to the Pierce family at the beginning of Season 2’s “Tern Haven” with the one to ATN employees in this year’s “Rehearsal.” We’re invited to imagine the latter—the booming, frothing marching orders for a bloodthirsty newsroom—to be the real Logan, not the urbane one ingratiating himself to the liberal establishment. And maybe it is; in private, Logan’s politics seem to be some version of what makes it to air on ATN. But as Gerri says moments after she’s learned of his death, Logan was “a lot of things.” More specifically: He was whoever he needed to be in the moment, whether to bend heads of state to his will, swallow his competition, or simply survive.

These qualities are parceled out among his children, especially the three on whom the show is focused, though not in any arrangement that allows those kids to successfully navigate the business world or the Freudian nightmare that is their family life. His youngest son, Roman, is the most nakedly in need of his father’s love. Shiv and Kendall effect at times a cool uninterest in Logan’s feelings toward them; Roman lacks their real or imagined resolve, texting his father on his birthday and having to be coached through interactions with him when the children and Logan are aligned against one another. He inherited from his dad the willingness to say things even if—or perhaps because—they shock everyone else in the room. But unlike Logan, this instinct is a reactive one, not in service of any grand plan. So while he seems comfortable offending outsiders, he’s hypersensitive to where he stands with his family, a weakness Logan could never abide.

Shiv is the inverse of her father in the way that she constantly telegraphs and exaggerates her knowledge; she has none of his patience to seem out of touch or ill-informed, even if it would suit her ostensible goals. Throughout the series, she’s compromising Waystar’s objectives and her role within the company by straining for recognition and validation, even when she claims indifference to it. And yet she has moments of lucidity that could come only from a Roy: see the scene near the end of Season 2’s “DC,” where she successfully dissuades a woman from testifying about sexual abuse in the company’s cruise division. “Can I trust you?” the woman asks. “You can’t trust anyone,” she says—including herself. But her argument that everyone, including (and, she might say, especially) those urging her to testify, were ultimately self-interested lands. It’s a worldview perfectly aligned with Logan’s, and if she exercised it more often she might have been appointed his successor, rather than having the role dangled in front of her like a plush mouse on a string.

As far back as the pilot, Kendall is the only one of Logan’s children (including eldest son Connor) who sees him, or claims to see him, as an equal, or as a sparring partner. And yet he’s less like his dad than any of the others. Disruptive as he imagines himself to be, Kendall sees the business world first and foremost as a social milieu, one that it’s impossible—or at least undignified—to move in or out of, a perspective far more conservative than Logan’s. This is the root of Logan mocking Kendall’s overstudied management theory: Kendall is incapable of imagining anything that has not already existed. His allegedly radical proposals effectively amount to “Google meets Substack.” He’s needy where Logan is stoic; even after he elicits that wonderful smile from Logan at the end of Season 2 by stabbing his father in the back, Kendall implodes by thinking he has to be a true believer in the social justice he cynically invoked at that press conference. That’s not what a “killer” would do. Ironically, what he shares with Logan is a single-minded focus on work to the exclusion of his family.

Aside from the obvious material wealth, Logan has given his children every professional opportunity they could possibly want. And still, they frequently disgust him: Kendall with his substance problems, Shiv with her political zeal, Roman with his cultivated grossness. It’s actually Kendall, out of his mind on desert meth, who puts it most succinctly, in Season 1’s “Austerlitz”: “You’re so fսcking jealous, aren’t you? You’re so fսcking jealous of what you’ve given your own kids.” Logan clearly resents them for growing up in the cocoon he spun, and for using that latitude to develop the sorts of appetites that turn his stomach. It extends beyond his family: A season later, in the throes of the cruise investigation, he vents to Kendall his incredulity at being caught in a sex scandal. “I can’t fucking believe it,” he says. “Me, who never did anything really. A good Catholic lad who couldn’t even take his undershirt off in front of his wife … while the rest behaved like a pack of fucking stray dogs.”

Later in “This Is Not for Tears,” on the same yacht where he had that conversation with Kendall, Logan says that “the Ford Motor Company hardly exists. It’s just a time-saving expression for a collection of financial interests. But … this exists. Because it’s a family. We are a family.” This is itself a manipulation—Logan is trying to shore up support for making Kendall the DOJ’s sacrificial lamb, make the decision seem unanimous—but it speaks to that tension Logan nearly explicates on his 81st birthday, the one between a view of the world as a tangle of economic incentives and the one where something meaningful is at the core of family life. His sending Kendall to slaughter seems to make clear which perspective has priority, even if the smile suggests the other one lurking underneath.

Shortly after Colin is left standing outside that Maybach, Roman shows Shiv and Kendall his phone. “There he is,” he says, indicating a graph that shows the drop in Waystar’s stock price. “That is dad.” But Roman doesn’t actually feel so coolly about his father, and wouldn’t claim to if pressed: He was tortured, earlier in the episode, by Logan’s forcing him to fire Gerri, the CEO with whom he had a complicated sexual and personal relationship, seemingly as a test of loyalty. After he speaks to Gerri, Roman leaves his father a sincerely sad, whimpering voicemail—his version of lashing out. It is perhaps the saddest moment among many in the series, the clearest example yet of what Roman, Shiv, and Kendall’s mother describes as Logan’s approach to love: “He never saw anything he loved that he didn’t wanna kick it just to see if it would still come back.” Which is why, in “Connor’s Wedding,” when director Mark Mylod delays showing us Logan’s incapacitated body, we—like Shiv—can justifiably wonder whether the whole thing was a hoax meant to stave off a board meeting battle, toy with his children’s brains, or both.

The first three episodes of Season 4 have been noticeably darker than those that came before them. (At one point in “Connor’s Wedding,” Kendall says, of his father’s death, “Let’s grieve and whatever, but not do anything that restricts our future freedom of movement.” This is followed by a hard cut to Willa’s wedding dress on a hanger.) Combined with the seemingly circular nature of the corporate maneuvering and realignment, this tonal drift confirms the show’s central argument: that the decay of people and their relationships is inevitable, and in any event secondary to what Stewy once called “a slightly better chance … to make a little bit more money.” There are plenty of personal agendas that still need to be played out, but for Logan Roy the man, all that’s left is the funeral. Reagan’s, with tweaks.

Paul Thompson is a writer based in Los Angeles. His work has appeared in Rolling Stone, New York magazine, and GQ.