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The Dark Flame in Men: Breaking Down Episode 9 of ‘Succession’

On the day after a contentious presidential election, the Roy family and associates gather to finally lay Logan to rest

HBO/Ringer illustration

Television’s most miserable wealthy family is back for one final season of scheming, and The Ringer will be following their tragicomic power struggle every step of the way. Each week, we’ll break down the biggest developments, track who’s leading the literal line of succession, and catalog each episode’s most savage burns, best Cousin Greg–isms, and more. Let’s continue with Succession’s penultimate episode, “Church and State.”

Succession’s Line of Succession, Week 9

As Succession approaches the finish line, a couple of intriguing patterns have emerged. For starters, every episode of the fourth season has covered one sequential day—or at least as close as possible when accounting for travel to and from Norway—which has made the chaos enveloping the Roy family even more potent than usual. Second, the Roy siblings have basically been caught in a game of musical chairs when it comes to gaining a foothold over the Waystar Royco throne: Any time Roman, Kendall, or Shiv appears to have the upper hand, each squanders their momentum by the following episode.

By that logic, things did not bode well for Roman going into “Church and State.” Last week, Roman helped orchestrate ATN prematurely calling the election for the fascistic Republican nominee Jeryd Mencken, who can use the network’s (undeserved) credibility as a news organization to bolster his claim. As one of the key figures responsible for getting Mencken that much closer to the White House—and with Mencken offering to block GoJo from acquiring Waystar—Roman sure looked like he was in pole position to take over the company. (Kendall is still co-CEO, but Roman would wield much more power with the next POTUS in his corner.) Naturally, that also meant that Roman had two more episodes to squander the advantage he held over his siblings, and so he did.

The centerpiece of “Church and State” is Logan’s funeral, which takes place the day after the controversial events of the election. (As we briefly see from an ATN chyron at the start of the episode, Democratic nominee Daniel Jimenez wants a court injunction to block the certification of the election results after absentee ballots were destroyed in Milwaukee. Meanwhile, there are massive protests taking place in major cities, including outside ATN’s Manhattan headquarters.) Roman is delivering Logan’s eulogy on behalf of all his siblings, which is even more daunting than it might sound: There’s a dizzying number of influential figures attending the funeral, including Mencken and GoJo founder Lukas Matsson. Then there’s Shiv, who’s once again on the offensive: She believes she can placate Mencken if Matsson agrees to install an American CEO at Waystar after buying the company. Unsurprisingly, Shiv nominates herself for the role. (She also advises Matsson to release GoJo’s faulty subscriber numbers in India since the news would be completely overshadowed by all the postelection pandemonium; the gambit seems to work.)

Business being one of the primary concerns at Logan’s funeral feels quite appropriate for the late media mogul, and Roman fails a crucial test on that front. Instead of making it through his eulogy, he collapses into a fit of tears—all that supposed “pre-grieving” proves useless at the most inopportune moment. Normally, you wouldn’t blame someone for being overcome with emotion at their parent’s funeral—who wouldn’t be?—but this is no ordinary funeral. Informally auditioning to a room full of money changers, Roman looks less like Logan’s potential successor than like an overwhelmed kid who misses his dad. Roman will find no sympathy from any of the attendees—showing any kind of vulnerability in front of these people is like bleeding in a pool filled with sharks. In fact, it’s revealed toward the end of the episode that someone secretly filmed Roman while he was breaking down, and the footage is circulating online.

After Kendall delivers an impromptu eulogy in Roman’s stead (more on that shortly), PR lackey Hugo informs him of Shiv’s intentions. From there, Kendall plans his counteroffensive: He wants Hugo to leak to the press that the GoJo deal is on shaky grounds because of concerns from the family and members of the Waystar board. After Mencken hints that he’ll go against his promise to Roman—he tells Kendall at the post-funeral reception that he’ll “try to help” block the deal—Kendall realizes that the final battle over control of Waystar will likely come down to the board. It’ll be one hell of a fight in the series finale: May the best sibling willing to do the absolute worst to attain power win.

Takeaway of the Week: Like Father, Like (Some) Children

Even in death, Logan remains Succession’s greatest gravitational force: a media titan who instilled fear in everyone from his C-suite sycophants to his own children. But the show has also created an air of mystery around Logan, with significant details of his backstory left ambiguous to the audience. Just two examples: Before “Church and State,” we knew that Logan felt responsible for the death of his sister, Rose, and that he was likely abused as a child by his uncle—we briefly glimpse the horrific scars on his back during the first season. These snippets of his past don’t absolve Logan for all the horrible things he did, but they do humanize the character and inform the way he treated his children.

Thankfully, Ewan’s opening eulogy—one that the Roy siblings awkwardly try to prevent in case he decides to shit talk his late brother—fills in some of the gaps of Logan’s upbringing. When they were young boys in Scotland during World War II, Logan and Ewan traveled by boat across the Atlantic. Unfortunately, the ship’s engines failed, and the children aboard were told to stay quiet out of fear of U-boats coming to sink them. (Just imagine being 5 years old and worrying that any sudden movement would end your life.) Things didn’t get any better when they arrived in America: Logan was sent away to a private school by their aunt and uncle, but he came home after complaining about being sick. When Rose joined them stateside, she contracted polio and died. Logan blamed himself for Rose’s death, and their aunt and uncle never reassured him otherwise, despite the fact that Ewan didn’t believe his brother was at fault. (Ewan doesn’t mention their uncle’s abuse, but describes him as a “character.”) All told, the profound darkness that Logan experienced as a child was something he fed back into the world. “He has wrought the most terrible things,” Ewan says. “He was a man who has, here and there, drawn in the edges of the world, now and then darkened the skies a little. Closed men’s hearts, fed that dark flame in men. The hard, mean, hard-relenting flame that keeps their hearths warm while another grows cold.”

Ewan’s eulogy is hardly a flattering portrait of Logan, but it’s a truthful one. And with Roman breaking down before his own speech, it’s up to Kendall to “say the other side” about their father. For all his faults, Kendall is a legitimately good public speaker—his Living+ presentation had no right to work as well as it did—and he delivers. What’s most telling about Kendall’s eulogy is that he celebrates Logan not as a loving father, but as a successful businessman. The ruthlessness that appalled Ewan is what Kendall spins into a tale of mighty capitalistic achievement: a quality of his father that he hopes resides within him. “He was comfortable with this world, and he knew it, and he liked it,” Kendall says. “And I say: amen to that.”

For the rest of the funeral attendees, Kendall’s message is clear: What Logan accomplished helped line their pockets, and Kendall wants to maintain the status quo. Of course, since the beginning of the series, Logan wasn’t sure whether Kendall could really take over Waystar: Kendall may have committed involuntary manslaughter in the Season 1 finale, but he wasn’t a “killer” in the ways that truly mattered. (Logan’s uncertainty over Kendall was wonderfully encapsulated by the sheet of paper found in his safe on which he either crossed out or underlined his son’s name as the company’s successor.) But over the course of Succession’s final season, we’ve seen enough hints that Kendall could have the stomach for it: He commands Hugo to posthumously smear Logan’s name in the media within a day of his death, and Kendall’s willing to help elect a fascist if it means keeping hold of Waystar. What’s more, at the reception, Kendall approaches Logan’s former security guard Colin and reveals he knows that Colin’s been seeing a shrink: a power play that doubles as a job offer. “Come work for me, talk to me,” Kendall tells him. Colin’s approving look as Kendall walks away is effectively an endorsement: He may well be his father’s son.

Not to be outdone by her brother, Shiv also proves that what she lacks in business experience she makes up for with cutthroat ambition. When Matsson tries using Shiv’s pregnancy as a reason for why she shouldn’t be Waystar’s CEO once GoJo buys the company, she’s already willing to dismiss the needs of her baby with the same kind of apathy once displayed by her mother, Caroline. “Yeah, well, you know, she’s one of those hard bitches, right, who’s gonna do, what, 36 hours of maternity leave?” Shiv says of herself. “Emailing through her vanity cesarean? Poor kid will never see her.” But perhaps the surest sign that Shiv can be as unsparing as her father is her willingness to get into bed with a monster like Mencken if it means taking Waystar for herself. “My feelings are irrelevant,” she tells Mencken. “Our audience loves Jeryd, and so I respect your audience.” Evidently, Mencken is impressed: By the end of “Church and State,” Matsson calls Shiv and tells her that Mencken won’t block the deal.

Whoever prevails with the Waystar board—or if the company somehow slips out of the siblings’ hands at the last minute—Kendall and Shiv have proved that they’ll make any compromises to get what they want. It doesn’t even matter if their children are collateral: Shiv is already implying that she’s fine with being an absentee mother, while Kendall allowed ATN to announce Mencken as the winner despite his daughter being harassed on the street by one of Mencken’s supporters. With that willingness to perpetuate the cycle of trauma and abuse once inflicted on them by Logan, Kendall and Shiv are continuing their father’s legacy in all the worst ways.

As for Roman, his massive L at the funeral is the start of a brutal spiral that suggests he’s not cut from the same cloth as his siblings. Upon finding out that Mencken won’t stop GoJo from buying Waystar, he proceeds to goad the protesters marching through the streets of Manhattan until he’s knocked to the ground. As the final sequence of the episode, it’s an ominous tone-setter for the series finale that leaves the character’s fate up in the air. Roman has dug his own grave, and if he isn’t more mindful that his idiotic actions have consequences, he could be joining his father in the great beyond far sooner than expected:

The Most Callous Display of Wealth

I’ll be honest: I’m 30, so I don’t think about my mortality too often, and certainly not enough to mull where I’d be buried. (If I had to choose right now, I’d pick one of those underwater cremation memorials that function as artificial coral reefs; humanity has destroyed so much of the natural world, so I’d like my last act to do something to preserve it.) But the 1 percent have their own priorities: When a rich dude passes away, his burial site is basically one last flex of his immense wealth. Obviously, Logan chose some [clears throat] modest accommodations:

As Connor explains, the colossal mausoleum was originally built by a pet supply guy who made his money during the dot-com boom. (Shiv describes the whole grand display as “Cat Food Ozymandias,” which is simply incredible.) It’s a fitting resting place for such a larger-than-life figure, and true to form, Logan apparently bought the mausoleum at auction for $5 million. It goes without saying, but a normal person would consider that a staggering amount of money; for the Roys, however, it’s the equivalent of going to a yard sale and haggling with someone over the price of a used sweater. “Good deal,” Kendall notes.

The mausoleum holds space for other family members to be put to rest alongside Logan, which doesn’t tempt any of the siblings aside from Connor. (Connor says that he’s also interested in cryogenics, which is extremely on brand.) As for Logan, assuming he doesn’t resurface in a flashback during the finale, I can’t think of a better parting image for the character than his mausoleum: overwhelming and ostentatious in equal measure.

The Most Brutal Insults of the Week

5. Upon seeing Logan’s mausoleum: “Was he in a bidding war with Stalin and Liberace?” —Shiv

4. On not making it to Logan’s funeral because he got held up at work: “Yeah, well, the thing about your dad is, he’s lost quite a bit of influence over the past few days.” —Tom

3. When Caroline arrives at the funeral: “Well, here she comes. Thought I could hear the sound of Dalmatians howling.” —Shiv

2. After Shiv reveals that she’s pregnant: “Yeah, you’re having a Wamsgland. I thought you’d just been eating your feelings.” —Roman

1. When the Roy siblings and Cousin Greg fail to prevent him from delivering a eulogy: “What sort of people would stop a brother speaking for the sake of a share price?” —Ewan

The Cousin Greg Corner

We’ll commence with the Cousin Greg Corner just as soon as our guy arrives at Logan’s funeral via Citi Bike:

What a spectacular sight; it’s like the Tour de France for beanstalks. Greg almost didn’t make it to the funeral: As you’d expect, ATN is dealing with the fallout of calling the election for Mencken. “I feel the need for closure,” Greg explains to Tom. “I would like to grieve.” Setting aside that Greg is lying through his teeth—he might be related to Logan, but he sure as shit cared about him only as a means to accruing more wealth and power—it would prove useful if he were to cross paths with Mencken at the funeral and put in a good word on behalf of the Disgusting Brothers. Assuming Mencken is elected, it wouldn’t hurt to let him know who was responsible for getting him over the line.

There’s also the situation with Tom, who can’t get out of work in the midst of all the chaos but is one of Logan’s pallbearers. Tom doesn’t explicitly approve of Greg taking over pallbearer duties in his place, but when Greg informs Shiv that Tom won’t be able to make it, she chooses her cousin over Peter Munion, Caroline’s insufferably obsequious new husband, who is all about bolstering his own image. (I would also like to give Peter a shout-out for saying “Daddy’s here” to the Roy siblings at the funeral, which was in such poor taste that I’ve almost come to like him.) Finally, Roman assigns Greg the task of preventing Ewan from speaking at the funeral; in return, Roman promises to give him an intro with Mencken. Of course, Ewan does go up and give his eulogy, and it’s hard to see how Greg could’ve stopped his grandfather without causing even more of a scene.

In the end, all Greg can manage is a brief word with Mencken at the reception before the president-elect is swarmed by the Roys attempting their own power plays. To which I say: good. My expectations for Greg were low this season—the more time he’s spent with the family over the course of the series, the more morally reprehensible he’s become—but cozying up to a fascist might be the character’s nadir. And to think there was a scenario in which Greg could’ve stepped away from the toxic Roy family infighting and gotten a cushy inheritance from Ewan, the only relative with an actual core of decency. Whatever happens with Greg in Succession’s series finale, he’s barreled past the point of redemption like a Citi Bike that’s lost its brakes.