[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “Succession” Season 4, Episode 4, “Honeymoon States.”]
Shiv (Sarah Snook) and Roman (Kieran Culkin) are sitting on the steps, about halfway up (or down) their late father’s twisting white staircase. Having just seen a piece of paper that says, in some uncertain terms, Logan (Brian Cox) wanted his namesake, Kendall Logan Roy (Jeremy Strong) to succeed him as CEO, the two unmentioned children are a bit flummoxed. “It’s felt good — us — right?” Shiv says, referencing 10 minutes prior, when the three sibs were still on equal footing. “And now does this feel good? Does that feel good?”
Even in death, Logan has the power to come between his sons and daughter. When the day begins — an informal gathering at Logan’s apartment for family to “grieve” and “friends” to pay their “respects” — Kendall, Roman, and Shiv delight in playing translator to their father’s obituaries. “‘A complicated man,'” Shiv reads aloud, which Roman deciphers as “threw phones at staff.” “Sharp reader of the national mood” becomes “a bit racist,” and “very much a man of his era” doubles down as “also racist — and relaxed about sexual assault.” Considering the tears shed and hugs shared one day prior, the Roy kids’ cathartic jokes about their deceased father reflect the meaningful bond they’ve forged in the last few months. It does feel good to see them like this — knowing they, too, were victims of Logan’s physical and emotional abuse — and even when recognizing their part in protecting him and benefiting from his toxic kingdom, it does not feel good to see the trio methodically ripped apart.
Episode 4, “Honeymoon States,” makes quick work of the sibs by dropping a bomb in the middle of their mourning brunch. Logan, approximately four years prior, named Kendall his successor. Then, within the last 18 months or so, he either underlined that choice or crossed it out. (More on that later, but it’s almost certainly underlined.) While the unverified document has no legal value — as Shiv so quickly and painfully emphasizes —it’s the chosen name that reverberates throughout the group. Logan picked Kendall. Depending on the show’s fuzzy timeline and your interpretation of the “pencil addendums,” he may have picked Kendall even after all the backstabbing. Any hopes that Roman and Shiv had of earning enough of their father’s trust to usurp his namesake as heir to the empire are dashed or given a severe drubbing. First, it was Kendall, and in the end, it still appears to be Kendall.
That’s not necessarily good news for our favorite Buddhist, and Episode 4’s closing moments make it clear why. By enacting Operation Shit on Dad, Kendall isn’t just going behind his brother’s back or betraying his promise to share everything with his sibs; he’s following his dad’s advice. “It’s what he would do,” Kendall says, by way of explaining his order to tarnish Logan’s legacy in order to bolster the company’s image. “He’d want this for the firm.” You could see Kendall recognizing as much during the initial meeting. Even when Hugo (Fisher Stevens) talks about leaking Logan’s “physical and verbal abuse, the Kerry situation, [and stuff about] Connor’s mom,” Kendall doesn’t ignite like Roman does. (Perhaps because Roman was the one repeatedly hit by his dad?) He considers the tactic and soon decides it’s exactly the kind of ruthless behavior his father embraced.
Nicholas Britell’s ominous closing score only emphasizes the gut-churning turn Kendall takes, after blackmailing Hugo into doing his bidding sans paper trail. (Also: In not so subtly alluding to Hugo’s lobby conversation with his estranged, fraudulent daughter, Kendall’s “strap-on” remark perfectly captures Logan’s terrifying, “always watching” energy.) Is this his future? With near-absolute power and without his father’s shaming eye, will Kendall morph into the heartless monster who raised him? “Ken, you’ve got stuff cooking,” Frank says when he’s asked to back Kendall. “You seem so well. You really want back in?” Often the (only) voice of reason, Frank knows what wearing the crown could do to Kendall. It’s unclear if Kendall realizes it, too, but either way, tragedy awaits.
What does it all mean for Roman and Shiv? In the immediate present, it means Roman gets to be co-CEO and Shiv’s shit out of luck. “It’s the COOs, it’s in the draft plan, I’m on the piece of paper,” Kendall explains to his jilted sister. “It needs to look clean and dry and tough.” With Stewy (Arian Moayed) in their corner, along with the good China-admiring graybeards, Kendall and Roman sell this vision to the board and ascend. Shiv, meanwhile, trips on the way into the living room and falls — a minor fall turned gasp-inducing by Episode 4’s opening bombshell: Shiv is pregnant.
Before anyone gathers at Logan’s palatial apartment (that Willa still wants to expand?), Shiv gets a phone call from her doctor. Her test results are in, and “everything looks healthy.” Next up is a 20-week scan (which implies this is Tom’s baby, conceived during their disastrous dirty talk session in Tuscany), but the doctor assures Shiv she’s got nothing to worry about — right. Sure. Nothing at all. Her dad just died, she’s about to get divorced, and now she’s on the outs with the family business and her own brothers.
Shiv’s impending child puts a lot into perspective, and not just what happens in Episode 4. Sure, it makes more sense that she’d mention Logan missing out on “rocking his grandchildren to sleep,” but my mind went straight to the premiere and her argument with Tom (Matthew Macfadyen). When Tiptoe Tommy begged to have the hard talk about the state of their marriage, Shiv was quick to cut him off. “I don’t want to rake up a whole lot of bullshit for no profit,” she says, but when he pushes again, she adds, “Stop. I don’t think it’s good for me to hear all that.” At the time, her comment sounded like simple denial: like Shiv would rather not engage at all, let alone confront Tom for “backing the wrong, dead horse,” and if that silence meant ending her marriage, so be it. But now, was she talking about her health and the health of the baby? Is it not good for her to get so worked up only a few months into her first pregnancy?
A bit of both motivations were likely at play, but now there’s a ticking time bomb waiting for Tom. He’s the one in that marriage who really wants kids. When the topic last came up (again, in Tuscany), Tom even said he would want Shiv to have his babies if he died. So… maybe she is? There’s no reason to think Tom is dying, but if he loses his job at ATN, if his marriage fails — if he’s as “fair and squarely fucked” as Karl (David Rasche) declares — then he may be dead to the Roys. And Shiv may, in fact, have his baby without him.
Tom is at the bottom of the steps, barely in the same building as the rest of the family. Kendall is at the top, offering his right hand to Roman and hiding a “strap-on” in his left. Shiv is perched halfway down or halfway up, depending on your outlook. But there are plenty more bombs left to detonate, plenty more stairs to climb or tumble down.
Greg is basically a mini-Tom in Episode 4 — a Tomlet, if you will (as in a baby pig version of Tom, which is not to be confused with Tomlette from Season 2 — a reference, of course, to Tom as an omelette made of Greggs). While Tom walks around telling everyone who will listen (and some who won’t) that he only wants to serve, Greg bounces from room to room doing the same, only worse. Once the letter is unveiled, he even pitches himself as Kendall’s implicit “No. 2,” which is a stretch not even Greg’s lengthy body can accommodate. Later, he sees Marcia’s (Hiam Abbass) brutal treatment of Logan’s mistress, Kerry (Zoe Winters), and naturally sides with the ruthless yet powerful widow. Finally, Greg also hears the inside scoop on Logan’s less-than-flattering final moments, when Tom informs him that the business titan died “fishing his iPhone out of a clogged toilet.” (It’s hard to tell how seriously we should take Tom’s statement, since a) it doesn’t line up with the original story, where Logan only went to the restroom because he was short of breath, and b) Tom loves fucking with Greg.)
OK, so let’s talk about the letter. At the end of Episode 4, Kendall pulls up a photo he took and zooms in on his name. First of all, that’s not a pencil mark. The color is far too dark to be made with common graphite (unless the uber-rich are using some advanced form of carbon that looks like a Sharpie). More importantly, that’s not a cross-out. The line starts squarely under “Kendall,” drifts up through the L’s, and stays in the lower third of the font until the very end, where it rises just above the punctuation mark. In other words, it’s under Kendall’s name most of the way, then barely reaches the middle, where a strikethrough happens, at the end. When it comes to intent, where the line starts is what matters here, and it starts squarely under Kendall’s name (like this: Kendall), not in the middle of it. If Logan was trying to cross out Kendall’s name, the line would’ve been initiated at a higher point in the “K” (like this:
So Logan made his choice and stuck by it. Case closed. …save for one caveat. If Logan was left-handed, there’s a chance this theory falls apart. Americans are taught to write from left to right, so it’s pretty safe to assume that Logan would start on the left side of Kendall’s name whether he was underlining it or crossing it out. But if Logan was a lefty, he could have started on the right (with “Roy”), trying to draw the pen back through the name. If that’s the case, a cross-out is possible, since he would’ve started in the middle and then the pen fell downward as he moved away from “Roy” and toward “Kendall.”
I’m sure better sleuths than I will soon track down a shot of Logan writing, thus closing the case with authority, but in the meantime, I did find evidence that indicates the old man was right-handed: In Season 2, Episode 3, “Hunting,” there’s a little game you might remember called “Boar on the Floor,” during which Logan picks up a sausage and tosses it to the “little piggies” oinking for their supper. Logan does use his right hand as his throwing arm… but the pitch is more of a flick — just a quick lift and release, which is close enough to a drop that a non-dominant hand could’ve done the job.
Still, if forced to choose, I’m betting Kendall’s name was underlined. (Though it’s clearly better dramaturgically if the line remains ambiguous.)
“In Marsha’s trunk, inside an anaconda, inside a sarcophagus.”
– Roman, who’s clearly been reading from Marsha’s dream journal
“He has three Gauguins that no one has seen for tax reasons.”
“Why not just burn them for the insurance money?”
“That would be the dream, financially speaking.”
“Succession” airs new episodes Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.