[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “Succession” Season 4, Episode 9, “Church and State.”]
When the Roy family stepped inside a church, the surrounding city erupted out of sheer indignation. It’s unfair, really. Under different circumstances, Logan Roy’s funeral would be met with celebration; the proletariat he stepped on to secure his place atop the patriarchal pile are rid of their tormentor. His empire is on the verge of collapse and his legacy along with it. But Logan’s influence outlives him, robbing the people of their long-awaited party. We see it in the streets, as protesters march in anger over an election hijacked by his offspring, and we hear it in the church, when those same kiddos proselytize their father’s life to the would-be president, their peers, and plenty others from their sacrilegious perch behind the pulpit.
But the fears of violence that shut down New York also have no impact on Logan or his funeral. The limousines and black cars bringing important leaders to “mourn” aren’t turned away. None of the attendees are told to stay home, like the rest of society. They need not worry for their safety, for their livelihoods, for their future. Like his children once were, such trivial matters are kept outside, while his cherished “presidents, kings, queens, diplomats, prime ministers, and world bankers” are safe inside, where he needs them, where they can be useful to him — or, at least, his memory. Even his kids, now grown and thus valuable, are protected from the screaming voices and pounding fists.
Untouched, save for Roman. But we’ll come back to King Dong.
“Succession’s” penultimate episode, “Church and State,” is the story of three eulogies. Roman (Kieran Culkin), Kendall (Jeremy Strong), and Shiv (Sarah Snook) all try to sum up their dad’s impact — on them and the world — and, in doing so, perfectly illustrate where they stand in the pecking order. Make no mistake: As much as their testimonials are for Logan, they’re also auditions for Mencken (Justin Kirk), Matsson (Alexander Skarsgård), and the Waystar board. Jesse Armstrong has only one hour left to answer who, if anyone, will succeed Logan Roy, and Episode 9 does a remarkable job setting the table. At the same time, its intensity and scale — captured with piercing precision by director Mark Mylod — as well as its raw emotional core help “Church and State” prevail as a testament to everything the series stands against.
Take Kendall’s speech. Pinch-hitting for his grieving brother, Kendall puts down his pen and speaks from, well, if not the heart, then something near it. “My father was a brute,” he says by way of acknowledging his uncle’s damning eulogy. “He was tough. But also he built. He acted. […] He had a vitality, a force that could hurt, and it did, but my God. I mean, look at it: the lives, the livings, and the things that he made. And the money.” Here, the crowd lets out a titter. They know what Logan did for those inside his tent, and it wasn’t related to friendship or love. He made them a lot of money. Kendall, rightly, leans into it, and while he waxes a bit too rhapsodic about dollars and cents as “the oxygen of this wonderful civilization we’ve built from the mud” and “the corpuscles of life gushing around this nation,” it’s this kind of embellished thinking that allows everyone who sacrifices sound moral judgment for the betterment of business to sleep at night. Matsson may smile and Mencken may sneer, in knowing recognition of the shit Kendall’s shoveling, but they both respect him for it in the end.
That’s key for Kendall, especially as he continues to relish his evil era. (Losing his assistant, Jess? Trying to steal custody from his ex-wife, Rava? By the time he makes Hugo his lapdog, it’s painfully clear he’s embracing the dark side — and that’s just this episode!) Eulogy No. 2 wraps with Kendall describing the “magnficent awful force” his father carried and how he hopes “it’s in me” — a truly twisted thing to say about a man Kendall has tried to remove from power (if not worse) time and time again. None of the other siblings have processed what their father has done or who he really was quite like Kendall, which makes his eagerness to become the next Logan all the more upsetting. Yet there he is — snot evacuating his nasal canal, glistening on his upper lip like a signal for help — as his voice strives to sound like his dad’s.
But Shiv wants to channel Logan, too. Not about to let her brother shine alone (not again, after Investor Day), Logan’s only daughter steps to the podium and promises they’ll be done soon. She, too, speaks of her father’s presence, describing it as “terrifying” while recounting when Logan would shout at the children to be quiet (and doing a quick but convincing impression — “Silence!”). Shiv also mentions how hard it was to be his daughter, nodding but not expounding on his spotty track record with women. (The front row filled with wives and mistresses, bonded in trauma, provide all the explanation needed.) While bolstered by awe and importance, Shiv’s words aren’t as effusive as Kendall’s; they’re more tender, yet tinged in conflicting regrets. “Goodbye my dear, dear world of a father,” she says to close, and you can almost hear the stifled “good riddance.”
Shiv has always been about progress. It’s what she tried to push on her father from Day 1, with her political leanings, and it’s what she tried to slam through again during the latest election. She’s still pressing that angle now by tying herself to Matsson, and it’s the message she leaves with the GoJo boss in Eulogy No. 3. “Trust me to be your American CEO,” she says without saying. “Look at my poise, my humanity, but know that I’ll do whatever it takes. Can’t you see me as the future face of this future-facing company?” By the end of Episode 9, he can. Matsson calls her up, and says Potential President Mencken agreed to her plan. Matsson agrees, too, telling Shiv he thinks he can make a U.S. CEO work. Assuming the deal goes through, that would put Shiv on top — the successor to her father while also serving his vision. Logan wanted the GoJo deal to happen, and now his daughter may control the company he was prepared to leave entirely.
This ending sets up a battle for the ages in next week’s series finale: Shiv vs. Kendall. Sister vs. brother, new media vs. old, two tweaked versions of Logan’s intended legacy. Shiv may be securing the deal he put in place, but Kendall is certainly acting more like their dad: deploying blackmail and brute force to get his way, while making sure he maintains control over everyone in the end. Place your bets now, and buckle up fuckleheads: That last hour(-plus) is going to be a doozy. The two most respectable speeches came from the two top contenders for Logan’s chair, but let’s not overlook the speech that didn’t happen.
Turns out “pre-grieving” isn’t a thing — who would’ve guessed? — and Roman’s refusal to engage with his feelings catches up with him at the worst possible time. The one-two punch of Uncle Ewan (James Cromwell) sharing Logan’s childhood trauma and the sheer sight of his father laying inside a wooden box is enough to shake loose Roman’s repressed emotions, and he breaks down in tears. He doesn’t stop weeping throughout the funeral and, later, refuses to step inside his father’s tomb. He even flees to the car as soon as the final ceremony ends.
Karl’s closing quip about the video “circulating” of Roman’s breakdown ensures no one will forget what he did that day. Impressions matter in their world, and weakness isn’t tolerated (even at a parent’s deathbed). He’s cried his way out of contention. No CEO seat for Romey. (Though that should’ve been obvious when, in reply to Roman’s pre-meltdown pitch for support, Frank just growls.) But Roman’s role in Episode 9 is far greater than one of succession. He is the result of everything said and done at the funeral. His broken expression, his irrepressible tears, his inability to cope — it all stems from how he was raised. It comes from Logan, from the world his father built and thrust him into.
Roman thrived on Election Night because none of it was real to him. His whole life, he’s been separated from the reality that 99 percent of the world lives in everyday, and that allows him to pursue the company’s better business interests without a second thought about right or wrong, good or bad, Nazis or not Nazis. And that’s what Logan raised him to do: be ruthless, selfish, and put money above all else. When arguing with Kendall over whether they should push Mencken into the presidency, Roman says, “We’ll be in the White House, nothing matters. […] Dad’s dead, and the country is a big wet pussy waiting to get fucked.” Shiv tries to tell him later, after the deed is done, that “Things do happen, Roman” — but he can’t hear her. Things don’t happen to Roman. Not like they do to everyone else.
Until they do. Until he’s trying to parse the abuse Logan inflicted on him with the abuse once inflicted on Logan. Until he’s staring at the irrefutable evidence of his father’s absence, via the box holding his corpse. For so long, Roman either had no time for feelings or wasn’t allowed to feel them, and now — as he races out into the night, screaming at protesters and marching against the current until the current overtakes him — he hates himself for feeling like a failure, and he feels like a failure because he can’t ignore his feelings. Roman is not built for this moment, and he reacts as Logan taught him to: He punishes himself.
What an absolute tragedy.
Roman’s collapse hammers home the effect Logan had on those in his immediate orbit, but it’s Ewan’s speech — the pivotal moment in Episode 9, and one that should net Cromwell an Emmy — that expands such pain into a global affliction. “What sort of people would stop a brother speaking for the sake of a share price?” Ewan says, starting with a banger in a speech filled with nothing but hits. Though we’ve known about Rose Roy, Logan’s sister who died at a young age, the particulars of how she passed and why Logan blamed himself for the loss were a mystery until Ewan’s eulogy. “He always believed that he brought home the polio with him,” Ewan says of his brother. “I don’t even know if that’s true. But our aunt and uncle certainly did nothing to disabuse him of that notion. They let it lie with him.”
And fester. And grow. And twist into a similar self-hatred that Logan’s son feels that night. Mylod’s camera hones in on Roman during this story, and the vulnerability in his eyes conveys the impact these stories have on him. But that’s not all Ewan has to say. “I loved him, I suppose,” he continues, pulling his clenched hand from the side of the podium. “But I can’t help but say he has wrought the most terrible things. […] Darkened the skies a little, closed men’s hearts, fed that dark flame in men — that hard, mean, unrelenting flame, that keeps their hearts warm while another grows cold. […] He even had the temerity to tell that hard, funny — yes, funny — but hard joke about the man in the cold.”
This, in essence, is the true story of Logan Roy’s life. It’s only fitting that those left out in the cold are rebelling as Ewan reads these words, just as it’s fitting their cries land on the unlistening ears of those kept warm inside the church. Out of his pain and isolation, he built a world that perpetuates both; a world, per Kendall’s own words, Logan was “comfortable” with; a world, according to Shiv, that was inseparable from her father’s identity; a world, as Ewan states, that’s mean because Logan made it that way.
Who will next shape our world? So long as it’s a Roy, there will still be some of Logan in there. Next week, we find out how much.
The “Succession” series finale will premiere Sunday, May 28 at 9 p.m. ET on HBO and Max.
Greg’s inability to wrangle his grandpa wasn’t really his fault. Roman should’ve realized an ineffectual helper like Greg — who had zero impact on the Roy family strolling through the ATN newsroom last week — can’t stop Ewan when he’s determined to get something done. But let’s set that aside for some much-needed levity. Episode 9 is packed with intense, grueling moments, but two hysterical instances do stand out: Greg riding a Citi Bike to the funeral (including his disheveled arrival) and Shiv informing Greg he can stand-in for Tom with a firm “yes,” just before delivering an even stronger “No” to her mother’s sycophantic husband, Peter (Pip Torrens). Hold on to these comic interludes, dear readers. Pick your favorite, and cherish it as we near the finish line. I’m guessing there won’t be room for too much frivolity in the finale.
Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) had the best excuse imaginable for missing Logan’s funeral — New York City was shutting down because of ATN’s presidential call, and Tom’s picture was in that morning’s newspaper, like a wanted poster for the evening mob — but I didn’t expect Shiv to let him off so easily. After all, she called him Pontius Pilate when he formalized Kendall and Roman’s call for Mencken, essentially lumping Tom in with as those responsible for the downfall of democracy. He also had a particularly bad reaction to being told he’s about to be a father, and there are still plenty of emotional daggers in Shiv’s heart from their balcony blow-up two nights prior.
But I sometimes forget the Roy family’s ability to purposefully compartmentalize. There’s nothing in it for Shiv to embarrass or belittle Tom at her father’s wake. He’s already pretty broken — as evidenced by, well, everything, but especially his teary-eyed recollection of saying goodbye to Logan on the plane — so why not play nice? She invites him into their home to get some much-needed sleep and “just hide out for a while.” Maybe she wants to lean on him for help with the Matsson/GoJo play. Maybe she just didn’t have it in her to send him back to the hotel he hates after the day she’s had. Or maybe she’s playing by the same rule book that Tom is — specifically, the night prior, when he told Greg, “Information is like a bottle of fine wine. You store it, you horde it, you save it for a special occasion, and then you smash someone’s fucking face in with it.”
Bottles will be broken next week, but how will Tom and Shiv wield theirs? This minor scene of shared kindness near the end of Episode 9 brings down the barricades and allows viewers to believe anything can happen with Tom OfSiobhan. Will they bond together, once more unto the breach, or are they closed off to each other for good?
“You know I’m not going to stop with the joke things? And if I see you breast-feeding I’m going to have to jerk off.” – Roman, pre-collapse
“At least he won’t grind his teeth tonight.” – Marcia, to all the women seated next to her who “loved” Logan Roy, in one of the most jaw-dropping scenes in series history.