‘Succession’ Ep. 4 Shows the Secret Power of the Old Guard

The former court jesters and crafty trusted advisors still have a big place in the show's final season.
J. Smith-Cameron and David Rasche in "Succession"
J. Smith-Cameron and David Rasche in "Succession"
Macall Polay/HBO

[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “Succession” Season 4, Episode 4, “Honeymoon States.”]

So much “Succession” talk revolves around the idea of replacements. Whether it’s because there’s a richness to the show’s endless roster of characters or because this is a show that gets parsed to death as a Sunday night conversation driver, “Succession” has taken the simple idea of “Who’s going to take over?” and morphed that into a question that works just as much on an existential level as it does a logistical one.

It’s gotten to the point where people can make pretty compelling arguments that someone can die and still be in control. So as one of TV’s last Good Shows prepares for the ending, this week’s “Honeymoon States” reframed the very struggle at its heart. Yes, it ended with Kendall and Roman as Waystar co-pilots, spawning another wave of the neverending Roy rivalry. It also underlined the fact that maybe the biggest conflict in “Succession” all along wasn’t between branches on a family tree, but a bigger generational tug-of-war for the heart of the business.

It was easy to miss among the grief playing out in real time during “Connor’s Wedding,” but just as compelling as the Roy children coming to terms with Logan’s end was the “senior group” scrambling to figure out the future of the company. Suddenly, the longtime butts of jokes, Frank (Peter Friedman) and Karl (David Rasche), seemed to have a nominal amount of control. A decent chunk of “Honeymoon States” is showing how, after decades of biding time and trying to stay in the Old Man’s good graces, this is their time to pounce.

For a while, they’ve existed as a bumbling signifier of the old guard, the kind of people that the new-blood Roys see as sycophants and hangers-on. If anything, they’ve been most memorable for their failures, notably not having any kind of actionable response during Logan’s indisposed “Retired Janitors of Idaho” saga. They haven’t had the showcases for strong business sense partly because they haven’t needed to. They have a decent amount of job security no matter what. Frank, who helped spearhead Kendall’s failed Season 1 takeover bid, did a bit of groveling and got far enough back into the inner circle that he was on Logan’s plane at his end. And how many people watching “Honeymoon States” had completely forgotten (or never realized in the first place) that Karl’s the CFO? Chief Financial “full Baskin Robbins — 31 flavors of fuck” Officer, Karl Muller.

Part of the brilliance of this Season 4 shakeup is that Frank, Karl, and Gerri have suddenly become even better Logan replacements than his kids are. Karl’s fileting of Tom (“as a friend,” of course) is so exacting, he might as well have called Mr. Wambsgans an unserious person. Frank’s “He was an old bastard and he loved you” is a bear hug in its own way. Comforting, but also like everything else on this show, a bit of compassion that also just so happens to curry some emotional favor with the presumed heir. And Gerri is doing usual Gerri things, shaping the post-Logan game board in her favor.

Succession Honeymoon States david-rasche-peter-friedman
David Rasche and Peter Friedman in “Succession”Macall Polay/HBO

J. Smith-Cameron has always been one of the brilliant “Succession” wild cards, letting Gerri juggle everything necessary out of self-preservation. From reading the tea leaves in the Season 1 boardroom coup and maintaining neutrality, she’s been someone unafraid to act in a way that reduces blowback and lets her maintain her position. Shaking off the suggestion that Logan wanted her gone by quickly snapping back that was nowhere in writing? That’s not someone you can easily shake, even if one of the new co-CEOs may decide he doesn’t want to be reminded of making The Greatest Cell Phone Mistake in the History of Cell Phone Mistakes.

At their heart, Frank and Karl are still the “Veep”-ish figures they’ve always been. The conversation about what to do with Logan’s edited (redacted?) makeshift will is the kind of small-scale absurdity “Succession” thrives on. Only now, all that hypothetical joking about flushing it away takes on a stronger edge when it could end with any of them on the vacated throne or even more riches at their disposal. (Rasche’s eyes widening on “humorous vein” is a terrifying turn, watching him flip from punchline to legitimate threat in mere seconds.) It’s long been established that Gerri is the killer of the upper Waystar executive rank, but now the show has opened up the possibility that, Karl’s retirement ambitions aside, this subgroup could team up and have far more sway in the endgame than most people would have expected just a few weeks ago.

Just like the business overall, without Logan as a tether, the Roys aren’t necessarily the main thing keeping the show afloat. The show is already going through the big thought experiment of “What happens when Logan is really gone?” Even with Kendall and Roman nominally in charge, Gerri, Frank, and Karl’s mere presence represent an unexpected safety net. Manufacturing a set of circumstances, even with an official plan already in the works, where a trio other than business-minded Roy children end up steering the ship, would be the kind of curveball that “Succession” usually likes to throw.

As much as the show has nepotism on its mind, the way that these 11-figure companies get passed down like heirloom furniture, that kitchen conversation toward the start of “Honeymoon States” holds just as much weight: the risk-averse corners of big business love nothing more than changing as little as possible. Kendall’s little smile might indicate that he wants to clean house, but if he underestimates the experience and savviness of his elders over these last six episodes, he might just be making the same mistake he did with his father for all those years.

“Succession” airs new episodes Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.

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