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The past is fiction and the future is real as Succession grapples with Logan’s legacy

Photo: Graeme Hunter (HBO)
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It’s fascinating, the little scraps of Logan’s (Brian Cox) upbringing we’ve gotten throughout these 18 episodes of Succession. We know he wasn’t raised rich, that his fortune and empire was self-made. We know he and Ewan’s (James Cromwell) mother died when they were young, and that an “evil Uncle Noah” wreaked havoc on them in the aftermath. We’ve seen old scars criss-crossing Logan’s back. We know he’s had several wives, though we know little about Connor’s (Alan Ruck) mom, who Roman (Kieran Culkin) says “got sent to the booby hatch” (i.e., a psychiatric hospital). And now we know that he had a sister, Rose, who everyone knows it’s wise not to bring up. What happened to her is unclear, but Logan blames himself for it.

That the writers leave so many dots unconnected, so many years hazy, is wise on several levels. For the viewer, it keeps Logan fresh. There’s no flashback episode, no ready-made narrative about absent fathers, loving mothers, and persevering beyond abuse. Instead, details of Logan’s past bob up as they do in his mind, only to be shoved back down into the dark corners he leaves unswept. Logan’s refusal to engage with his past, his tortured relationship with Ewan, and his anxiety over his own parenting says more about him than a flashback ever could.

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Within the show, meanwhile, it mythologizes Logan. As we’ve seen time and again, even his own children see him as a mythological force. “Has anyone ever told you that you talk about your dad a lot?” Kendall’s (Jeremy Strong) new flame asks him. “He’s just a major presence in our lives,” he responds. As they drive through Dundee, the Scottish town where Logan was born, Connor asks his dad to tell them a story. “You want a bit about old fucking Rosebud?” Logan says. “Rosebud is a dollar bill. It’s whatever it took to get me the fuck outta here.”

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But it’s also more complicated. That’s perhaps the narrative Logan’s crafted for himself, but he also exudes an anxiety about how his own origin story has been hijacked by his historians. “It wasn’t what they say, you know,” he mumbles while staring at the countryside. Later, Shiv (Sarah Snook) asks: “Don’t like the past too much, huh?” He replies, tenderly, “I do, it’s just there’s so much of it. And the future is real.” It’s all made up, he says, in service to the myth. There’s a dehumanizing quality to being a public figure, what with your own history being co-opted by others and used both for and against you. The future is unwritten. There, you can tell your own story.

James Cromwell, Nicholas Braun
Photo: Graeme Hunter (HBO)
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One of the episode’s funniest bits finds his kids staring at his birth home, remarking that “it would be worth 5 mil, easy” in Brooklyn. “I’d live here,” Connor says. “I mean, I wouldn’t but someone could.” Shiv, meanwhile, declares that there’s no way Logan “shat in a bucket.” That’s the myth, after all. Earlier in the episode, Connor says he’ll never “truly understand Dad until I shit outside.” For Logan, though, the myth and the reality have blurred into fiction, more or less obliterating any sentimentality he once had. “Okay, there it is, what am I supposed to do?” he asks when they pull up outside of the house. He turns down a photo op. He has a nice moment with Ewan, one of their only in this entire series. “I saw a mistle thrush at the bandstand,” he says, smiling. He used to keep a log of birds as a kid, and Ewan used to cross out the ones he didn’t believe he’d seen (what an asshole). It’s probably the purest, most innocent memory of Logan’s past we’ve seen yet, though it’s undercut fairly quickly by Ewan, who floats in and out of this episode, serving as a Banquo-like ghost reminding Logan of his sins. It’s a bit much, honestly—Ewan’s hyperbole, declaring that there’s an argument to be made for Logan being “worse than Hitler,” is bordering on parody, which, hey, might be the point.

Still, despite Logan’s lack of sentiment, the episode serves as a grounded portrait of a character who can sometimes play like a supervillain. He’s hurt by Ewan’s atttacks. He’s unsure of the future, confessing to Shiv that he’s already losing faith in Rhea (Holly Hunter). He knows he’s alienating Marcia (Hiam Abbass), too—“You have been careless of me,” she tells him, and he knows she’s right. As he unveils yet another plaque in his honor, he succumbs to the hollowness of his legacy. Does he really deserve to have a school of journalism named after him? He’s taking absolutely no pleasure in any of this.

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Matthew Macfadyen, Sarah Snook
Photo: Graeme Hunter (HBO)

Shiv, meanwhile, finally stops fucking around, exploiting his vulnerability in a manner of which Logan would be proud. After getting fucked by Rhea last week, she tries to tear her down with the help of Kendall, Tom (Matthew Macfadyen), Connor, and Roman, all of whom are fine with embarrassing Rhea—Kendall urges her to mention Rose in a toast—but don’t think she’d make such a bad CEO. In the end, Shiv flies solo, taking the impending threat of another cruise scandal whistleblower—this one a high-ranking former employee with knowledge of the shadow logs—and using it for her own gain. She urges Gerri (J. Smith Cameron) to keep that news from Logan, then urges him to announce Rhea as CEO, knowing full well that the new face of the company will eat all the shit. “You can’t give it to me or anyone else because of sentiment,” she says. He ends the episode by making if official: Rhea is the new CEO.

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But as she flounders as the organizer of this 50-year celebration of Logan’s career, she’s still playing her own game. “I could see us collaborating,” she tells Roman, saying he has “the best instincts of all of them.” Later, she tells Kendall that, despite him still being in “the rock tumbler,” he’ll be the one still standing at the end. “I’m telling you now,” she says. “It’s always been you.” Kendall, knowing she doesn’t know the whole story, demurs, retreating into the bubble of self-assurance he’s built around himself after Logan rubbed his face into the mess he created last week. “I’m good. I’m over my shit. And I met somebody new” he says. “I’m not in the place you think I’m in.”

That somebody is Jennifer (Sydney Lemmon), an actress in Willa’s play that Kendall woos. He’s so smitten with her that he flies her to Dundee, a sloppy act of infatuation that pisses off Connor, who’s already up to his knees in production problems, and the rest of the cast. He’s desperate for stability and love, but, first and foremost, he’s reckless. It’s no surprise, then, that he sabotages it after she says “awesome” a few times while meeting Logan. He calls her out on it, says it’s fine, then gets her on the first flight out of Scotland. It’s mean and bizarre and representative of just how much Kendall is not over his shit. The brilliance of Strong’s performance goes without saying at this point, but the way he brings up the “awesome” grievance with her is so layered—calm, but petty, presented like it doesn’t matter but laced with a mocking kind of disdain. God, I felt so bad for her.

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Justine Lupe, Alan Ruck
Photo: Graeme Hunter (HBO)

I also felt bad for Roman, who again woos Eduard (Babak Tafti) in an effort to score a major cash injection from the kid, one that could potentially take Waystar private and safeguard them against Sandy and Stewy’s takeover. That means buying a soccer team, the Hearts, on a whim. “I don’t really see a downside,” he says, “other than zero knowledge and interest in Scottish football.” Roman thinks it will impress Logan, as he remembers his dad is a big Hearts fan. At dinner, however, Logan informs them that he’s a Hibs fan, not Hearts, serving as yet another example of just how little his kids, or anybody, really knows about him. But, though Roman loses the battle here, he could very well win the war. Waystar’s going to need a safety net after the new whistleblower steps forward, and Eduard’s money could be just that.

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Of course, I can’t end this review without mentioning Kendall’s rap, which features a beat cooked up by his boy, Squiggle. The rap is amazing in itself—“handmade suits/ rakin’ in loot/ five-star general, y’all best salute”—but the reactions are also so, so perfect. Whether it’s Roman shrinking in his chair— “Ken-W-A,” he mutters—or Greg (Nicholas Braun) singing along as if his life depended on it, it was such a weird, humanizing moment of total lameness for all of these rich, untouchable people. Dundee in the motherfucking house, indeed.


Stray observations

  • Will Roman and Gerri please get married?
  • Ewan won’t give Greg his $250 million inheritance unless he leaves Waystar. An easy decision, one might think, but Greg clearly likes working there, the Machiavellian little fuck. He brings the dilemma to Logan, telling him he’s planning a “Greg-xit,” and Logan keeps it simple: “Uncle Fun or Grandpa Grumps?”
  • Amazing opening scene at the preview for Willa’s play, Sands, which is a fucking perfect name for a shitty off-Broadway play. As a reformed playwright myself, I am ashamed to say that I, too, have told people “this is the worst it will be” at preview performances.
  • One problem: The sand being used in Sands is construction sand, not desert sand. It’s funny in the moment, but you realize Willa has a point when Greg reveals he’s been swarmed with sand mites after seeing the show. “I think there’s something maybe living in it, perhaps thriving in the sand,” he tells Connor, who says he needs to take it up with the sand supplier “like everybody else.”
  • Connor gets the funniest line of the episode, replying to Kendall saying he’s “drowning in pussy” with a hearty, “That’s great, Kenny!”
  • Also a contender: “We may be suffering from bad buzz. Whatever good buzz we had has been wiped out by pervasive bad buzz.”
  • “That’s not a good retort, don’t laugh at that,” Shiv yells after Roman makes fart sounds at her. I would’ve laughed, too.
  • “Went with the first draft on that one,” Tom says of the protestor with a sign reading “Roy Cunt.” Greg on the C-word: “Apparently it’s less offensive over here, like calling somebody a buddy.”
  • I also couldn’t stop laughing at Karl (David Rasche) appearing out of nowhere to comfort Roman over buying the wrong team. “If it’s any consolation, I’m horrible at gift buying,” he says. “Always get the wrong thing.”
  • “Look at you fitting right in, like a camp counselor in my butt when I was 12.”
  • Rhea, summing up new media with one withering line: “Finally, a whole school for how to intern at a clickbait aggregator.” Kendall’s reply: “10 Reasons Why You’re Never Getting Paid.” I feel so seen.
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About the author

Randall Colburn

Randall Colburn is The A.V. Club's Internet Culture Editor. He lives in Chicago, occasionally writes plays, and was a talking head in Best Worst Movie, the documentary about Troll 2.