Succession Unlocks a New Stage of Grief

After acceptance comes the sales pitch.

Matthew Macfadyen
David Russell / HBO

This story contains spoilers through the fourth episode of Succession Season 4.

For the Roy kids, mourning can’t happen without a little manipulation. On Succession, being part of such a rich and powerful family means receiving sympathy served with a side of business-speak. Their father has died, but to everyone else, Logan represented the market—an economic unit, as Logan once described himself, standing “a hundred feet tall,” whose empire is now up for grabs. Sorry for your loss, the Roy siblings are told, again and again, by friends and foes alike in tonight’s episode. But anyway, here’s a sales pitch.

Shiv (played by Sarah Snook) puts it best. “For some of us, it’s a sad day,” she observes. “For others, it's a coronation demolition derby.” As it turns out, most of Succession’s characters fall into the latter category, including Shiv herself. Set the day after Logan’s death, “Honeymoon States” may be the bleakest installment of the HBO drama yet. Rather than grieving, Logan’s heirs and advisers gather to determine who will become Waystar Royco’s interim CEO. By the end of the hour, Kendall (Jeremy Strong) and Roman (Kieran Culkin) have triumphed, but their victory clarifies a disconcerting truth: Despite everything they’ve done to free themselves from their father, Ken, Roman, and Shiv have inherited his cruel, desperate need for power at any cost. Behind closed doors, the ensemble fights to the point of bickering over a pencil mark on a piece of paper Logan left behind. Up until Logan’s death, the mystery driving the plot had been who he would choose as his successor. Now a new question has emerged: Who, if anyone, will ever escape his influence?

In death, Logan seems to have an even greater gravitational pull than before. No one can leave his orbit, nor does anyone try. Gerri (J. Smith-Cameron) reinstalls herself as part of the inner circle after being fired. Karl (David Rasche) refuses the golden parachute Gerri cheekily suggests he take. Marcia (Hiam Abbass), Logan’s estranged wife, flies back from Milan armed with the narrative that she and Logan had been as close as ever, speaking “intimately every evening.” Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) insists he’s there to “serve,” flitting to Ken, Shiv, and Roman with the same line each time. Their naked ambition is more acceptable than actual bereavement: Sure, Tom’s pleading earns him plenty of insults, but that’s far more pleasant than what a distraught Kerry (Zoe Winters) suffers when she arrives, hoping to retrieve her possessions from Logan’s bedroom. She’s prevented from going upstairs, given a tote bag stuffed with her odds and ends, and then ordered to leave through the back entrance.

But amid the dealmaking, Logan’s children end up being the most shameless when they learn, once again, that there’s a chance one of them can run the company after all. An undated document found in Logan’s safe names Ken the heir, and the backstabbing among the siblings starts as soon as they’re told of its existence. The scene is excruciating to watch: Roman scoffs, reminding the room that Ken tried to land Logan in jail “like, 12 times.” Shiv wonders out loud if Logan’s underlining of Ken’s name was really an attempt to cross it out. Ken lashes out at his sister, pointing out, “It sure as fucking shit doesn’t say ‘Shiv.’” The debate escalates, driving them apart. Ken begins rallying for support to become interim CEO. Roman brushes off Shiv’s question about the three of them working together—“It’s felt good, right?”—and goes on to masterfully put himself forward as the Roy to work alongside Ken. In the end, Logan’s karaoke-room appeal didn’t work to break up the three of them. An old printed list of wishes scrawled with addenda did.

Directed by Lorene Scafaria (Hustlers), the episode feels more claustrophobic than the last, when Mark Mylod’s camerawork tailed the siblings down hallways and past curious crowds, the family united in finding a place to process their shock in real time. In “Honeymoon States,” they similarly search for quiet corners to talk, but a sense of urgency pulses through every scene: As the board meeting approaches, characters seem reluctant to sit down, repeatedly holding their discussions while standing in a circle. They’re often perched on the stairs too, as if they’ll need to change direction at any second. No one ever chooses to leave.

Shiv, notably, sits down—after Ken berates her, after Roman avoids her and leaves her to be tended to by Tom. In her final scene, she descends, after the coronation of her brothers, to the first floor, where she trips and falls face first. The moment reminded me of an observation my colleague Sophie Gilbert made last year: For the Roys, she wrote, “humiliation can breed growth.” At the time, that seemed to be Ken’s trajectory; now he appears to have embraced his father’s attitude, even smiling like Logan once did as he forces Hugo (Fisher Stevens) to do his bidding against Roman’s wishes. Perhaps Shiv is the new “blood sacrifice”—not as loyal to Logan’s memory as Roman or as ruthless as Ken.

Then again, maybe the Roys haven’t abandoned one another yet. The episode begins with a peek at each of their mornings after Logan’s death. Ken is on the floor, pale, unkempt, and wrapped in a blanket, having not slept all night. Roman is brushing his teeth, going about his routine, doing what’s familiar to him. Shiv is sitting up in bed, brows furrowed, deep in thought. The brief montage offers a glimpse of what they’re like alone, far away from the viper’s nest of power brokers, relatives, and hangers-on who surrounded Logan at every step. If any of them can move forward without morphing into a new Logan, Succession suggests, they’ll need distance. They’ll need to head for the exit.