(spoilers for episode 9, season 4)
In the penultimate episode of this grand saga, a four-season cycle is coming to a close. Not a circle exactly, but a spiral descending downward, originating from money, power, and, as we learn a bit more during a harsh eulogy, ambition sharpened against the whetstone of a gloomy childhood. The Roy children never had much of a chance with a man like Logan Roy as their father, but over the course of this journey, we’ve established over and over again that the greatest source of their misery rests within themselves. As the kids, the three younger Roys specifically, finally see their deceased father interred, the path before them becomes clear: Ken, Shiv, and Roman are competing for not just the crown, but to be the new Logan Roy himself.
“So goodbye, my dear, dear world of a father,” says Shiv, delivering the final familial word at the funeral service. Despite the solemnity of this day, there’s more wheeling and dealing than a shareholders’ day, with Shiv wrangling with Matsson. Pinkie has graduated to the “Red Devil,” and she’s fully prepared to take hold of the ATN mantle, concerns over the downfall of democracy be damned. But as she tells Mencken, he of the diametrically opposed ideology, “My dad was flexible. I’m flexible.”
The family obligations are more thorny, especially when she finally comes out with the news that she’s expecting. Their responses vary, though “happy” isn’t one of them, as they struggle to reconcile the image of her with that of motherhood; no one is as skeptical as Caroline (Shiv: “Here she comes. Thought I could hear the sound of Dalmations howling”). Although the sibs agreed to broker peace with their remaining parent due to being “one down,” Shiv and Caroline’s clipped passive-aggressive standoff is one for the ages (Harriet Walter and Sarah Snook are solid gold here). Also because things aren’t dysfunctional enough, Caroline’s marital accessory, Peter Munion, is downright giddy at the various movers and shakers in attendance. Succession has rightfully earned its comparisons to Arrested Development since the series premiered, but the most absurdly Bluth-esque moment goes to Peter consoling his adult stepchildren of less than half a year with his upper crusty, “Daddy’s here” (followed closely by offering to be a last-minute pallbearer).
“I can do f*cking anything. My dad just died,” Shiv claims, but what she can’t do is escape the prevailing misogyny within the legacy she’s attempting to take on. Even Matsson, her primary (if exceedingly loose-lipped) ally, calls out her pregnancy as a burden, a challenge that lies in the way. She may be a Roy but her gender will forever put her at a disadvantage (impending fatherhood would never factor into her brothers’ professional lives), and she’s obliged to make assurances that she’ll give parenthood her minimal attention even when it appears she’s on the brink of winning the grand prize. Shiv will never get it, of course, partially because part of the fun is seeing these characters foiled time and again, but also because there’s too much that can go awry with no contingency plan in place. Shiv’s a lousy chess player, and her inability to see more than two steps ahead ruins her game every time.
Then there’s Roman, who begins the day basking in his success inside the comfort of his luxurious penthouse and will later end the night on his knees in the street far below. Secure in the knowledge that the next President of the United States is in his pocket, “King Dong” makes preparations to deliver the eulogy, happy to shove his success into his brother and sister’s faces (“See Shivvy cry, see Kenny lie. See Roman the Showman light up the sky!”). He’s on top of the world, “glad-handing the sad faces,” excited for the one thing he believes he’ll finally achieve on this day: conveying that he’s the rightful heir to Logan’s legacy. Unfortunately for Roman, while he was granted Logan’s love of the kill, closing is outside of his grasp. Roman may be great at catching big fish (Matsson, Mencken) but incapable of reeling in any of them.
His inability to play it straight for longer than five minutes doesn’t help. Roman’s in especially rare filthy form this day, goaded on by the seriousness of the occasion (Roman on Marcia: “She’s a sexy funeral lady. If you’re weirded out by that, wait ‘til I have sex with her on Dad’s coffin). To the surprise of probably no one, it’s little more than a pathetic coverup intended to mask the huge chasm of pain inside of him, one that splinters at what is simultaneously the most appropriate and the worst venue ever.
While attempting to deliver the eulogy, Roman is quickly reduced to sobs after Ewan’s speech, a stoney and accurate summation of Logan’s life, which brings exactly who his father was into stark relief. So much for ‘pre-grieving.’ His meltdown is all too real, and his siblings are the only thing that keeps him standing. As anger-inducing as Roman’s actions were last week, watching him wrestle with his enormous wave of grief is all too sad. Unfortunately for him, his meltdown is all too public; upper-class types tend to frown upon public displays of emotion as it is, but for Mencken and his ilk, it merely represents weakness (Mencken: “It’s the Grim Weeper”). It’s only later, after the world’s most awkward version of The Bachelor plays out at the funeral reception as nearly every one of our grubby-handed players vie for Mencken’s attention (Shiv wins the rose…for now), that Roman is clued in to the idea something has gone wrong.
It’s Kendall who saves the day—or at least the service—for the second time this season pulling off a speech that is, if not beautiful, at the very least one that paints Logan in monumental light. It’s a good rebound off Ewan’s far more severe words, reframing Logan’s worst qualities as a “terrible force to him,” something akin to an awe-inspiring storm. “I hope it’s in me,” Kendall prays and for once, it’s one that’s been answered. He may not possess Logan’s vision, but he does share his tendency to lash out, especially at women (Shiv: “He couldn’t fit a whole woman in his head”). So we see Kendall spend the first quarter of the episode being terrible to the women closest to him, a petulant adaptation of Logan’s angry rants, first at Rava for taking the kids outside of an increasingly embroiled city (his desire to seek full custody a chilling reenactment of Logan wresting the children from Caroline), then Jess for daring to leave his employ—being forced to give news of her resignation on this day (“I don’t want to do this today”) only for him to lash out afterward for the very thing she tried to avoid (“Nice timing, Jess. Lovely day to tell me”) is so frustratingly Kendall-like that I don’t know if I would even bother courting a reference letter.
But that terribleness that Kendall’s had all along manifests in an even more venomous manner. Although we’ve seen him in full corporate hunter mode, we have had few if any occasion to see him attack the person he protects most: Roman. Kendall is protective of all his siblings to a certain extent, but he’s put himself between Roman and potential harm on multiple occasions—one of the only times Kendall ever shouted at Logan was when he struck Roman (the other was when Logan hit Iverson). Yet that terribleness—along with that “meagerness” Ewan spoke of earlier—fully emerges once his effort to supplant Shiv receives the tiniest bit of pushback from Roman. Fresh from defending Roman from the possible next POTUS, Kendall grips down on where he’s most vulnerable (“You thought you were Dad, tried to Dad it. But you f*cked it”) in order to secure what he needs to do battle on the shareholder playing field. Roman flees to the thing he knows best, which is to allow himself to be subjected to hurt and abuse. What better way to do it than to seek roving crowds of the people who are most inclined to see to his wishes?
Looking at next week, there’s a chance that the time the Roy kids spent inside the mausoleum (save for Roman, who can’t bring himself to go in) could well prove to be the last time they’re gathered in a semi-peaceful capacity. Even with the knowledge of her duplicity, Kendall can’t help but laugh at Shiv’s jokes over the sheer enormity of the mausoleum while Connor, in one of his few moments in Logan’s ray of light, recounts the odd tale of how their father acquired it in auction (Shiv: “Was he in a bidding war with Stalin and Liberace?”). It’s a heartbreaking story at the core of it, seeing these otherwise loving siblings be forever fractured by the habits of their beastly father. But with family obligations behind them, the sibs have nothing but free time to claw at each other’s faces. Kendall is reaching full Logan-ification by recreating his core team, including Hugo (“Woof, woof”) and Colin. Meanwhile, Shiv has gained a startling amount of power in a short amount of time, but her whole scheme rests on what the courts ultimately decide regarding the election, a risky gambit as we know all too well. No matter which Roy child steps up to the plate, their similarity to Logan seems to never prevent them from stumbling over their own feet, their worst individual qualities all taking the place of the skills Logan carefully acquired to rule the world. Next week we will discover the fate of these vicious little hybrids, and what relationship may be left between them.
Roman: “It’s discord, man. Discord makes my dick hard.”
Shiv: “It’s also a tax write-off, ‘cause it’s technically a residence.”
Mencken: “A blonde, a brunette, and a redhead walk into the bar. Liberal, conservative, and whatever…What—what—what’s your philosophy, exactly?”
Matsson: “Privacy, p*ssy, pasta.”
Shiv: “Anarcho-capitalist parmigiana.”
Tom: “It’s getting a bit Tiananmen-y out there.”
Kaleena Rivera is the TV Editor for Pajiba. When she isn’t still screaming over Caroline’s impromptu “Wives and Girlfriends: May They Never Meet” club, she can be found on Twitter here.