Yes, That Was Probably The Best Episode Of Succession Ever

This post contains spoilers for season 4's third episode of "Succession," "Connor's Wedding."

"Succession" is a series that thrives on the discussion it creates, but it's difficult to respond to the show's latest episode with anything but speechlessness. Logan Roy (Brian Cox) is dead. It's a death that came unexpectedly, like real deaths do, undercutting the man's knack for theatrics and manipulation with an utterly random sense of timing. I had expected that when Logan died — if Logan ever died, because it was easy to believe he might live forever out of spite — the show would end up with a "The Death of Stalin" situation, all dark humor and arguments over optics.

While "Succession" does cleverly talk around the business implications of Logan's death, "Connor's Wedding" is largely devoted to something that's not often shown on screen: the raw shock of losing a person you may have loved but never liked. By giving all four Roy children the space to grieve in their own way — and giving four powerhouse actors the chance to collapse towards and away from one another as they process the news — Jesse Armstrong has created the most riveting and emotional hour of the series yet. When it comes to currently airing TV dramas, "Succession" is basically in a league of its own at this point; the only question is whether it will continue to one-up itself. The answer, in the wake of the shocking death of Logan Roy, is a resounding yes.

The Roy Family Unravels In Real Time

We'll dig into those emotions in a minute, but first, it must be said: this episode of "Succession" is a formal triumph. When it's not delivering intel via its primary love language — insults — this show has always hinged on performances delivered with detailed finesse. Relationships are made and broken with glances and gestures; a quirk of Shiv's (Sarah Snook) mouth or Kendall's (Jeremy Strong) thousand-mile stare can tell us as much about the characters as anything they say. Four seasons in, the cameras feel close to these people, and that intimacy between the subjects and the filmmaker shows on screen. This is an episode all about time and the strange moments that feel both too short and too long, but not a moment of footage is wasted.

That closeness bleeds over into the scene partners as well. In a recent interview, Strong said they shot a 32-minute scene that the cast eventually ended up able to sustain for a single take. "It was an incredible, profound experience that we only could have earned and attained after these many years of working together as an ensemble," Strong told Entertainment Weekly. "The level of trust and everybody just being on their absolute A-game together [...] it was very, very exciting," he added.

While it's unclear whether or not Jesse Armstrong ended up using their long take for the final product, it's likely we just saw the 32-minute-long scene. "Succession" has never made its audience sit in emotion without a quip or defense mechanism in sight for this long. Now that it has, we're left exhausted and floored. It's stunning to realize that the best show on TV wasn't even operating at its highest creative level before this moment.

Succession Delivers A Total Shock

The death of Logan Roy is a creative curveball, one that relies on audiences experiencing shock alongside the Roy siblings. While the camera stays close to Kendall, Shiv, Roman (Kieran Culkin), and Connor (Alan Ruck), it keeps its distance from Logan, instead focusing on his associates who attempt to relay the events over the phone. The result is emotionally punishing but effective; we feel just like the Roy siblings, hungry for more information than the show is able to give us. If we could just see Logan up close or witness the moment he went down, we might know more. As is, it's easy to understand how Roman feels when he refuses to accept the truth until he lays eyes on his father — another scene the cameras withhold from us.

We won't know exactly how bold a move it is to place a series-ending event midway through a final season until "Succession" ends. For now, though, the show deserves praise not just for executing a massive twist, but for keeping it a secret. If fans had heard about the death of Logan early, we'd have been celebrating rather than biting our nails as we watch the kids fall to pieces.

Yet despite the cast's busy press tour, ample promotional material, and critics' ability to watch this episode early (albeit with a polite note from Jesse Armstrong asking for our discretion), the details of "Connor's Wedding" remained unleaked, under lock and key. Reviews for the show were creatively vague in their praise, and the promo for the episode centered solely on Connor's wedding. "Succession" delivered its most staggering blow with a level of perfect surprise that's rare for a series using the weekly release model, and turned TV into a communal event again in the process.

Leveled By Grief

"Succession" fans love to parse through the ethics of loving the profoundly terrible people at the show's center. Viewers dole out their empathy sparingly to select characters or claim to watch the show purely for the schadenfreude. By now, though, it's undeniable that Jesse Armstrong and his team have written a drama that's as much about familial abuse as it is about wealth and corruption. In "Connor's Wedding," all the ethical dilemmas fall away, and we're left with people who simply don't know what to do when the oppressive presence that has defined their entire lives disappears.

There are a dozen moments in this hour that shatter me. There's the fact that each and every Roy kid can't pretend to have an uncomplicated love for their dad in his last moments. Kendall tells Logan he can't forgive him, "but it's okay." Shiv says "there's no excuse" for his actions, but she loves him. Roman is kind, but only because he becomes obsessed with saying the "nice" thing after leaving a foul-mouthed voicemail. And Connor, when finally told the news, responds with the first thought to come to mind: "Oh, man, he never even liked me."

Parts of this episode will feel acutely painful for anyone who has experienced a sudden loss. There's the instantaneous understanding, when looking at the face of a person you grew up with, that something's wrong. There's the soft delivery of bad news, as when Kendall asks, "Is he okay at all?" and Tom (Matthew Macfayden), with all the gentleness in the world, says, "He's not okay, no." Then there's the moment when you default back to an earlier version of yourself in grief: Shiv, briefly collapsing into Tom's arms, or Kendall at the episode's end, nodding and teary-eyed, somehow looking like a little boy.

This Show Is A Tragedy And A Triumph

With "Connor's Wedding," "Succession" at once fulfills and transcends its original premise. There's no way to look at this nerve-shredding, painful episode of television and easily label it "satire," yet it's not letting its ultra-rich subjects off the hook either. Without a joke in sight, "Succession" delivers its ultimate dark punchline; no matter how much carnage you cause in the name of legacy, you might end your life on the toilet, with your kids in your ear telling you they still can't forgive you and your staff drafting a statement about who will take your job. It's a masterful balancing act of tragedy and pitch-black satire, with Jesse Armstrong proving once again that the show can do both and then some.

This is a series that knows it's about bad people, and while its narrative clearly cares more about emotional truth than comeuppance, the death of the Roy family patriarch manages to deliver both -- and level us along the way. It also delivers a phenomenal hour of television anchored by stunning performances and a heartbreaking script. "Succession" is one of the best shows ever, and it just keeps getting better.

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