Succession: Bombshell for the ages drops in latest episode

Television: the outstanding prestige show of its era has at once stunned viewers while introducing a twist hidden in plain sight all along

Brian Cox who plays Logan Roy in Succession. Credit: David Russell/HBO

*Contains spoilers*

It had to happen and, finally, it has. With its latest episode, Succession has both dropped a bombshell for the ages and also made true on the promise implicit in its title. Somehow, the outstanding prestige show of its era has at once stunned viewers while introducing a twist hidden in plain sight all along. In Succession, the fight for the vacated throne has finally started.

What’s particularly impressive is that it has done so while making us empathise with the ghastly Roys – a family about whom it has been impossible to care. Already people are calling it one of the greatest ever episodes of TV ever.

This is, of course, hyperbole, as it’s impossible to say how the series will be remembered years from now. Perhaps Succession will join Breaking Bad, Madmen and The Sopranos in the pantheon of classic TV. Or maybe it will go the way of House of Cards and be quickly forgotten. There is no way to tell.

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But what is clear is that for an hour of TV to be judged truly great, someone has to die (this is where the spoilers start). Death was crucial to Game of Thrones, which became a phenomenon when Ned Stark lost his head in series one and which was transformed into a cultural object for the ages with the Red Wedding two years later.

Now Succession has gone there by killing off Logan Roy, the bruiser who built up media empire Waystar Royco with his bare hands and who leaves behind a squabbling brood of emotionally hollowed-out heirs. Logan dies off-screen and without warning and, though it feels like this should be underwhelming, it somehow increases the impact of the moment.

Nor does Succession want us to feel sorry for this human equivalent of a streak of chewed-out leather. His final act before he gets on the plane where he will suffer a fatal heart attack is to call his son Roman and to play mind games with him.

Roman craves his father’s approval – and Logan offers it, on the proviso Roman does his dirty work and fires Roman’s ex-lover Geri. There’s no reason to sack Geri at this moment – though she did commit the mortal sin of laughing in her sleeves at Logan’s appalling quasi-girlfriend Kerry. It’s just that Logan enjoys the cruelty.

But even if Logan is an awful human being, you still have to feel for his children as they learn that he is dying over the phone – and then share their last moments with him remotely.

Kendall, Shiv and Roman are dreadful caricatures of real people – as the super-privileged often are – but prove all too sympathetic as they speak their last words to their dad. It’s a powerful moment and it does something at which a lesser show would surely fail in making us warm to these nefarious nepo-babies.

How all of this impacts on the Roy empire remains to be seen and it will be fascinating to watch the dust settle. “For some of us it’s a sad day,” says Shiv in the episode four promo. “For others it is a coronation demolition derby.” In the preview, the kids continue to mourn while all around the sharks close in. How extraordinary that, as Succession nears the end, it’s the loathsome Roys who seem like actual human beings.