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Succession Season 4 Episode 9 Review: Backstabbing At Its Finest

  • After glimpsing the real world effects of their actions last week, this episode reminds us that the Roys are firmly stuck in their bubble.
  • A masterfully written episode, where every last eulogy is a subtle play for power.
  • Every ensemble performer gets their moment to shine — but Kieran Culkin and Sarah Snook remain MVP's.
  • It's the longest episode of Succession yet — quite frankly, it wasn't long enough.

As others were championing just how devastating last week's episode of "Succession" was — apparently a much-needed reminder for many viewers that these characters are fundamentally devoid of morals — I found myself more conflicted. The Roys and their various hangers-on are insulated from any real-world effects brought on by an authoritarian presidency, which is why making it the central focus of the drama has its limits; the state of American democracy is just another pawn in their respective plays for power. The masterstroke of this week's episode is that the family remains insulated entirely from the consequences of their actions. Riots and protests are erupting across the country, but they barely infringe on their carefully constructed bubble.

This week's episode is effectively a reset, pushing the real world back into the margins of the drama — a powerful reminder that they will always be safe from hell breaking loose while in their skyscraper offices and penthouse apartments. As a result, they can easily overlook the aftermath of last week and return to business as usual, even if that comes at the expense of grieving their father.

Cut off from the world, even as it's going to hell

The key sequence in this week's episode, and one that's pivotal to understanding the worldview of these characters throughout the show, comes early as Kendall (Jeremy Strong) protests his ex-wife Rava's (Natalie Gold) skipping Logan's (Brian Cox) funeral. She understandably wants to take their kids out of the city, afraid that the funeral will be a target for people angry that ATN decisively called the presidency for a far-right candidate before all votes were counted. Kendall scoffs at the notion, telling her that she's "too online" and everything will be fine.

One of the main criticisms lobbied at the writing of "Succession" is that its characters frequently speak in an online vernacular, like tweets that have gained sentience. This single line of dialogue masterfully exposes why this is so crucial to the writing of the show; every member of the family is detached from reality due to their privilege, but through their phones, they have a warped connection to it. The irony of the line is that Kendall is too online, but his algorithm has been devised in a way to shield him from real-world concerns that don't affect him, something which is true of most of the show's characters. They can speak like your average s***poster, but they'll never know the realities of their lives.

Director Mark Mylod, returning to the series for its concluding two episodes, once again makes sure that we are positioned firmly in their shoes — protesters are only briefly glimpsed in establishing shots, where the camera refocuses from the streets to towers almost immediately, with Roman (Kieran Culkin) only coming face to face with them when he attempts to belittle them. Quite strikingly, he's mostly ignored: he helped to call the shots for the election, yet on the streets, he is an irrelevancy rather than a boogeyman. This might be the greatest tragedy for a man who wanted to be as ruthless and feared by the public as his father.

Culkin continues to be tasked with the show's most difficult balancing act, never compromising on the depiction of his monstrousness, while ensuring the emotional turmoil he's going through is always in plain sight. The episode opens with Roman preparing to speak at Logan's funeral, overly self-conscious about how he'll be received; he wants to be seen as following in the footsteps of a father few at the gathering turn out to have kind words for. And yet, when he takes the podium, he breaks down in a manner not entirely dissimilar to his mountaintop argument with Lukas Matsson (Alexander Skarsgård) a few episodes prior — contemplating his grief without the question of business hovering over his head highlights him as the most human character in the family. He may be the most despicable of the four children (although it is a close contest), but once he overcomes his ironic detachment from every situation, he reveals himself to be the most sensitive too. This week's episode further exposes just how much Roman's life has suffered due to his father molding him to follow in his footsteps, with creator Jesse Armstrong and his writing team striving to make him equal parts empathetic and irredeemable. It's once again to Culkin's credit that he can pull this off.

A funeral about everybody but Logan

As for the rest of the funeral, the episode's masterstroke is how proceedings subtly become a power play for the benefit of the company, various investors, and the rest of the elite gathered. Kendall takes over from his brother to deliver an awkward speech that slowly morphs into a chest-pumping, stream-of-consciousness list of his father's achievements, all but hinting that these successes can continue with him at the helm. Shiv (Saran Snook) follows soon after, her speech doubling up as a reintroduction to her as the first lady of WayStar, stressing that her father was "hard on women" in what is a naked pitch to be the company's inaugural female CEO. Logan spent his entire life setting up his kids to take over his business from him, so it's hardly a surprise that even their eulogies have ulterior motives.

In fact, it's remarkable how little we hear people talk about Logan outside of the speeches given, which seems to be a reflection of the America within "Succession" at large: a man whose career was forged in bending the world's news agenda to his will has been held off the front page on the day he's being mourned. Everybody at the funeral has their mind elsewhere, all seemingly in agreement that remaining in his orbit was effectively "Stockholm Syndrome" — as Gerri (J. Smith-Cameron) puts it — if asked.

It's an episode lighter on laughs than the apocalyptic black comedy of last week's election night outing, but in the closing stretch, we arrive at possibly the darkest gag of the series to date: the newly crowned President Jeryd Mencken (Justin Kirk) seemingly backtracking on his offer to kill GoJo's deal to buy out WayStar. After helping to tank democracy in his favor in the face of a very likely election loss, Kendall and Roman don't even get their side of the deal as Mencken only pledges that he'll "try to help." The two "failsons" of WayStar will both remain unaffected by the consequences of their actions, but as we approach the finale, it feels like a safe bet to assume neither of them will be at the top of WayStar's food chain for much longer.