'Succession Season 4, Episode Nine: Church and State'
People often refer to striking images or pretty pictures when they talk about television or movies. What else is important to visual storytelling? Simple reaction shots.
The dialogue is the main part of any 'Succession,' and it wouldn't require much retooling in order to make the episode into a radio drama. We would miss those reaction pictures. It's amazing what these actors and directors can do, just by using their faces.
Logan Roy's friends and family will gather this week for his funeral. They temporarily put aside their grudges in order to pay respects to the giant that was Logan Roy. Kendall insists that 'Today's all about today' should be inscribed on the family crest of the ever-capricious and opportunistic Roys. These people talk a lot, especially during church, when Roy after Roy rises to speak. The reactions are a big part of the story.
The post-election unrest on New York's streets (described as "a little Tiananmen" by Tom) has thrown the entire atmosphere of the funeral into disarray. Kendall is angry when his ex wife Rava (Natalie Gold), takes their children out of the city to ensure their safety. Kendall is almost as angry when he finds out that his assistant Jess, played by Julia Canfield, plans to resign because of the violence Jeryd Mecken and ATN could unleash. Kendall complains, 'You don't know how it will end up and you're being very juvenile.'
Once everyone is inside the church, things start to calm down. The Roy siblings' mother Lady Caroline Collingwood, (Harriet Walter) sets the tone by asking Kerry, who had brought a lawyer in case anyone tried preventing her from attending the funeral, to sit with Marcia and the legendary Sally Ann. Caroline introduces Sally Ann to the audience as "my Kerry." They both share a bond in that they have loved a difficult man. When Marcia reaches for Kerry's hands, Kerry weeps.
The service starts with a surprise. Logan's liberal, fiery brother Ewan (James Cromwell) ignores the grandson Greg's attempts to prevent him from giving a sermon. Ewan shares some touching tales about Logan, including how the two boys comforted one another as they crossed the Atlantic in World War II and how Logan blamed his sister for dying from polio because he believed he had brought it home from the boarding-school he detested. Ewan ends by destroying Logan's legacy. He says that his brother bred a certain meagerness among men. Greg's ever-sycophantic grandfather says: "That was a great hard take you gave."
This is where reaction shots start to play a major role. Roman looks stricken during Ewan's takedown. Roman was a little giddy on this particular day. He planned to follow up his victory in the election with an adult eulogy of his father before some of America's biggest people. Ewan's authoritative, commanding words make him shake. Roman has never been in this spotlight before, and his siblings are now expecting him to "say the other side" of the Logan Roy tale.
He can't. Roman begins to deliver his generic "great, great man" speech, but freezes up and asks for his family's help. He breaks down before everyone and gestures at the coffin that contains his father, while whimpering 'Get him Out'. Kieran's performance is another one that will leave you in awe. Gerri is the face to watch when Roman has a meltdown. She seems to be genuinely hurt for her former protégé.
Kendall steps in and does an excellent job because he is used to putting together sentences his peers can understand. Logan's 'bloody life' was a complicated one, and he acknowledges that his father's actions could have caused him pain. He says that if we don't have the same vim as Logan, God knows, our future will be dull and gray. Mencken and Lukas Mattsson are watching him with what seems to be grudging respect. Jeremy Strong frustrates his co-stars on set, but the truth is that scenes like this are so real and riveting.
Shiv then delivers her own impromptu tribute, focusing on the terror Logan caused her and her siblings when they were young. Sarah Snook, like Culkin and Armstrong nails her big moment. She plays this speech to sit right between "here's an old story about a gruff man" and a charge of abuse. Shiv says her father is "hard on women" -- and the image of Kendall following it reminds him of his own problems with Rava, Jess and Jess.
Shiv's harsh criticism of Logan's parenting is surprising, given what Matsson had told her before the funeral. They have re-adjusted their strategy to prepare for a Mencken presidency and decided to prove they can work with a neofascist. Step 1: Promise GoJo-Waystar a CEO who is American... maybe Shiv. When Matsson says that he'd heard a rumor of her pregnancy, she invents a motherhood story where she's "emailing her way through her Vanity Cesarean" and her child 'will never be able to see her. It's Loganesque.
The scramble to get Waystar starts after the funeral. Kendall takes advantage of the momentum created by his eulogy and authorizes Hugo to leak information to the media regarding Matsson’s tenuous position on the Waystar Board. Hugo is told by Kendall that he will treat Hugo as his dog but that the money they make from their business relationship will be millions. Hugo responds, "Woof woof." Colin, the former bodyguard/confessor of his father, is also convinced to work for him. Logan is also becoming more Logan by the minute.
Shiv's performance has some juice. Kendall is aware that he might have made a mistake when he confronts Mencken during the reception following the funeral and the presumed President-elect suggests ATN needs him more than vice-versa. Mencken tells Kendall, 'I thought that you were the soundsystem.' "Now you want the track to be chosen?" Kendall's interruptions by embarrassing family members Greg, Roman (Mencken says: "It's The Grim Weeper!"), then Connor are not helping. Connor, then Greg.
Mencken must be relieved when he talks to Shiv and Matsson. They seem... cooler. Shiv and Matsson both encourage him, reminding him Logan was more about money, winning, and gossip than ideological purity, and Matsson highlighting the potential benefits (including "fun") of allying up with a "thought leader" tech bro. As we approach the finale of 'Succession,' next week, both Shiv and Kendall, when viewed in the correct light, appear to have the edge in their fight to be the new Waystar CEO.
Where does this leave Roman? Roman is still reeling after his funeral catastrophe. Kendall, as he asks his brother for help in the upcoming board battle against Shiv chastises Roman for messing up everything. Roman leaves the reception and crashes one of the protests outside. He yells, gets slapped around by angry leftists.
It suits him perfectly. Roman prefers to be looked at with anger rather than pity or worse, indifference.
Kendall shuts down Mencken's joke about Roman's crying.
Here's another great reaction shot. When Kendall talks at the funeral of how Logan "made" him and his siblings the editors cut to Lady Caroline looking annoyed.
The Roy kids get some laughs this week while staring at Logan's ornate tomb that he purchased from a pet supply dot-com guy. Shiv refers to the seller as 'cat-food Ozymandias', asks if her dad was in a bidding battle with Stalin and Liberace then suggests that the grave could qualify for a tax deduction because it's a residence.
Logan's family can fit in the tomb if they wish to be with him for eternity. Connor says he would like to have a top bunk. Kendall hesitates and says, "I had trouble with him finishing a scotch." Roman? He says, "He made me breath funny."
Shiv is concerned about how little she knows -- or wants to know -- of her father's personality. She asks Frank and Karl: 'How bad was Dad'? They tell her that he is a'salty dog' but also a good person, adding 'what you saw is what you got. After she leaves, Karl looks at Frank, half-shrugs and asks if he is right. Frank, halfheartedly: 'Right.'
Shiv says, after the funeral is over and the cemetery is preparing to bury her father: "I'm curious to see what he does."