[This story contains major spoilers from the penultimate episode of Succession, “Church and State.”]
The final season of Succession has been taking place in consecutive days and the penultimate episode of the HBO series brings with it the day of Logan Roy’s funeral.
Brian Cox had previously talked about how he showed up on set the day they filmed his character’s grand finale in order to throw the media off of the major death spoiler that came earlier in season four of the Emmy-winning drama: “They invented this scene that I would play at this church Uptown, very fancy, big Catholic [church]. … as soon as I got out of the car, [the paparazzi] started clicking away. So immediately, I was able to put off the fact that it was my funeral.”
The celebrity funeral was the focus of “Church and State,” written by creator Jesse Armstrong and directed by Mark Mylod. The major day in the Roy family legacy drew together nearly every character in the Waystar Royco orbit (including all of Logan’s ex-wives and lovers), and it was also a worldwide event that lured not only the media elite, but also GoJo’s Lukas Matsson (Alexander Skarsgård) and President elect Jeryd Mencken (Justin Kirk), with the latter attendees offering an opportunity for the three Roy children, Kendall (Jeremy Strong), Roman (Kieran Culkin) and Shiv (Sarah Snook), to continue to backstab each other and strategize about the looming Gojo-Waystar deal and who will end up on top in the end, amid their palpable grief.
As Mylod explained in his HBO after-the-episode interview, Roman began the episode on top in sibling rivalry due to his connection with Mencken and getting the political boogeyman to agree to block the GoJo-Waystar deal, which is what Roman and Kendall want. However, he ended the episode at the bottom after breaking down during his eulogy; after Kendall tells him he blew it publicly, Kendall takes the mantle and Roman ends the episode masochistically heading out into a sea of protestors and provoking a punch in the face. Shiv, meanwhile, is back on the rise as she secures a promise from Matsson to be his U.S. CEO, a move that could appease Mencken into not blocking the deal, which is what she wants.
Speaking on the Succession podcast after the episode, Strong unpacked Kendall’s effective eulogy, which the co-CEO gave unexpectedly in Roman’s place and after Logan’s brother, Ewan (James Cromwell) had painted a rather unpleasant picture of their late father.
“It’s a wonderful moment for Kendall, I think, to get to what he sees as speaking the truth. We’ve seen him in episode six, in the Living+ presentation, there’s a certain kind of grandiosity in his public speaking and he sometimes rises to the occasion, in a character that we’ve seen so often miss the mark,” Strong told journalist and host Kara Swisher. “But this one, because he hasn’t prepared for it and he hadn’t planned to do it — which he probably would have agonized over, and the prepared version, like all of us, might have been not as good — there was something about the gauntlet that had been thrown down by Ewan denigrating [Logan’s] memory.”
He continued, “But also, it’s a beautiful piece of writing by Jesse that I had very little time to learn (laughing), but that Kendall acknowledges that his father was a brute. That a lot of what Ewan said is true and that he himself has said it; he called him a malignant presence in the end of season two. But I think you see through Kendall’s eyes his reverence for his father. And I think it’s so important that we see it’s not about market cap, it’s about the life force of the man and the things that he wrought.”
Strong said that Kendall talking about Logan’s legacy being money is the unspoken “dirty secret” and real reason everyone even attended the funeral. “Money is something quickening that makes the world turn,” he said, adding of the writing, “It’s a brilliant speech.”
Swisher pointed out the chess moves Kendall makes this episode that shift his alliances: His long-time assistant Jess (Juliana Canfield) quits over the Mencken election call and penultimate episode’s civil unrest (“a real mortal wound”); he recruits both his father’s driver and confidante, Colin (Scott Nicholson), and comms chief Hugo (Fisher Stevens) to continue to shape his media narrative (“he’s getting ready to go into battle”); and, after already making it clear that he eventually plans to cut co-CEO Roman out, he coerces Roman to stand by him as they prepare to go up against Shiv at the board over the GoJo deal (“a profound transformation”).
So, what will Kendall Roy’s endgame look like in the series finale?
“It’s kind of like a Dracarys moment for Kendall,” he said with a laugh, referencing Game of Thrones. “Starting from the end of episode six, really, I think he can see the endgame. A lot of things happen in the ninth episode. Him feeling blamed for the election and his culpability in making this kind of Faustian bargain, really, he’s compromised himself utterly, and he knows it. I think he’s in turmoil. The real moral jeopardy that we see in the previous episode.”
He continued, “But [his ex-wife] Rava [Natalie Gold] calling him on that and taking the kids out of the city, and then Jess also defecting. In a way, his assistant Jess, I mean she’s such a fantastic character and Juliana Canfield is a brilliant actor, and I love that they gave her this great scene. But she is in a sense one of the only people that Kendall has left. Everyone else is gone. Shiv has a relationship with Tom [Matthew Macfadyen]; other characters we see in relationship with people. And Jess is sort of the one place that Kendall feels safe, so for it to come from there is a real mortal wound for Kendall. He keeps pressing on, but he’s really, I think, unseated by that a bit, which only sharpens his need to get what he wants. So I think he’s just doubling down.”
Strong then explains how Roman’s eulogy mishap cracked the door wide open for Kendall when it comes to the looming question of Succession and who will ultimately be Logan Roy’s successor.
“The hinge of the episode, really, is Roman kind of shitting the bed in his speech and Kendall taking the mantle and, it’s another triumph. He’s moving from strength to strength, in a sense, and the room feels it. And he feels [it]. They joke about the coronation demolition derby, but it is his father’s funeral and simultaneously Kendall’s coronation. I leave that church, there’s been a profound transformation from the way I walked into that church to the way I leave that church. And the sort of hatching plots with Hugo, there is just a determination in the character. I think more and more we see that he is Logan Roy’s son and that Logan is his middle name.”
The series finale of Succession releases Sunday May 28 at 9 p.m. on HBO and Max. Follow along with THR‘s Succession final season coverage.