Inside the Shocking Death That Rocked “Succession” Episode 3
Succession’s third episode of its fourth season delivered a death blow felt around the world (for fans of HBO’s hit series, at least). It goes without saying that this article will be a pallbearer to spoilers, so if you haven’t watched the episode yet, stop reading.
Episode three, “Connor’s Wedding,” found the four Roy siblings gathered on a boat to celebrate (we use this term loosely) Connor (Alan Ruck)’s wedding to Willa (Justine Lupe). Dear old dad Logan Roy (Brian Cox) was making no effort to attend; he was off to Sweden to try and save the GoJo deal with Lukas Mattson (Alexander Skarsgård). Before leaving, he pulled a classic Logan and enlisted his youngest son, Roman (Kiernan Culkin), to fire longtime WayStar employee Gerri (J. Smith-Cameron), someone Logan knows Roman has feelings for. The Roy children—Roman, Shiv (Sarah Snook), and Kendall (Jeremy Strong) are still at war with their father over the fate of the company Logan built, and as the old lion boards the plane to Sweden, he still seems very much in control.
If you’re still reading, you know what happens next. Succession creator Jessie Armstrong managed to make something that should have felt inevitable since the series’ first episode still feel shocking—Logan suffers some kind of medical emergency on the plane (crucially, off-screen), and before Connor can even say “I do,” Tom (Matthew Macfayden) is calling first Shiv (she doesn’t pick up), then Roman to let them know that their father is sick. Very sick. In fact, he’s unconscious. No, worse—he’s not breathing. Roman and Kendall are desperate for solid information; is Logan okay? Will he be okay? Can he speak? Who is taking care of him? Where is the plane? Is he breathing? Is his heart beating? Who is in charge here?
The poetry of this grim scene, the children of a billionaire founder of a mass media and communications company struggling to find out any concrete information about whether their father is actually among the living or not, was potent. So was the fact that despite Logan’s poor health serving as the very first engine in the family’s now years-long power struggle, the idea that Logan might die in episode three was a shock. Then there’s the simple fact that Brian Cox is a powerhouse performer and the sun upon which the series orbits around, so surely you don’t kill off his character before the series finale. Right? Yet as the episode circled around the largely un-seen Logan’s fate and his plane reversed course and made its way back towards Teterboro airport, the reality of the situation began to set in for the Roy children and viewers simultaneously—Logan Roy was dead.
The director of the episode, Mark Mylod, is a Succession veteran and the man responsible for landing the plane. Speaking with Variety about the responsibility of taking on such an uppercut of an episode, Mylod said creator Jesse Armstrong told him about the idea as they were prepping season three.
“That’s when he first told me about this idea, that it should happen early in the season in an episode slot that you would not necessarily expect, and this idea of actually creating, hopefully, great drama out of mundanity — you know, the inconvenience of it all,” Mylod told Variety. “Which just seemed wonderful to me.”
They took this idea to some of HBO’s top people—Casey Bloys, Nora Skinner, Francesca Orsi—and they backed the narrative stroke of delivering Logan’s death early into the season. A bold move for all the aforementioned reasons. Yet that didn’t mean all involved weren’t still a little worried about killing off a character as formidable as Logan Roy and ending the Succession tenure of a performer as skilled and charismatic as Brian Cox.
“Brian is an incredible actor, and this is an incredibly powerful character in modern television drama,” Mylod told Variety. “Not to over-aggrandize ourselves, but he’s got a lot of heft. So it’s a huge and scary choice to actually kill off that character. “
The decision to kill off Logan Roy so early into the season is bold; the decision to do so off-camera, and make his death so anti-climatic, is even bolder. But as Mylod explains the thinking behind it, it also makes tremendous sense. “Once it landed on this idea of the inconvenience of it — the lack of drama, if you like — it just felt so real. With a sudden death in the modern age, it’s a phone call or a text, or even an email. It isn’t a Shakespearean death scene,” Mylod told Variety.
“In terms of the structure of how we handle and tell the story of this huge character’s death, it just seems so interesting and fresh to focus on the frustration of trying to get the information,” Mylod continued. “Our story revolves around a media empire; it revolves around information and eyeballs. And this idea of the irony of not being able to get that information, apart from the wonderful device of putting the audience somewhat into the heads of the characters and their frustration of: ‘Is this really happening? What’s happening? What’s happening?’”
And that is precisely how it felt; you were suddenly inside the heads of the Roy children, and that’s a strange place to be considering how alien their lived experiences are to 99.99% of Succession viewers. While the daddy issues and squabbling and sniping of the Roy children is something plenty of viewers can likely relate to, they’ve never been entirely likable, and their concerns and issues outside of the fundamental ones (“Does daddy even love me?”) have been those of the obscenely rich. The key is that they’ve always been watchable, yet for the first time in Succession, their confusion and pain felt not only watchable but relatable and tragic.
For a full accounting of the approach to Logan’s death, we recommend you read the full interview with Mark Mylod here.
For our interview with Mylod about season three and more stories about the series, check these out:
Featured image: Jeremy Strong, Sarah Snook, Kieran Culkin. Photograph by Courtesy of HBO