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When The Plot Twists

Warning: This contains spoilers from episode 3 of season 4 of Succession. Major plot points will be discussed, so read at your own discretion. If you haven’t watched the episode yet, don’t read any further. Seriously. Just stop now, watch it, then come back.

A Brilliantly Simple Plot Twist

It is amazing when a show’s team decides to take the story in a new and radical direction. This happened on Succession, in the most recent episode of the final season of the show. Episode 3 of the 4th season, Conner’s Wedding, starts off as expected. We see the first stages of a ludicrous and over-the-top wedding. Logan is plotting and scheming, testing his youngest son. Tom is trying to find more ways to stay useful and be important. The early scenes are basically a carry-over from the previous episode. The closest to a ‘surprise’ we get is that Logan tells Roman, his youngest, to let Gerri know she’s on the way out.

And while the plotting and scheming continue, we get the twist. Not the “Gerri is fired” twist. The “Logan is dead” twist. At some point, we knew that Logan would have to either retire or die. The show is named “Succession”, not “Game of Org Charts”. Someone has to succeed the old man. And for most of the second and third season, it didn’t look like Logan was going anywhere any time soon.

The whole thing plays out while the main characters are basically in no control of where they are going, physically. The children and Cousin Greg are on a boat, leaving dock and sailing toward the Statue of Liberty. Logan and his team, along with Tom, are in a plane in the air. There’s no hopping into a luxury SUV or limo to meet at some office, apartment, restaurant, or karaoke bar. Boats don’t turn on a dime. Planes can’t just park where they are.

The brilliance was, after a few minutes of “perhaps he’s faking it to test the kids”, it was clear that Logan really was going. There’s a body on the floor of a plane. A flight attendant is giving CPR. We hear the distinct sound of a defibrillator being fired. Doors are closed. He doesn’t just pop up, and there would be little point of playing out a lifesaving routine since nobody is using Facetime or Zoom for this. A visual performance wasn’t required. It was all done without the grabbing of chests, shortness of breath, or all the other trappings of an “old man death scene”. We see him get on a plane. We get to hear phone calls.

It’s Par For The Show

Really, this fits with how Succession has played out from the start. There is plenty of absurdity, over-the-top behaviour, a sense of entitlement, and basically no boundaries or limits. There are also virtually no consequences except those imposed by the limits of physics and what the universe allows, which does track for the most part with the real world. The ultra-wealthy are largely immune to the artificial consequences imposed by society. They only thing they can’t ignore is things like gravity and mortality.

I’ve been watching the show regularly from the start, but I’m still not certain I’m a “fan” in the conventional sense. All of the characters are irritating, there are no good guys here, and none rise to the level of anti-hero. Even Cousin Greg is, frankly, obnoxious. The writing and acting, though, are absolutely brilliant. Everyone in the show is scheming and plotting, and most of them actually aren’t very good at it. Having a real curveball thrown at them from time to time is how the showrunners keep the characters off-balance. This curveball, though is a doozy. While it looked like we would get more of the usual plotting and changing allegiances, the story takes a hard right turn, knocking over the crockery and spilling everyone’s drinks.

It Isn’t What I Thought

It wasn’t until I was reading some summaries during season two that I learned the show is meant to be a dark comedy. There was little I found “funny” in a sense that you’d laugh at it. The business elements are entirely fictional, and a complete and utter mess. Unlike Billions, where they actually get a lot of the technical aspects around markets and trading right (or at least close), Succession makes no effort to do so. And that is, apparently, by design. It’s meant to be absurd, not just in how the characters play our their parts, but in how their weird and twisted world works. And if anyone thinks “well, rich people get away with lots”, even rich people aren’t that stupid, and there are limits. You don’t get to be rich without at least a modicum of intelligence.

When I first started watching, I was sort-of expecting something like Billions, just focussed more on the family and business dynamics of who takes over when the old man is gone. It was clear after a few episodes that all the business jargon was used more or less at random, meant to sound “business-y” without worrying about details. Once I got a handle on that, it was then only about the characters and their interactions. The plots and schemes and twists and turns. And the sheer ineptitude of the of all these people.

Which is how the show is brilliant on multiple levels. That ineptitude isn’t necessarily that far from the truth. It’s further demonstrating that being rich doesn’t mean you’re smart. And it isn’t unusual to see ultra-wealthy people somehow believe that they are smarter than everyone else, when the truth is that they are just luckier. They were in the right place at the right time and stumbled onto something that let them build insane levels of wealth. But they succeeded in part because they were at least surrounded by smart (or smarter) people who could actually do the work. If you want to see a so-called “genius” at work, without the supporting talent, just watch the implosion of Twitter.

In For A Bumpier Ride

The ever-changing landscape of who is working with whom in Succession is now in new territory. The first half of season one was off-balance, in part because we’re still learning who the characters are. Things settled down into a pattern in the latter half, plus for the next two seasons. Sure, there were lots of small twists and turns. Characters would be loyal to some faction at one point, only to betray them when it looked like things were better on “the other side”. None of what we were seeing for the past two seasons was particularly surprising. It was, for me, getting a little stale.

They could have gone on like this for some time. At some point, though, they were either going to have to do something more radical. Of course, the showrunners could have simply introduced new characters to add a different dynamic to the show. It could have chugged along while we all waited for it to jump the shark.

But instead, they blew the shark up, and I’m thankful they did it. Not having Brian Cox on the screen is going to be unfortunate, since the man is a brilliant performer. The show, however, needed to get to the point. It was losing its focus for the past two seasons, becoming more of a soap opera (albeit with writing and acting that were several orders of magnitude better, and characters that weren’t glorified cardboard cutouts). In some ways, Logan’s death gets the train back on track. We’ve had too many side-trips that didn’t really advance the plot. Hopefully we’re done with those. We have seven more episodes to find out.