My grandfather died six years ago this September. At the time, I lived in a grungy, musty, dimly lit two-bedroom apartment in the heart of East Lansing, Michigan. It was about 500 square feet on a good day. The lone window in the “living room” only saw about two hours of sunlight from dawn till dusk—before the sun would rise and fall respectively below the four-story parking garage cosplaying as a makeshift horizon—and it made the days feel especially short.
I sat under the 40-watt bulbs on the uncomfortably firm leather couch (so graciously provided by the massive leasing company which nearly monopolized all properties in the small college town), my parents on the phone, telling me my grandpa had died. He had lung cancer and was 85 years old, so it was a long time coming, but his death was one of the first I had dealt with in my “adult” life. The sudden void a deceased loved one leaves in your life feels like an abyss, a feeling I couldn’t consciously grasp—until I could.
This grief was compounded by the unfortunate fact that I experienced his death over the phone, another rite of passage in my life dictated by modern technology. Instead of being present for my family in a time of remembrance and mourning, I was in some ratty apartment in the barren wasteland of mid-Michigan, enveloped in the thick aroma of smoke-stained walls and a growing mound of empty pizza boxes. In my eyeline I could see the FIFA pause screen and a half-eaten Uncrustable on the coffee table— not a very picturesque place to grapple with a seminal life moment.
Even if I had spent a significant portion of my life with my grandpa, and harbor nothing but fond memories with him, I felt a vague guilt. Just a few weeks before, I had traveled home during a break and watched one last Detroit Tigers game with him (thankfully he was barely conscious to see the Tigers succumb to the division rival White Sox), which felt like the right thing to do. But I still felt this distance at the time of his death I never reconciled, and this became a norm in years to follow.
Most deaths I’ve experienced since feel the same way. There’s an uncomfortable dissonance between the tangible and real relationships you have with people, and the inhuman and instant nature of the way we learn of death today. That’s why Sunday night’s Succession episode, an instant classic in which series anchor and media titan Logan Roy dies abruptly on an airplane, made so much sense.
In a show powered by incorrigible modernity and late-stage capitalism, and all its harrowing truths, it never made sense for Logan’s death to be convenient and peaceful. The magnate and his reprehensible family built generational wealth by making this world a crueler, more dystopian place. His ethos was built upon an air of unpredictability and quick business decisions, so it always made sense for his death to follow suit.
From its very first episode, Succession showed the Roy children panicked by the distinct possibility of Logan’s impending death. He recovers, and Kendall, Shiv and Roman trudge forward in their quests to become the heir. Logan’s mortality looms over the conscience of every major character in the show as they position themselves for life post-patriarch, but that life usually feels like a distant world. Of course, the show is literally called Succession. In retrospect, Logan’s death was less of a possibility throughout the show and more of a certainty. It was only ever a matter of when. But the writing was so good that collectively, we seemed to forget as an audience that this show always implied a successor was in store. Logan’s brute strength, mental toughness and toxic resilience bled through the cracks of the show so strongly we forgot to remember that he was always going to die.
Then, in the third episode of season four, “Connor’s Wedding”, Roman answers a phone call from his estranged brother-in-law, Tom Wambsgans. The kids are at their older brother’s wedding—on a boat set to depart for the Statue of Liberty, where the ceremony will occur—in a quiet room. Logan is on a plane, en route to Sweden, missing his oldest son’s big day to attempt a money squeeze out of the deal with Lukas Matsson and Swedish tech giant GoJo. Tom, who betrayed his wife Shiv to get closer with Logan, is on board. When the fateful medical emergency first happens, Tom tries to call his estranged bride to no avail, then rings Roman. Likely picking up in hopes of gleaning intel about the GoJo deal, Roman hears Tom say: “Your dad is very sick.”
Roman Roy’s world comes crashing down in that instant, soon followed by Kendall and later Shiv, who is pulled into the room to say her goodbyes. Tom explains that Logan is dead over the phone, without saying the word “dead,” which causes the siblings to struggle to process the news. They may have secretly wished he would die for years, but now that it’s finally happened, it’s all too sudden and jarring to handle. They’re about to watch their oldest sibling jump into a wedding born of convenience instead of love, on the precipice of a massively important moment for the future of their company, Waystar Royco, and their father just dropped dead 35,000 feet up in the sky.
Like everything that happens in both the Roys’ lives and our own, death almost never comes at a convenient time. There are no certified medical personnel on board, delaying the meeting with GoJo could ruin the deal and the entire family is currently drowning in dysfunction and infighting. It’s never said, but it’s evident that—much like my deep gloom inside a budget college apartment—the Roy kids didn’t expect to experience their dad’s demise miles away, on a boat, departing for Liberty Island to watch their half-brother’s sham marriage. This is their version of a grimy undergraduate apartment—it was never supposed to be like this.
It was shocking, moving and an epic hour of television, partially because of the shocking timing of the death so early in the series’ final season. But it makes sense. This show is draped in familial realism through an unattainably rich veil. Death is jarring and precipitous in real life as well, and it’s damn sure to be inconvenient. Since the dawn of television’s “golden era,” there’s been an admittedly exciting trend of major heroes (or antiheroes) dying with theatrical or biblical pageantry. Adrianna was driven to her own death by a trusted family member in The Sopranos. Gus Fring, Breaking Bad’s chicken man and figure of unparalleled evil, met his end at the hands of a bomb in a nursing home which blew off half of his face. The list goes on. But in the context of Succession, and its profound display of the human condition and all its visceral pains, Logan’s death just seems right. It’s a death that is untimely and, most of all, unceremonious.
The only major character death in television history that struck me this way was another one of the all-time greats: Omar Little in The Wire. A man seemingly immortal in gun battles, suddenly snuffed out from a single bullet to the back of the head in a nondescript corner store. The uncomfortable reality of death burrows a bit deeper in your soul when it feels this real.
For all the people Logan physically had in back pocket, in his inner circle and beyond, he died more alone than most of us ever will. It’s something he began to realize at the beginning of this season, most notably in the diner scene from episode 1 that’s become quite prescient. Logan, in an atypical show of introspection and vulnerability, asks Colin the bodyguard whether he believes in the afterlife, and if there is a purpose to humanity. He ends the dinner by calling Colin his “pal”, a stark and tragic display of loneliness from the otherwise impenetrable figure.
The Logan Roy death scene is yet another masterclass in showrunning and screenwriting from Jesse Armstrong and the rest of the Succession crew. Time and time again, they’re able to deliver pivotal moments in simultaneously shocking and sobering fashion. Early returns on “Connor’s Wedding” put the episode in rarified air, instantly etched in cinema history and pop culture canon. But it’s not over yet—there are seven episodes left, in which we’ll likely see either a new successor crowned, or the empire crumble for good.