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After the shock, ‘Succession’ finds dark humor in the aftershocks

<i>Claudette Barius/HBO</i><br/>Jeremy Strong
Claudette Barius/HBO
Jeremy Strong

By Brian Lowry, CNN

After the shock came the aftershocks, the power vacuum, and perhaps most significantly and impressively, the laughs, as “Succession” pivoted to face life after Logan Roy, in an episode that finally put the HBO show’s title into full flower.

Logan Roy’s abrupt demise left his grown children and subordinates scrambling, with each seemingly humbly offering themselves up to fill the void, while fretting about how the various candidates would play with the company’s board.

At the same time, they mourned the larger-than-life figure they had lost, taking into account that he had treated many of them abysmally. And the fourth hour also marked the return of Logan’s wife, Marcia (Hiam Abbass), in what felt like “Marcia Strikes Back,” while his current and much younger girlfriend, Kerri (Zoe Winter), was bluntly shown the door. (The latter evoked memories of the musical “Evita,” when the title character boots Peron’s mistress, who sings about another suitcase in another hall.)

More than anything, the episode underscored just how brutally funny “Succession” can be, with Shiv (Sarah Snook) reading her father’s obituary and musing, “Dad sounds amazing. I would like to have met dad,” while brothers Kendall (Jeremy Strong) and Roman (Kieran Culkin) hilariously translated the language, with references to Logan having been “a man of his time” equaling “racist.”

The episode also showcased the executives at Waystar Royco, who uncomfortably wondered what to do with a document that included not only Logan’s posthumous wishes but hand-written notes that seemingly specified who he wished to succeed him. They joked, feebly, about tossing the paper in the toilet, while making very clear how much they really wanted to toss the paper in the toilet.

All the knives came out, with Carl (David Rasche) brutally insulting Tom (Matthew Macfadyen), scarcely hiding behind the fact that he was presenting the doubts about Tom’s future as a hypothetical.

Amid that, though, there were also human moments, with the tortured Kendall articulating his conflicted feelings to Waystar executive Frank (Peter Friedman) by saying, “He made me hate him, and he died. I feel like he didn’t like me. I disappointed him.”

“Succession” also underscored the fragility of not just life, but a corporate legacy, with the public-relations folk discussing how to spin and diminish Logan’s involvement in his later years as a means of bucking up the company and its stock price — a maneuver that Kendall ultimately and surreptitiously approved, concluding that it was the sort of smart and ruthless move that his father would have executed.

Questions of succession also appear to be threatening the harmony achieved by Kendall, Shiv and Roman prior to Logan’s exit, with Shiv being left as the odd woman out in a plan to fill the CEO seat just long enough to close the sale to GoJo. Trust doesn’t come easily in series creator Jesse Armstrong’s world, and when Shiv said, “I need to wet my beak,” the assurances from her brothers clearly left the impression how easily that beak could wind up bent out of joint.

Ultimately, after the operating highs of the previous episode, the series successfully turned the page from grieving to the next order of business. And that too, as Kendall put it regarding Logan and the “bad dad” PR leaks, is “what he would do.”

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