By Kartik Iyer
The things that stand out about Brian Cox, who plays the character of Logan Roy in Succession, are his nose, jaws, and eyes. The jaws get a helping from the white-grey beard, but his nose and eyes appear as they are: stark, sharp, and cold. Logan has the capacity to unnerve people with his sight. His nose is often perked up, looking down at all the scum.
Cox has described this character as Shakespearean. The plot does centre around who will ascend the mighty throne of Waystar, the characters are full of tragic human emotions, and it all does seem a little silly and dramatic. There is an universal appeal to this story because of its emotional core. As Tom Hardy in Inception says, “You really have to start at the absolute basics: the relationship with the father”. (By the way, Inception has so much in common with Succession.)
More than Shakespeare, Logan Roy brings to mind another seminal character from literature: Gail Wynand from Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. Gail is one of the central characters of Rand’s epic about capitalism, morality, and human nature. Political leanings aside, this character is thoroughly compelling. Born dirt poor, abused by the inequalities of society, witnesses the harshness of human character. Despite everything stacked against him, much like the protagonist of the book Howard Roark, Gail rises. Starting at a small newspaper to becoming the biggest and most profitable media baron of his time. He lives atop a pinnacle of wealth and opulence in a penthouse made of transparent glass. The city beneath him and only the stars above him. Very much like Logan Roy. Everything he publishes is absolute filth, in a sense, made to achieve pure commercial goals. It is quite like Waystar. However, both Logan and Gail are men of taste. They are not dumb, divided, desperate, desolate. They are fierce, fiery, highly intelligent and fucking mammoths.
Since both had disturbing childhoods, their perspective towards the world is shaped by cruelty. Honestly, though, the compelling nature of their characters comes from the fact that we actually get it. We understand why they are the way they are. In fact, there is a sense of twisted happiness to see them be themselves. When I read The Fountainhead, some part of me loved Gail. When I watch Succession, a part of me wants to be Logan. I wondered why that is. Somewhere, I feel, it has to do with feeling vindicated.
Who does not feel that they have it bad? Who does not feel that their life, progress, sense of happiness and comfort is being stifled by other people? By anything except their own fate or actions? Isn’t it human to have a sense of vengeance against the world? Isn’t it natural to want to avenge the harshness wrath upon you by it? Maybe not, but I believe both Logan and Gail feel that. Rand writes Gail in a way that his character and actions are almost justified, hence the problems with her political and moral views. Jesse Armstrong, on the other hand, is a careful fellow. Not just because he has leftward leanings. The character that potentially best describes Armstrong’s position is Kendall Roy.
The show begins with him, his relationship with his father. To draw parallels to our world, we are living in a capitalist society today. One that is guaranteeing freedom, security but also deepening divide. We see and understand why and how the world became like this. Most of us are dealing with it on our own, figuring out a way to be comfortable with the way things are. Kendall is no different. Being the eldest of the three siblings, barring Connor, Kendall understands his father the best. Based on that understanding, he also recognizes how he is right and how he is wrong. Siobhan is the rebel while Romulus lives in daze of his father’s glory. Kendall (it is clear which team I belong to), like Armstrong, is peculiarly placed at crossroads: where does he go exactly?
Over the course of four seasons, we see him trying to be Logan, then go opposite, then again come back. It is in this final season that Kendall seems to finally figure out a steady, stable way of doing things. To some, that’s a dark future. The thing to notice is that the way Kendall arrives at that conclusion is not through some sense of vindictiveness against the world. Kendall has barely breathed the air of that world, the life of harsh cruelty that his father, and Gail from The Fountainhead, were born into. Kendall is living in a world that was created by his father. He was born into a value system, into a family business that is built on harbouring the twisted nature of human beings for profits. It was the biggest ‘fuck you’ Logan built to everyone who fucked him over. Kendall sees that, understands it but attempts to navigate around it.Next week’s final episode will reveal what Kendall shall become. If he chooses to become his father, Logan Roy (and Gail Wynand), I won’t judge him. He, much like me, is arriving at that conclusion not because he hates the world. Sure. In some way, we all do. But his actions won’t be based on vindicating, avenging. He is just growing comfortable with the way things are and what needs to be done to get to where he wants. He tried choosing the nicer way. It didn’t work. At some point, people stop trying. It is fucking sad. It is fucking cruel. But I understand. As Mike Ehrmantraut from Better Call Saul says in an episode, “Just playing the cards I was dealt”.