Succession’s penultimate, Season 4, Episode 9, “Church and State” Spoilers Ahead
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Succession‘s fourth season is inarguably the show’s strongest spectacle yet for many reasons, and at the top of the list are the performances. From Logan Roy’s shocking death in Season 4, Episode 3, “Connor’s Wedding,” to Roman Roy’s emotional collapse at his father’s funeral, Kieran Culkin brings the series’ strongest performances to our screens. And beyond the performance, the realism behind this scene in Succession’s penultimate episode makes it such a gut-wrenching display of grief.
No matter who you’re grieving, if you care even an ounce about the person whose funeral you’re attending, then you’re bound to ache a little. But a kid who’ll grieve their parent is a whole other story, and so much of Roman’s breakdown is the manifestation of his demons coming to life, wanting to be free from the self-deprecating cage their stuck in as he collapses over the reality of his father’s death. Succession is often full of spectacular performances, but what we see in the show’s penultimate episode isn’t something we’ve seen before—and that’s saying something considering “Connor’s Wedding” is a masterclass in every way.
In Vanity Fair, Culkin notes that this is the first time in his life that Roman Roy feels he has no control or say in the situation. From the moment he starts to stammer during his speech to the passing instances with his siblings trying to calm him down, Roman Roy is but a mere boy, unable to stop the waves from drowning him whole. The most human part about grieving someone is that we never have a say in when or how it hits us. And it’s not always at a funeral—sometimes, it’s years later in the future, you walk by someone writing the words “I miss you, dad” on a sign they’re making, and you break down sobbing with them. Everyone around you stops moving; no one’s sure what to say or what they can do to calm you down because everything’s spinning in a way that’s far from any sort of rational thought.
Grief doesn’t care if you have to give a eulogy or if everyone’s watching—it comes quickly, and it impales you in such a lamentable manner that all you can do is feel the pain gushing out of you. That’s what happens to Roman as he starts to grasp that his father is not only gone, but he’s lying in a closed casket from where there’s no way out. If you’d told me back in Season 1 that I’d one day cry with Roman Roy in Succession’s penultimate episode, I’d laugh. Still, Culkin does a brilliantly poignant job of making Roman feel so small while he allows the character to crumble in a way we’ve never seen before.
It’s a brief instant where nothing on this show matters beyond Shiv, Kendall, and Connor trying to console him. It’s a beat where viewers are left shaking and crying alongside a character who isn’t the most likable but who’s so innately human that his grief feels much more familiar. I, too, have lost my father. I understand Roman down to his very bones at this moment (though my father was a much better man), but none of that matters because even if I didn’t know the extent of his pain, Culkin shows us enough where his misery becomes tangible.
The juxtaposition of going from Ewan’s surprise eulogy to Roman’s breakdown then, followed by Kendall finally speaking, is whiplash-inducing, but concurrently, it sets up the reality of grief and heartaches so organically it makes the episode yet another astonishing feat. For a moment, we forget who these people are and what they’re capable of doing because we’re watching a kid realize that the one person he wants to see again is soon to be six feet underground.
Succession’s penultimate episode features one of the show’s most harrowing moments, shot astutely with close-up visuals that deliver internal battles profoundly. These close-up junctures make our reactions to the scenes that much more visceral because they continue to be intimate displays that should be private despite the full display they’re on. And everything that we get with Sarah Snoke, Jeremy Strong, and Alan Ruck quietly matching Culkin’s emotional breakdown draws strings together in the kind of scene that continues to layer and fortify these characters while utilizing our empathy. Things might be very different in the show’s series finale, but in this brief moment, they’re all kids, scrambling to help each other catch a breath to move forward.