Analysis | On ‘Succession,’ weddings never go off without a hitch

Note: This story contains major spoilers for the most recent episode of HBO’s “Succession.”

The ideal wedding is a joyous, tender celebration of love. But nothing ever unfolds the ideal way on “Succession,” does it? On the hit HBO series, a satirical drama exploring the power dynamics of a fictional media empire, weddings have come to serve as a backdrop for familial backstabbing or great tragedy. Sometimes, they host a combination of the two.

Sunday night’s episode shocked viewers with the death of Logan Roy (Brian Cox), the media mogul and cruel patriarch whose children — Connor (Alan Ruck), Kendall (Jeremy Strong), Roman (Kieran Culkin) and Siobhan, a.k.a. “Shiv” (Sarah Snook) — learn that Logan has collapsed in a plane while they’re on a yacht for Connor’s wedding. The latter three Roys find out first and sputter through their final words to Logan, delivered to him through a cellphone held near his ear as he receives chest compressions in the plane.

Their sudden grief is palpable as they each revert to the wounded child inside them. Kendall and Shiv, who staunchly opposed their father in recent weeks, crumble and express their love for him. Roman remains in denial, telling Logan he is “going to be okay. Because you’re a monster, and you’re going to win.”

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All this, unfolding on the special day of a man who immediately responds to the news by remarking Logan “never even liked me.” Connor, the failson and outcast of the Roy family, quickly backtracks, amending the statement to, “I never got to make him proud.” But the rejected sentiment lingers. Logan hadn’t even planned to attend the wedding; he made the decision to miss his eldest child’s nuptials so he could fly to Sweden for a business deal.

In keeping with the series’ bleakly cheeky tone, Sunday’s episode — the third of the series’ fourth and final season — is titled “Connor’s Wedding,” the event for which it will least be remembered. Relationships among the opportunistic figures in “Succession” are often transactional, at least in part, and their grand displays of love therefore easily overshadowed.

Shiv uses her own wedding, which closes out the first season, to tell her groom, Tom Wambsgans (Matthew Macfadyen), that she has been unfaithful to him.

The occasion is also the backdrop for Logan’s twisted power play against Kendall, who comes to him after getting into a Chappaquiddick-like car accident that kills a waiter. Logan seizes the moment, promising to help cover up Kendall’s involvement in the crash if his son abandons an attempted takeover of the family company.

The crash “could be what it should be,” Logan says to a distraught Kendall. “Nothing at all. A sad little detail at a lovely wedding where father and son are reconciled.”

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Just as lovely is the wedding at the end of Season 3, when Logan’s ex-wife Caroline (Harriet Walter) — mother to Kendall, Roman and Shiv — remarries in Italy.

The star of Caroline’s wedding isn’t her new marriage, but her divorce agreement with Logan. When their children discover Logan plans to sell the family company, they join forces and invoke a clause in the settlement granting them veto power over changes in company leadership. But Logan once again outwits his children. It turns out he and Caroline have already renegotiated the terms of their agreement, thwarting the effort.

To borrow language from another HBO tragedy, this is “Succession’s” own Red Wedding. Kendall, Roman and Shiv are dumbfounded by the treachery of their so-called loved ones — and during their mother’s wedding, no less. They are reminded of what viewers take away each week: Love and trust are exploited as weaknesses. Celebrating them only shows your hand.

Which makes it all the more notable that Logan’s death doesn’t stop Connor from going forth with his wedding to Willa Ferreyra (Justine Lupe), a former escort and aspiring playwright who has just admitted to him that his wealth is part of his appeal. As Connor’s younger siblings leave to meet their father’s plane, he joins Willa for a ceremony in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, with almost no one in attendance. It is as happy an ending as “Succession” will allow.

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