Logan Roy, gone too soon, long live Brian Cox

Succession, marvellously created by Jesse Armstrong, is actually Cox’s tour de force. He infuses Roy with every possible human frailty: depravity, profanity, malice, arrogance

By Vinay Kamat

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Published: Thu 13 Apr 2023, 9:09 PM

Logan Roy is dead. Long live Roy. Certainly, Brian Cox, the actor who played the protagonist until his recent death in Season 4, Episode 3, of the critically acclaimed TV drama Succession, would not have appreciated that figure of speech. He would instead have preferred a brutal epitaph: He’s **ing dead.

For those who have enjoyed Cox play the media baron Roy, his death is inexplicable. Sean Bean’s unexpected killing in Season 1 of Game of Thrones was sad, Cox’s departure is sad version 4.0. As living rooms mourn the passing away of an icon, it’s time to savour the moments that defined unhinged fatherhood. And unhinged love.

Succession, marvellously created by Jesse Armstrong, is actually Cox’s tour de force. He infuses Roy with every possible human frailty: depravity, profanity, malice, arrogance. You name it, and it’s there. To his employees, Roy is an evil capitalist. To his kids, he’s a scheming dad. To his wives, he’s a despicable patriarch. To his rivals, he’s a modern-day hound of the Baskervilles. His essence can be sensed in T. S. Eliot: “Most of the evil in this world is done by people with good intentions.”

With Roy around, there’s no battle between vice and virtue. A great actor makes you believe that class is a great leveller, that screen vice easily morphs into screen virtue. That dadhood is an enigma, swinging between bullying and favouritism. That abnormal is normal. When you start chewing on Royisms, you realise Roy could make you do that easily—without (Brando’s) cotton wool.

It makes Succession the ChatGPT of TV shows. There’s nothing like it in the new millennium. Disruptive family dramas like The Simpsons and The Addams Family have given us a glimpse of extreme human emotion, but Succession is almost Shakespearean in scale and scope. Here, King Lear meets the Merchant of Venice. Now imagine if the playwright had knocked off Macbeth in Act 4, before “the hurly-burly’s done, when the battle’s lost or won.”

That is the question. Let’s take one fiery scene in Season 4, Episode 3 that explains why Roy needed at least two more seasons to find a malevolent or a woke successor. In this scene, Roy is inspiring the troops in the newsroom by giving them a glimpse of his zero-sum game.

“Alright, you’re good folks. You’re the best, or you wouldn’t be in here. But you’ve got to knuckle down for me…So I don’t want to know about three per cent week on week, I want to know that we’re killing the opposition. I want to be cutting their throats… I’m going to build something better. Something faster, lighter, leaner, wilder — and I’m going to do it from in here with you lot.”

There are many super speeches in Hollywood like Al Pacino’s in The Scent of a Woman, when he addresses the disciplinary committee of Baird School: “What is your motto here? Boys, inform on your classmates, save your hide — anything short of that we're gonna burn you at the stake?” Or Russell Crowe’s in Gladiator: “Father to a murdered son. Husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.” But Cox’s clarion call while standing on boxes of photocopying paper is a masterclass.

Succession is a must-see not because of Cox’s craft but because of the direct and indirect messages that are embedded in the show. A listicle could be demeaning but it’s the best way to explain a TV twister.

Acting: Brian Cox is a phenomenon. Probably the only person that can equal his performance in Succession is Bryan Cranston in Breaking Bad.

Script: All dysfunctional families are unique in their own ways. The family has probably found an answer to the gale-force winds that are buffeting it: intrigue. But there is another big reason that makes a family vicious: money.

Disruption: Business is being disrupted and is unable to find its feet in many industries. That’s until a champion comes along and changes the rules. The auto industry has found one in Elon Musk, media awaits the king in Succession.

Cast: While Cox is the epicentre of family tumult, his sons (Jeremy Strong & Kieran Culkin) and daughter (Sarah Snook) are excellent foils to Roy and his grand ambitions.

Wealth: In many ways, Money could have been an alternative title for Jesse Armstrong’s show. In Wall Street, greed was simply good, defining the new moral architecture. In Succession, greed is obscene, emphasizing that greed alone is not enough.

As we mourn Logan Roy, we should remember his famous line: “Nothing is a line. Everything, everywhere is always moving forever. Get used to it.”

— vinay@khaleejtimes.com

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