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'Succession' gets one step closer to finding a successor

ANDREW LIMBONG, HOST:

OK. Straight up, if you watch "Succession" and haven't caught up to last night's episode, please dip out now to save yourself from huge spoilers. We'll be talking about it for about, like, eight minutes, so feel free to come back then. Cool. We good? OK, here we go.

Logan Roy, the media mogul, the patriarch of the Roy family, arguably the center of gravity for the show, has died. And now his four kids, Connor, Kendall, Roman and Siobhan, have got to figure out where to go from here. To help us grieve, process and place bets on who will be the successor, we're going to hit up the group chat. We've got NPR TV critic Eric Deggans and Linda Holmes from NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour. Hey, everyone. What's up?

LINDA HOLMES, BYLINE: Hey, Andrew.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Hey.

LIMBONG: All right. So I know I just did, like, a whole wind-up about a huge spoiler, but his death was sort of inevitable, right? I mean, it's the whole point of the show. Who takes over when Logan is gone? Add to it that this is the final season. I'm not sure if surprise is the right word for it. Linda, what did you make of it?

HOLMES: Yeah. When I recapped this episode at npr.org, my first line of that was, I wasn't surprised, but I was shocked. And it sort of because, long-form - not surprised at all. This has kind of been what they've been promising since the first episode of the show. It's in the title of the show, arguably, that eventually this guy moves on, and they move in to succeed him, literally. But in the short run, they had been setting up a bunch of stuff that seemed like it was about to happen - business stuff, personal stuff. And then him dying just kind of comes out of nowhere. So it's a combination of not surprising generally but surprising that it was this episode. Third episode is not a notoriously giant development episode.

LIMBONG: Yeah. Eric, I was going to ask, like, structurally speaking, to have something like this happen - you know, we're not at a season ender. We're not - like, we're not going to go on midseason break, you know (laughter)?

DEGGANS: Right.

LIMBONG: So what did you think of, like, when and how the writers sort of deployed this bomb?

DEGGANS: Well, I thought it was super-bold. I mean, I could not believe that they killed him three episodes into the final season. And I think we'll probably have at least another seven episodes to go. But what's interesting to me about this is that we had all this foreshadowing that Logan was having health problems, that he might actually die. And you also saw over the seasons this guy was his company. There was really no way he was going to leave it. There was even no way he would be happy with a smaller company, which is what he would have ended up with after he pulled off this mega-deal where he was going to sell off key elements of the company. He wouldn't have been satisfied.

And it seemed like they were indicating that the stress of facing that reality was ultimately what did him in. And he was like a hamster on a wheel, or he was - you know, you could tell that the tension of this moment where he suddenly wouldn't be Logan Roy who owned all this stock was really weighing on him. And what was also weighing on him was being cut off from his children.

LIMBONG: Yeah. So speaking of that, you know, we get to see each of the Roy kids say their final goodbyes over the phone, except for Connor, who chooses not to. I just want to play a bit from Shiv Roy, played by Sarah Snook, who is the last to say goodbye.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SUCCESSION")

SARAH SNOOK: (As Shiv Roy) Daddy, I love you. Don't go, please - not now (crying). No, I love you, you [expletive]. God, I don't know. There's no excuses from me, but I...

LIMBONG: Eric, I'm sure you've seen a lot of TV deaths. How do you think this show handled mourning and grief?

DEGGANS: Well, we're going to see that in future episodes because this was all about the shock of his death. And it was very much about focusing on all the people around Logan and how they react to his death and what it means for them. And one of the things that we see is that it means a lot to these kids. Even though they were aligned against him, even though they were united against him, they all wanted his approval. They all wanted his love. And with his death, that is impossible.

LIMBONG: Linda, on your recap, you called it a more honest portrayal of death than most you'll see on TV. I'm curious why, and whose reaction did you think was the most affecting?

HOLMES: Well, I think in many ways, it was Shiv. I think Shiv is a character who, in the first, maybe, season struck me as the one who was the closest to being a kind of normal person. She had put some distance between herself and the family. So I think seeing her kind of circle back and get very emotional was particularly affecting for me. What I mean when I say it's a more realistic portrayal of death - death does not happen at the appointed time, at the time in a season or at a moment when you're prepared for it. It's exactly like this death is. It comes when there are a bunch of other things going on, when everything is unresolved. It doesn't have these ominous last words that signal you that you're about to see a character death. You don't have a particularly satisfying or cataclysmic last moment with people.

And it comes in the form of this phone call that sort of comes in the middle of a day. And then the phone calls just get worse, and you keep thinking, you know, is this person actually dying? Is this really happening? And I think that's more honest than kind of episodes that signal, this is a death episode. And there are other examples of sort of out of nowhere - there were a couple in "The Wire" that were like that. But a lot of times you get a more telegraphed death than this was.

DEGGANS: It's also - what they've been doing this season, I think, is showing more of the interpersonal connections. Like, more than ever, they're showing us that these characters actually want to connect with each other, and they can't because they have such toxic history and because they were never really taught that and because their dad mostly used emotion to manipulate them against each other. And so there's this yearning to connect and then this inability to do it. And, again, you know, when they're all handed the phone and they can't really come up with anything coherent to say with their dad when they think it's his last moments on Earth - that's all summed up in that scene.

LIMBONG: OK. So where do we go from here? Who comes out at the top of this? Eric, place your bets. Let's go. Let's make some wagers.

DEGGANS: I'm putting my money on Tom Wambsgans.

LIMBONG: Tom.

DEGGANS: I really feel like he's the dark horse here.

LIMBONG: Tom Wambsgans. OK, this is Shiv's now-estranged husband, and I guess we can call him, like, the right-hand man to Logan.

DEGGANS: Yeah, that's right. He proved himself to be a more effective lieutenant to Logan than anyone might have expected once he kind of betrayed the siblings and his wife. And it's obvious that Siobhan has feelings for him, and it's going to be hard for her to leave him behind. So I would not be surprised when the dust settles that Tom is actually running everything.

LIMBONG: Linda, who's your racehorse?

HOLMES: I don't think it can be Tom. I want to say Greg 'cause I think it's the funniest outcome.

DEGGANS: (Laughter).

HOLMES: But I think I'm going to say that, after all of this, Kendall will get what he's always wanted and find it completely hollow.

(SOUNDBITE OF NICHOLAS BRITELL'S "FURIOSO IN F MINOR")

LIMBONG: That was Linda Holmes from NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour and NPR TV critic Eric Deggans. Thanks, y'all.

HOLMES: Thank you.

DEGGANS: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF NICHOLAS BRITELL'S "FURIOSO IN F MINOR") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.
Linda Holmes is a pop culture correspondent for NPR and the host of Pop Culture Happy Hour. She began her professional life as an attorney. In time, however, her affection for writing, popular culture, and the online universe eclipsed her legal ambitions. She shoved her law degree in the back of the closet, gave its living room space to DVD sets of The Wire, and never looked back.