Like so many powerful figures, Succession's Logan Roy is a man misunderstood

The real morality tale is sometimes hidden away in the show about a fictional media tycoon

Brian Cox in a scene from "Succession. " HBO via AP
Powered by automated translation

Brian Cox, the Scottish actor who has seized the public imagination as Logan Roy, a media tycoon, in the serial Succession, has been seeking to overturn the largely negative consensus opinion on his character’s personality.

With the latest series gaining impetus from a surprise plot twist, Cox’s remarks question perspectives by introducing a new interpretation of Roy. His critiques could just as easily be applied in the way we look at powerful figures in the real world.

Cox does not judge his character as irredeemable and crazed by the pursuit of power and money. Instead, he cautions that Roy is a lonely and singular character.

How this manifests is that he is in many ways deprived as human being. To give just one example, he cannot do relationships. The failure of every one of his direct relationships across the whole serial is total.

For the most part, the critics make Roy the perpetrator of this cycle of breakdown. Few would say that it is in fact Roy who has been the victim of failed friendships or family bonds.

It is salutary to think of how all-encompassing this view of the series has become. It is also a tribute to good dramatic, creative writing that has by and large maintained its standards across each series.

It has been a gripping tale with some very close real-life analogies

But what if Roy is a destroyed romantic with a deeply cynical set of approaches to life and how he gets on with others? When cynicism reigns, Roy is successful in his drives and appetites. In the process, he carries the burden of being more and more isolated. He self-justifies each loss that wracks up along the way throughout the series. Even he does not consider that he may be misunderstood.

The case in point put forward by Cox lies in the quest for a successor that gives the hit drama its title. It is not his drive for a strong succession that is wrong. Rather, his children, who think of themselves as the sole candidates, are his Achilles heel. The children that he moves through in his bewildering attempts to promote and propel forward are, in Cox’s phrase, severely wanting.

They are in “an area of entitlement” that means they are out of touch and not wanting to be in touch with society – even though they are attempting to build businesses and profit from knowing popular tastes. The Roy children are not worthy in the first place of the extreme privilege that has been offered to them.

Consider the consequences of any moment that Roy may realise the full futility of what he is trying to achieve. Does it not say something about him that his long struggle could be all for naught? Would not a personality so comprehensively build on that titanium self-justification view this as defeat? Losing the game of perspectives would ultimately cost him all that core strength. What is left is not much more than a void, if anything at all.

The models for the Logan children were extremely well-sculpted by the show’s creator and writers. The female character Shiv has her own off-and-on relationship with the family and is flattered to appear as someone of substance, but was ultimately not a serious person.

Kendall, the most like a businessman yet riddled with weakness from badly regurgitated eastern philosophy, is full of self-pity that eventually leads to the death of another man. A younger boy, Roman, is the perpetual teen. The eldest, Connor, a wannabe manque, rounds out the quartet.

Roy’s ex-wife set the terms that characterised him when she observed he never met a dog he didn’t want to kick just to see if would come back to him.

In the audience, the ear was keenly attuned to the kick but not the animal’s return.

For the Roy children, the unplugging of their patriarch’s drive for them in the most recent episode is likely be formative and catastrophic. For it was the thing that prevented their descent.

Some of the biggest issues of our time are similarly overlaid with the perspective of the obvious narrative. Pressure to take away the driving force of the issue can often prevail, only for objectively worse conditions to take over pretty quickly.

For Succession, the slaps in the face, sometime literal but mostly blows to ambition, are rapidly reaching a conclusion. It has been a gripping tale with some very close real-life analogies, known especially to those of us in the media industry.

It is a great drama. The wise viewer would be well-advised to remember that the real morality tale is sometimes very far away from the dominant narrative that surrounds the plot.

For the rest of us, this is true in global politics as much as it is on the streaming screen.

Published: April 17, 2023, 4:00 AM
Updated: April 26, 2023, 12:28 PM