TV

Succession shows grief is complicated. Here’s how to get help if you’re dealing with a complex loss

As each of the Roy kids copes with losing their dad in different ways, Succession proves again why it's great TV. Help is out there if you're dealing with complicated mourning

Brian Cox as Succession patriarch Logan Roy, whose death shows different responses to grief

Brian Cox as Succession's patriarch Logan Roy. Image: ©2023 HBO All Rights Reserved

HBO’S hugely successful Succession has always worked on multiple levels. Ostensibly a drama about board-room warfare, it’s also a treatise on family dynamics, the poisoning effect of extreme wealth and the eroding of personal principals. To that we can add an artful and occasionally devastating deconstruction of the forms grief can take. Last week the show gave us the joltingly sudden off-screen death of patriarch/neglectful father/power hungry abuser Logan Roy (Brian Cox). It was an astonishing piece of television; an audacious landmark that took the biggest of swings and smacked the ball into the middle distance.

This week’s chapter, ‘Honeymoon States’, drops us into the aftermath as Logan’s family and colleagues (it seems a stretch to say that Logan Roy had anything as pedestrian as “friends”) meet at the Roy’s Manhattan home for a hastily arranged wake-cum-board meeting. It’s an expertly written exploration of the obscure and conflicting grief that occurs when the person lost was powerful, cruel, abusive, and has ensured they remained the central figure in everyone’s life.

Succession shows all four Roy siblings handling it differently: there’s Roman (Kieran Culkin), who has been thinking about this for so long he suspects he’s “pre-grieved” and gotten it out of his system. He’s also the only character in the entire show to display any sort of compassion to someone else. There’s Kendall (Jeremy Strong), who last week said of his father, “I love you, but I can’t forgive you”; he’s got “the best grief guy in the world” to take his call overnight and give him some pointers but is also so clearly desperate for someone to give him a hug that he even reaches out to slimeball old friend Stuey. There’s Shiv (Sarah Snook), whose world seems to have been shattered, still struggling to deal with absence of the only person whose approval she ever sought, feeling partly responsible for forcing him to take the journey on which he died. And there’s half-brother Conner (Alan Ruck), newly married, whose response to his father’s death was to say “he never loved me”, and whose first action the next day is to try and buy his house.

Each suffered at Logan’s hands one way or another. The three younger siblings had their power brutally removed at the end of the last season after years of being played against each other. We also learn that Logan’s unnamed first wife, Connor’s mother, was abused and gaslit into psychiatric care.

Given this, you might expect a sense of relief, a lifting of pressure, yet the episode’s primary tone is of uncertainty and mourning. According to Linda Magistris, founder of The Good Grief Trust, a charity that helps people deal with bereavement, this would not be unexpected.

“It’s important to recognise that grief can be complex and is a multifaceted experience,” she says. “It may not just be about mourning the loss of someone you love, but you may also need to deal with the intricacies of your relationship with that person, both positive and negative. Feelings of guilt, unresolved issues, and the burden of negative relationships can all contribute to increased layers of the grieving process.” It’s a statement that maps well onto those mourning the fictional Logan Roy.

“The finality of death can leave people feeling hopeless, as they can’t make amends,” Linda says, noting that it’s especially true when your relationship with a person who has died wasn’t straightforward “such as losing touch with someone, having an unsupportive parent, or perhaps coping with the loss of someone who was abusive or struggling with addiction.”

What advice would Linda give to the Roy kids?

“Connecting with others who have gone through similar experiences can be a source of comfort and acknowledgement of difficult emotions. Many support groups and charities specialise in helping people navigate the complexities of grief and loss, and these resources can provide a lifeline for those struggling to make sense of their feelings.”

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In the world of the show, the squabbling and powerplays kickstarted by Logan’s passing will likely isolate his children from one another at the time when their connection is most valuable – the final indignant gift from a father who played them against each other their entire lives.

Back in the real world, most of us don’t live in Manhattan penthouses or fly in private jets, but all of us will experience bereavement, and many of us have complicated relationships with the people we lose. Its why Succession is such great drama. It works as a reminder of the importance of real, human connection in a world where people can vanish from our lives in an instant and turn our universe upside down.

If you have been affected by a bereavement The Good Grief Trust has a list of support services across the UK, which you can find here.

Succession is on Sky Atlantic every Monday.

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