SPOILER ALERT: This article contains spoilers for “Church and State,” Season 4, Episode 9 of “Succession,” now streaming on HBO Max.
First comes the coronation, then the hangover.
On this Sunday’s “Succession” — the penultimate episode of the series and the longest so far, clocking in at over 70 minutes — the morning after the election brings with it a regime change for America and a major headache for the Roy kids.
Titled “Church and State” (but begging to be renamed “Four Fuckups and a Funeral”), Episode 9 opens with the increasingly siloed siblings getting ready for their father’s interment while society collapses around them courtesy of ATN. Shiv (Sarah Snook) watches the news in horror; Roman “the Showman” (Kieran Culkin) barely glances at the monitor in favor of practising his eulogy and psyching himself up in front of the mirror (“I selected the President. Do you see his pecker in my pocket?” he asks his reflection). Outside, the air brims with menace. As Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) puts it later with his typical Wambsgans tact: “It’s getting a bit Tiananmen-y out there.”
Kendall (Jeremy Strong), meanwhile, is insulated from the fray by his chauffeur-driven Mercedes and designer shades, but fails to notice the revolution brewing inside his inner sanctum. His usual backseat soundtrack of dope beats has been replaced by protestors and sirens. His assistant Jess (Juliana Canfield) resigns. His ex-wife Rava (Natalie Gold) deserts him, prioritizing their kids’ physical – and perhaps spiritual – safety by skipping the funeral and hightailing it out of town. And Shiv is sharpening her knife as she prepares to bury not just her father but also her corporate sugar-daddy’s funky numbers in the hopes of finally securing the family’s media empire, Waystar Royco.
Inside the church, the siblings’ uncle, Ewan Roy (James Cromwell), defies his order not to speak, instead storming the stage to unload a character assassination of the family’s patriarch Logan (Brian Cox) that is as tragic as it is damning. With Ewan’s condemnations ringing in the congregation’s ears, the pressure is on Roman to deliver a grandiose eulogy that rescues the show — and impresses the newly anointed President Mencken (Justin Kirk), who is yet to commit to killing the GoJo deal.
But, in a twist that only his ex-girlfriends could see coming, the Showman can’t get it up. So Kendall steps in, followed swiftly by Shiv, each of them still doggedly fighting over their father’s legacy even in death. By the end of the episode, it’s all-out war among the siblings. Shiv appears to have gotten the GoJo deal over the line with Mencken in the bag and Lukas Matsson (Alexander Skarsgärd) handing her the keys to her puppet kingdom. Kendall, sensing his birth right slipping away, instructs lapdog Hugo (Fisher Stevens) to brief the media against Matsson’s offer. Baby brother, meanwhile, having lost his appetite for war entirely, flees his father’s wake and stumbles onto the streets to watch Rome burn (pun intended).
Gold spoke with Variety about Rava’s relationship with Kendall, why she skipped Logan’s funeral and who shouldn’t succeed Logan Roy.
As we watch Kendall trying to morph into Logan and become “a killer” over these last few episodes, what is Rava thinking, and how she is dealing with that?
I was so shocked by her decision to not go to the funeral when I read [the script]. Not in a bad way. I just thought, “Wow, that’s bold.” But I think now she seems more done than she ever has — and she’s been pretty done. She’s done being collateral damage, and I think we’re really getting to see her terrified, maybe dealing with her own complicity and getting out of Dodge — and she’s not going to show up for him. She’s putting her kids [Sophie, played by Swayam Bhatia, and Iverson, played by Quentin Morales] and their safety first.
I was also shocked she decided to skip the funeral, denying the kids a chance to say goodbye to their grandfather. Did you think it was too harsh?
I found it to be a shocking decision, but it was absolutely perfect and absolutely right. I think Rava is obviously very conflicted. I don’t think it’s necessarily easy for her, and [the writers] write conflicting decisions so well. Was it the right call? Was it the wrong call? That’s for other people to decide. And you know, he wasn’t the fuzziest grandfather in the world. He was terrible to his grandkids. I mean, Brian would probably not love me saying that. But he hit his grandson in the face with a can. He was dismissive of them, dismissive of my parenting style. He was a terrible father to Kendall.
Yeah, there’s that scene in Season 3 Episode 8 when Logan suspects Kendall might have poisoned his food, so he asks Iverson to try it first. Definitely not the best grandfather.
I mean, I don’t know if the kids were dying to go to the funeral. But I think they did a very good job in this episode of setting up how much unrest there is in New York City, and how fearful it feels. I advocate for my character and her decision, but I love how messy it is. I love how harsh it is. And I love how conflicted she is about it. It’s not easy. And that’s what makes writing so good.
Absolutely, it’s always in those moments of ambiguity that “Succession” shines. A lot has been written about Jeremy Strong’s method. What’s it been like working with him?
I love working with Jeremy. He’s such a live, spontaneous actor. There’s not a lot of talking that we ever do before a scene; it’s all on the page. So we shoot it, and we shoot it a lot of times, and each version is so different. There was some [in Episode 9] where we were physically fighting, beating each other up. That’s not what stayed — that’s not what served the overall story — but we get the opportunity to play, which is so fun to do as an actor and with him as a scene partner. He’s always been just kind and supportive, and I think it’s fair to say we love working with each other.
How much do you know about Rava’s background? Have you talked about it with Jesse Armstrong?
I don’t know what her background is. I know that Sophie’s adopted. We had talked about that, but I don’t know where [Rava’s] parents are from. Jesse and I never had a specific conversation about it. In my head she grew up in New York City and came from a privileged background. I think she met Kendall in business school. But that’s not vetted by Jesse, that’s all my own interpretation. It’s not official canon.
Is Iverson also adopted?
No, Iverson is not adopted. But, again — and this was not discussed at length with Jesse, I think it was more a quick conversation — I do think that it was very hard for Rava to get pregnant.
The birthday party in Season 3, Episode 7 — where Kendall is frantically searching for the present from his kids — felt like a pivotal moment in his arc. What was your reaction to that scene?
Well, I thought the scene was beautiful, and absolutely heartbreaking. To her, the whole thing is just so absurd and depressing. Because none of these people are his friends, it’s just a big show. She brings in a gift that immediately some staff member takes and puts in the gift room. I think Rava thinks, “Come over and have dinner and spend some time with your children, and let them give you the gift in person.” But no, she’s got to bring it to this big, awful party because where is he? I think that’s what’s going through her mind. I think she’s trying to give him the chance to co-parent. Their relationship is so complicated.
Did you have a chance to walk through the compliments tunnel?
No, sadly. But I was shown around [the party set] by the crew. My God, what the crew did, and Stephen Carter, the production designer. I did get to walk through Lady Caroline’s birth canal, that was very exciting. And I did spend some time in the fake Waystar and the giant crib, which was a big beautiful bed that a lot of the cast members would just cuddle up in with a ginormous teddy bear in between takes and relax. So that was also nice.
When did you find out about Logan’s death? Did you have any inkling it was coming?
No, no! Every time I try to guess anything that’s going to happen on “Succession,” I’m dead wrong. They’re too smart for me. I am dear friends with these cast members and the writers and everybody involved, so they had a hard job keeping it a secret, I will say, and they did their job very well. But I read Episode 7 and I was like, “Hold on.” I had to reread it so many times. And then I wrote to Jesse, and he very kindly walked me through what had happened.
Who do you think should succeed Logan?
Wow, I can’t even try to predict that one. I’m gonna pass on that one.
Are you passing because of spoilers — do you know what happens at the end? — or because you genuinely can’t decide?
I know a little bit; I don’t know a lot. So no, I’m not passing on it as a non-spoiler thing. I think it’s hard. I love all of these actors so much, and these characters. I will say this: in the pilot episode Kendall is poised to succeed. And that doesn’t happen. In the pilot episode, I think [Rava] was so happy for Kendall, that he was getting what he wants, that he has worked hard for, that he deserves and, in that pilot episode, seemed to be in a healthy place to take that on.
I think she’s in a different place right now. Kendall keeps talking about his big plans, and they’ve all changed: he’s in, he’s out, he’s doing this, he’s doing that and she’s just kind of like — she’s just not believing a word of it.
Justin Kirk said he’d never had so many messages from people about a project he’d worked on after he made his first appearance on “Succession” last season. Was there a moment when you suddenly realized the show had become this cultural juggernaut?
I think for me, that first episode that I did in Season 3, when Kendall comes to my apartment, we have a really beautiful and funny episode together where Greg opens my bottle of wine. I loved shooting that so much. Yeah, I was getting more phone calls and texts and chatter about it, and specifically with my character — I had no idea [before] how people reacted to her at all.
And so Season 3, I was like, “Oh, OK, people have feelings about this. I like that!”
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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