Succession Season 4 episode 9 Church and State review: Kieran Culkin’s crowning moment, if not Roman’s

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Kieran Culkin gives a remarkable performance in an episode of Succession where everything goes wrong for Roman Roy

This piece contains detailed and immediate spoilers for Succession Series 4 episode 9, ‘Church and State’.

In the end, you don’t hear much of the eulogy Roman Roy wrote for his father Logan. “My father Logan Roy was a great man in the true sense of the word,” he says, as anodyne and anonymous a comment as could ever be made of the former Waystar CEO, more like a quote taken from any of the countless obituaries written around the world rather than something really felt by his youngest son. “Born the middle child of three, he was sent away during the Second World War to bing-bang-bong, sad sad sad,” he rattles off in front of the mirror, the half-hearted rehearsals of someone convinced they know what to say and feeling relaxed about it.

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The funeral is an opportunity to Roman, the one he let pass him by when he didn’t participate in the Living+ presentation: when the siblings arrive at the church, Roman is practical and level-headed, courting the board members and laying the groundwork to suggest that, maybe just maybe, he should be sole executive of the company rather than sharing a position with Kendall. There’s a bone-deep cynicism to everything Roman’s doing, a ruthlessly targeted attempt to shore up his position in the company and establish himself as his father’s one true heir. “Don’t I remind you of him, just a little?”

That all shatters when Ewan stands up to speak before Roman, though, as the only member of the congregation who would ever – could ever – talk about his brother Logan as an individual rather than an idea gets to set the tone. Ewan offers a moral perspective, but something more personal and intimate too: where Roman’s eulogy had a brief line about his father’s voyage from Scotland to Canada, Ewan can evoke the sheer terror of days and nights spent in total silence at the bottom of a ship. In death, Roman is getting the chance to know his father in a way he didn’t before – not just gesturing at vague similarities they share, both the middle child of three, but understanding why Logan was scared of water, or wondering if his dad felt the same way he did sent to a faraway school. 

Kieran Culkin as Roman Roy in Succession Season 4 episode 9 'Church and State', avoiding entering his father's mausoleum (Credit: HBO)Kieran Culkin as Roman Roy in Succession Season 4 episode 9 'Church and State', avoiding entering his father's mausoleum (Credit: HBO)
Kieran Culkin as Roman Roy in Succession Season 4 episode 9 'Church and State', avoiding entering his father's mausoleum (Credit: HBO) | HBO

What follows is a far cry from what Roman practiced – in the end he didn’t even manage, as he said he would, to “talk loudly” – and it’s not even remotely the crowning moment he’d envisaged. It is, though, a crowning moment for Kieran Culkin, a remarkable achievement for the actor that stands head and shoulders above all the other remarkable achievements he’s made so far on the show. “Is he in there? Can we… get him out?” is one of Culkin’s best line-readings across five years, the sheer overwhelming grief of it all obscuring whether Roman is pleading for his father to come back to life or if he simply can’t handle being in the same room as him still.

It’s striking too that, while Succession has never really made much of Culkin’s history as a child actor before, it resonates here: something about Roman melts away when he stands up to speak, fumbling with his little flashcards like a child before an exam, looking absolutely tiny in that grand old church. Ewan described his brother as someone who drew in the edges of the world, someone who made things smaller, and that’s never more apparent than when Roman can barely manage a whisper in the microphone. 

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But it’s Kendall’s (successful) eulogy rather than Ewan’s that underscores Logan’s impact on Roman, as probably befits siblings who spent their life competing against one another. Describing his father, Kendall says that “there are always a thousand reasons not to, to not act, but he was never one of them”. In a funeral full of so many half-truths and reaching metaphors stumbling around the point, this is the one that’s maybe closest to an outright falsehood – because look at Roman, completely inert at just the memory of Logan’s being. The before and after is striking: as they process into the church, Roman is walking faster and out of step, like he’s trying to overtake Kendall, but as they walk the path to the mausoleum, he falls back and can’t bring himself to cross the threshold. 

A few episodes earlier – just a few days prior, in the compressed timeline of Succession’s fourth season – Roman stands at the top of a mountain and insists he’s already dead. Here, when Kendall talks about his father, the most positive thing he can say is simply that he “made life happen”. As Roman steals into the night, looking to self-harm by riling up protestors, it seems perhaps that someone other than Ewan might have accidentally said something true about Logan.

The final episode of Succession, ‘With Open Eyes’, airs on Monday 29 May on Sky Atlantic at 2am, with a subsequent repeat at 9pm. You can read more of our Succession coverage here, including our review of Season 4 episode 3 'Connor's Wedding'.

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