Grief looks different for everyone. But for the Roys, it’s a chance for corporate advancement.
Warning: Spoilers ahead for season 4 episode 4 of Succession.
The traditional funeral dress code is soberingly straightforward: black; muted; conservative. But for a mourning event that doubles as a life-changing career opportunity? Well, that makes things a little more complicated. After patriarch Logan Roy’s death, the succession in Succession has finally begun. It’s the greatest power struggle to take place yet in the HBO show, and the outfits are the vehicle.
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Episode 4 is set at Logan’s $63 million apartment, wherein a wake is being held hours before a board meeting that will determine who takes over at Waystar Royco. People are mingling, hors d’oeuvres are passed, and speeches are made. It’s an off-kilter gathering filled with theatrical displays of “grief” and conference-ready suits. All in all, it reads pretty insincerely for a wake, but that’s because, for basically everyone here, this is business.
Take Marcia (Hiam Abbass), Logan’s estranged third wife, who is suddenly back in the picture and asserting her dominance in the Waystar empire after being pushed out. Dressed as the ultimate wealthy widow, Marcia welcomes guests to Logan’s apartment wearing head-to-toe black, finished by an extravagant tulle veil-adjacent hairpiece. Although her intentions are clearly transactional, she fits the visual bill of a melancholic mourner. But for Logan Roy’s kids, wake attire looks a little different.
At the centre of Succession is the question of whether Logan (Brian Cox) actually ever loved his children. And after his death, this mystery still hangs in the air. With the weight of their unresolved dynamic, plus the looming tension of Waystar’s future, Kendall, Shiv and Roman are dressed to prove themselves.
Doubling down on his affinity for quiet luxury via exceptionally plain outfits, Kendall (Jeremy Strong) spends the episode in a Tom Ford polo. His look, in a sea of suits, is a power move. Similar to a laid-back Silicon Valley billionaire, Kendall is stating that he doesn’t need to conform to formalities — he has inherited importance, and this emanates through his conspicuously casual wardrobe.
Roman (Kieran Culkin) looks the same as always — and this is intentional. An agent of verbal chaos, the youngest Roy brother keeps emotions buried or deals with them exclusively via inappropriate jokes. At the start of the episode, he tells his siblings that he has “pre-grieved” and maintains his everyday uniform: a tucked dress shirt, no tie and slicked-back hair. Costume designer Michelle Matland previously told Vogue that Roman’s style doesn’t waver much because it’s one thing he understands about himself, amid lots of internal confusion. In surprising small moments, he proves to have possibly the most empathy out of all the siblings. But with his clothing’s corporate exactness, Roman’s slimeball masquerade is part of an effort to be taken seriously by his dictatorial dad.
Then there’s Shiv (Sarah Snook), who seems the most put-together after Logan’s death that she’s looked all season. Gone are her drawstring pants and sad, scruffy ponytail. Instead, she’s sporting a coiffed bob and a turtleneck-pantsuit combo, reminiscent of her chic transformation in season 2. Her delicately layered necklaces add intentionality and her power shoulders communicate control.
But beneath this, she’s grappling with a secret pregnancy and guilt over how she left things with her dad. Not to mention her overarching uncertainty about her position within Waystar. This is exacerbated by the end of the episode, when it’s decided that Roman and Kendall will be co-CEOs, with an unsatisfying handshake agreement that Shiv will be equally involved behind the scenes. In light of her father’s job opening, Shiv’s pregnancy further illustrates her fatal career “flaw”: her gender. Regardless of how capable she is, Shiv’s womanhood will always be used against her. And her ultra-composed ensemble at the wake is a culmination of that. Meanwhile, everyone else is scrambling to get a piece of the Waystar pie.
Company execs, who were once devoted followers under Logan’s tyrannical rule, are now huddling in corners and holding covert meetings about who should step up for the interim CEO role. For flailing opportunists and wannabe members of the inner circle, like cousin Greg and Shiv’s soon-to-be ex-husband Tom, there’s an even greater urgency in the air. After betraying the siblings to work for Logan, they’re now rushing to get back in the good graces of Waystar’s future leaders. Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) keeps enthusiastically repeating that he’s “Here to serve,” and his overly formal suit and tie emphasize this desperation.
Of course, throughout the gathering, sibling loyalties are waning and interactions become increasingly cut-throat. The boardroom-ready fashion speaks for itself: Even in death, Logan Roy is able to set off psychological warfare among his children and employees.