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That smirk in the ‘Succession’ finale? Brian Cox calls it a ‘look of triumph and disaster’

Brian Cox as Logan and Sarah Snook as Shiv in “Succession.”
Logan (Brian Cox) and Shiv (Sarah Snook) sit down to watch Kendall’s press conference in the Season 2 finale of “Succession.”
(Graeme Hunter / HBO)

Logan Roy wanted a killer, and he got one.

Going into the Season 2 finale of “Succession,” the question was who would be the “blood sacrifice” — the person to take the fall for the scandals engulfing Waystar Royco’s cruise division. But it ended with a twist that was as exhilarating as it was shocking. (Caution: Spoilers for the finale lie ahead.)

In a live press conference at which Kendall (Jeremy Strong), Logan’s second son, was to have accepted blame for the company’s wrongdoing, he instead blamed his father (played by Brian Cox), calling him a “malignant presence, a bully and a liar” and warning, “This is the day his reign ends.”

As Kendall dropped a proverbial bomb on live TV, his father, thousands of miles away aboard a yacht off the coast of Croatia, watched silently from the couch.

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Rather than exploding in anger or disbelief, the media mogul — who’d just told Kendall he wasn’t enough of a “killer” to take over the company — looked on almost admiringly. The episode, “This Is Not For Tears,” ends with a closeup on Logan, a barely perceptible smirk spreading across his face.

What did it all mean? Why did Logan decide to sacrifice Kendall, who has spent most of the season in a state of blind obedience to his father, rather than his dopey, incompetent son-in-law, Tom Wambsgans (Matthew Macfadyen)? We spoke to Brian Cox to find out.

Well, that was a satisfying episode of television.

Apparently. The airwaves have been going crazy with it all morning. It was very gratifying. I was particularly pleased; there were were some edits in it which I thought were really good and smart. It was such a good episode. It really couldn’t have been a better finish.

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Can we talk about the smirk?

It’s a look of triumph and disaster. I think the key to it is the fact that Logan is a realist. He understands the reality of certain things and how it all shapes up. Especially when [the shareholders] say, “Look, we think you should be the one, you should be the guy,” he realizes that rather than being sacrificed by a bunch of shareholders, he would rather do it through the exigencies of his own family.

He sees his children emerge in that last episode and he sees the source of Siobhan’s neediness. He begins to see the tremendous potential of his ... son, Roman, which is quite considerable, showing a remarkable vision that’s been absent until now.

So when he comes to the decision that he’s going to sacrifice Kendall, he believes that this may be the shock that his son needs to step up to something else. It’s a gamble. It comes out of this speech about being a killer. That’s what triggers it all, and that’s where [Kendall’s] kiss comes from. I know they’ve been comparing it to the Fredo kiss [in “The Godfather Part II”], but it’s not that. That’s obvious. It’s not the Judas kiss. It’s actually a kiss of love, it’s a son going, “What am I doing to do, where am I going to go? This is my father whom I love, but my father is a monster.”

There is a kind of pride in what he does, a sadness in what he does, but also an understanding that perhaps Kendall is finally released.

Do you think Logan is pleased Kendall finally showed he’s a (metaphorical) killer?

It’s such an awful notion, the idea of being a killer, it’s something that to Brian Cox is completely abhorrent. But in terms of the drama, I would say “understood” rather than “pleased.” [He’s] pleased for Kendall, but he understands is [the thing that’s] more important.

Did you do any takes without the smirk or with different reactions?

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That was always there. We agreed on that, that’s something that came from me. It was suggested in the script. I just said, “I think that’s key, I think that’s important.” Even more so is when he puts his finger up to his mouth [to shush Roman as he loudly reacts to Kendall’s press conference], he wants the whole sense of what that act of apparent treachery is about.

Did Logan decide to sacrifice Kendall because of Shiv’s plea to save Tom?

Tom was never in the frame, he’s too weak. He hasn’t reached some level of profundity, so there’s no point in sacrificing Tom. He’s trying to save his daughter because his daughter is very important to him. We saw it very clearly — that Tom does ground Shiv in many ways, even though she’s a very naughty girl.

Shiv seems to be Logan’s favorite.

I think he feels more relaxed with her. I think he’s also now got a whole new respect for Roman because he feels that Roman has come of age. Roman’s defense of Gerri, which is very admirable, but more so his recognizing the fallacy of the whole Middle Eastern trip. Roman seeing through that, that really has got him thinking, “There’s more to this boy than meets the eye.” I think that’s something that will emerge even more in the next season.

Most of the episode took place on board a yacht in Croatia. That must have been an interesting production experience.

To be honest with you, I would never want to go on a cruise in my life. I see these adverts for Viking Cruises and I think, “Well, that’d be interesting,” but having spent two weeks on the boat — and I was not on the boat all the time — I just thought no, I’m done with boats. Also, the opulence of the yacht is just a bit cloying, it sort of sticks in my throat. It was incredibly opulent, that yacht.

Did you get seasick?

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I never get seasick. It was beautiful. To be in Dubrovnik was lovely, so was Korcula, that’s where the boat went. That aspect, none of that bothered me. Just the idea of being locked in a boat with a bunch of people, in normal life, you’d avoid like the plague. [Feigns screaming] “Ahhhh, no! No!” Our cast is very loving, so I didn’t have that problem.

So I take it you didn’t go off the inflatable slide?

No, no, I’m far too old for that.


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