Logan Roy, patriarch of HBO’s Legacy, is a hot-tempered king by every inch. Carved from the same fabric as Rupert Murdoch, he dominates his right-wing media kingdom with an odious brutality that usually comes out of two words that cannot be printed in the family newspaper.
Ruthless in battle, he reserves his most brutal weapons, his colossal wits, for those in his inner sanctum. With one harsh remark, he can cut off the legs of one of his grown children, which have grown too large for their pants.
If Logan at times resembles King Lear, who was transported to 21st century New York, it is not simply because the character is played by the invaluable Brian Cox, an actor who successfully portrayed Lear in the Royal National Theater production, who has toured the world and wrote the book “Learning Diaries” about this experience.
In the third season of Legacy, the Shakespearean parallels intensified. Logan’s empire is under siege after Kendall (Jeremy Strong), the self-proclaimed filial successor to the throne, refused to be guilty of the company’s crimes.
To save his own skin and get revenge on Logan, Kendall turned into a whistleblower. He has partnered with the Justice Department, planning to take control of Waystar Roiko with or without his siblings, who are just as reluctant to tie their fate to their unbalanced brother as they are nervous to challenge their fearsome father.
In the past, Logan’s ties to Lear have not been easy to separate from other Shakespearean dragon leaders. “I put Logan on the same level as Titus Andronicus or even Julius Caesar and, of course, King Lear,” Cox told the 2019 Gold Derby entertainment awards site.
Famed Shakespearean scholar Grace Ioppolo rebelled on Twitter with my comparison of Logan and Lear. She rightly noted that Logan “does not have Lear’s greatness” and instead argued in favor of Richard III: “The changes in Logan’s family affections reminded me of Richard III’s replacement of his courtiers.”
But as cruel as Logan is, he is not a butcher. The first impression Cox recorded in The Learning Diaries remains true in the way he approaches his character in Legacy: “I really think there is a lot of laughter in Lear; this is a game with humor; and Lear is a little curmudgeon, a little stupid old man.
Like Lear, Cox’s Logan seems to “once knew himself very well,” as Regan Goneril remarks about their reckless father. His tunnel vision is both an attribute of strength and a tragicomic flaw. Logan’s overbearing response to neglect, his need for worship from his children, and the emotional value he places on loyalty suggest a fatherly tenderness hidden under the protective layers of narcissism.
Ring any Shakespearean bells?
This season, The Legacy writers are acting out the age-related weakness and mental muddiness of their capricious corporate monarch. Forced to demonstrate family unity in front of a key investor (played by Adrien Brody), Logan physically staggers, cruising viciously with Kendall through a landscape that might as well be overshadowed by the cliffs of Dover.
In the next episode, when a crucial meeting of shareholders decides his fate, Logan wanders in a delirium caused by drugs for urinary tract infection. Roman (Kiran Culkin), the beloved son who replaces the fool with his youthful mockery, calls his father “the maddened king.”
Logan mistakes Shiv (Sarah Snook), the daughter who was by his side throughout this corporate crisis, for his apparently absent wife. His hallucinations involve a dead cat under his chair. At this rate, it wouldn’t surprise me if, in the season finale, Logan fumbles with the skies as he wanders half-naked in a super storm.
But Shakespeare isn’t the only playwright defining a new season of Legacy. David Mamet became a god rival in the writing room. A strong stream of cynical humor allowed the series to switch between genres from the start, but after returning from the extended hiatus of the COVID-19 pandemic, the series has been overwhelmed by Glengarry Glen Ross.
At the start of the season, Kendall sets up his war cabinet in his ex-wife’s opulent co-op, oblivious to the calm he breaks with his Oedipal rage. The son, who sarcastically rapped at his father’s half-century reign at Waystar Royco, has always been spoiled merchandise. But a wave of ludicrous fashion – imagine a millennial techie meeting Don Jr. – undermined Kendall’s chances of becoming a worthy adversary for his father.
The hyperactive camera work in the first episode keeps pace with the script, written to the rhythm of Mamet’s play, where the jokes are heard. Bantering is as happy in psychological mud as it is in corporate goo. It is implicitly implied that a game is just as absurd as its players.
Mamet’s brutal comedy is closer to the ethos of our Trump era, and Continuity rubs our noses about who we have become. What looks like an evening soap opera often behaves like a wild satire. It has always been part of the fun, but so far this season, the merciless fun has come at the expense of deeper involvement.
Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy contains behavior much more depraved than anything dreamed of in the philosophy of Mamet. But King Lear’s vision of humanity is much broader than the jaded worldview that permeates Glengarry Glen Ross. The darkness is visible only because of the light, which does not want to go out.
Moral perversions coexist in Shakespeare’s tragedy side by side with wholesome power. Murder, betrayal, even torture – depicted horribly in the infamous gouging of the Earl of Gloucester’s eyes – have become commonplace in a world mired in disorder of lust, envy, greed, and other deadly sins.
But if the heroic was forced to retreat in Lear’s upside-down world, the compassionate kindness did not give up the battle. In contrast, in Mamet’s universe, as in Trump’s America, there are winners and losers. The goal is to persuade oneself to take the side of victory even after a humiliating defeat.
These supposedly Heritage teasers can be fun to eavesdrop on. But a dramatic style built on sardonic words and caustic feelings is best reserved for short sprints. Halfway to the opening of the season, it seemed to me that I was running out of gasoline. How would the writers manage to sustain this card trick with Mamet?
Now that we have seven episodes of the third season, I think it’s safe to say no. There were temporary successes. Idaho’s Retired Janitors, the episode in which a dumb Logan is dragged into the men’s room while a backroom deal goes against shareholders’ watches, struck just the right balance between cocky parody and dramatic tension.
But the next episode, “The Right Thing,” a political satire, unfolds at a conference of conservative thought leaders who gathered to select the next Republican presidential nominee – or rather to wait for King Logan to be selected from among the various candidates that are his children. back – they were clever in half. The most recent episode of “Too Much Birthday,” which takes place on the occasion of Kendall’s obscenely lavish 40th birthday gala, has allowed siblings to tirefully rebel with their rival pathologies.
What is left to maintain our interest in Lear, who lacks poetic greatness, and the four selfish offspring without a grain of principled kindness that Shakespeare emphasizes in Cordelia? There is not even a devoted Kent or a devoted Edgar among the courtiers. Instead, the clownish fickle Tom (Matthew McFadien) conspires, mired in self-pity like Shiva’s abandoned husband; Jerry (J. Smith-Cameron) agrees to become CEO of Cardboard while working with Roman; and the dumb, serious cousin Greg (Nicholas Brown) flies in the wind, admiring the prey that accidentally falls into his path.
Fans of the show had to settle for a stinging mockery of the humiliated class of billionaires. A 90-minute play by one of Mamet’s students could have proved the same more convincingly.
I still look forward to my Sunday night, but the drop in emotional content is a serious miscalculation.
Sometimes I hope that Logan will teach a harsh lesson to his tenacious children, including his eldest Connor (Alan Ruck), Zeppo Marx from the multitude, who harbored illusions of the greatness of the White House. Sometimes I wish Kendall would miraculously overcome his psychological lag and free his father’s media realm from the forces of darkness – or at least try to go bankrupt. Sometimes I want to see Shiv correct his name and stab Roman in the back because someone has to silence this vengeful mouth.
However, interest in changing addictions like the rat satire is a short-term fix, and for now, Legacy seems diminished due to its understated dramatic outlook. Perhaps our era is no longer suitable for epic journeys of self-discovery. But if the tragic calculations are outside the scope of this cast of characters, “Lyra” in the series is too little, not too much. The slowly mounting American tragedy has become a laughing matter.
When: 21:00 Sunday
Rating: TV-MA (may not be suitable for children under 17)