A timely rumination on the plight of siblings affected by the black hole that substituting wealth for love creates in families, Succession was recently called “the new Seinfeld” by MSNBC. As in, a new show about nothing. Clearly, MSNBC is feeling neglected (hey, remember Seinfeld?!) amid the buzz around the Murdoch family dynasty. The show’s inspiration was so often said to be the patriarch of Fox “News” that many critics claimed the writers must be working with a mole. Also: The show was about so many things and not just the fictional Waystar Royco empire! The newly completed hit HBO series limned the evils of capitalism, sexism, narcissism … basically enough isms to base an entire cultural studies class on.
I almost cried at the end, not because it was sad, though it was — but only hilariously. (Except the funeral scene. You’re a straight-up psycho if you didn’t cry at that.) I was teary-eyed because I couldn’t bear to see it go. No other show has offered this much by way of intellectual stimulation, with its unbendable plotlines and fly-on-the-wall dialogue in such hushed tones that I had to watch it on 100% volume so the subtitles wouldn’t ruin the comedic timing.
These two notes — plot and dialogue — are rarely found sustained in harmony over the course of one season let alone four. The show’s genius was the abject unpredictability of the storyline working in time with the gallows-humor donkey laughs (at least from me — my poor dog). Only four measly seasons of gut-wrenching bait and switch bolstered by a labyrinth of psychological complexity and acerbic wit — it was not enough. And showrunner Jesse Armstrong seemed almost sadistic in his trickery of his audience’s I-can-predict-all-endings smugness. (I’m the problem. It’s me.) Four seasons were all we got. Let’s reminisce.
These actors were the most typecast any audience has ever seen. Perhaps because the actors were mostly unknown in America or previously typecast. Either way, this must have factored into casting as the creation of an illusion that seemed paramount at all times.
Truly, these people must be in therapy. Brian Cox as Logan Roy, the sociopathic magnate? Nobody will ever not be petrified by this man’s voice again. Domineering, entitled big brother Kendall? I would agree with critics who say Jeremy Strong will forever be Kendall if I didn’t religiously believe in his acting skills now as my new skies to watch for the next big wet dream of high art in the medium.
As far as character arcs go, vile/hilarious baby brother Roman was everyone’s archnemesis. Kieran Culkin had the most succulent lines to live out. He should easily win the Best Actor Emmy.
And overlooked middle-child Siobhan “Shiv” Roy (Sarah Snook)? Obviously, the new antihero of ambitchiousness that feminists were all secretly rooting for despite her frigid treatment of her husband, poor toadie Tom. But come on! Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) made everyone wince and cringe more than any other character, which is high praise among this despicable cast. Tom’s ending was unusual but not necessarily unexpected — unless you could have predicted Logan’s anticlimactic and thus all-consumingly climactic/uncomfortably realistic death midseason. And that’s nobody.
The show’s true climax, however, comes in the form of a clear message from the mouth of Lukas Matsson (Alexander Skarsgård), the most disgusting character of all, who in this brutally honest sendup of capitalism was the biggest winner in the end. Over bland fish with Tom, the Eurotrashy tech bro backs off his promise to Shiv.
“And I thought,” Matsson says, “ ‘If I could get anyone in the world, why don’t I get the guy who put the baby inside [Shiv] instead of the baby lady?’ ”
And that gave “pain sponge” Tom only one incredibly good option.
This scene is a visceral reflection of pregnancy as the No. 1 reason why women have been held back from equal success in this patriarchy (thanks, Texas). Oh, and the main problem with Shiv gaining control? “I want to fuck her,” Matsson says nervously.
This is the second most common reason women have not achieved equality. Ultimately, the backroom dealings of cowardly men would be Shiv’s undoing, and why not? The underestimation of women is rivaled only by our underestimation of the calculations of cowardly men in power to stab you in the back while kissing your ass. As the impenetrable female version of her father but who fatally lacked any psychopathic qualities (upheld proudly by Matsson, the “killer” Logan chose), she could not foresee her gender as her undoing.
The secondary colors of Succession, and another Sisyphean trope to unpack, were the brilliant ways in which Logan’s struggle — that built his empire — was portrayed as the golden briefcase (I prefer Pulp Fiction to Greek mythology), the only thing unattainable to Kendall and the entire 1% in modern America: grit. However, in Logan’s funeral scene in the penultimate episode, Kendall finally achieved something his father never could: grace.
This profound scene shone a soft but illuminating light on one of the most valuable lessons in this explicitly didactic series: the modern male’s exchange of grit for grace. Kendall’s profound, impromptu funeral speech spoke of and embodied the thesis of the entire show, the dawning of a new age where we are no longer forced to abide these tyrants, oppressing women, minorities, and children under the pressures of building a country or a thriving economy. We — yes, we — have built it. It’s here. Now, the only pressure on men is to help rebuild what was lost in their paths of destruction, this modern allowance of grace under pressure instead of grit.
Most critics say Kendall will crash and burn, but I think he’ll be OK. If he was to get what he wanted, the crown of a corrupt kingdom, he never would have had the stomach for it. Because Logan promised it to him at 7, he built his identity around it. Now he can find out who he really is, outside the pull of the black hole.
Or maybe I’m seeing something where I shouldn’t. Maybe it’s the American (woman?) in me that sees hope where most see nothing but shit for miles. Much like Shiv, I will always want to trust in something, even when I probably shouldn’t. But I have a feeling Shiv’s going to be alright, too. Not Tom, though. And that’s OK.