Is the show merely acknowledging its audience’s tendency to screenshot and tweet to death its most memeable lines, or pandering to it?
“Do you know what they’re doing in that suite?” Tom asks Kendall in this week’s Succession, as he leaves a covert meeting with the saddest of the Roy boys to return to the family’s hotel bunker. “They’re choosing the next president.” The impulse to compare the Roys to a real-life dynasty of media tycoon-brats, the Murdochs, has never felt more piquant than it does here, in an episode that mercilessly underscores the influence Logan has on the political landscape of Succession’s version of America.
Logan, romain, Shiv, Tom, Greg and Connor spend this week visiting what Roman calls “a nice political conference full of like-minded individuals,” what Tom describes as “a nice safe space where you don’t have to pretend you liked Hamilton,” and what Kendall characterises—smugly, on the phone to Shiv—as a weekend of “burning crosses and measuring skulls down in Virginia”. What Tom tells Kendall is the truth: the family – having managed to prevent the sitting president from going for a second term by running constant coverage about his memory problems on their channel, ATN – is there to, as he puts it, “selecto El Presidente.” This concerning set-up makes for a particularly damning episode of television vis-à-vis the power of billionaire media tycoons to decide the fates of powerless civilians – not necessarily a revelation to anyone with even a vague idea of how contemporary capitalism functions, but a bracing hour of TV nonetheless.
A Steady Old Plough-Horse
One of this week’s big themes is an expansion of one of the central motifs of Succession as a whole – namely, the uncomfortable, discordant clash of old and new, a dinosaur-meets-meteor smash that tends to result in destruction. Logan, who is initially willing to throw all his weight behind whichever candidate will fire the current Director Attorney General, announces that he wants Waystar Royco to adopt an “anti-tech position.” “[Tech]’s getting too powerful,” he grumbles. “Everyone knows that.” Roman, his avowedly Extremely Online son, is horrified: “I just feel like sometimes we’re allowing the tune to be played at my dad’s tempo,” he posits, a rare criticism of his father’s tactics that places both men in direct opposition to each other. It is little surprise, ensuite, that at the conference, Logan attaches himself to a middle-aged candidate pegged as “a steady old plough-horse,” whereas Roman gravitates towards a slimy, horribly unpleasant right-wing shock jock by the name of Jared Mencken, whom Shiv describes as somebody peddling “YouTube provocateur bulls***, aristo-populism, rape is natural, it’s all red pill, bébé!"
The introduction of this trendy online fascist plays into a complaint some viewers have made about this season of Succession, which is the idea that the show’s writers have become aware – trop aware, to the point of pandering – of its audience’s tendency to screenshot and tweet to death its most memeable lines. Seeing Roman say the phrase “TikTok psychos [et] e-girls with guns and Juul pods” did, I must say, finally give me the impression that I’d gazed so long into the abyss of Succession that the show, knowing me to be a somewhat internet-savvy millennial, stared right back. « Alors comme, fascists are cool, but also not really?” he tells the right-wing provocateur, the very picture of a flippant edgelord with a penchant for describing things as “neoliberal.” “People trust people who look like them, that’s just a scientific fact,” Mencken says smoothly, the word “white” not being said but absolutely being implied.
Roman needs a win in this week’s episode, having found out that his mother is remarrying via an acquaintance at the conference. Ever the aspiring Oedipus, the discovery throws him into an emotional tailspin. “Just wanted to let you know, new dad just dropped,” he tells Kendall when he calls to break the news, ajouter, in a tone that makes it clear that he is talking to himself as much as he is to his brother: “Just wanted you to know Mommy still doesn’t love you.” By the episode’s end, he has presented his father with his chosen candidate as if he were a kitten bringing home a mouse. Roman’s tune, deep down, remains an old one, trop: My Heart Belongs to Daddy. (Hilariously, Connor Roy’s desire to offer himself up as a candidate is dismissed almost immediately, despite his being Logan’s actual son.) That Menken has been ruthless enough to call Logan an irrelevant ex-icon, and to describe ATN as “pudding cup at 5pm in the nursing home” viewing, ought to have made Logan turn against him, but either he admires the slick fascist’s killer attitude, or being perceived as old and out-of-date is his one weakness. When Shiv tells him, horrified, that a candidate like Mencken would be dangerous, and that the current political climate would not welcome him, Logan sets aside his usual torrent of explicit language in favour of an evil pun: "Les climat said that I should step aside [as CEO]. I guess I’m a climate denier.”
Eggwatch, ou alors: Hang Your Bauble of Corporate Misdemeanour on One of My Branches
The fact that writing about Tom and Greg’s relationship is fast becoming impossible without sounding like the kind of person who writes online fan-fiction might be said to be a result of the show’s writers picking up on audiences’ memes and dark desires, trop. Encore, who cares when the material is this funny? When the two meet at a diner in a farcical attempt to get their stomachs used to cheap, bland prison food on the advice of Tom’s “prison consultant, Stéphane,” it turns out that Greg has more than rubbery omelettes on his mind. “I’m worried about prison,” he admits. “I feel like because of my length I could be targeted for all kinds of misadventure.” He brings up the fact that Tom’s new nickname, presumably in place of “Terminal Tom,” is “The Christmas Tree,” the joke being that because Tom is probably already headed straight to jail, other Waystar Royco workers have begun to decorate him with their own small legal scandals in order to escape punishment themselves.
“I was wondering if I could…with you,” Greg says coyly—a line that, Hélas, arrives too late to have been cut into this “Succession, but it’s a rom-com about Tom and Greg” fan trailer. “Are you asking if you can hang your bauble of corporate misdemeanour on one of my branches, Greg?” Tom replies, the line not technically an innuendo but still somehow sounding dirty. “Load me up, you piece of s***.” At this point, it seems entirely possible to me that just as crépuscule fan-fiction eventually turned into Cinquante nuances de gris, Succession’s fan-fiction community may end up spawning a bestseller titled Fifty Shades of Greg.
It also hit me this week that a thing Succession had excelled at is its sly, gradual conflation of the courtship ritual and the business deal—the show is almost entirely sexless, but the way its principles circle each other, charged and passionate, makes every deal feel like a consummation. The same thing happens when Roman first meets Mencken at the conference, and again when they both lock themselves into a hotel bathroom for some reason to discuss political strategy. “Most people want to f*** me, or kill me,” the red-pilled YouTuber says. “This is nice,” Roman grins – making what he might call “f**ky eyes” – “two guys having some disgusting fun.”
Pour terminer, when Tom and Kendall meet secretly so that Kendall can play at being a spy and offer Tom immunity in exchange for shifting his loyalties, things get similarly heated. (Not since Tu’s Joe Goldberg, incidentally, has a man relied more on the transformative power of a pulled-down baseball cap than Kendall Roy.) “I don’t mean to be insulting,” Tom says, with almost impressive cool, “but I’ve been around a bit, and my hunch is that you’re going to get f***ed. Because I’ve seen you get f***ed a lot. And I’ve never seen Logan get f***ed once.”