Looking Back on Succession (2018 – 2023)

I rarely watch TV shows, and even rarer is it that I stick to one until the very end. The only TV show I have been following for years has now drawn to a close, Succession, which is available on HBO but somehow also found its way into GTA. According to the intellekshual analysis on Wikipedia, this is supposedly a “dark comedy” or, as of the time of writing, a “satirical dark-comedy drama”. Those B.S. degrees in English Lit are really worth their money, I suppose. Anyway, in this post I collect some of my thoughts on this TV show. There are unmarked spoilers throughout.

There is nothing “dark” or “comedic” Succession. Instead, it quite plausibly depicts the antics of four underachieving adult children who want to take over the billion-dollar enterprise their father built. The patriarch’s offspring are deeply flawed, and what made this TV show so interesting for me is that I have encountered such personalities quite a few times in my life, most often, though, when I attended a selective UK university. Those people may come from wealthy families, yet they tend to avoid challenges and do not take anything seriously. There are probably hard-working children coming from Old Money out there, but more commonly those people simply get an easy ride through life, albeit the best they can normally hope for is to maintain their family fortune.

The four children of Logan Roy, the patriarch of the Roy family, are:
– Ken: a megalomaniac with poor impulse control and highly questionable decision-making ability
– Roman: a dysgenic midget who is afflicted with multiple paraphilias; he is a total loser, yet walks around as if he owns the world
– Shiv: a strong, empowered woman who believes she is tougher than the toughest man; she gets fatter and more entitled with every season. She lacks a moral compass.
– Conor: a son from a previous marriage; he has achieved absolutely nothing in life but thought he could run for president. He is married to a prostitute.

As you can see, this is a rather interesting group of characters. What made Succession compelling is to see how those people would mess up the opportunities they are given, and they do so over and over. Whenever you think they are on a redemption arc, you can rest assured that this will not happen. There was a key scene, I believe it happened in the last episode of the penultimate season, where the children fight about family money and to how much they are entitled to. At some point, Logan Roy has enough and tells them to “make their own fucking pile” (of money).

In the last season, Logan Roy dies, and this has the children trying to step up. Each of them has ambitions of being the new CEO, and this goes about as well as you can imagine. They cannot form alliances, or not for long, and backstabbing is a frequent occurrence. To add to those difficulties, there is also a potential foreign buyer. As this is the story arc in which the outcome really counts, everything comes out at the end. I applaud the writers of this show for a very god head fake that misleads you into believing that Roy is really going to step up and become a worthy CEO. Alas, this is not how it ends. Neither is Shiv successful with her female backstabbing. She rather makes the family lose control of their corporate empire than give in. Oh, and Roman has multiple nervous breakdowns, befitting his character. Conor, in contrast, is only used for comic relief, as he had been all throughout this show.

There is also a rather interesting side character, Tom Wambsgans, called a “clumsy interloper” to his face by one of the directors of the company. Unlike the people he rubs elbows with, he does not come from money. He is basically a ruthless social climber who sacrifices everything for his career. He even bangs fat Shiv Roy to secure himself an executive position when he is much more turned on by those leggy models he bumps into in nightclubs. This guy always asks for a little bit too much, and he persists. The end result is that he gets what he wants. Well, in the end he becomes the new CEO of the Roy family empire while the loser children of the company founder are relegated to the side lines.

The twist in the very last episode of this show is noteworthy. For a while, you are led to believe that Tom was on the way out. In particular Ken and Roman are very aware that he used to suck up to Logan. They also just do not like him very much. Still, he does not fold. Instead, he keeps up his stoic facade up and tries to make the best out of every interaction. This is decent social commentary as well. Sure, people may not respect a bootlicker like Tom but those may be people whose opinion is not particularly relevant. He is looking out for himself and he gets his payday. Even if he had been forced out of the company, he would have gotten his golden parachute.

Careerism, as embodied by Tom Wambsgans, seems to be looked down on by wider society, but this is a limiting belief. The working world is not high school. Here are a few perhaps unpalatable truths: fraternizing with your colleagues is an excellent way to never advance at all because your manager will notice that you most likely will not get the respect you need if he promoted you into a leadership role. This is also why oftentimes managers do not get promoted from the team but brought in from outside. Tom does not care what others think of him, and he knows that as he moves up or sideways in an organization his connections to peers just do not matter all that much anymore. Instead, it is much more important that his work is visible to his superiors. This is not some kind of “dark satire” but the reality of the working world.

There is also great value in not folding. Sure, have your plan B but don’t be afraid of letting thins play out. This is probably most relevant for anybody working in Tech these days. As you are probably aware of, there have been big layoffs across the board for over a year now. Sometimes, you hear about people looking for a new job and leaving. However, why not just look for a new role on the side and just see what will happen at your current employer? Maybe they will buy you out and offer you a few monthly salaries as severance. I know of several companies where this has happened. Also, times of uncertainty normally make it easier to take on more responsibilities. Tom Wambsgans did this all the time, ending up in roles he was perhaps not fully qualified for at first, but growing into them. When opportunities come your way, you take them instead of sitting on your hands. This can be comparatively trivial, i.e. your manager going on a sabbatical for a few months and the company looking for someone who could fill in in the meantime. This may not mean that you get paid extra but you will get valuable experience and you can make connections that will only help you.

Succession is only a “dark satire” if you have an overly idealistic and also highly unrealistic view of the world. I found the interactions of the characters eminently plausible. It is also refreshing that people are depicted as clearly faulty characters as opposed to modern Hollywood caricatures that are either perfectly good or perfectly evil. There is also a great undercurrent of the past catching up with you if you made some really dumb decisions. For instance, part of Ken’s downfall is that his siblings bring up that he is responsible for the death of some lackey, as a consequence of his recklessness, and at the very end the facade completely drops when Roy gets attacked for being a cuck — yes, this very word is used in this show — because the two children he has with his ex-wife are both not his. One was adopted and the other one apparently is the result of an extra-marital affair his sweetheart had with a non-white gentleman. The show pretends that this is entirely fine for years, and at the very end Ken gets smacked over the head and told that he is a fuck-up. This is good. This is also an excellent mirror of society where people may think that they are bullshitting each other, but they really are not. People see through bullshit, even if they pretend not to.

2 thoughts on “Looking Back on Succession (2018 – 2023)

  1. I get that all the siblings are supposed to be jokes, but I personally found the writers to be uniquely cruel to Kendall.

    1. I think that Kendall has the lowest lows, but Roman is a close second. All of them are total fuck-ups, though.

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