‘Succession’ is a Meticulous Joke on the Wealthy
Kendall Roy is a drug addict. Kendall Roy steals a lighter from a store and throws it in the trash. Kendall Roy has had adulterous relationships. Kendall Roy has borderline murdered someone. And yet, Kendall Roy is not the worst character in Succession. In fact, I’d say that by the end of the second season, you might end up feeling bad for Kendall Roy, rooting for him even. I don’t know what that’s supposed to say about the rest of the Roys, or even about us as viewers.
Dynasty politics is not new to television but HBO’s Succession (2018-) could easily be one of the best dramas that I’ve watched during the pandemic. As someone who is not very fond of discussions on money and business and investments, I was quite apprehensive about watching it initially. But then someone told me how it’ll give me a good laugh at the elite class so I decided, why not? Also, spoilers ahead, although it’s highly likely that you won’t be very surprised.
Because Succession is a mocking take on the idiosyncrasies of the rich and although the plot takes us by surprise at many points, you can’t help but laugh at how ridiculous people look when everything they do in life is aimed at looking rich. There’s a character in the show (Connor) who buys a mummified Napoleon penis for half a million dollars for the sake of collecting antiquities and then it ends up being a fake. Funny? Yes, but in a greater sense, the wealthy Roy family in Succession is underlined by the ideology of the mechanical world that we live in, as Siobhan’s partner Tom puts it, “This is not a fucking Charles Dickens world… don’t go talking about principles.”
Logan Roy is the business magnate owning the multinational (evil) media corporation ‘Waystar Royco’. He’s an aging billionaire, a megalomaniac who is not yet ready to give up his power, a master manipulator and one of the worst fathers I’ve seen on television. He does not care an ounce for the happiness of his children and he most definitely cannot stand them achieving more than him. He throws money like dried leaves and thinks it can buy anyone. The travesty lies in the fact that most often he is proved right by the world around him.
Kendall, Roman, Siobhan, and Connor are the next generation Roys who are all fucked up in similar and different ways — conflicted, conniving and complicated. They were raised learning how to be subservient to their father, how to ignore any semblance of emotion, and how to bring down each other. Logan abuses them, hits them, blackmails them, and breaks them down to their very core but they’re still unable to get back at him (or so we think). The story is simple. The family wants to keep and expand their business while thrashing down all their opponents. It shows a part of our society where money is power and the most powerful ones shall reign while the others can clean their piss.
In fact, the very first scene of the show is an absent-minded Logan peeing on the floor in the middle of the night thinking it’s the toilet, while the next morning a servant has to clean off his piss. And that’s what Mr. Roy does. He pisses over anything and everything with an esteemed sense of entitlement, a crown the society of evil corps has willfully placed on his head for decades. A crown he’d go to any extent to keep on his head. In the same episode, we see Roman trying to emulate his father by masturbating against the glass windows of his tall office, with the vastness of New York City spanning (and I’m really sorry to say this) right below his penis. A few episodes later, a man protesting against Logan’s company throws a bag full of piss at him, which is without doubt, nice symbolism.
The happenings on the corporate level run parallel to the character arcs of each of the family members, who are perhaps less bound by blood and more by the underlying satirical elements that the show brings to its fore. It is impossible not to view Succession as a dark comedy that very much could be the realities of the very many social and economic elites of today. The disdain that the rich have for the ones outside of their class is starkly evident in their treatment of other people.
There’s a scene in the first episode of the show where the Roy family is playing baseball as part of Logan’s birthday celebrations. They take over the entire ground while others are standing on the sidelines, mere spectators to the supposedly great spectacle. During the game, Roman notices a kid watching them and goes up to him and offers him a deal. Roman challenges the boy that if he manages to make a home run, then Roman shall give him a million dollars as a reward. The boy aims for it, loses, and has to watch Roman tear the million-dollar cheque in front of his eyes. His parents console him and take him back home.
The incident was a joke to the Roys, especially Roman. But the look in the boy’s eyes when he was informed of the possibility that he could be a millionaire? Priceless. It was something that was stripped of innocence and instead replaced by a mix of incredulity, ambition, and of course, greed. Upon losing, the realization that he’d never match up to their ‘levels’ no matter how hard or fast he ran and the humiliation at being played at the hands of the rich for a few minutes of their mere amusement must have been utterly disappointing for a young boy. This scene will never leave my mind, for it reiterates Logan’s sole philosophy in life, “Money wins”, which is sadly the reality for the society that we are living in.
I think the people who have watched the show will never be able to forget the third episode of season two, titled ‘Hunting’, which explicitly shows the despotic side of capitalism. The Roys and their executives have come to Hungary for a hunting trip and during dinner, Logan plays a mindfucking game called ‘Boar on the Floor’ to weed out someone from his company who has leaked classified information. Show runner Jesse Armstrong in an interview to GQ said that this part of the episode was inspired by Joseph Stalin’s dinner parties wherein he’d play “cruel jokes on his confidants and associates”. Fun? No, it was very weird watching top-level executives of a company kneel and ‘oink’ at command like pigs and fight with each other over sausages in a barbaric way. The episode is perhaps the coldest of the entire series so far as it overtly portrays how authoritative capitalism can get and how diminutive it considers humans and human emotions.
It’s not a bad thing, to make money and to want to make money. It’s the way of the society that we are currently living in. In his book The Psychology of Money, author, and columnist Morgan Housel says something which I think is very true — “Modern Capitalism is a pro at two things: generating wealth and generating envy.” I’m still a student and the thought of not having a job, the currency to survive life ahead scares me to my core. But what’s even scarier is the flip side of it, the feeling of never having made enough money. Scary is having to compromise with my idealistic conscience to make a little more money so I could buy a building, another company and get my name in the rich people’s list; I might have finer dinners, comfier cars, and pricier dresses, but I don’t think I’ll ever be at peace. Scary is what the Roys are doing because their family is never at peace. Beneath all the dark comedy, there is this hard-hitting realization of a sense of reality, that this could be the story of any Trump or you-know-whos in the real world.
Succession is one the finest shows out there and I would totally recommend that you give it a watch. There’s fine writing, excellent performances, and a fantastic opening theme sequence that you’ll be bound not to skip. More than everything else, it is a meticulous satirical take on the extent to which money can govern our lives and abuse relationships to render feelings and sentimentalities as worthless. In one respect it is kind of on similar lines as Game of Thrones. There’s family betrayal, there’s infidelity, there’s corruption, there’s crime, the old man patriarchy with a healthy dose of classism, and of course, there are rich people doing rich people things. Succession is everything that a Dickensian world is not, for it shows a world devoted to the Darwinian principle of “Survival of the Fittest ‘’.