By Kaleena Rivera | TV | May 17, 2023 |
By Kaleena Rivera | TV | May 17, 2023 |
(spoilers for episode 8, season 4)
As the credits for this week’s episode of Succession rolled, the repetitive crash-thump opening of Beyoncé’s “America Has a Problem” played in a loop in my head. For the unfamiliar, the song, the title of which appears to advertise a scathing commentary on the country, is less concerned with the state of the union than the state of a pleasure-based union, a concept taken to a darkly cynical place within the upper echelon of ATN. In a passing stroke of dual irony, the song heavily samples from Atlanta rapper Kilo Ali’s 1992 hit track, titled, “Cocaine (America has a Problem),” a detail a perpetually exhausted Tom could likely find it in himself to laugh about while Greg frets over whether two consecutive nights’ usage is enough to become an addict. America does, indeed, have a problem, in an episode that’s far too prescient for comfort.
The professional integrity feigned by the Roys, save Roman (much more on that later), and ATN by extension, kick off the evening, which deteriorates as polls come to a close across the country. Early exit polls are leaning toward Jimenez, a bit of privileged information delivered up by Darwin “Decision Desk” Perry (a wonderful guest stint by Adam Godley) who cautions, “Leaks that suppress or encourage turnout could result in our ejection from the National Election Pool.” Let’s keep this particular Chekhov gun in mind as we head to the end of the season, shall we?
But even before the somber nods of compliance, the night’s priority is, without question, all about boosting viewing numbers. For Tom, his very existence is riding on blowout numbers now that he and Shiv are well and truly on the outs. He’ll leave no stone unturned to have ATN come out as the evening’s right-wing belle of the ball, even if it means trying to tap mentally ill people for feature slots despite news manager Pam (Lori Wilner) cautioning otherwise (Tom: “Well, you’re not a doctor, Pam”).
Greg has also slept little, thanks to his night out with Matsson and his goons (“I drank things that aren’t normally drinks”). His velcro-like ability to cling to people who scarcely tolerate him, while unworthy of any respect, has paid off in significant ways. The previous night has extracted a particularly juicy bit of ripe yet deadly fruit: that Shiv is in cahoots with Matsson. Tom denies any knowledge when asked, but he delivers one hell of a piece of advice:
“Information, Greg. It’s like a bottle of fine wine. You store it, you hoard it, you save it for a special occasion. And then you smash someone’s f*cking face with it.”
While that time bomb ticks away, a personalized billionaire form of the ideological struggle happening on the national stage is being played out among the Roys. There’s Shiv with her liberal ideals and none of the practices, comfortable with the thought of a better world without doing anything about it despite her endless resources. Then there’s Roman, who’s not a right-winger so much as he’s an agent of chaos, a man invested much more in money and power than any particular belief. No matter which side or what stakes are presented, it’s all a literal joke to him. “Nothing f*cking matters,” he tells Kendall and fully means it. He pays as little mind to the pursuits of right-wing demagogues as he does the struggles of the marginalized people targeted by them. Mencken wants power and is in a position to get it. This, along with a willingness to help Roman get what he wants, is more than enough to help install Mencken to the highest office in the land.
There’s been a fair amount of hand-wringing over ‘humanizing’ Roman, especially as season two gifted us the compelling psycho-sexual connection with Gerri, as well as a peek into the abuse inflicted on him by Logan. Just because we were moved by the heartbreaking sight of Roman literally reaching out to his father and pleading in the name of love doesn’t mean he wasn’t the same person who once paid a homeless man to get a face tattoo of Kendall’s initials. He’s always been Slime Puppy, and there’s never been evidence to the contrary. But one doesn’t undo the other; Roman is a bad person just as much as he’s a person who evokes an enormous amount of sympathy.
What’s an anxiety-inducing election for most is primarily a game for Roman. “My team is playing your team. It’s only spicy ‘cause if my team wins, they’re gonna shoot your team,” isn’t a sentiment that relays any regard for fascism, it’s a joke whose punchline is dedicated solely to making other people uncomfortable. He’s an edgelord through and through, but unlike many of them, Roman has a very specific purpose he’s seeking to fulfill: to become Logan Roy. Maintaining his hold on ATN by stopping Matsson, while making the night a ratings bonanza is the most Logan Roy thing he can think of.
Kendall also keeps his father—and in a more abstract sense, his family—close to his thoughts. His assertion that he’s doing this for his kids is a bald-faced lie, but his attempt to maintain a hold on Waystar is the only real way he knows to try to maintain a family dynamic. It’s the foundation of the Roys, and he believes that keeping it while sharing power among his siblings—an impossibility we’ve seen several times over—is the best thing for his family.
It was a rare moment of honesty when he confessed to Shiv that he wasn’t “a very good father.” Though he asserts that should the worst happen with Mencken and his policies, his melanated daughter will be just fine, the guilt he feels over abetting fascists is sincere but not enough for him to do anything about (much like Shiv). The thing is, he’s partially correct, as his power and influence will be enough to see Sophie safely through the worst of storms, including those produced by systems that uphold white supremacy. Doors will always be open to her thanks to the Roy name. But her daily life, the one filled with classmates, shopkeepers, and eventually coworkers, will always be vulnerable to racism and xenophobia.
The push/pull of power, undergirded by their childhood grudges and trauma, reaches its full anxiety-inducing peak when Shiv—never able to keep a plan in the air for longer than it takes to throw it, but who’s putting in an especially poor performance this evening (that fight and subsequent pregnancy announcement with Tom was tough to watch on several levels)—delivers one easily disprovable lie too many, causing the one Roy stance for democracy to come tumbling down. Greg, demoted back to “Gregging” and fetching cocaine and bodega sushi (much thanks to Jesse Armstrong for penning the wasabi eyes scene, which may be the funniest moment in the series) and already dedicated to Team KenRo, found his chance to smash that information bottle and took it. Unfortunately, Shiv underestimated just how many times Greg’s been threatened with evisceration, only to be the one left standing. Shiv pathetically tries to stammer through the whole debacle, Roman gloats, and Kendall bitterly opts for fascism (“He’s a guy we can do business with”), and U.S. democracy is now imperiled because of one lanky rube’s cocaine-filled evening and a family’s inability to get along.
The election isn’t fully over, and I expect the unavoidable litigation to throw a rather large wrench into the ATN gears. But the damage that has been done, that will continue to reverberate, is enormous. Even if Mencken (Justin Kirk’s ability to make the word “clean” utterly bone-chilling is commendable) miraculously ends up losing to his opponent, as he and Roman discussed earlier, he will essentially be viewed as President by the network. But as far as this one night goes, Mencken has won in a major way, as has Roman, “We just made a night of good tv,” Roy. Tom has also emerged victorious on this night, thanks to pure fecklessness and merely opposing Shiv—quite the change from Roman’s brotherly offer to kill him only hours earlier. Less so Kendall, whose brief battle with his emaciated conscience was won thanks to his sister’s hypocrisy (in the world of billionaires, doing the right thing requires an excuse), is still prone to thinking about the country he’s leaving his children. “I won’t let the world push you, okay, sweetie?” he tells Sophie. Yet he’s helped enable the world to do just that.
Tom: “What, are you saying all Aztecs are stupid? Don’t be a racist little bitch about it, come on.”
Connor: “Alas, Kentucky, Willa. Alas, vanity.”
Tom: “It’s lemony, Greg! It’s lemony!”
Greg: “It’s La Croix!”
Roman: “Let’s just jam our f*ckin’ heads in the bosom of history and [motorboat noises]”
Kaleena Rivera is the TV Editor of Pajiba. When she isn’t wishing with all of her heart for Shiv to go full Cersei Lannister, she can be found on Twitter here.