The beginning of the end for HBO's Succession
Teri Hart and Jen Sookfong Lee look at what has made HBO’s Succession such a success.
The prestige TV drama of the hour is unequivocally HBO's Succession.
Now in its fourth and final season, the show has built a large, loyal following since its debut in 2018.
Cultural commentators Teri Hart and Jen Sookfong Lee consider what exactly it is about the monolithic drama that has captured so many people's attention — and speculate about where it goes from here (a Disgusting Brothers spinoff, anyone?).
We've included some highlights below, edited for length and clarity. For the full discussion, listen and follow the Commotion with Elamin Abdelmahmoud podcast, on your favourite podcast player.
Elamin: Let's start with Succession. Listen, if people have not been watching Succession, it is a show about the Roy family. They run a massive media empire. The head of that family is Logan Roy. He is constantly, and I mean since episode one, just constantly fending off people trying to take control of his company. Sometimes it's his enemies. Sometimes it's his kids. Sometimes it's his kids aligning with his enemies…. I guess I would describe the tone of Succession as the absurdity of these people's lives [and] their constant attempts at backstabbing each other, is the point. It's a little like if Larry David wrote Macbeth.
Teri, I am desperate to talk about the season four premiere. Season three ended on a bit of a cliffhanger: Logan Roy foils another attempt by his kids to take control of the company, but this time, he aligned himself with his son-in-law, Tom. I literally gasped when that happened. But already in episode one of this season, the tables are turning again. What's going on in the Roy family at the start of season four?
Teri: Well, Kendall, Shiv and Roman are working together to start a business — and let's be clear, they really want revenge on their father and it seems, as we heard in that scene, they are getting under his skin with their collusion and just ignoring him. So this is a bit of a surprise, though, because we don't see anybody worrying about Logan — or frankly, anyone's — mental health in this show, and then all of a sudden there's Carrie saying that Logan is actually sad. I mean, does that give the kids the power? Tom is fully in the Logan camp while continuing to emotionally and verbally abuse cousin Greg, but they are referring to themselves as the Disgusting Brothers, which is hilarious. Connor, you mentioned earlier, is maintaining his run for the presidency and he's holding strong at 1 per cent.
Elamin: Can't drop below 1 per cent. It's not a good idea.
Teri: There are decimals, Elamin. And everyone other than those three kids remain terrified of Logan, so that kind of brings us up to date with the Roy family. In terms of business, both sides are trying to buy Pierce Global Media; a bidding war ensues. But what's more interesting to me is that around all of this shenanigans and machinations, we do get a glimpse into how lonely Logan is without three of his four kids, and we actually see some emotion from Shiv. I mean, these are deeply unhappy people who are doing life terribly wrong, no matter how much money they have, and you are starting to feel sorry for them in their misery.
Elamin: Not me. I'm still not feeling sorry for any single character in the show. Jen, you just got on board the Succession train literally this weekend. Can we just talk a bit about the fact that this is a series that has been hailed as the best show on television by a number of media outlets. Why have you waited this long to finally embrace it?
Jen: Well, when I would look at trailers and stuff, I just saw a bunch of dudes in suits and I was like, "That's not for me." But when I started watching it — so much cocaine, so many creative ways to make threats to people's private parts. It had me, it had me.
And I started to get really emotionally invested. It's a feat, for me, because corporate intrigue is not my personal thing. But for me, from a craft perspective, that dialog [is] such good writing, and I really spent a lot of time alternately wanting to feed different characters soup when they felt bad, and then I wanted to take the soup away because then they made bad decisions. But that's fine.
Elamin: And they keep doing that. That's the thing, it's a show that is filled with people who are actively bad people. They are not like a flawed anti-hero and maybe we could find the thing that we relate to them in; there's nobody really to root for in the show. Are you surprised that a show with such bad morals is so beloved by people?
Jen: No. Also, first of all, I don't think they're that unlikable — and maybe that just says something about me.
Elamin: Yes, it does. That says more about you than it does about Succession. How do you not hate all these people, Jen?
Jen: I feel like there are reasons they are the way they are. I'm kind of numb and dead inside, and I like to work a little bit to get to like somebody. But there's connections with all the characters that I feel; even if I have to work to find their humanity, they all have their moments, right? Like in the season premiere, for example, when Logan was saying he wanted someone to make a joke because he so clearly missed his children, he so clearly missed Roman in particular, those moments made me feel like a tiny twinge of maybe I might like this person. Right? And when Roman talks, I literally was like, "Oh, but Roman's not wrong." Yes, he is wrong, but I feel a kind of weird emotional connection. I think I have Succession Stockholm syndrome or something. That could be it.
Elamin: No, but I think what you're getting at is that, this show has done very successfully what a lot of shows fail to do, which is build a world so convincingly that you're actually like very bought into the morals and the beliefs that these people have grown up with. And you say, "Of course you think this way. Of course you're a byproduct of the way that you were raised. And like that's why these outcomes are kind of natural to you." And it does so without ever actually trying to actively say, "here we are now, world building or giving you backstory." You're just plopped into the reality of how these people exist. And it does it so well. Teri, when the premiere date for this episode was announced a while back, we kind of learned that this season is going to be the last season. But the cast learned that the same time that we did, like when they showed up to the table reads of these final episodes, this is how they found out that the show was ending. I'm devastated that the show's ending. What do you make of the decision that Succession is about to wrap up after this season?
Teri: Okay. So I love Succession. I look forward to it, and it's very exciting, but I do think that some showrunners are finally learning the lesson that just because you can doesn't mean you should. Just because people love it so much, doesn't mean you should continue it forever — I'm looking at you, Grey's Anatomy.
Taking these characters out on a high and fulfilling a storyline that the writers imagined when they pitched the show before it became a cultural touchstone — that's the right thing to do. And we're seeing it more and more with these prestige TV shows: Ted Lasso being done after three seasons, now Succession being done after four. There is a talk of a spin-off, though, which could be very like Game of Thrones/House of the Dragon of them, and obviously the same broadcaster, HBO. I don't know, I could live with some more Cousin Greg. Do I need a full series of Cousin Greg? I don't know. But I mean, it could be The Disgusting Brothers? Just throwing it out there.
Elamin: Disgusting Brothers spinoff, I would not hate that. Jen, are you fully on board the train now, would you say?
Jen: Yeah, I think so — and it's a surprise to me. I seriously have a deep loathing of men in suits, but I actually really like this show. It's like King Lear meets Glengarry Glen Ross.
Elamin: It really shouldn't work, but it does, 100 per cent agreed. I'm so glad that you are joining Succession Nation.
You can listen to the full discussion from today's show on CBC Listen or on our podcast, Commotion with Elamin Abdelmahmoud, available wherever you get your podcasts.