I was late to Succession, the wildly successful HBO Max series that ran for four seasons. I knew eventually I’d get to it after my sister told me, “I couldn’t stop watching, and I hated every minute of it.”
After working my way through the 40-episode series, I can see why she said that. Every episode was compulsively watchable, while often leaving me uncomfortable. I consider that a testament to the power of the writing and the story.
The bare bones plot if you’re one of the few that don’t know it yet: aging patriarch and ruthless media mogul Logan Roy (Brian Cox) contemplates who will run his hugely influential company and its prized asset of ATN News (aka Fox News) if and when he finally decides to step down.
The main contenders are three of his children: Kendall, Roman, and Siobahn (Shiv). They grew up in their father’s dark shadow, and each of them is as conniving, calculating, self-serving, and unlikeable as their father. As viewers, we alternately despise one more than the other, and we are occasionally manipulated into feeling sympathetic toward them.
At different times, Logan has promised each of them the crown, and each one maneuvers to ascend to the throne. But none of the kids possess their father’s killer instinct or business acumen. Kendell is unsteady and a taste of power makes him insatiable and out-of-control; Roman is some kind of brainy deviant who does things like send dick-pics to the company’s CFO and cracks jokes about having sex with his sister; and Shiv’s greatest skill seems to be backstabbing while her fatal flaw is being a woman.
There is only one theme in Succession: the unrelenting quest for power and the awful things it makes you do. These people might as well be another species, so different are they from most of us in their billionaire behavior and lifestyle: private jets, global travel, jaw-dropping cruelty. And just enough humor to lighten the load.
The narrative doesn’t so much arc as it climbs and falls, as each character goes in and out of favor with their father, gains and loses a foothold of power, and plots against each other.
What a family!
The storyline does build toward a presidential election which includes a Nazi-like candidate that the Roy family can help to power if it decides to throw media influence his way. This subplot cuts a little close to home. There’s another subplot about a crazy tech entrepreneur who wants to purchase the Roy family company.
Overall, the series is highly entertaining, supremely well cast and acted, and packed with character surprises and shenanigans. Do I recommend it? Watching Succession is like slowing down for a voyeuristic look at the scene of an accident. We almost can’t help ourselves, and the question becomes how we feel afterward.
For me, I was relieved when the show was over, but I wouldn’t have wanted to miss it.