Succession: The Joy of Watching Awful People
Hello fellow Succession fans! As a writer I’m interested in watching fantastic TV shows to study how they create great characters and storylines.
For those of you who have not watched the show, it’s about an aging media mogul, Logan Roy, and his four children as they battle and backstab to see who will be the new leader of the company. It’s modeled after Rupert Murdoch and his Fox News conglomerate.
***Warning*** There are spoilers in this post about what happened in the most recent episode.
My guiltiest pleasure about this show is watching awful people say incredibly obnoxiously funny things about each other. This week’s standout moments:
The ludicrously capricious bag
Cousin Greg crashes Logan Roy’s birthday party with a plus-1 who carries a $2,900 Burberry tote and Tom goes off on it. “What’s even in there? Huh? Flat shoes for the subway? Her lunch pail? I mean, Greg, it’s monstrous. It’s gargantuan. You could take it camping. You could slide it across the floor after a bank job.”
I live for this type of dialogue.
Speaking of Tom, played by Matthew Macfadyen, he has to be one of the weirdest, most complex character I’ve ever watched on TV. He’s both victim and bully, smart and clueless, and a loyal puppy (until he betrays you,) but he somehow manages to stay likeable.
He checks off all the boxes books on writing craft tell you to create authentic and interesting characters. I think the moments I feel most connected with him is when he lets his guard down and is vulnerable, especially with his wife, Shiv, played by Sarah Snook, who also happens to be Logan’s daughter. He was such a dorky sycophant in Season 1, and yet when Tom gets his first taste of power as a mentor of sorts to Cousin Greg he’s an absolute bully. But when Snook tells Tom on their wedding night that surprise! she wants an open marriage, you can’t help but feel crushed for the guy. Snook treats him like a dog she can kick, who will loyally return at her beck and call, but in a plot twist from Season 3’s finale, he backstabs her and tells Logan about Shiv’s plot with her brothers to take over the company.
The writers did a good job of laying the groundwork of the previous seasons for that. Tom is an ambitious man and is good at latching himself to the most powerful person who can help him reach his goals, so his betrayal made sense.
I’m really curious why he betrayed Logan in the opening of Season 4. He gives Shiv the heads up that Logan wants to buy PMG (which is like The New York Times), an acquisition that has escaped Logan’s grasp for decades. Why would Tom do this? Did he feel bad for betraying his wife? Did he think this would help win her back? Did the idea of Logan winning everything all the time get on his nerves? Tom is now one of Logan’s most trusted power players. Why would he risk it all? Did he think he’d never get caught?
When a single choice leaves the audience asking so many questions, that’s a well-written character!
The Man We Love to Hate
When the kids, Kendall (Jeremy Strong), Shiv and Roman (Kieran Culkin) giggle at the end of the episode after backstabbing their father to buy (and overpay) for PMG, I couldn’t help but share their joy because their father is an absolute bastard.
Logan Roy, played brilliantly by Brian Cox, is the perfect villain. He’s a malignant narcissist who loves to pick fights and encourages his children and employees to battle each other for his affections. What makes him relatable, and not just a cartoon villain twirling his evil mustache, is that he truly loves his children and wants to toughen them up, but he does this in the most awful ways possible. Hints of his backstory bubble up from time to time. When he goes swimming in a previous episode, his back is covered in scars from belt welts. His brother hints at the untimely death of their sister, saying it wasn’t Logan’s fault… Hm!
He’s unbelievably cruel. The most appalling episode for me was Season 2, episode 3, where he made his staff (including Tom and Greg) play a degrading game called “Boar on the Floor” where they had to crawl on their hands and knees and fight over a sausage Logan threw between them. This episode aired in 2019 and there were a ton of fans noting that Logan seemed more like Donald Trump than Rupert Murdock. The other horrific thing he did was leak a fake story to a tabloid that his oldest son, Kendall, a recovering drug addict, had relapsed when he really hadn’t. The pressure from that media attention made Kendall…relapse.
But when Kendall gets high with a waiter at Shiv’s wedding and they get into a car accident and the waiter dies, Logan also pays to keep his son from being arrested. He’ll also have these moments where he encourages his children or notes things they excel at and his kids drink his compliments like thirsty desert travelers. It makes you wonder what kind of father he would be if he had a normal childhood instead.
It seems like the story explores not only family trauma and how it’s perpetuated within a family, but also with everyone that family comes in contact with. Since the company deals with TV news, newspapers, movies and theme parks, this dysfunction has the potential to spread to a lot of innocent bystanders.
Ultra wealth is the backdrop to everything. The Roy family takes private jets to exotic locations. The many servants are always present, if silent and nameless. $100,000,000 is a necessary cost to pay for Logan’s eldest son, Connor (Alan Ruck), can save face by not dipping below 1% in the presidential election. It really makes you question why on earth anyone needs to be that rich.
The pending election of a fascists-curious politician will probably come into play in future episodes. This will be extra interesting considering our real world events of an upcoming presidential election and the recent news of Dominion voting machines suing Fox News for $1.6 billion in a defamation case. The filming has already finished, but I’m wondering how much art will imitate life.
That’s enough fangirl for me. What about you? What were your favorite moments from Succession?
P.S. – Here’s my story.
Copyright (c) Lisa Traugott 2023. All rights reserved.