Succession Nails the Portrayal of Awfully Rich People Being Awful
(Note: This is a review of season one and two of Succession and it contains spoilers)
After watching the mic-drop season finale of HBO’s Succession, that aired on 13 October, my mind automatically went back to its pilot and in retrospect, it defined the show for me before I even knew what I was getting into.
In the episode, titled ‘Celebration’, the entire Roy family steps out for a game of baseball. One of the Logan children, Roman (Kieran Culkin), picks a random boy from his surrounding and tells him that he’d get a million dollars if he hits a homerun. He then cuts the cheque right there and sits back to soak in the boy’s humiliation as the latter tries and fails. Roman then tears up the cheque in front of his face. The boy and his family are asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement in the next scene.
To put it simply, Succession is a deeply underrated drama steeped in dark comedy. But despite wealth being so central to the plot, the show itself isn’t about wealth. It’s about trauma, neglect and superfluous dialogues that, most of the time, mean nothing. Inspired by nouveau riche American families like the Trumps and the Murdochs, Succession follows the lives of power and wealth-hungry Logan Roy (Brian Cox) and his four children - Connor (Alan Ruck), Kendall (Jeremy Strong), Siobhan (Sarah Snook) and Roman Roy. Just to get it out there - they’re all horrible people. The kind you would not want to be friends with. But the disgust that Succession invokes is exactly what makes it so watch-able.
81-year-old Logan Roy, the man who runs the show at Waystar Co., is in denial of his declining success and desperately looking for a successor. His three children, each conniving and useless in their own way, are in-line for this position (at some point). But despite their supposed independence, they’re all at the mercy of their egotistical father. Naturally, there’s plenty of sophisticated backstabbing and manipulation.
Each episode of Succession is a gross display of their family wealth. From their fancy summerhouse gathering to a random cruise retreat, the Logans are always in some fancy place drinking fancy champagne and saying things like “Can I have a couple hundred mill?” as if it’s pocket change. Their language is violent, dripping in aggressive masculinity and downright absurd. Their wardrobe is top-notch. Everyone is usually dressed in corporate blacks and blues. Siobhan (aka Shiv) goes for more earthy tones and her wardrobe transformation from season one to season two has triggered much conversation. One thing that makes Succession so appealing is its objectivity; the show lacks the biased glorification of Gossip Girl. And yet, you find yourself rooting for the characters.
Logan’s eldest son, Connor, is the dumbest of them all. He lives at some ranch faraway where he lounges, grows organic food and makes impulsive decisions like investing in his prostitute-turned-girlfriend’s theatre production and running a presidential campaign without any experience. While he isn’t objectively awful, his ignorance of his own privilege automatically puts him in that category. Kendall and Roman, on the other hand, are the company insiders. The former is more determined to become the company CEO. The fourth sibling, and Logan’s only daughter, Siobhan has the most personality of them all. After trying to pursue a career in politics, she gets tricked into giving that up and gets tangled in the messy politics of Waystar Co., thanks to her father.
These adult children are not their father’s favourite. But I don’t blame Logan Roy, despite his own monstrous personality. Kendall, a drug addict with a broken soul, has tried time and again to dethrone his father. Roman, a man-child sincerely aware of the fact that he’s a man-child, is the incompetent Roy whose strings are visibly in control of his father. Shiv is a selfish and cold-blooded 21st century woman, married to a man (Tom Wambsgans played by Matthew Macfadyen) she absolutely cannot respect. Bound by the Waystar wealth they’re so used to, these three are always at the forefront of the drama. And watching them crash and burn spectacularly is an extremely cathartic experience. Especially in this economy.
When Shiv and Roman make fun of Tom’s dressing sense (he’s the only outsider to have found a place at the Roy table without proving himself useful) at a dinner gathering, you find yourself feeling bad for the man. But when Tom treats Greg (Nicholas Braun) the same way, it’s both humorous and infuriating. When Kendall shuts shop on a media company he bought overnight at the order of his father, you feel pity. But when he flies a theatre actor across the globe for his personal fancy and then dumps her in an instant because she doesn’t fit in, that pity turns into disdain. Logan Roy is a terrible human being for most part of the show but when he illegally tries to cover up an innocent boy’s death to protect (and later manipulate) Kendall, he performs the duty of a father. A horrible, rich father.
However, amidst all the drama, there are moments of tender joy. They are few and fleeting but they remind you that the Roys, as appalling as they may be, are still a family; albeit dysfunctional.
When Tolstoy wrote, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” he was basically talking about the Roys.
Succession is streaming on Hotstar Premium.
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