Technically Pop, “Succession”

The cast of Succession poses at a dinner table. A crack spreads across the table itself.

We are back for episode two of Technically Pop! This time, Molly Slavin, Josh Cohen, and I discuss Succession, which recently ended its second season on HBO. Join us as we discuss the Roy family’s fights for power and influence, their literary antecedents, and their capacity for personal growth.

Recommended reading: “Succession Loves Ancient Greek and Roman Myths, But What Does It All Mean?”, “Shiv Definitely Hated Conversations with Friends, Right?”, “Is Succession a Comedy?”, “The Bodily Horrors of Succession, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare

Warning: Technically Pop is and always will be full of spoilers.

Music credit: “Amazing Plan” by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

Photo credit: HBO

 

Transcript

 

Josh:  I’m Josh Cohen.

Corey:  I’m Corey Goergen.

Molly:  And I’m Molly Slavin.

Corey:  And this is Technically Pop.

[Theme music]

Molly: Today we’re going to be talking about the HBO show succession. Regular caveat here that there will be spoilers.

Corey: Yeah, we’re, the show just finished up its second season on HBO two weeks ago, maybe a week and a half ago, and we’re going to be talking about almost everything that happens. So, if you haven’t seen it, maybe take a pause on this and come back and hear us after you’ve caught upon the shenanigans of the Roy family…

Molly: …Which will take you approximately 20 hours, but it’ll be a 20 hours well spent.

Josh: Worth it.

Corey: Yes, okay.

Succession is a show about family. It’s a show about a family, the Roy family, but it’s also a show about a family that never really acts the way that we expect a family to act.

Josh:  Depending on your background.

Molly: If any of you are Murdochs you may have a different read on this.

Corey: Yeah. And we can–we could debate on a different podcast the extent to which any family operates that way. But in the Roy family in particular, any kind of display of affection or vulnerability, or request for support is typically met with humiliation, with mocking, with deflection. And I have a, I have a scene in mind that kind of shows how this works. And in this scene, Logan, the patriarch is asking his son Roman to do something for the business and that’s sort of a bigger responsibility than Roman is typically asked for and Roman says, I don’t know that I can do that. And Logan gives him this, like, seemingly kind pep talk, sort of talks him up, tells him what he is good at, and why those skills are useful for this job. And Roman reads this as a fatherly pep talk and turns the conversation to family issues and Logan immediately mocks him for it.

 

[clip]

Roman: Also, just to check, Marsha? Is she upstairs? Is that okay? Are you okay? Do you have someone that you can speak to about…shit?

Logan: You want me to speak to a shrink. You may want to screw your mother, but I am okay in that department. Thank you.

Roman: Great. Well, it’s just nice that we can talk about these things. I’m gonna go.

[end clip]

 

Corey: One question to kick things off is, just, kind of, how does this idea of family work in the show?

Josh: What’s great about that clip is it really shows Logan and Roman in this moment of, as Corey’s kind of mentioning, this transition from business to family and as soon as–in a very awkward, uncomfortable way–Roman is like, “Hey, do you have someone to talk to?” Immediately, Logan belittles him, mocks him, makes this joke about wanting to screw his mother, this Oedipal complex. “He doesn’t need a shrink. He’s okay in that department.” Logan is, he’s a stone face. He’s stoic. He’s impermeable. He never lets his family in and that clip even though it comes, is it the finale?

Corey: It’s–I think it’s the second to last episode.

Josh: Okay. Yeah.

Corey: Because then he goes off to do this job, which he does.

Josh: That’s right.

Molly: They’re also not on a yacht. And…

Josh: So, we’re in the second the last episode. So, we’re pretty deep into this. And this is Roman trying to reach out to his dad, see if he’s okay. And Logan just aggressively shuts that down.

Molly: It’s like the second they move off of like a capitalist logic. They can’t they can’t have anything resembling a conversation.

Corey: Yeah. And although I also think that part of it is Roman misreading Logan’s business advice as fatherly advice, and it’s partially, I think, the way that Logan navigates this business. I mean, the show, the first episode of the show centers around his 80th birthday, right. And the 80th birthday is supposedly the moment where he is going to give his business over to his oldest son, Kendall. And but it becomes a moment where he takes it back and I think Logan is using this idea of family to his own business ends and he’s sort of he wants, he wants the loyalty that comes out of the family, but then he doesn’t want to give anything back.

Molly: It’s almost, I mean, you guys work on stuff earlier than me. So, tell me if I am working at a high school level understanding of the 19th century, [laughter] but it’s a 19th century understanding of a family right, where you have kids to provide labor, right? Like that’s kind of what this is or how it reads.

Josh: So there’s a clip earlier to that, that goes along this really well, where Logan in the first season is in a little bit of tension with his daughter, Shiv, and whether he’s going to go to her wedding or not go to her wedding. And he and his team are talking about the PR surrounding this. And it’s basically like, “Well, do you want to go?” It’s like, “No, I don’t want to go. But we can’t think of an excuse not to go.” “Well, we could say, XYZ, right? We could say that you’re sick.” “No, it makes me look weak.” “Well, we could say this.” “No, no, I’m just gonna have to go.”

And, it’s like, he…So first of all, he can’t admit that he wants to go to his daughter’s wedding. And then there’s this great line where one of the assistants is like, “We’ve always pushed that you’re a good dad.” And he just kind of stares at her blankly and she’s like, “because you are, of course!” And it just he has no frame of reference for even what that would mean. All he’s thinking about is the PR of it. He can’t wrap his mind around going to his daughter’s wedding or being a good dad outside of the frame of the company

Molly: Performativity.

Josh: Exactly, yeah.

Corey: The way that you said it makes me think about it differently because I read it exclusively as his fatherly duties to his children are strictly done for PR purposes. But you almost kind of suggested that the PR purposes are his way of getting at his affection that like he needs the PR stunt as cover for doing what he should do as a father anyway, is that…am I hearing you right or?

Josh: I don’t think he’s capable of love or affection [laughter]. This may be a disputed point. I don’t think we’ve seen.

Molly: I’m not going to dispute.

Corey: No, I think that’s right.

Josh: In two seasons, we haven’t seen Logan do anything where he shows altruistic, uhh, you know… unselfish.

Molly: King Lear has not offered the jacket to the guy who was cold.

Josh: Exactly. [laughter]

Molly: We’ve not had that moment

Josh: And that clip we looked at with–with Logan and Roman harkens back to the first season therapy sesh at Austerlitz…

Corey: …which is another PR move, right?

Josh: Another PR move. They have to they have to keep this idea that Logan’s a good dad. It’s a family run company–that’s part of the branding. And in that therapy session with a very–very hilariously in depth…uhh…not adept therapist who’s trying to get them started. Logan just finally says like, “Look, I’ve done everything for my kids.” He gives us very package statement, and they all just kind of look at him and are like, you can see it on their faces: “Like we have to agree with him even though this is blatantly untrue.” It’s very uncomfortable. And they’re all just kind of like, “those are good words?” [laughter] I think Connor says that. They also…they’re basically all forced to agree that he’s this benevolent patriarch, and they love him so much. But he’s basically abused all of them.

Molly: Yeah, yes, absolutely.

Corey: Yes.

Josh: Physically or verbally or both at some point in the show or in the implied sort of, you know, history before the show.

 

Molly: Yes. I do wonder how much–he’s certainly been–Logan has certainly been verbally and emotionally abusive to all the children throughout their life. But I do wonder if it’s stopped short of physical abuse only because when he slaps Roman in the second season, he is…he’s very awkward and it’s the closest thing we’ve seen approaching an apology, which I don’t think he would offer if that had been a regular part of their upbringing.

Josh: That’s interesting. So, I think a couple of things…

Molly: …and I wonder if it’s, that’s the line he uses, like, that’s the line you don’t cross.

Josh: Well, we see him in the first season hit Kendall’s son, his grandson.

Molly:  Oh, that’s right. I forgot about that.

Josh: Kendall, when he [Logan] hits Roman in the second season, which is, I mean, it’s instinctive in some ways, and he’s not actually…So [show creator] Jesse Armstrong makes the point about that scene that he’s not mad at Roman. Roman just happens to be there. He says something kind of snide. He’s actually mad at larger situations that are making it hard for him to hold on to his company at the right moment. Roman is just like a target. But then Kendall immediately kind of jumps in the middle and is like, “No, don’t do that.” And you get the sense it’s like not the first time that, as the oldest, he interceded.

Corey: Yeah. And he…

Molly: Alright.

Corey: He also in season one sexually assaults Shiv. When Shiv goes to visit him, when he’s–he’s ill, and he’s in his bed. And…

Josh: That’s right!

Corey: Marcia…Marcia won’t let anyone see him…

Molly: Yeah.

Corey: …and Shiv shoves past Marcia and goes into the room, and it seems sweet, and then he grabs Shiv’s hand and puts it in his pants I believe…

Molly: I absolutely forgot about that.

[cross talk]

Corey: And it’s… it’s… there’s something in…. there’s something about the way that the show depicts his recovery from the stroke where you never quite know when he’s actually not with it, and when his not being with it is a useful ruse for him to perform. So, there’s another scene where he’s mad at Kendall for something Kendall does in the business and he gets up and he goes, and he pees in the corner of Kendall’s office. Right. And the show never answers the question of whether he did that because he knew he could or whether he just was out of it.

Molly: Does he know a hawk from a handsaw? Right?

Corey: Yes. And….and Shiv recoils…recoils, right? Is shocked and leaves the room. But there is another sort of form of physical abuse–the show never quite deals with the extent to which he knows what he’s doing.

Molly: That’s such a good point at any moment.

Corey: Yeah, yeah. Throughout that first season or the first half of that first season anyway, until…right up until he gives that speech maybe, right?

Molly: That’s fair. But it points to this larger project preoccupation, I suppose might be the right word with the–the show has with like, what is real, what is genuine, and what is just artifice? which is…umm…a really tough question because I don’t know that we get clues from the show about what’s being ionized and what’s, what’s not.

Corey: Yeah.

Molly: Which is part of what’s really cool and really interesting about it.

Corey: Yeah. And– and the artifice is not, in terms of the definition of this family, is not exclusively a PR stunt. It works within the family itself.

Molly: Yeah.

Corey: And so, there’s this episode in season two where they go to visit…. umm…Dundee. Yes, right?

Molly: Scotland.

Corey: The Scottish town that he…that Logan has immigrated from, and his children’s understanding of his upbringing is much worse than what they actually see when they get there.

Molly: They had been under the impression that, like, he did not have indoor plumbing. Um, what else? it…it…it was a very bootstrapping narrative. Yeah, Logan had really come up from nothing.

Corey: And they….and what they find instead is a, like, not a mansion by any means, but a perfectly reasonable nice house today.

Molly: In a solidly middle-class neighborhood.

Corey: Yes.

Molly: If you have ever been anywhere in the United Kingdom, it is the most…. [laughter] It is the most average British home you’ve ever seen. Whatever your picture in your head is correct.

Corey: Is the place, yes. Yeah, and there was the…there was an earlier scene where Connor–who’s the older son from a first marriage–like, seemingly very genuinely says that he doesn’t think he could ever understand his father until he shits outside, and then they get to this house and they say, “he didn’t shit outside.”

Molly: Yeah.

Corey: Umm…and it’s this–This myth is not just for the business. It’s also for how this family operates,

Molly: Which is also…I mean…he’s 81 years old at this point. His children are all completely grown adults. It’s not as if they’re lacking for funds. How is this the first time they’ve ever seen the house their father grew up in right?

Corey: Right. They–they do that thing where he–he hates being there, right? Throughout the episode, Logan expresses his distaste for being there, which is either an in-universe reason for why they haven’t been there before, or it’s just the lie he tells them to keep them from going there.

Molly: I think it’s the second, cards on the table.

Josh: Yeah. So just with this larger idea of artifice, that we’ve been talking about, kind of, within this family and within the show, one thing that I think the second season builds on from the first season is that there’s a lot of conflicting motivations going on. And there’s this intra-familial struggle and, you know, who’s going to who’s going to succeed to take…to helm the company. But in a second season, we get a few clear moments where we do see some truth…kind of bleed through the artifice. So, one, probably one of the most notable moments in the season is this scene between Kendall and Shiv, so brother and sister. That Kendall seems to be…so he’s relapsed. He’s an addict. He’s relapsed, and on top of that, his second bid to kind of seize the company from his dad has failed. And on top of that, he’s been part of this manslaughter tragedy with a guy who worked at one of their estates, and they’re swerving to avoid a deer, they go into the water and this guy drowns and the company basically covers it up. So … that’s kind of setting up the second season for Kendall: he’s completely…just shattered psychologically.

Corey: Yeah, fair.

Molly: He also discovers in the early moments of the second season that…umm…the young man had managed to unbuckle himself from the seat belt, so we learned that he was alive when he hit the water. So, there’s this additional implication, rightly or wrongly, that Kendall believes he could have saved this young man.

Josh: Yeah, so he’s completely traumatized. He’s guilt ridden. And he essentially just goes back to being a child that his father helps him out of the situation. And again, what’s interesting is that Logan is not…he’s not really showing affection for him. He’s basically showing relief that he is spared this corporate takeover, or at least he thinks he is. But into the second season Shiv is the one who now, the daughter, she seems like she’s positioned to take over. But she feels like, “oh, maybe it’s Kendall,” because he’s back working for the company after he’d been trying to initiate a leveraged buyout with some other investors. And there’s a scene where Kendall is basically like, “it’s not me,” essentially saying, “I am completely broken.” And he says to her, “I just ask that you take care of me,” and they embrace, and it’s this insane moment of earnestness and vulnerability in a show that basically has given us artifice, episode after episode after episode. And then by the end of the season, we get something very similar with Roman where he’s come back from this harrowing experience, where he’s been taken captive…along with bunch of other people in Turkey by these terrorists,? paramilitary types? we never quite know exactly.

Molly: They want a business deal, right? That’s the ultimate motivation.

Corey: It’s…intentionally vague. [cross talk, general agreement] But it seems dangerous. Yeah.

Molly: It’s not good.

Josh: There’s, there’s legitimate fear for their lives. He survives this. He actually displays a lot of savvy in the business negotiations. They come back in the season finale, and they’re on this family yacht in the Mediterranean. And he says to his siblings, “hey, maybe we could just talk like normal people,” basically. And you really get this sense that he has he’s grown, that will have to have an obligatory Bildungsroman [laughter] pun here with his name, but he’s really achieved, like, this greater savvy, this greater maturity. And as soon as he says that chip and Kendall, his siblings, defense mechanisms go up. They just start talking in like little kid voices and mocking him. So these two moments we get: One, Shiv can’t quite believe if Kendall is being sincere; we as the audience tend to read him as sincere, and then Shiv and Kendall basically belittling Roman because they are so…it’s so ingrained that they’re not going to be honest with each other

Molly: Right. And more … and also Roman is the only one with the possible exception of Kendall in this…at the Scottish wedding who’s ever, I think, been in anything resembling actual imminent danger right um. And Kendall, Corey you had pointed this out earlier to me, but there are some sort of guard rails around his life. Like, he’s never actually placed in danger

Corey: Yeah so…so Kendall and….Kendall’s addiction is established early in the show even as he is set up as the–the heir to the to the business and the fortune. There are sort of whispers of the fact that he’s a recovering addict or a recovered addict. So, it’s sort of like Chekhov’s drug addict, right? You know the relapse is coming at some point. And, and the way we expect that narrative to go is relapse into death. But his, his wealth and his family’s wealth becomes this sort of set of guardrails. Umm…and so, as he relapses, Logan starts putting cousin Greg, who we somehow haven’t come around to mentioning…

Molly: That’s a damn tragedy.

Josh: [sing-songy] Greg-o-ry!

Corey: Cousin…Cousin Greg, who is…who we will talk more about later, but one of Cousin Greg’s job becomes to keep an eye on–on Kendall. And … umm… then when he fails at this wedding, and it leads to the death of this of this employee, umm, Logan steps in and essentially doesn’t quite come out and say it but makes clear that he will make it disappear if Kendall comes back into his camp. And the deal at the end of Season One that they make is that he will go to a treatment center and that’s where Season Two picks up. And at first, it’s not clear how long he’s been in this treatment center, but he has to be pulled out of the treatment center, right? to go do…

Josh: I think it’s only been a couple of days.

Molly: The timeline indicates he’s been there Max 48 hours.

Corey: Right. so…so it…. the…the…. Season Two opens on him like in this like, beautiful hot tub, like, it’s, like, Iceland. It’s some kind of like geographical marvel. This is a very expensive place that he has been, and he gets pulled out. And as he is being told that he’s going to go do this press junket for his father’s business, it becomes clear that he has only been there for two days, and this is one of the shocks of this. But then as he moves back into this business life, every risk he wants to take gets circumvented by Logan without…sometimes with Kendall knowing but not always. So, Kendall wants to start driving a motorcycle, and instead he has given a motorcycle driver who he humiliatingly has to, like, get on the back of this motorcycle with anytime he wants to go somewhere. He starts, like, doing petty shoplifting. And we learned later that Logan has been, like, sending people into make this right after he leaves. There are a number of scenes where he climbs to the top of the building and he just looks over the edge in this very….in this way that sort of implies suicidal ideation. And at the end of that episode, he goes up there and there has been these like clear walls,

Molly: Like plastic walls.

Corey: So that….so clearly someone knew he was going up there and did that to prevent him from doing something like that. And…

Molly: There’s a scene in a helicopter [laughter], which he is drunk with a romantic interest and they take off…they get in this helicopter and they’re sort of giggling, they accidentally kick something and the helicopter takes off, which I…and they, you know, they figure it out and they land and it’s fine. But I initially read that as “Oh, okay, so someone is going to die in a helicopter soon, right? it’s Chekhov’s helicopter!” Um, but of course nothing happened.

Josh: We’re still waiting.

Molly: We’re still waiting. And nothing will ever happen because Kendall lives his life with bumpers.

Corey: Yeah. Or…or…or he does until the very end of Season Two. And so the–the sort of the shock, the twist at the end of Season Two is a mirror image of this scene from the first episode of the season where Kendall is once again given an opportunity to do press for the business and he is supposed to, to go back to this question to family, it is decided that he is the blood sacrifice that is going to let the business recover from a series of misconduct and PR disasters. And instead of doing that he instead implicates his father in everything. And he’s able to do that, the show very strongly implies without quite saying, because Cousin Greg has been sent to keep an eye on him. Their cousin Greg has these incriminating files that he has saved through a series of humorous scenes. And cousin Greg is on the on the

Molly:  Plane.

Corey: It’s a plane. It’s not a helicopter, in this case…

 

Molly: Unfortunately

Corey: Greg is on the plane with Kendall. And Kendall says, “you can go to the bathroom: I’m not going to kill myself while you’re gone,” which seems to suggest that Greg has been sent along to keep it…to keep Kendall from doings…from…from committing an act of self-harm, essentially. And we’re led to believe that on this plane ride they have this conversation they make this deal that lets Kendall get these documents that implicate Logan.

Molly:  That then… Sorry, I Josh might have to correct me on this, because I grew up Catholic, I don’t quite know my Bible [laughter], but it sort of inverts the Abraham and Isaac thing right like Abraham

Josh: Yeah.

Molly: Abraham’s going to sacrifice Isaac.

Josh: Yeah!

Molly: And then is saved in the last moment–is like a Deus ex Machina and then–and then in this, it kind of inverts that and all of a sudden, the son is sacrificing the father.

Josh: Yeah, right.

Molly: Did I get that right?

Josh: Yeah, yeah, close enough, we’ll go with it.

Corey: Um … but it but it speaks to how this like twisted idea of–of family is so built into how this business operates, right? The second-to-last episode ends with Logan declaring they would need a blood sacrifice and it becomes clear throughout this this final episode, is this debate about who the blood sacrifice will be, and it has to be family, right? Like, this the–the decision is made that it has to be either Logan or one of his children, right? None of the other business associates matter. Not even people who have married into the family matter.

Molly: Right.

Corey: Even Connor who very generously offers the sacrifice himself [laughter] and his presidential ambitions would not be good enough to matter but it is like this idea of family however warped and twisted it is like shapes how this family is perceived on an international level.

Josh: So, the other thing I was thinking, too, with Kendall and green being dispatched to this press conference is, it’s totally Hamlet and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern being sent to England. And the idea of course is that Hamlet is not going to survive this trip…this trip, but he reverses it. He swaps the letters. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern get executed. Claudius’s plan is thwarted. And then Hamlet returns for the final confrontation. So, in this case we get…umm…Hamlet-slash-Kendall is putting the blame on Claudius, the father, who we can also think about in terms of Lear. And so Rosencrantz or Greg, sort of, happens to survive, but he gets co-opted from his original mission, which is to make sure Kendall does this press conference and takes the fall…gets, you know, gets executed in Hamlet’s case, but instead he’s got the documents right just like the letter in Shakespeare, and, again, as Corey alluded to, like, these documents have been through a wild ride, and the first season Greg is supposed to shred them, but he saves a few he creates a jingle, in fact that he sings [laughter] while he makes copies of them, and then he shreds the original but he keeps a copy or tries to copy and he keeps the original….

Molly: And he keeps them in a folder labeled private. [laughter/crosstalk]

Josh: He keeps them in the office labeled private because that’s the kind of detective’s mind he has.

Molly: Because, he says, sometimes the janitorial staff looks through, [laughter] looks through the files and he wants them to know they can’t read that particular file.

Corey: And then…so Tom finds this out and, like, has a ceremony in which they’re going to burn these files and he gets distracted just long enough for Greg to snatch…yank some of these documents out. But the–your connection to Shakespeare is great, and it’s a great transition. So, we’re going to take a break and we’re going to come back and talk about the sexiest of all possible topics: intertextuality.

[Ramblin’ Reck Car Horn]

 

Molly: Alright, welcome back to Technically Pop, where we’re talking about Succession. And in particular, we’re now going to talk about the very sexy topic of intertextuality.

Josh: So, the…the…a lot of people pointed out that the basic premise of the show going back to the first season has this kind of parallel to King Lear. Right? So, Lear opens with the old king. He’s got three children, three daughters, and he’s decided he’s going to retire. And he holds this kind of weird competition where they all need to flatter him, and he’s going to decide who’s going to get what territory. And of course, through the course of the play, he tries to keep his prerogatives as King while having given away most of his power. He eventually learns wisdom through suffering, and I won’t spoil the ending for you. But if you haven’t read it, you know, it’s a good one.

Molly: But there’s this moment: I alluded to it earlier. There’s this brief moment where King Lear has been for several acts. I’m not–not exactly sure which act this happens in for several acts King Lear has been selfish, greedy, very Logan-esque. And there’s a moment where he’s caught in a rainstorm and he offers this coat to someone else. So that’s the sort of signal that for once he’s able to cultivate and display empathy. And we’ve not had that moment for Logan yet, and I suspect we won’t.

Corey: No, Logan keeps his fabulous cable-knit cardigans to himself. [laughter]

Molly: It’s like–It’s like that video. Have you seen that video of Trump where he has this enormous golf umbrella, and he’s, like, walking with it and Melania is just, like, stuck in the rain trailing behind him? [laughter] It’s that. It’s closer to that than it is to King Lear offering his coat.

Corey: Yeah, yeah. Logan is sort of one third, Lear, one third, Trump, and one third, Murdoch.

Molly: That seems right.

Corey: So, it is –it’s–it’s King Lear in its sort of broad strokes and sort of its structure. But I–I think that Logan is aware of his King Lear-ness to a certain extent in a way that King Lear isn’t?

Molly: Yeah.

Corey: And I think that he knows that his position and–sort of–the power that he holds just by virtue of being the owner or—or– or the C–is he the CEO or the COO of this?

Molly: I don’t know what the difference is.

Josh: He’s the CEO.

Corey: Thank you. Yeah. So as being the CEO of Royco?

Josh: Waystar-Royco, yeah.

Corey: Waystar-Royco [laughter]

Molly: Which we never got an explanation as to what Waystar is–I’ll just throw that in there.

Corey: Because the, like, the dirty secret of the show is that he’s not actually very good as a businessperson, right?

Josh: Or at least not in 2019.

Corey: Right. But even — even before that, because when Kendall…serves as acting CEO while he’s out of commission with the stroke, he learns that they are deeply in debt, due to this, like, irresponsible taking out of money. Much of the plot of Season Two is around this acquisition that no one but Logan thinks is a good idea. Umm…But there is–what he is good at, is understanding–sort of–people’s need and willingness to cow to what he wants, right? What he’s good at is knowing that that sort of fake affection can be used to his own ends, right? And so, he knows that he can cow people to vote his way. There’s a–there’s a–there’s a plan, vote of no confidence. And he’s not supposed to be in the room for this legally, and he refuses to leave, right? In season one because he knows, like, the power of his presence in the room has to change people’s votes, right? People who had been plotting this, they had the votes, all they had to do was vote the way they said they were going to and with him in the room they couldn’t, right? And Roman most humiliatingly, right, can’t even look up from the ground as he cows to what his father demands of him. Umm…So it’s a–it’s a Lear that wants that sort of fake affection because it can be used to his add in some kind of way.

Josh: Yeah. And–and there’s also just interesting parallels of madness and suffering. You get obviously, in the first season, we talked about the stroke the Logan has and in Lear, especially in the third act, he’s out on the heath. He’s in the rain, as we’ve mentioned, and he’s veering towards madness. And when he comes out of that, he recovers some sense of sanity, but he’s a completely chastened person. Whereas Logan, when he recovers his faculties after this stroke, he just put–he doubles down on who he was before, right? He doesn’t show any more affection to his kids. He still is manipulative. He still kind of tortures them emotionally. He still acts as a strong man. He puts people through these weird ceremonies. So, there’s the “boar on the floor” moment, right? Where he is forcing people to say whether they agree with him or disagree with his plan. He singles out various members: Tom, Greg. And, you know, he has them act as pigs–as boars–which they were hunting earlier that day,

Corey: And hunting is a generous term for what they were doing, right?

Molly: Yes.

Josh: That’s true. Yeah.

Corey: It’s that kind of rich person hunting where people literally push animals into your line of sight.

Josh: Right. And you just shoot at them

Corey: It’s essentially a slaughter that they were doing. And then he forces his employees to reenact this…

Molly: …and a game the rules of which only he seems to know.

Corey: Yes, they’re–there. And they’re fighting over table scraps that he controls, right? It’s very much, like, a reenactment of how he sees his business.

Josh: Yeah. And just to bring in a slightly different kind of historical analog, Jesse Armstrong has actually said that he got inspiration from Stalin when they did that scene so Stalin would hold these, these dinner parties much like these kind of closed or dinner parties where Stalin would drink water and everyone else would be drinking vodka or whatever booze. And in the scene, Logan is kind of pushing liquor on everyone and demanding that they celebrate and toast. And then basically he [Stalin] would draw out their secrets and then later extort them. So, Logan is–he’s not just Lear, who’s relying on very public forms of flattery. He’s also Stalin who’s manipulating his own family and employees.

Molly: And I hadn’t known that until just this moment. But there’s, later in the season, there’s a character named Rhea [crosstalk clarifying pronunciation] Rhea. So later in the season, and there’s a character named Rhea who sort is, of, from the sort of Kennedy-esque liberal–liberal-lite family,

Corey: She works for the family. She’s not…

Molly: …She’s a cousin, I thought…

Corey: …Is she a cousin? Okay

Josh: I think she’s just the CEO of the Pierce company, or PGM.

Corey: She’s alig–She’s clearly aligned with them at the beginning of the….

Molly: She’s aligned with them.

Josh: She has some principles.

Corey: Yeah.

Molly: And she moves–she moves to the Waystar company, and she and Logan start–it’s a sexual relationship or is it just hinted to be sexual?

Josh: I think he wants it to be sexual, and she is more professional than that.

Molly: Okay…

Josh: Everyone assumes.

Corey: Everyone thinks it is…

Molly: That’s correct.

Corey: …But I don’t know if there’s ever on-camera confirmation one way or the other.

Josh: I think it’s pretty strongly implied that it’s not based on Rhea’s reaction to Marcia when Marcia, Logan’s current wife, confronts her about it,

Molly: That’s probably right.

But there’s a scene where, right before the night that they either do or don’t sleep together, where they’re drinking whiskey. And then in the morning, it is revealed that Rhea typically does not drink that she is she typically doesn’t drink, and Logan takes this as a personal affront. He says, “You don’t drink, but you–you drank whiskey with me, right?” And he’s very–he’s very, very worked up about this. So, there’s…he…the tables got turned on him a little bit there. He let his guard down thinking he and Rhea were kind of on the same page. And they weren’t, right? Rhea was…

Josh: She was more guarded….

Molly: Rhea accepted a drink, but I don’t think she drank it, right? I think is the implication and that, Logan feels very betrayed.

Corey: It’s this, sort of, like, like, jocular drinking culture of, like, because we’re drinking together, we know that we are aligned, and we can trust one another.

Molly: And he had thought of it as a collaboration between equals and all of a sudden, he has realized, no, this is what I typically do to my subordinates, which is push alcohol on them and then see what happens. She has–she has done that to me now.

Josh: Yeah, one of the interesting things about that season is seeing how the relationship between Logan and Rhea blooms and then frays, and she kind of maintains a moral compass that once she really realizes how shady he is, she’s not really comfortable. But she goes to great lengths to sort of get in his good graces get in line to be the CEO. We can

Corey: And…it’s…she’s trying to convince herself of that from their first meeting, which begins, like, through a series of cloak and dagger that they all must–because it can’t be known publicly that she came to meet with them. And they’re all these moments where Logan essentially tells her that she can’t trust them. And yet she’s, like, convincing herself that she can in this interesting way.

Molly: Yeah. It’s kind of like Shiv trying to talk herself into–or out of, excuse me–working for the Bernie Sanders character. Shiv, for part of the season is working for a senator expired by Bernie Sanders.

Corey: And, and to this point, she, her job was to work with Democratic candidates. She’s like a black sheep of the family in that she is progressive.

Molly: And she had been working for like a Hillary Clinton-type character. She gets hired away to work for this, like, Democratic Socialist, Gil Eavis, right? Gil Eavis.

Josh: Who’s running for president!

Molly: Who’s running for president; who’s from Brooklyn; who looks like Bernie Sanders. And the only way she can get out of it–She can’t just quit, she can’t just say, “I don’t want do this anymore. I want to go work for Waystar-Royco.” She has to convince herself that he is morally compromised…

Corey: …Yeah…

Molly: …so that she feels okay about quitting.

Corey: And she, like, concocts this situation where he will be morally compromised, right? In terms of his relationship to the–the Fox News stand-in, the Waystar-Royco News Network, which is called…

Josh: ATN.

Corey: Thank you: ATN. Do we know what that stands for?

Molly: American television network?

Corey: Okay, that sounds right. Umm…So he–she essentially, like sets up this compromise between him and ATN to, like, reach a stalemate. They’re having this, like, war of the words. And, and yeah, like, through this action, she convinces herself that even this seemingly pure figure can be compromised–can be corrupted and therefore nothing matters, and it’s okay if she goes to her family business, which is what she wants to do,

Molly: But she can’t admit to herself that’s

Corey: Yeah. Which is kind of a common theme for her.

Molly: Yeah, that’s maybe a good–I think we were going to try to talk about these authors chronologically, but screw it. That’s a great lead into Sally Rooney.

Corey: Yeah.

Molly: So, if you don’t know who Sally Rooney is, she’s a 28-year-old Irish writer. She’s come out with two novels very recently, both of which have been very critically acclaimed. And the connection to Succession is that in the finale, Shiv is–Shiv is reading Conversations with Friends, which is one of Sally Rooney’s novels. And… ummm…I was laughing about this because I work on contemporary Irish literature. So, I thought, “Oh, great. I’m so glad that she was reading Sally Rooney.” But the thing that made me think about it, I think a little bit more was I saw this Twitter status from Matt Zeitlin, who writes, “Apparently Shiv was reading a Sally Rooney show on the HBO series succession the degree to which you people love being blatantly and disrespectfully pandered to, should be examined by a mental health professional.” [laughter] Which is great because yes, Sally Rooney is being read by the exact people who are watching this HBO prestige drama. But I thought about it a little more Have either of you read any Sally Rooney?

Corey: I have not.

Josh: I just read, like, one chap–like an excerpt.

Molly: Okay. So… umm… Sally Rooney is a very avowed Marxist. All of her…. well…her protagonists are very avowed Marxists. And she’s famous, she famously utilizes a lot of free indirect discourse. So, the more I thought about it, the more I actually–I don’t know that this is straight-up pandering. Um, I am going to push back against that a little bit, as funny as that tweet might be, because I think Sally Rooney is an excellent stand-in for who Shiv thinks she is. And this narrative Shiv has constructed about herself. I think Shiv thinks she’s in control of every situation, and that every–everything that’s happening around her is narrated through her own subjectivity. I think that that is simultaneously true with the seemingly contradictory theory Shiv seems to hold about herself, which is that she is a Marxist. [laughter] Neither of these things are true, but Shiv has managed to hold two ideas in our head at once, which are, she is an individual change agent who controls everything based on her own narrative, and Shiv is a woman of the people, also which is blatantly untrue as she is working for the Fox News thing. Um, and that tension I think is inherent in the way Shiv perceives herself. And I think I don’t think there’s any self-awareness there were Shiv would–very akin to Logan–be able to–to admit to herself that that is not true.

Corey: This raises another point about these…umm… These–these references, which is that there’s–there’s two kinds of references and allusions happening in the show. There’s like, the stuff that we see as viewers, like, “oh, this looks a lot like King Lear,” right? “Oh, these characters seem like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.” Umm…and then there are the sort of textual references that exist in the universe. Yeah, right. Like she’s reading Rooney there’s a great scene that that Josh dug up recently where Greg and Tom are arguing over whether it’s okay to work for ATN.

 

[clip]

Greg: ATN it’s–it’s, like, kind of against my principles…

Tom: [incredulous] Your principles? Greg, don’t be an asshole. You don’t have principles.

Greg: Dude, ATN is a very toxic element in the culture.

Tom: Seriously? Okay, name me one principle that you have.

Greg: I don’t know, like, I’m against racism.

Tom: Bullshit! I’m against racism! Everybody’s against racism! What else?

Greg: Like, don’t lie.

Tom: Fuck off!

Greg: Like, if you’re the news, like, you say…

Tom: Fuck off! That’s your principle?

Greg: Yeah, dude.

Tom: Greg this is not fucking Charles Dickens world, okay. You don’t go around talking about “principles.” We’re all trying to do the right thing. Of course we are. But come on, man.

[end clip]

 

Molly: Famously principled people of a Dickens novel. Yeah.

Corey: Yeah. Right. And–and there’s this other character that we haven’t mentioned, umm…Frank, who has an English degree, right?

Josh: And is always quoting poetry.

Corey: Always quoting poetry. There’s this–There’s this great moment where he–he refers to Rhea as our Coriolanus. And–and Logan says, “Why don’t you take your library card and fuck off?” But there’s an earlier moment where…ummm…they had fired Frank in season one because Roman doesn’t like Frank, essentially. But then they need Frank…

Josh: And he’s part of Kendall’s coup, as well, yeah.

Corey: Yes. And they need Frank back for some reason…

Josh: The Pierces–he’s in with the Pierces

Corey: That’s right.

Molly: That’s right.

Corey: Thank you for that.

Molly: Because he has an English degree, so of course…

Josh: Because he’s a human being, unlike the rest of them! [cross laughter]

Molly: …so of course he’s going to appeal most to these people who fancy themselves the Kennedys

Josh: Who also quoted a bunch of poets, right? [crosstalk: agreement]

Corey: And they coax him back in part with a watch that has a quote from Tennyson’s “Ulysses” on the back, right? But this this poem, “Ulysses,” is…is…a dramatic monologue from the perspective of Ulysses as he’s leaving on like one last voyage, and it’s like, partially this, like, this, like, celebration of, like, an ambition that outstrips ability, like, this, like, like raging against the dying of the light. But it’s also this, like, he leaves the day to day work of ruling his kingdom to his wife who he insults multiple times and his son. So, it’s also this, it’s a very Logan kind of figure where he’s going off with his boys on one last fun voyage, and his “aged” wife, and–that’s, that’s Tennyson’s word not mine–and his son get to stay behind. So, there’s this interesting thing where these literary references are doing work within the universe, right? You all mentioned the Pierces who, like demand Shakespearean quotations at dinner?

Molly: Yes, they also quote Whitman, right. When they go out to look at the stars.

Josh: That’s right.

Corey: Yeah, yeah.

Molly: One of the members is working on his second PhD.

Josh: In Africana Studies.

Molly: Africana studies and I think astronomy right like completely unrelated fields.

Corey: Is that what it is? And I–I–Shiv’s insult to him is, “Oh, once you finish the second one, you can know things that it takes other people 12 seconds to look up on Wikipedia,” and it cuts me to my core. [laughter]

Josh: Too real!

Molly: Also a reminder that I guess if you are extraordinarily wealthy, you can just pay your way to a PhD, right and like…

Corey: And just get as many as you want–

Molly: Just get as many as you want!

Corey: Just go back for another five years.

Molly: The stakes are very low

Josh: But I think what’s interesting there–so, the contrast between the Roys and the Pierces, right? On this issue of literature and reading and Frank as kind of weird mediator between them. So, Shiv was reading Sally Rooney, but she’s really dismissive of this of this academic. Tom is familiar enough educated enough with Dickens and perhaps with another story/novel that we’ll get to in a second with The Great Gatsby, but he’s, he’s educated enough to drop this Dickens reference to tell Greg, “look, you don’t need to have these earnest moral principles. You just need to put your career first and not worry, you know, of course, we’re not racist. Like, this is just the news. This is just our career.” So, they have these markers of class status, right? They’re educated, they’re familiar with the literary world, but it just doesn’t mean anything to them, really. It isn’t really sincere and same thing with Logan giving Frank that watch–like, Logan might in some ways sympathize with Tennyson’s Ulysses, if he took any time to read it, but he just doesn’t care, but Frank, oh my gosh, this thing knocks the socks off Frank, like, because he and the Pierces–they have this genuine affection for the liberal arts and humanities and human knowledge. And the Roys, like, they don’t understand knowledge, really. They don’t value knowledge.

Corey: It’s tools, it’s tools to be wielded, right?

Josh: It’s instrumental. Yeah.

Corey:  And, like, Tennyson is useful in that moment,

Josh: Because it manipulates Frank, yes.

Corey: Yes, but — but you’re right. No, I don’t think that Logan has ever identified himself in Ulysses.

Molly: But not to be, you know, grim, and knock on what the three of us have decided to do for our lives. [laughter] But does it make any difference? Because yes, the Pierce’s may understand the humanities, and they may quote Shakespeare, and they may get their PhDs at Columbia, but they’re also not good people. And they’re also not doing–they also are not having good effects– effects on the American political landscape.

Corey: Yeah, no, I think that’s right. I think it’s tools for the Pierces to but just in a different way, right?

Molly: That’s fair.

Corey: There’s — there’s a scene where the at the Pierce’s–one of the homes owned by the Peirce’s–and there’s, like, Latin on the wall, right? Roman is trying to read and…

Josh: Yeah, Roman can’t read their family crest.

Corey: Yeah, yeah I mean it’s I mean it’s a tool for them to it’s just a tool that’s wielded differently.

Molly: Yes.

Corey: I think, yeah.

Molly: Yeah, they own the MSNBC version of this of the cable news universe, right?

Corey: But their principles won’t necessarily preclude them from accepting a buyout from the Roys right?

Molly: Exactly. Right.

Corey: And so, you know, they basically need plausible deniability that there will be independence in the two newsrooms.

Molly: Yes.

Josh: Though to be fair, I mean, they do blow up the deal because Logan doesn’t, you know, he doesn’t quite follow what they wanted to do, they learn a little more about him, it’s a little too unsavory. What they needed–yeah, you’re right, they need a plausible deniability–and once they don’t have that, and they really realize, yeah, this guy’s kind of a scumbag, you know, you got my hackles up I couldn’t just have peace of mind that I was giving my company to an honest broker.

Molly: But it’s kind of like never-Trumpers who object to Trump, right? They don’t actually have a problem with Trump’s policies. They have a problem with his vulgarity.

Corey: Yeah, and what–what blows the deal up ultimately is the cruise scandal comes out. Yeah.  And it’s like, we have to handle the fallout from this cruise scandal in a way that makes the Pierces happy, right? And it seems very clear that had that states–it’s like hours, right? Like, they’re like ready to sign that deal.

Josh: Right.

Corey: And it…I mean, I there’s like this tense scene over breakfast, maybe, where, like, they’re all looking at their phone, hoping that it doesn’t come out yet. But it’s another–it’s another thing that the Roys mis-manage, right? because their strategy for how to delay this story backfires, right? They decide to fight this story full strength–and it’s Kendall’s idea to fight it–and then, instead it just comes out, right?

Molly: Yes.

Corey: Whereas had they like played ball with the reporters like, “Oh, yeah, let us…” they could have delayed for a couple of weeks, or at least a couple of days

Josh: Potentially.

Corey: Which could have gotten the deal through in the meanwhile. But it’s another example of the Roys maybe not being great businesspeople.

Molly: and not–and being fish out of water. Right?

Corey: Yup.

Molly: Which I mean, for all of Logan’s blustering about his upbringing that actually wasn’t so traumatic. There is a sense that they don’t…They’ve learned how to belong in this New York media landscape, but they’re not naturals at it in the way that Pierces are with their family crest and their years of liberal arts education, and their Columbia PhDs. There’s always a sense the Roys are not there. They’re-they’re back to the Trump analogy, like they’re the Queens people trying to make trying to blend in in Manhattan, right which…

Corey: …and, and Shiv who is the best at aping it–in part because she lies to herself–She’s the one that the Pierces do have their faith in

Molly: Yes.

Corey: Until it finally–the deal becomes broken right, but Shiv is part of the reason they want Logan to name Shiv the successor is that that will calm the Pierce’s anxieties, right? Because she seems–she looks the part; she acts the part better than her siblings. Although the minute Roman tries to have an adult conversation with her on that boat, she’s right there with Kendall mocking him

Molly: Right.

Corey: …being a child again.

Molly: Yeah. And speaking of

Josh: Children?

Molly: Children. Fish out of–fish out of water

Corey: Fish out of water is the right transition!

Molly: A fish out of water in New York City. Um, I want to put forward my most cherished close reading of this show and see if you guys agree with me, which is that–I’m not an Americanist, but even I know that when people are from St. Paul, Minnesota, you–and they are in New York trying to make it in the big leagues–that’s not a casual reference you drop in. And Tom Wamsgans is a St. Paul Minnesota boy whose mother is one of the most respected lawyers in the Twin Cities, as he probably informs Shiv as they’re planning their wedding. And he’s trying to make it in the big leagues in New York City, and he’s just out of his depth. And that’s not something you drop in lightly. Tom Wamsgans is a very lightly masked Nick Carraway character, right? Like, he’s the one who’s getting carried away and all this. He’s the one who’s been transplanted. And he’s the one who–it’s never it’s never quite right. Right.

Corey: Yeah. And, and I’m also not an Americanist. But I have spent enough time in Minnesota to know that no fictional character is accidentally from St. Paul. [laughter]Minneapolis, maybe. Not St. Paul. But I feel like just like, like your point about Logan is Lear before he gives this coat to anyone, right? Tom is like chapter four Nick Carraway. Right, like, like he’s still enjoying the parties, right? He’s still like, enjoying hanging out with the female tennis pros and things like that, right? It’s not the–it’s–to whatever extent like Nick Carraway figures out what’s going on…

Molly: Which is none.

Corey: [laughs] Fair!

Molly: He never does, right? He opens the book by saying like, “I am really cognizant of privilege” [laughter] and this goes on. I don’t have the exact quote at the ready and then just goes on through the entire book to demonstrate how obtuse he is.

Corey: Yeah, yeah. Although he, I mean, he levels criticisms against parts of this culture in a way that Tom doesn’t, right?

Molly: Yes.

Corey: There’s this scene where Tom introduces Greg to being rich and like, that’s what he says right? And they go to this very fancy dinner and they eat Ortolan.

 

[clip]

Greg: Oh, Jesus, what, what now?

Tom: Ortolan.

Greg: What’s Ortolan?

Tom: It is a deep-fried songbird. You eat it whole.

Greg: Oh my god.

Tom: This is like a rare privilege, and it’s also kind of illegal.

Greg: Oh, I have it…

Tom: …for the head. The exact purpose is debated: some says it’s to mask the shame; others, to heighten the pleasure.

[classical music lightly plays in background]

[chewing sounds]

Tom: Oh my God. That’s so good. Did you eat it yet, Greg?

Greg: Not yet

Tom: Eat it, Greg!

Greg: Umm…it’s a rather unique flavor.

Tom: Yeah, that’s the gamey, brainy hit, my friend.

[to the waiter] Can we have some more wine please?

Greg: You trying to seduce me, Tom?

Tom: [laughs] Yes, I am. Yes, I am, Greg.

[end clip]

 

Corey: He loves being rich.

Molly: He loves it so much.

Corey: …to the point that even when he knows that he his marriage is not working. …And… even to the point that this scene where she is reading Sally Rooney–that scene ends with Tom telling her that he is not happy. And part of it is this fish out of water thing where he thinks he’s going into this traditional monogamous marriage. And she does not, right? She just kind of has this expectation of an open marriage

Molly: Which she drops on their wedding night.

Corey: Which she reveals to him on their wedding night. Although there are hints along the way that Tom is oblivious to.

Molly: That’s probably fair.

Corey: Including at his bachelor party where he keeps calling to, like, check if what he wants to do is okay with her. And at no point is she concerned

Molly: Right.

Corey: But Tom says this devastating thing to her which is, “I think that the sadness I feel when I’m with you is worse than the sadness I would feel without you.” But then the conversation immediately turns back to how to save his position in the–in the company, right? It goes back to, “but how do I stay in the family?” And so even when he recognizes that the family is bad for him, he can’t–he can’t do anything but try to stay and however misguided his efforts to stay in…

Molly: He can’t get on the train and go back to St. Paul, like Nick Carraway does, right?

Corey: That…yeah, that’s maybe what I was getting at.

Molly: Yeah.

Josh: He also–Yeah, it’s really interesting. I love this parallel, I think, Tom, so he has a little bit of what Gatsby feels toward Daisy, right?, is what he feels towards Shiv in the sense that he idealizes her. He has the Nick like, trying to blend in in this new foreign culture, this upward striving, but he’s just so oblivious to the rules of the game. At one point, when Shiv is kind of telling him that she is going to be the next CEO, or so she thinks, or so she plans, in complete earnestness, he says to her, “Oh, I thought we were planning that for me.” Like, “I thought the plan was for me to be the CEO.” Like, he doesn’t even understand that he will never run this company, that there is a limit to what he can achieve, that, yes, he will get shuttled around to run different divisions. You know, first he’s at parks and he’s cruises. But he will never ascend to the highest levels, and he’s really only there because of nepotism. And he just has this earnest, Midwestern, meritocratic…Like if I just work hard and work my connections and suck up to Logan, and marry Shiv, if I do all these things, I’m going to have this perfect life. I’m going to be rich; I’m gonna be successful; I’m gonna be running this company one day, right? I’m the son-in-law that’s going to take over, and he just doesn’t quite realize that he is…He’s Guildenstern, right? He’s a secondary player. He’s–He’s, he’s a courier. He’s not one of the central characters, which is–becomes painfully evident, as we’ve alluded to earlier in that finale, where they’re deciding who the blood sacrifice is going to be. And a bunch of them want to blame Tom because he’s an easy target. And even Shiv is like, “oh, it should be Tom!”

Corey: And legally, he has the–bears the most responsibility for…

Molly: Yes.

Corey: …this particular crisis, he was involved in a–an illegal cover-up of this particular series of corporate malfeasance.

Josh: Exactly. And…but at the end of the day, he’s just not a big enough fish. And so even his anger at Shiv, not defending him staunchly enough, where she then behind the scenes goes to her father, and is like, “it can’t be Tom,” like, you know, and she’s pushing for it to be Kendall–even that: it’s misplaced. It was–it was never going to be him. He’s never important enough to even save the company through his destruction the way that Kendall the firstborn son is.

Molly: Right.

Corey: Yeah. And it, this is part of that conversation, right? And so, I think part of what Tom is insulted by is that everyone would consider him as a sacrifice, but also that he wouldn’t be a big enough sacrifice, right? That and…and it becomes it’s almost like it’s almost like listening to people discuss like, a sports trade, where it’s like, well, Tom, but then we’d also have to throw in Greg…

Josh: Greg sprinkles!

Corey: Yeah, Greg sprinkles! And maybe Frank…like it becomes this like, like, which pieces

Josh: How many draft picks?

Corey: Yeah. Like, like, how many minor figures will match one blood sacrifice? And the answer is there aren’t enough, right? The answer is it has to be blood, at least as far as the Roy–the like decision-making structure decides, right?

Molly: Yes. Because it’s the most Catholic thing I’ve ever seen in my entire life [laughter]. So, there has to be a blood sacrifice…

Corey: Say more! [laughter]

Molly: Um, I mean, we don’t I guess we don’t know that much about Logan’s upbringing, right? We know he grew up in Dundee, um,

Josh: emigrated to…

Molly: Canada; has a younger brother. So, we don’t know all that much about…

Josh: There’s some unknown tragedy with their sister.

Molly: That’s right. I forgot about that.

Josh: We don’t know the details of that exactly.

Molly: But I think I honestly think we can very fairly assume There’s a huge strain of Catholicism running throughout this family, if nothing else, right, the daughter’s name is Siobhan, um, and this love of–like this–even this backstory he has has constructed for himself is based on pain, right? And what is more Catholic than getting pleasure through suffering? [laughter] Very little. [more laughter] There’s this, like, deep sense of hierarchy, right? And then, of course, there’s the need for a blood sacrifice: nothing else will do. And of course, that is, again, one of the most Catholic things I’ve ever heard of. These people are just, you know, they won’t even go to a therapist, they’re definitely not going to go to a priest, but they…you know…

Corey: Although he very, I think that’s right. Although it’s, it’s interesting because he thinks he’s sacrificing his son, right like, which is this very Biblical sacrifice, but the story he tells Kendall about why he has to sacrifice Kendall is not Biblical, right?

Molly:  I don’t remember what he says.

Josh: It’s the Incas.

Molly: That’s right.

Corey: He–he tells the story about traveling with Marcia and hearing the story about the Incans…

Josh: Why they would sacrifice their children? Yeah.

Corey:  And it…he’s–correct me if I get this wrong–he says, “how barbaric,” and Marcia says, “what — what do you love enough that killing it could bring the sun back?”  Right? S-U-N, although the pun is obviously there, right? And it’s, like, this would be one moment where you would think someone like Logan would–would, like, bring up the Christian sacrifice, right?

Molly: Yeah.

Corey: And — and it’s something, and now that you’ve said this, like, has there been a scene…where’s the wedding?

Molly: It’s…in…vague Scotland.

Corey: No, I mean, just does the ceremony happen in…

Molly: I don’t think we ever see the ceremony? We just see the reception, right?

Corey: Is there ever a church on screen in this show?

Josh: There’s the funeral for Mo

Corey: Oh! yes, yes, yes there’s the there’s Mo’s funeral, which only Connor goes to, right?

Josh: Correct.

Molly: Correct, yeah

Corey: Yeah, it’s just it seems like an absence that makes the presence like–now that you mentioned that, I can’t stop thinking about how it’s–it’s just there but not mentioned at all.

Molly: Yes, it’s very much a specter is haunting them.

Josh: Yeah. Yeah. That … Yeah. The … the line about the Incans is fascinating. The whole thing of–of what Logan intends Kendall to take from it, I kind of interpret it as another act of manipulation. He’s given him this narrative and Kendall, I think, rightfully, maybe even heroically chooses to renounce. He snaps out of this coma of guilt that he’s been in and he decides to win his dad’s respect the only way possible, right by, as Roman says, killing him. You got to go after him, and it’s this perverse thing with Logan and Kendall where the whole first season is Kendall–he wants to make the company better. He wants to modernize it. He wants to do these innovations. He wants to succeed his father, and Logan won’t give up the throne. You get two attempts by Kendall–two failed attempts to take–take it by force. And Logan proves like he’s still the alpha, right?

And then in the second season, you get Kendall completely under Logan’s sway because of the guilt he’s carrying because of this guy whose death he’s responsible for and he feels acutely responsible for. And then by the end Logan thinks that he can just sort of say, “you need to go do this.” And Kendall, he will…all he wants in that moment is some affirmation that he could have taken over…

Molly: Right.

Josh: He would–that he was good enough, but circumstances intervene, basically, so he asked his dad, “look, do you think I could have done this.” And all Logan has to say is, “you know what you could have, you would have been a great CEO. I’m sorry, it didn’t work out that way. We need you to take the fall. But you know what, son, you would have been great.” And he doesn’t–he can’t bring him to say that. He just says, “I don’t know if you’re a killer. You got to be killer. Maybe you don’t nowadays, but –but I don’t know if you’re a killer.”

And it’s unstated. But it seems clear that basically that is what gives Kendall, the kind of chutzpah to say, “I’m more of a killer than you think. I’m going to turn this around on you.” He finds out that Greg has these documents, and–and we get that last shot of the season with this mysterious like grin? smirk? whatever, is on Logan’s face and there’s a lot of speculation like, is he proud of Kendall? Is he angry? Why is he so reserved? You know, they see this happening live on TV. Roman’s flipping out a little bit; Shiv is very shocked; and Logan just has this kind of half of a smile on his face.

Molly: Right.

Corey: There’s a conspiracy theory on the internet, that this all happened according to Logan’s plan. Do you all buy that?

Molly: Maybe.

Josh: Um….no. For now, no. I could be proven wrong.

Corey: I–I’m with you. I think that if he was, if Logan was that good at manipulating people, they wouldn’t be in the situation they are in [cross talk]. Like the levels that it would have taken. I think–l think that that look is…

Josh: This is the Trump wanted us to impeach him kind of argument? [laughter]

Corey: Yes. This is, Is Logan Roy playing 4-D chess?

Okay, so, when we come back, we’re going to talk about what this show is and why we like it.

[Rambling Wreck horn sound]

 

Corey: Okay, so welcome back. We’re back for our third and final segment on what has become a long conversation about Succession. And I think we want to wrap up by just kind of talking about what this show is. It’s been surprisingly hard to get a hold on this. Some of the genres that I’ve seen thrown around and think pieces are comedy, satire, obviously, but also body horror. Soap opera, Shakespeare, which we’ve talked about a little bit. And then also, why do we like it so much? And what does it mean that we, and I both mean us – the three of us – and also just like, culturally, why has this show suddenly taken off the way that it has in the last couple of years? So y’all can jump in wherever you see fit.

Molly: I will – cards on the table. I’m far less interested in the what is this show question [laughter] as I am in the question of why we like it. Because I don’t know why I like this show. I, my husband and I watched it together. And he was like, why do I like this? And I said, because it’s well written, and he said, “Is it, though?” [laughter] and I think that’s a fair question. I don’t know why I like this show so much. But as Corey pointed out, like we could talk about this for 12 hours, there’s something about this that I am fascinated by. And that’s probably part and parcel of the question of what is this? What is the genre? But I don’t know how to answer… I don’t know how to answer that question.

Josh: I think a couple things come to mind for me. I think it is well written. I think it’s exceptionally well written. When you think about, like a litmus test for a lot of, you know, good TV writing: does every character have an arc? Yes. Is there’s zingy dialogue that’s funny and memorable? Absolutely. A lot of great burns. Great insults. Are the performances strong? Of course, we have that. But I think the thing that’s compelling to me is it manages to — and this is part of the genre question, I think, for me of why I like it. It manages to straddle this, this weird boundary between the high drama, these Shakespearean notes, the mundane, like in the scene where they’re in the panic room, there’s been a shooting at ATN [laughter] It turns out perhaps appropriately to have been a suicide, right?

Molly: Yes.

Josh: Greg and Tom end up in the second-rate panic room whereas Logan and Shiv and Kendall and Rhea Jarrell are conducting business in the snazzy, you know, high level panic room.

Corey: And just to be clear this the secondary panic room is just a room. [cross talk] It’s just a room — a room that a security guard has declared as a panic room.

Josh: And Greg is, he’s like, is gas gonna come in from under the door? [laughter] Right? So part of it, part of what’s great about the show is in this show that’s so intense and serious, and allegedly, this high Shakespearean drama, which it is, you get a scene where Tom starts flinging water, bottles of water that are just like stacked in this room,  because it’s just a room. Yes, you get this incredible physical comedy out of nowhere, and it’s so compelling. And you have moments like that all throughout the show where there’s much like Shakespeare, there’s the high, there’s a high and the low. There’s different classes of people. At least within the strata of the uber-wealthy, right, Greg is are essentially starts out at the very bottom. He’s just working as a mascot at one of the Roy theme parks.

Molly: Vomits through his eyeballs.

Corey: Vomits through his costume, right? Yeah.

Josh: So, you get the low you get Logan, the sort of leader figure, you get people in the middle, you get all kinds of different types of people within this world. So, I do think it’s well-written, I do, the performances are great. And I think it’s able to take the most compelling parts of a number of genres, right? So, there are satirical elements, there’s tragic elements. There’s physical comedy, there’s witty dialogue, it just does so much. And somehow it just it nails it. It never… To me, it’s always compelling and never feels like a Frankenstein’s monster. Like why are these things stitched together? It feels… it has an organic quality to it, like maybe it’s sui generis for 2019 television, but it is of a piece with itself… the whatever tone that it is it kind of maintains

Molly: It has a consistent tone and– even if we can’t articulate what that tone is.

Corey: Yeah well and I, I agree with you about the writing and specifically the–the insults, so I know I know Molly and I share a love for the recently ended HBO show Veep.

Josh: Oh, it’s the best. It’s so good.

Corey: And, and Veep for a very long time had the best insults on TV and now Succession does but it’s, they’re good in a different way. Like, the insults in Veep are linguistically inventive, but surface-level, it’s like about what people look like or just like,

Josh: Right.

Corey: Insults about how, how unintelligent a person is…

Josh: Their body parts

Corey: Body parts, yes, but like, like endlessly inventive, linguistically. In Succession, they’re very succinct and straightforward, but they cut into, like, the very bottom of these people’s character.

Josh: Identity, personality.

Corey: And they are all horrifying and that way, which also makes it very entertaining to watch, I think. Um, but I, I asked both of these questions and I agree with you, Molly, I think, why do we like it as a more interesting question, than, what is this show? But the question that keeps getting asked on the internet, which is all that matters today is what is this show, but I think those questions are related because I think what this show is–is a soap opera right? It’s–it’s powerful people competing for more power. Their arcs have them like shift from hero to villain very quickly, right? Like we began today by talking about Roman who for the first 15 or 16 episodes of the show was like, the screw up right? Like, the one who would always undercut things with a joke, and but now is the one showing development, right? Who is now the most emotionally mature member of the family all of a sudden. And I want and I think there are elements of all of these other things here. But I think that in highlighting, you know, Shakespeare or elements of body horror or like classical elements of satire or something, we’re kind of like working through our own anxieties about loving a soap opera [laughter], but I think maybe as soap opera is what we want right now.

Josh: Let me let me ask you this in terms of, of what a soap opera is, or in what way this is a glorified soap opera. Can characters change in a soap opera? Because? And if so, in what ways? And what are the constraints on that? Because at least with–with Roman as you just mentioned.

Corey: Yeah.

Josh: We see this with Kendall with some of the other characters with Greg, that, you know, Greg develops a taste for champagne [laughter], which he absolutely does not have in the pilot episode.

Molly: “It’s not my favorite, but I’ll drink it!” [cross talk]

Josh: We see I mean, it’s — it’s really patient, careful character development. I don’t know if you’re allowed to do that with a soap opera. that doesn’t discount that it doesn’t have those elements.

Corey: Yeah.

Josh: With the power struggle, shifting relationships.

Molly: I don’t know that much about soap operas, but my instinct is, I mean, these things run for 40-50 years, right characters have to be able to change.

Corey: Yeah. And it’s, it’s maybe a little more rubber band, like, like, first I was a hero, and now I’m a heel or vice versa.

Josh: Right.

Corey: But I think, like, it is a very soap opera thing for someone like Roman who is introduced in the pilot. And you, I think, my viewing I very briefly thought, Oh, he’s the audience’s way in because he calls bullshit on everything. But then the second or third scene he’s in he does something so monstrous, right? He humiliated that child in the baseball game, that it’s like, oh, no, this is… this person is garbage

Molly: Oh, that is. That is the best scene though. [laughter] It’s so good, right out the gate.

Corey: It’s a very good scene. And I’m going to, I’m going to argue against myself here about my this is a soap opera. Because I’ve been thinking about this scene since I first watched it and, for a very long time, until very recently, I thought that the point of that scene was that Roman is a monster. But it’s actually that they’re all monsters, because his family could have let that kid… so the scene if you don’t remember, they need to have someone else needs to bat that isn’t the family and the family baseball game. I don’t, it doesn’t matter why. And they get this child of employees of the family to come take a bat. Roman is on base. The game is on the line and he offers this child the 10? 12? maybe years old. Roman says I will give you a million dollars if you hit a home run and win the game for us and like writes the check out for him, like, pauses the game to write this check out. The kid like has a fantastic hit. And he’s rounding third and the family could have just let him score

Molly: Right: what’s a million dollars?

Corey: Well, what’s a million dollars that belong to Roman?

Molly: Also that, right.

Corey: And instead they choose to win the game and humiliate this this this poor kid and then there’s this like

Molly: For whom $1 million would have would have changed their lives.

Corey: Right, and — and you see in the background, like, these like unnamed lawyers, like, go over and clearly get this family to sign a series of steel-clad NDAs.

Josh: NDAs

Corey: But it’s so the first time I watched that scene I thought, “oh, Roman is a monster,” but they are — they all participated in this

Molly: Yes

Corey: Even, like, Logan, like, tries to say something kind of the boy, but doesn’t offer it to give him the money or anything.

Molly: And what good is a kind word right? Kid could have had a million dollars.

Corey: Exactly. Exactly. Yeah. I got us away from what we were talking about.

Josh: Soap operas.

Corey: Soap operas.

Molly: So, Roman’s not our way in.

Corey: No, no, no. Yeah. So — So… But this, there’s something about, I mean, characters change and other things. But this idea that Roman can go from this horrifying figure to now the most emotionally mature member of the family,

Molly: But I think he’ll snap back, man.

Corey: Yeah. Well,

Molly: I mean, I think every season has been about a different child, right. So, Season One was Kendall, Season Two was Shiv. We’re all set up for season three to be Roman season and I think he’ll crack under pressure. I think he’ll snap right back to being a heel. Unless we come out of nowhere and Connor gets a section or a season, I don’t know that I see that happening.

Corey: I cannot wait for Connor season four.

Josh: So the if you guys like The Watch, shout out to them–the podcast The Watch, they made the argument slightly against the idea of the seasons for the different siblings to the point of they argued that this season, the second season feels like the second act in a three act play and that this current battle for succession will probably conclude in the third season. That doesn’t mean the show will conclude but that kind of the terrain would have to shift. Now that could still line up with it focusing on Roman if Kendall’s back being outside of the company, and Shiv isn’t officially in the company, at least for the short term when the third season starts, presumably, Roman is kind of the main Roy sibling who’s helping run the company. But I think the thing with again, he even just the thing with the way the characters are developed, I think the thing about a soap opera is, the characters are pretty static, even as they undergo these dramatic reversals. And that’s why there’s so many twins [laughter] and people coming in and out of comas and people dying and faking their deaths and coming back, because no one actually changes. There just has to be that person who needs to go away and return or get displaced and return but everyone has to have the kind of stable static essence like this person is the betraying one. This person is a loyal one, whatever, whatever. I think the part of this show that taps into the appealing thing about a soap opera is the power struggle, right? The power struggle and it’s the these complicated, knotty relationships where the show makes us talk about the minutiae of like, what when Kendall said this thing to Shiv, and it sounds much like a soap opera, but I think it think it does manage to transcend that. Maybe it’s just a question of the craft that goes into it the seriousness of the performances. We haven’t, we’ve hardly talked about–about Connor, of course, who deserves his fourth season [laughter] but–but Connor–Alan Ruck, of Ferris Bueller fame is giving this like incredible performance as like a secondary character, who is you know, he’s got this vanity presidential campaign, just the care with which they choose the weird details about his ranch and about the woman that he’s paying to be in a relationship with him and her play, that’s called like Sands or something and they have to import actual sand,

Molly: But it’s the wrong kind of sand

Corey: It’s construction sand. Can you believe? It’s–It’s so gauche. Yeah.

Josh: And he, you know, the whole way through the show like, Connor is trying to be a neutral party among the other siblings. And he’s always posturing and he’s always, you know, got some weird conspiracy theory and just the level of detail that goes

Molly: He believes in a flat tax.

Josh: Yeah, of course he does. Of course he does. He wants to keep as much of that change as possible. He’s got to humiliate himself and go to Logan because he’s–he’s low on cash because he’s

Molly: Because of this play. [laughter]

Josh: Because of the play and because he has bought what turns out to be not Napoleon’s dried penis. [laughter] That his–his eye for antiquities is maybe not as good as he thought, but just those details are so precisely chosen. He’s so idiosyncratic and Alan Ruck is like giving this great performance of a guy. It’s–it’s really weird. But in Ferris Bueller, he plays Cameron. Now he plays Connor. And in Ferris Bueller, he’s a guy who’s depressed, although the film doesn’t use that language, but it’s obvious. And although we never see his father on screen, he’s always trying to get his father’s love and approval. And of course, he transcends that by the end of the movie by destroying his father’s most prized possession of the Ferrari. And then in this show, he’s basically in the same boat. He’s trying to get Logan’s love and approval just like all the kids are. He’s in this perpetual state of childhood where, you know, they’re in the car and he’s asking Logan to tell them a story.

Molly: And he says it as: Tell us a story, Pop. [cross talk/laughter]

Corey: Yeah, exactly. Yes.

Josh: All of these things. Now maybe we can find a soap opera that has that diligence with secondary or tertiary character, but I think that’s what makes the show good is that they’re not phoning anything in right? Everything is very carefully chosen, curated. Every character has an arc. Everything is planned or at least it makes us It makes us feel that everything’s orchestrated.

Corey: Yeah, and I — I agree with all of that. I think the distinction that I would make is that it might be a very high-quality soap opera

Josh: Sure.

Corey: But it’s like, like, like…shoddy construction is not a genre trait of the soap opera. Right? There are many soap operas that are shoddily constructed and–and I don’t know that that’s quite the same thing but I–I love that reading of–of Connor as Cameron and my actual my favorite Connor moment is a silent one where he is in the background of the hearing. Fist pumping right? Yeah. Every great Kendall dig at the “liberal biased media.”

Molly: Which then the Con Heads turn into a meme.

Corey: So, here’s an existential question about the Con Heads: are the Con Heads making fun of Connor and Connor doesn’t realize that or do they do they unironically like him and name him>

Molly: I read them a little bit like the Yang Gang, so some of them are sincere and a lot of them are ironic leftists.

Josh: I think that’s right. [laughter]

Corey: Are there ironic leftists in the Yang Gang?

Molly: Yes.

Corey: Oh, that’s weirdly comforting. [laughter] Okay, um, any other last thoughts? Or maybe we should do season three predictions

Molly: Let’s do season three predictions.

Corey: Okay.

Molly: Um, I said that so confidently, but I

Josh: Alright, Nostradamus

Molly: I really only have one which is something we didn’t quite talk about. But, you know, Roman is, is named Roman we think but Logan often refers to him as Romulus, who is the brother who kills his other brother so he can take over the city of Rome. And I, I think season three is going to be about Romulus being groomed to kill Kendall and take over the company.

Josh: Interesting. I could see that as a plot structure for sure. I have I have no concrete predictions. This show has done a great job, I think, and I have no idea what’s going to happen. Kendall and Greg are sort of allied in this position. We have this we have this biographer out there right. So

Corey: Oh, yeah!

Molly: I forgot about the biographer!

Josh: This woman is writing a biography of Logan that he’s tried to shut down. Greg has a hilarious pre-meeting with her [laughter] that she turns into a meeting much to his chagrin and he bails because he doesn’t want to be on the record about anything. Connor just another quick thing about Connor his quote to her that he keeps saying is That from a young age Connor Roy was interested in politics, right? [laughter] He’s trying to take a hand in shaping his — his story there in his presidential run, but that has to come back. There has to be more flack for Tom and ATN. I just have questions like what’s going to happen with Tom and Shiv? are they going to stay together? Is Kendall going to go back to helping Sandy and Stewie in some way? Is he just going to be on his own? What is what are Gerri and Roman going to do? Are they going to kind of cement this weird, professional sexual mother son surrogate?

Molly: Are they going to get married in Germany and eat each other? [laughter]

Corey: With the bridge troll and the what is his metaphor for their team-up there?

Josh: Yeah, it’s…

Corey: Yes, I had forgotten. So, we’ve got Chekhov’s drug addict, we’ve got Chekhov’s helicopter and now we have…

Josh: Chekhov’s biographer.

Corey: Chekhov’s unlicensed biography! So, my prediction for season three is actually evidence for your prediction for season three which as we know that when Kendall goes against the company, Logan does not hesitate to wield personal information about Kendall in the media against him. And Logan knows something that could be very damaging to Kendall which is that Kendall committed manslaughter.

Molly: As does Marcia, and Marcia’s son, who we’ve not seen since that…

Corey: Who we know very little about but pops up every now and then and is up to something and I cannot wait to know what…

Josh: I think he’s, I think his official thing is like running animation in Europe or something. Yeah, he has a gig with the company.

Corey: So, he shows up to Thanksgiving dinner and they’re doing—there’s this hilarious scene where they’re saying what they’re grateful, what they’re thankful for

Josh: Yeah, Tom’s idea of course,

Corey: And he’s – yes, because Tom thinks that families are real. [laughter]

Molly: Because he’s an earnest Midwesterner. [laughter]

Corey: Silly Tom. And yeah, the son says I’m thankful to have been named head of European animation, and no one in the room knew that except Logan, Marcia, and him, right? And someone else says, “I’m thankful that we were told that.”

Josh: Roman, I think.

Corey: Yeah, it’s a very Roman thing, so that’s probably who it was so yeah so that’s his official job but there’s more on…

Molly: So, we also have Chekhov’s stepson.

Josh: And Marcia!

Corey: And Chekov’s absent wife, who’s been missing for…

Josh: A couple episodes…

Corey: We’ve seen a lot of shots of an empty side of Logan’s bed.

Molly: We also see her get drunk and threaten to spill some secrets. What does she say? if you had lived one day in my shoes? Yeah… [crosstalk]

Josh: “It would take me a year to tell you my life story,” or something like that.

Corey: Yeah, something like… Yes, yes, there’s–there’s so much going on there. And I feel like that’s got to be a direction we’re going to go at some point too.

Molly: The last prediction I think I would like to make is that one of two things can happen with Greg. He is either going to take over this company [laughter] or he’s going to bottom out and go back to vomiting through [laughter] his vomiting through his mascot suit in a theme park.

Josh: Or both. One after the other…

Molly: There is no middle ground for Greg.

Corey: I think that’s right. No, I think that’s right. He is either the like, it’s either the comic ending that he runs it all that he wins the game of Succession.

Molly: Like Jonah Ryan being president. Yeah…

Corey: Yeah, yeah, yes, you’re right. He’s Jonah Ryan, that’s perfect. But…

Molly: He’s — he’s given up the 250,000 dollars, the 250 mil which would make a poorest rich man in the world.

Josh: He’s given up his inheritance.

Molly: The middle road is no longer open to Greg.

Corey: I will make the point that he is slightly better than Jonah Ryan because he does have principles, such as: racism is bad. And Nazis are bad.

Molly: They’re very sophisticated.

Corey: Jonah Ryan does not have those principles.

Josh: Yes. Yeah.

Corey: Okay, thank you all for, for listening to us go on about Succession for an hour and a half. We could go longer but…

Molly: I think so.

Corey: Thanks for being here, Josh and Molly!

Molly: See you later!

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Corey Goergen

About Corey Goergen

Corey Goergen is a first-year Brittain Fellow at Georgia Tech. He has an MA from the University of Georgia and a PhD from Emory. His teaching and research focuses on the histories of disability and addiction and the literature of the long eighteenth century.
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