This article contains major spoilers for Succession S3E6, “What It Takes” (written by Jesse Armstrong, Jamie Carragher & Will Tracy, and directed by Andrij Parekh)
I haven’t been quite able to put my finger on why Succession has felt different this season. I write on this show every week and every week, I want to comment on how different things feel. Yet I just don’t know how to describe it. I still really enjoy the show. The characters are still some of the best on television, the writing in a league of its own. And the humor…they haven’t lost any spin off their fastball there at all. Yet, despite no obvious reasons why, Succession feels different this year. It took me until Succession S3E6, entitled “What It Takes,” to finally figure out why. We’re about to get into heavy spoiler territory here, so read on with caution.
Behind Closed Doors
The main plot of this week’s episode was one that really caught me off guard, despite making some level of sense. Logan and members of his inner circle went to Virginia for a closed door, weekend long meeting with the upper brass of the Republican Party. The purpose of this meeting was to unofficially decide who the GOP’s nominee would be for an election that’s rapidly approaching, after the current President announced that he would not be running again.
Succession is inherently a political show. The Roy family runs a fictional version of Fox News. Logan has referenced the President and his lack of respect for that position dating all the way back to the first season. In the post Reagan era we live in where the gap between the rich and the poor has never been greater, it often seems from the outside looking in that the wealthiest of people view the President and other politicians as people who work for them. Succession has come out and said that.
Still, despite the show’s political ties and even Connor’s ongoing desire to be the President (one more reason why his father doesn’t respect him) this season has taken it up a notch. We have seen Logan frustrated that the President didn’t squash the DOJ’s investigation against him and, he used his cable news network to push a once loyal President out of office. Now, we see that power Logan wields is even greater than previously thought to be.
I think a lot of people wonder about what “back room politics” truly looks like. How much power do the richest of rich have? Are some things pre-decided or do voters actually have a say in things the way we’re lead to believe we do? According to Succession S3E6, the GOP (at least) decides who they want to win the primary and then makes sure that’s the result we get. Then after the primary is decided, it’s all out war to see who controls the White House. Is that realistic? Who knows honestly? Is it unsettling and does it speak to some fears that many people share? Absolutely. Even though it logically made sense that party leaders would gather with their closest allies (Logan) to figure out who they want to win, it didn’t make it any easier to watch. It also makes Logan seem truly unstoppable. How can Kendall or anyone else take down someone this powerful?
The actual decision making process cast a bright light on the ongoing battle between Shiv and Roman, Connor to a lesser extent—the children who decided to stay close to Daddy and try to win from the inside instead of joining their brother in raging war. Shiv, the former Democratic strategist, lobbied for a middle ground candidate who would play to the base but would ultimately play things down the middle. Connor lobbied for himself and even at one point seemed to be making some progress in his bid. Roman became smitten with a dark horse, played by Justin Kirk, who Shiv described as being an actual fascist. Logan stayed close to a party leader played by Stephen Root, who played an amazing creep mostly interested in trying to sleep with Connor’s fiancé. Root’s character was never described as having a particular job but he seemed to be the one ensuring that the right conversations were happening and giving insights into the candidates’ strengths and weaknesses. The consensus seemed to be that the current VP was the safe choice, despite a weird habit of licking his lips too much.
This was an interesting process to watch. Shiv, despite openly disagreeing with all matters related to platform and policy, was in her element with her political background. She was locked on her middle ground candidate and felt he could win. Roman, in another darker element of this particular episode, gravitated towards Jared Meinken (Kirk) despite the fact that Meinken in front of everyone denounced ATN News and said that Logan was declining in power, with Logan in earshot. Meinken rocked the boat, pushed a far right agenda and became the talk of the weekend by being the loudest and most controversial. Sound familiar?
In a late night move, Logan called his inner circle first to his suite to make their cases, then called the candidates out of bed at a late hour to do their song and dance for him. A true power move on his part, they all groveled before him, except Meinken, who Roman pitched to his dad as being a box office draw. Meinken, in a shrewd play, walked a can of Coke into Logan’s suite, opened it and said, “Heard you wanted one of these,” and walked away instead of auditioning like the other candidates, referencing Logan telling the Vice President to bring him a Coke earlier in the episode.
The power dynamics were clear here. Roman wanted to latch himself onto a lightening rod of a candidate, who he felt would be good for business and would continue to put himself in better standing with Logan than his sister. Shiv spoke to her political sensibilities here instead of trying to please her father and it cost her. Logan was attracted to Meinken’s brashness and killer instinct. That’s the kind of person that Logan likes, even if it means having to go to battle with them later. Roman won this battle, despite Shiv’s pleas that Meinken is actually dangerous and a fascist. She warned that he is a wild card and could literally do anything if he went into office. Sound familiar? Her claims fell on deaf ears though. Logan made his choice, thus making the GOP’s choice.
The Ballad of Tom and Greg
The ongoing narrative of both Tom and Greg fearing prison continued this week. Tom is now preparing himself for prison, researching foods that are comparable to prison food even. It sounds funny but there’s a genuine sadness there. Tom is a true outsider, the one who came to the big city to chase a career and fell in love, marrying the daughter of one of the world’s most powerful men. He wasn’t born into this world, he stumbled into it. His hands aren’t clean by any means but the realization has set in with Tom that he’s on his own. It’s assumed by all that the DOJ will take him as their “high ranking official” to do time in all of this. For Tom, the coldness and lack of empathy he’s getting from the family bothers him at his core.
There was a scene in Succession S3E6 where Tom tries to make small talk with Shiv but she can’t pull herself away from her work. He tries to confide in her but she cuts him off and asks him what he expects her to do about all of this. Shiv senses that he’s hurting and she offers herself physically to her husband but he doesn’t want that. He wants to know that his wife is going to be there waiting for him when he gets out of prison, hence him wanting a baby. He wants love and commitment, she wants power. The disconnect between the two of them was heartbreaking. It always is hard to watch but this week, particularly more so.
Then we have Greg. The series has always portrayed Greg as the innocent in this shark filled world, but this season has shown us what I believe Greg’s true story to be. Greg is becoming more and more complicit, more part of this world and acting more like these people. He’s the innocent who has been corrupted. He’s the cautionary tale of Succession, which despite its humor and charm, is a show about some of the ugliest parts of humanity. Greg is now suing GreenPeace because his grandfather is donating his inheritance to them. Let’s let that sink in for a moment. And in this episode, Greg waited until Tom needed a friend and was at his most vulnerable to ask Tom to admit guilt over whatever crimes Greg is charged with, to go to prison for even longer to keep him out. Watching the two of them at a diner, Tom eating what a rich person would consider to be “prison like food” and Tom shaking his head yes, was a gut punch. It felt like Greg taking advantage of a man at his lowest.
Then There’s Kendall
Make no mistake about it, Kendall is cracking. As an audience, we want Kendall to succeed in life. We want him to live up to his potential, but there’s a brokenness to him that seems to prevent him from living up to his potential. This season has shown us that he has his father’s instincts but also reminded us that more than anything, he’s still a damaged child who craves love and affection from his parents. This need for approval and love is his Achilles Heel. It makes him want revenge one moment, love the next, and leaves him in a state of misery. In Succession S3E6, Kendall doesn’t follow his lawyer’s advice in the deposition and fires her afterwards. He fired her because he feels she’s not being aggressive enough. In this moment, he wants revenge. Yet the last two episodes, it’s been attention and love that he’s craved.
We see Kendall trying to rally his inner circle and convince them that they can build off this firing of his lawyer, spin it into a positive. But he knows deep down that his father is winning this war. So he calls Tom and requests to meet him in that same diner we would see Tom and Greg at. Tom has to prepare for prison food after all.
Kendall knows that legally, his hands are just as dirty as his father’s. He gave orders to have payoff checks signed. If he doesn’t get immunity, he’s in worse shape than perhaps anyone. Kendall pitched Tom a scenario where Tom joins him and testifies that Logan gave the orders to Kendall, to have the checks signed, which is true. That Tom would get immunity and that he wouldn’t have to fall in the sword for people who won’t appreciate him for it. He asks Tom some stinging questions, including if he thinks Shiv will really wait for him. He touches on Tom’s fears but Tom responds by saying what we all know to be true. He tells Kendall, “they always f*ck you. I’ve been around long enough to know that you’re the one who always gets f*cked. Logan has never once been f*cked. It’s always you”.
Despite Tom’s rebuffing of Kendall’s offer, I can’t help but wonder if Tom and Shiv will reconsider this after the selection of Meinken and Roman’s rise to the top of Logan’s list of favorites. Shiv knows she’s out. She knows she’s lost the war to Roman at this point, unless the campaign goes belly up. She’s also on a deeply personal level opposed to what they’re doing. Will this decision and a chance to keep Tom out of prison force them to consider joining Kendall?
Also, if Meinken is the nominee and next President, what does that mean for the investigation? Will he have the DOJ take Logan out so Roman can take power? There’s a connection between the two of them and he feels no loyalty at all to Logan. This selection could be a bad move for Logan.
To get back to how I started, this season does feel different. As I hope I’ve demonstrated in this article, that’s because the show has stripped away a lot of its charm to display what Succession is really all about: power and the broken people who fight for it. Yes, we’ve always known this but Succession has always gift wrapped this tough subject matter with a humor and charm that made it easier to swallow. There’s less of that now and more of a focus on the ugly inside. It’s hard to see Greg get corrupted, to see Tom realize the state of his life, to see Roman get in bed with someone who appears to be a fascist as part of a power grab. It’s hard to realize that Kendall is fundamentally broken and that Shiv, despite probably being a good person somewhere deep within, is so damaged by her parents and the fights she has to fight as a woman in a world dominated by men that she’s lost sight of some of that. This is an ugly world and yes, it’s still funny, but Succession isn’t a show designed to go on forever and the further we get into this story, the more ugly realizations we’re going to be faced with. Until next week my friends.