Sunday, June 16, 2024

Succession Argues Underlines Versus Strikelines

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After last week’s foundation-shaking episode of Succession, “Honeymoon States” takes the understandable approach of grappling with the future of its characters. In typical Succession fashion, this means many scenes where characters try to decide who will emerge atop the pyramid, others trying to suck up to whoever they think will win, or even trying to butter up everyone in desperation. It was familiar ground, but with new, higher stakes not seen since Logan’s first brush with death back in the first season.

We still cannot say for sure who exactly will end up on top here, but we have some temporary winners and losers, as well as what appears to be a conflict for the rest of the season.

Shiv in conversation from Succession

It is pretty funny to see Succession focus so much of this episode around whether Logan underlined Kendall’s name on his will, or had crossed his name out. This is stereotypical Succession writing; take something simple and petty, have everyone interpret it in the way that suits their own interests, and have them spend an episode choosing sides. The stakes of the argument were certainly higher than the simple argument over what constitutes an underline or a strikethrough, but ultimately it was not the end-all, be-all.

(But let’s be serious, Kendall’s name was clearly crossed out.)

While Gerry and the rest of the board certainly had interest in downplaying Logan’s wishes, they were right that Logan’s wishes were not binding law that determined who promoted to his spot running Waystar Royco. They could choose whatever direction they wanted. Logan’s wishes made Kendall’s case for himself easier to champion, but that’s it, and it would hold little sway over the board members actually voting.

Still, the specter of Logan Roy hovered over the entirety of this episode, just like it hangs over the rest of Succession. That specter is already fading, though, and the ambitions and feuds he held in check are going to emerge in his absence.

One of the larger themes throughout Succession is the ease with which people can fall to ambition, and the damage said ambition can cause. All season, we have seen the Roy children form a united front against their father. While not always in perfect lockstep, they were sure that they were against their father. The second Kendall sees his name “underlined” on that will, though, he immediately reverts back to selfish ambitions. The second Shiv and Roman recognize his ambition, they see his name “crossed out” and argue against him running the company. It’s second nature. Logan successfully pitted them against each other for a long time.

While Roman eventually came around because he was elevated alongside Kendall, and Shiv was assured that she will still hold equal, if unnamed power, it is clear that Shiv does not believe that for a second.

Who can blame her? This soft, unnamed power arrangement is practically the same thing Logan offered her back when he promised to name her as his successor. Combined with Kendall’s obvious belief that he has always been Logan’s natural heir, it’s pretty clear why Shiv doesn’t trust this. I expect that she will spend the rest of the season seeing her equality among her siblings vanish, or perhaps even sabotage it in her disbelief that said equality exists.

Any sense of equality will certainly vanish easily enough once she (and Roman) hear about Kendall giving the go-ahead to smear their father as a PR campaign.

It’s fascinating to see Succession follow up one of the most relatable, human episodes the show has ever done with one that kind of strips all the humanity from that event. Now that everyone had their immediate shock reactions, they fell right back into soulless capitalist mode. This whole episode was meant to be a gathering to mourn Logan Roy, and instead it was just one giant competition. Logan’s underlings tried to maneuver his children out of the picture. The kids maneuvered to assume the throne. Tom sucked up to everyone in sight in hopes he would secure a place. A media mogul began rewriting Logan’s life to serve his side of the political spectrum. Even Connor used the opportunity to buy his father’s home.

Do you notice how little this episode of Succession actually had to do with Logan Roy? Just like that, everyone forgot about him and fought over the scraps of his kingdom. The only person who genuinely seemed to mourn and love the man was poor Kerry, who couldn’t even begin to hold it together when she showed up uninvited, against the returning Marcia’s wishes. Kendall has an incredible line about his father making him hate him and then dying, but it’s one brief moment among an episode spent chasing selfish wants.

Even when someone managed genuine emotion, it was typically towards a purpose, such as Tom reminiscing about the way he made Shiv fall in love with him as a way to try and worm his way by her side again.

There is little reason to believe that the uneasy order established by the end will last very long. Kendall and Roman are too weak-minded and unstable to maintain order for very long. Shiv will likely scheme against them the second she feels cut out, and I’m sure her newly discovered pregnancy will provide her ammunition. The board will scheme as well, since they were already aiming to cut them all out. You can bet that Mattson and Pierce will both try to take advantage of Kendall and Roman in ways that undermine the two.

Kendall ends the episode blackmailing an employee to begin the aforementioned Logan Roy smear campaign, in a move I’m sure would make the old man smile up from Hell. I can’t see anyone else reacting too fondly towards the move, though. Kendall may have the power now, but we’ll see how long it last as the Succession game continues throughout the rest of the season.

Meanwhile I’m still hear hoping dumb old Greg somehow ends up on top, if anyone has to.

Images Courtesy of HBO

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