Thursday, June 20, 2024

Succession Raises Stonks Straight To The Moon

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In the aftermath of last week’s uncomfortable negotiations with Lukas Mattson, Succession was clear that the Roy brothers were going to try and eviscerate their newfound sales success. The only question was how. Pissing Mattson off just made it even tougher to refuse his bid, and they could not be too open about tanking the deal due to backlash from the rest of the board. What are two desperate, incompetent brothers to do?

Well, nothing shines up incompetence in the short term like outright lies.

Roman riding a cart to a meeting from Succession

Of course, their obvious desire to not sell to Lukas becomes openly clear to multiple people before the episode is over. Shiv confronts them on their lies about the retreat, as well as their attempts to cut her out, very early in the episode. Gerri realizes the truth after Roman’s attempt to fire her. Roman and Kendall openly discuss strategies to ruin the deal in front of numerous assistants who can easily spread word.

They ultimately decide to ruin the deal by making Waystar unaffordable for Lukas, and center their strategy around the launch of a new venture named Living+, which is supposed to be a sort of retirement vacation home type thing drowning its residents in ATN material and keep them pacified until they die off. That I’m trying to explain it and unsure how is kind of the point; Kendall spends the episode trying to find ways to promise every absurd thing he can think of, coming just short of promoting literal immortality during his investor presentation.

The efficacy of the idea is not the point. Kendall just needed to give Waystar’s stock price a temporary boost so that Lukas can’t afford to buy the company. To Kendall’s credit, somehow, he seemed to have succeeded. His triumph was even more surprising after Succession spent the entire episode watching him and Roman absolutely unravel in their attempts to be the man their father was.

Roman definitely seems the more visibly worse of the two, as he spends the episode trying to be type of all-powerful tyrant force Logan Roy was, complete with the same fear and respect. The pressure and power of being in charge is clearly cracking the man. He tries to settle power struggles with both Joy and Gerri by firing them, thinking he should be able to just end them when he feels like it since that’s what Logan would have done. He’s a man trying desperately to avoid the truth about his father.

And if that wasn’t clear enough throughout the past few episodes, the ending scene of him listening to a badly edited video of his father insulting him should make clear just how twisted that relationship was and Roman’s complete inability to cope.

Meanwhile, Kendall takes the approach of trying to shape the entire world around his vision the way Logan could. He tries this approach with more upbeat energy than the fear Roman attempts to wield, but he’s still wielding his power in a pale imitation of what Logan Roy managed to do. This strategy still requires a basic grasp of what is possible, though, and Kendall’s many demands for his presentation were delusions born from pure desperation.

Somehow, it works. Succession tends to love making Kendall look like a fool on these kinds of stages, but he absolutely nails this presentation. Even when the others are so sure that Lukas Mattson’s tweet comparing Living+ to Nazi death camps will trip Kendall up and make him look bad, Kendall handles the question stunningly well, to the point Lukas deletes the tweet. It was a surprising twist on a classic Succession premise, one that solidifies this venture as a success.

Kendall’s decision to latch on to Living+ specifically seemed like his way of avoiding his father’s death. Between promoting near-immortality and doctoring a video to have a “conversation” with Logan, Kendall seemed to view the project as a way to cheat death, or at least ignore it. Death terrifies the man, and seeing an immovable object like his father fall suddenly to death has scarred him in a way even Kendall is trying to grasp with.

It’s interesting to see how differently Succession used these Logan videos with Kendall and Roman. Kendall has his edited to fit the fake profits he is making up, and to have this weird, supportive conversation with Logan. On the other hand, Roman only seems to feel normal when his father is insulting him.

Despite that stunning success at their investor presentation, one that has seemingly helped their cause to make Waystar too rich a company for Mattson to buy out, neither Roman or Kendall end the episode happily. They are both absolutely miserable, literally adrift at sea in Kendall’s case and lost in their own heads, grasping for parental validation that is no longer truly possible.

The only Roy sibling handling Logan’s death in anything remotely resembling a healthy manner is Shiv, scheduled grief sessions and all. She is at least acknowledging what really happened, and seemingly on a path to saving her marriage to Tom. Unfortunately, she’s still also on the path to a power struggle with her brothers. Kendall and Roman continue to leave her out of the loop, a situation everyone involved recognizes for what it is, even if no one is explicitly saying so.

Shiv very much sees what they are doing, and is most likely keeping this open line to Lukas as insurance for the moment Kendall and Roman stop pretending they want her as an equal partner.

Will this open line to Lukas ruin Shiv’s fledgling reconciliation with Tom? Power tends to corrupt every attempt these characters make to be better people, and Lukas represents Shiv’s eventual chance at power. She can use his open infatuation with her to totally undercut her brothers and grab control. The thing is, Tom may even support her in the effort. Their post-coital conversation was a long overdue confession that Tom is attracted to the power of being married to Shiv, and only seems to have helped their marriage.

The problem is that Succession tends to not be a show where characters follow through in healthy life choices. What happens if indulging Lukas Mattson causes strain with Tom? Or if Shiv’s ascension doesn’t include Tom? There’s no reason to think she would. Of course there’s also the chance that betraying Shiv again at some point will offer Tom more power, which he made clear is more important to him than a happy life just with Shiv.

The shame of it all is that if the Roy siblings could actually come together on this, actually deal with their father, their relationships, and their goals and ambitions in a healthy way, just as Shiv and Tom are seemingly beginning to, then they would all be better off for it. Instead they are pretending at equality and a shared vision as they each position themselves against each other. It’s the old dynamic they are simply too familiar with, one instilled in their very souls since they were children.

There is a fairly good chance that the Roy family is too big to fail. The rest of Waystar may have to drag them kicking and screaming, but they will most likely end the series with money and some form of power. What does that matter when they can’t buy the one thing that will make them genuinely happy, though?

That’s a question that Succession never stops asking us.

Images Courtesy of HBO

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