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How ‘Succession’ Brilliantly Captured the Essence of Our Mean and Bitter Era

Delve into the insightful world of “Succession” as it masterfully captures the essence of our current mean and bitter era.

Jeremy Strong as Kendall Roy in 'Succession.' Credit: HBO
Jeremy Strong as Kendall Roy in 'Succession.' Credit: HBO

Alright, buckle up for some serious spoilers if you haven’t seen the finale of “Succession” yet! Here’s the deal: a bunch of crazy things that you might have been expecting didn’t actually happen. The screen didn’t abruptly go black while the Roy family chowed down on onion rings in some Jersey diner. Roman didn’t have a mind-blowing epiphany at a hippy retreat in California and come up with a catchy Coca-Cola jingle. And Kendall definitely didn’t wake up in Suzanne Pleshette’s bed (phew!).

Now, as for where this last episode of “Succession” stands among the all-time great finales in TV history, well, that’s a question for the future pop culture historians to figure out. Heck, they might not even bother paying attention to that stuff anymore. The truth is, series finales, even for smart, edgy, satirical dramas like this one produced by the network formerly known as HBO, just don’t hit the same way they used to.

Sure, about 2.9 million folks tuned in to bid adieu to the Roy clan on the newly-christened Max last Sunday night. That’s a pretty impressive number for a show that only occasionally cracked the 2.5 million viewers mark throughout its four-season run. But let’s be real here. Remember when “Game of Thrones” had its finale in 2019? That show pulled in an audience about seven times the size of “Succession.” And if we go back to the good ol’ days of network TV, finales for shows like “Friends” and “Seinfeld” were drawing in crowds 20 to 30 times larger than that.

But hey, let’s not get all worked up about declining linear television influence. “Succession” managed to achieve something pretty rare these days—it got people talking. This slick and often twisted drama may not have racked up moon-landing ratings, but it captured a big chunk of the Zeitgeist. It sparked loads of those conversations that used to happen around the water cooler (remember those?)—nowadays, it’s mostly just tweets flying around, especially among the chattering classes on the coasts.

And you know why it grabbed so much attention? Because it was damn good. The writing, savage as ever (thanks to Jesse Armstrong and his crew of corporate-slang-tossing wordsmiths), and the acting, absolutely spectacular (props to Brian Cox, Jeremy Strong, Sarah Snook, and especially Kieran Culkin, whose every scene was a masterclass in snarky little brother vibes). “Succession” burst onto HBO in 2018, just as “Game of Thrones” was winding down, and it filled that void like a natural successor. Both shows had that same narrative core—a cutthroat family vying for power. But while “GoT” had dragons and White Walkers, “Succession” served up private jets and Swedish internet billionaires.

But here’s the kicker—unlike “GoT” and pretty much every other show out there, “Succession” didn’t have a single likable character. Seriously, every member of the Roy family was a grade-A jerk. In any other era, that might have been a dealbreaker. Conventional TV wisdom says you always need at least one character to root for and identify with, like a Tyrion Lannister in a sea of Baratheons and Starks.

But guess what? We ain’t livin’ in any other era, my friend. These days, we’re surrounded by bitterness and resentment. The wealth gap is wider than ever, and there’s never been more reason to both envy and despise the wealthy. And that’s precisely what made “Succession” so damn addictive.

We could live vicariously through all that extravagant excess—the helicopter taxis, the fancy suites, the swanky mountain resorts, the $600 cashmere baseball caps. But at the same time, we got to revel in the sweet schadenfreude of watching these miserable one-percenters screw up their lives. With “Succession,” we could have our king crab tagliolini and devour it too.

On top of our collective disdain for the super-rich, there’s another reason why “Succession” was such a riot to watch—it reflected our current culture so vividly. Now, creator Jesse Armstrong always denied that the show was based on real people, like Rupert Murdoch and his clan. Maybe that’s true, who knows? But the fact that the plotlines felt so authentic, or at least close to it, gave it that Roman à clef vibe.

It was like a weekly recap of reality, with all the madness swirling around in politics, media, and business. From the shameless lies of right-wing media to the rise of Elon Musk as the internet’s dark lord, “Succession” packaged it all up in a slightly twisted fictional form. Somehow, it made the real world a little easier to digest. And that’s still happening, even after the finale. Just a few days ago, George Takei took to Twitter and compared House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to a certain character from the show, saying he’s “an ambitious, empty, ass-kissing pain sponge who only got where he is because all the other choices are far worse.” Yup, you guessed it—Tom Wambsgans.

So there you have it, my friend. “Succession” may not have hit those astronomical ratings, but it hit us right in the gut. It kept us glued to the screen, indulging in the debauchery of the uber-rich while relishing in their downfall. It provided us with a mirror to our current world, showcasing the absurdities and injustices we face. And that, my friend, is what made it a triumph, regardless of the numbers.

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