Monday, August 12, 2019

Succession (Season 2)

HBO's Succession is back for a second season. One would have thought the world had already seen enough of the repulsive Roy family; but, of course, we can never get enough of the rich. And really what more timely topic is there for our entertainment? The  evil Roys are all fictional, but the salience of their story lies precisely in the fact that they so effectively express the oligarchic values we seem increasingly surrounded by,

Succession and its collection of utterly evil and reprehensible rich people - all foul-mouthed and variously over-sexed and/or drug-dependent - is an unsubtle study in the unambiguous evil of wealth and the moral depravity that accompanies its possession. It is also, as its title suggests, a study in the specific corruptions connected with inherited wealth, it being one of the peculiar consequences of modern democracy to have replaced the classical nobility of aristocratic dominance with rule by a narcissistic oligarchy.

Except perhaps (occasionally) for cousin Greg, there is hardly a character that could remotely be considered likable. Moral monsters all, they have all been totally twisted by their wealth, the unearned power it has given them, and the thoughtless cruelty it has equipped them to practice on the rest of the world - and, most notoriously, on each other. Whereas drama usually succeeds by inviting us to identify with or sympathize with one or more major characters, Succession succeeds precisely in proportion to the repulsiveness of the characters - a reflection, perhaps, of the show's obvious off-screen relevance.

Last night's season opener picked up where season one had left off - with Kendall (once upon a time the presumed successor) still hopelessly drug-dependent, now recovering (if that is what it is) from his very own Chappaquiddick experience (what his father at the end of last season called "the defining moment" of Kendall's life) by accepting his new fate of total subservience to his father. Totally defeated personally and professionally, he is treated with contempt on all sides. Now that Kendall has been completely disempowered and Logan has obviously recovered from whatever impairment he suffered in his season one stroke, Logan has to decide whether and how to fight to keep control of his company, which in the show's twisted capitalist irony requires him finally to choose his successor. And the winner is ... Shiv (always obviously the best brain of the bunch of siblings, even if she has seemingly spent her adult life so far pursuing an alternative career outside the family business).

The setting for most of the action in the season opener is a gathering of the Roys at the family's "summer palace" at the shore. The attractive seaside setting is spoiled by a bad smell which permeates the house (due, we discover, to dead raccoons in the chimney).  The bad smell serves as a sort of symbolic metaphor for everything that happens there. Supposedly on account of the smell, Logan throws out all the expensive fancy food and orders pizza, a parable, I suppose, for the sheer waste that is at the heart of the capitalist hell that is being perperated in real life at that "summer palace."

As Adam Smith (1723-1790) so famously warned in The Theory of Moral Sentiments:
This disposition to admire, and almost to worship, the rich and the powerful, and to despise, or, at least, to neglect persons of poor and mean condition ... is, at the same time, the great and most universal cause of the corruption of our moral sentiments. That wealth and greatness are often regarded with the respect and admiration which are due only to wisdom and virtue; and that the contempt, of which vice and folly are the only proper objects, is often most unjustly bestowed upon poverty and weakness, has been the complaint of moralists in all ages.

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