Sunday, October 13, 2019

Succession Season Finale

With the second season's finale of HBO's acclaimed series Succession, we inevitably circle back to the obvious question: What is it about these terribly rich - and just plain terrible - people that so mesmerizes us? Of course, the series is so well plotted, the characters so well crafted, the settings so exotic, the acting so good, that there are many obvious reasons to like the show, in spite of the metastatic moral disaster it portrays. 

And, while it may well be true that - except for the fact that they have more money - the rich aren't all that different from the rest of us, the fact remains that the reasons that they have more money and the extent of personal and social mischief that their money frees them to do definitely do make them - and the evil they do - interesting in a much more than ordinary way. 

Then, of course, they are a family, and everyone, whether he or she likes it or not, is (or at least has been) connected to a family, and so can relate to a greater or lesser extent to some of the familial dynamics that dominate the show. There is no escaping family, even when family members routinely let each other down, which is both the privilege and the pathology of Succession's Roy children, each of whom has been bullied and manipulated by their odious father, whose wealth has made all four of them odious bullies and manipulators in turn. True, while father Logan is always odious, each of his heirs has some less obnoxious qualities, which make them at times comic characters and even sometimes sympathetic characters. 

For example, despite his despicable drug habits, it is hard at times not to feel for Kendall. After all, the whole series started with him set to be the successor only to be betrayed by his father - sort of setting the tome for everything to come. So, when the family and hired guns gather on their luxury yacht somewhere in the Mediterranean to await Logan's decision of whom to throw overboard, it is hard not to feel at least a twinge of sadness for Kendall when it becomes clear he will be the one (as we might have guessed he would be from the conclusion of the previous episode). Indeed the whole pathos of Kendall's story is summed up in the final conversation between father and son when, after accepting his fate (after a whole season of sol-destroying submission to his father's tyranny), Kendall pathetically asks his father for a final affirmation - that he could have done the job - and is cruelly turned down. That Kendall steps up in the end (with documentary help from cousin Greg)  seems to confirm one's intuition that, for all his corruption, Kendall may yet find an escape - not the physical escape Naomi offered him on the boat but an inner - dare one almost say moral - escape from his father and all his works and pomps.

And then there are the seemingly interchangeable and apparently expendable hangers-on, the "extended family," as it were, also bullied and terrorized at times but apparently addicted to the thrill of being even in the shadow of so much money and so seemingly committed to the continuation of the business venture that could just as well be called the Roy crime-family syndicate. Their subservience is a testament to the widespread human condition which Adam Smith famously diagnosed as the "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." (To the extent that we all suffer some of that syndrome, that too undoubtedly accounts for some of our fascination with this show.)

And, of course, the rich repay our fascination with their appalling sense of entitlement. Sunday's NY Times Book Review recalled a story about FDR's Labor Secretary Frances Perkins yelling over the phone at the head of General Motors: "You don't deserve to be counted among decent men! ... You have betrayed the men who work for you." To that, he is supposed to have responded: "You can't talk that way to me! I'm worth $70 million." Worth many more millions than that, all the Roys - old and young, male and female - share that same smug sense of entitlement - whether closing an amusement park for a private birthday party, covering up manslaughter, or thumbing their nose at Congress.

Perhaps the paradox of Succession is how it exploits our fascination with the rich while undercutting that fascination by highlighting the moral wickedness of wealth and the moral damage it does - not just to those unjustly deprived of it but to those who unjustly possess it an cannot free themselves from it

No comments:

Post a Comment