Monday, March 27, 2023

Succession: The Final Season Begins


One need not watch HBO's successful series Succession to know the harm rich people have the power to inflict upon those around them - and indeed, if rich enough (as Succession's Roys are), on the wider world. Even a mild acquaintance with American politics confirms that, as does a simple reading of the Bible. But HBO's Succession certainly brings the point home - dramatically and painfully. 

So rich, in fact, are the Roys that their misadventures (while conforming to recognizable human misbehavior) seem to occupy a universe of their own. If their pointless verbal vulgarity singles them out and separates them from normal civil conversation, everything about them separates them from the human world they have so little in common with and relatively little contact with - except to damage.

Season 3 ended - as Succession's seasons tend to end - in disaster. After the Roy siblings somehow formed a loose alliance (the only kind these damaged and distorted people can form) to attempt a coup against their father, and failed fantastically (in part because of the corrupted characters of some on the family's periphery), the apparent setup for season 4 finds the characters again split into two camps. This time, Tom, Greg, Gerri, and absurd presidential candidate Connor are all apparently allied with Logan, while the three sad siblings are on the outs.

But, now, after three seasons of ups and downs, of different potential heirs moving at times closer to but in the end seemingly farther from the succession to their father, the final season which began last night promises the long delayed final resolution of this ultra-prolonged family succession crisis. After three seasons of Logan repeatedly playing one son or daughter against the others - and the siblings obligingly fighting among themselves for something like their father's (forever unattainable) love - we seem primed to expect that some alternative version of the succession that was originally set to occur in the first episode of the first season must now finally occur. Inevitably this gives this final season a certain suspense that the endlessly repeated power plays and back stabbings of the previous three seasons somehow lacked.

Of course, season 4 could end as it begins, with Logan still alive and his scheming children scrambling either to be loved by him or to replace him - or, better yet, both. But the dramatic arc suggests that somehow the succession will occur - it being an inescapable law of nature that no sovereign, no matter how absolute and despicable, can last forever. Even Logan appears at last to recognize this, his birthday being an occasion for anxiety about his inevitable end.

Like season 1, season 4's first episode opens with another Logan birthday party. This time, however, apart from Connor (whose campaign polling seems stuck at 1% and who is willing to throw away $100 million to stay at just 1%) the kids are not there. There are just the customary coteries of sycophantic hangers-on, who never really can completely replace the kids in Logan's kingdom. Even with the comic relief of cousin Greg's party date, Logan at his party seems supremely miserable. No billionaire party can compensate for his well earned, much deserved, devastating loneliness, that leaves him at the end alone with his greatest gift to the world, the series' analogue to Fox News.

Meanwhile, Kendall, Roman, and Shiv are ensconced somewhere else, still allied (sort of) against their father and apparently plotting a quirky media venture of their own. But what it is ultimately all about is getting back at their father. (and, for Shiv, getting back at Tom). And that is easily worth $10 billion to them.

In a family where everything is transactional (including Tom and Shiv's sad marriage), where family and marketplace have become indistinguishable, we ache for some relief from wealth and power's unremitting trauma. But how can a family so chronically corrupted by its own wealth and power find any such relief? Can it even seek it?

On HBO, capitalism has reenacted the wider world's traumatic drama long-ago so famously depicted by Karl Marx: "It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervor, of chivalrous enthusiasm, or philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation."

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