Be aware: This text comprises spoilers for a number of Succession episodes, significantly season 4, episode eight, “America Decides.”
That’s quaint, says Succession. It’s the Roys who determine, not voters — the scions of an notorious media mogul are within the ATN newsroom on this episode, shaping the narrative of who and what a nation desires as its chief. Succession is normally a bit slyer about its real-life corollaries, however on this episode the references are painted in daring colours. ATN mimics Fox Information, stoking mistrust within the election whereas additionally twisting the outcomes whichever means fits the Roy siblings — by no means thoughts whether or not calling a state for one candidate might come again to hang-out them.
The election at hand, between ultra-right Republican candidate Jeryd Mencken (Justin Kirk), Democrat Daniel Jiménez (Elliot Villar), and, yep, Connor Roy (Alan Ruck), is simply as fiery and ugly as the newest US presidential elections. There’s a continuing thrum of civil unrest and violence within the backdrop of the episode. Protesters are clashing, and accusations of voter fraud fly left and proper. Somebody units hearth to a vote counting heart in Wisconsin, destroying absentee ballots. Georgia and Arizona are singled out as contentious states the place the vote is extraordinarily shut. Ultimately, Kendall (Jeremy Robust) and Roman (Kieran Culkin) — with an enormous help from Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) — all however appoint Mencken as president, as soon as he has principally assured them that he’ll assist block the sale of Waystar to GoJo, as the 2 CEOs need. ATN provides Mencken the backing to posture because the winner. Did he really get extra votes than Jimenez? Who is aware of. And extra importantly, who cares?
The thought of a media govt personally choosing a winner is now not all that stunning. The latest defamation lawsuit Fox Information settled (for $787 million) revealed that Rupert Murdoch had been instantly concerned in making calls for the community through the 2020 election. Textual content messages from the lawsuit revealed that the community repeatedly and knowingly allowed friends to lie about election fraud. What’s appalling on Succession is how silly the folks in cost are. They’re by no means outfitted to make calls on how electoral votes ought to be tallied. Their choices aren’t undergirded by well-reasoned technique, even when Machiavellian in motivation. As an alternative, the Roy siblings squabble pathetically over which president they would favor based mostly on which final result would make themselves look higher, although they placed on a flimsy pretense of caring about fact, democracy, and advantage. Maybe most pathetically, they wield this nice energy whereas denying that they’re in cost every time it’s handy to disavow it. It’s essentially the most feckless type of management.
In a barely completely different gentle, “America Decides” would play out like a comedy of errors. A lot of the sequence would. Swap out Nicholas Britell’s elegiac rating for a wry narrator and immediately it’s Arrested Growth, one other present a few rich, horrible household always undermining one another. However Succession stays extra tragic than comedian as a result of its world and characters are so bleakly cynical. There’s nothing these folks really stand for; they’re empty fits of pores and skin animated solely by resentment.
True or false
Actuality and fact are tenuous in “America Decides.” The race between Jimenez and Mencken is tight. Connor, amazingly sufficient, remains to be hanging onto the hope that he may carry a state. He berates Tom, who heads ATN, for not placing on sufficient protection of him. The votes are in, and plenty of polls have closed — how would protection on the eleventh hour change the tide for Connor? However nonetheless, he deludes himself that it’s not over. He compares the scenario to Schrodinger’s cat, a well-known thought experiment in quantum principle a few cat that’s alive and lifeless on the similar time. It was meant to focus on the absurdity of two contradictory realities current directly, however Connor makes use of the metaphor to assert that the reality remains to be in flux. “Till we open the bins, I’m simply as a lot president as the opposite two,” he says. That’s not the way it works, after all; sticking your fingers in your ears doesn’t change the material of actuality.
However finally, certainty is irrelevant for the Roy siblings as a result of their cash and the truth that they helm ATN, the lone supply of reports for a lot of Individuals, means they’ve the power to declare what the reality is. The battle to be the primary to do precisely that heats up after a fireplace at a Wisconsin vote depend heart leaves a gaping gap of roughly 100,000 misplaced absentee ballots. Roman argues that the state is clearly going to Mencken, and the burned ballots don’t matter (it was an “antifa firebombing,” in line with him); Shiv (Sarah Snook) insists that by state regulation the Wisconsin vote can’t be licensed till all absentee ballots are counted, so ATN can’t give it to Mencken — and, she notes, the state normally goes blue.
The reality is simply really easy to govern for everybody on this episode, and it doesn’t even actually exist till they determine on its form. Mencken (who’s clearly a stand-in for Donald Trump), pretty early on within the night time, sees that he may very properly lose and calls in Roman. He desires ATN to arrange a constructive narrative for his potential loss. Even when he loses, it ought to be introduced as a “enormous victory.” Rome understands what Mencken desires: implications of fraud, that the throne was stolen from the rightful monarch, riling up an already aggrieved fan base. “Even should you’re not going to be the president, you’re going to be our president,” Roman says.
When the Wisconsin hearth occurs, Mencken’s crew asks Roman if he can assist with the narrative — a time period used all through the episode to explain the “fact” they’d choose to current to the world — on ATN. The objective is to sow doubt concerning the legitimacy of all the election. Twice on this episode, Roman calls one thing a “false flag” — the language of QAnon conspiracy theorists. Then ATN anchor Mark Ravenhead (Zack Robidas), who’s principally this world’s Tucker Carlson, goes off-script, speculating that Jimenez supporters noticed they have been falling behind in Wisconsin and determined to cease the depend by setting the vote depend heart ablaze. He adopts an anti-establishment tone, railing about highly effective folks telling atypical Individuals what to do and suppose. It’s humorous as a result of it rapidly turns into clear that Roman, the very highly effective co-CEO of Waystar, has possible informed Ravenhead to provide this rant.
Later, Roman unilaterally orders the community to name the state for Mencken regardless of the protests of a prime ATN producer. The night time spirals from there: With Wisconsin’s electoral votes going to Mencken, when Arizona is known as for him, too, it provides him all of the electoral votes wanted to win. He’s the president — not less than by ATN’s accounting. They’re the primary to name it for Mencken, and it’s unclear if every other networks have carried out the identical. Tom instantly will get blasted by critics for the choice, however it doesn’t actually appear to matter to this household. The reality can all the time be litigated in court docket.
ATN’s election night time protection nods to the post-truth world the place the core mission isn’t to ship the most recent information, however to make up essentially the most entertaining story. Succession is express concerning the complicity of a ratings-obsessed media business in spreading lies and anointing false idols. All through the sequence, the Roy household is anxious about their getting old media empire — even on election night time, social media is nimbler about sharing data, pictures, and movies. However “America Decides” additionally affirms that legacy media stays a powerhouse: It’s one factor to learn some unsubstantiated rumor on Twitter, presumably unfold by a troll. It’s one other to see a president introduced by the authoritative cadence of a information anchor on broadcast tv. There are flashes of fear, and perhaps even remorse, from the Roy siblings (and Tom) within the aftermath of the election — they’ve simply carried out one thing monumental by altering the end result of a presidential election. However they wave these glints of guilt away.
Nobody is accountable
This episode, Tom is on the verge of a nervous breakdown. That is the primary election he’s working with out Logan to behave because the commander, and rather a lot is using on how easily Tom helms the ship. “Actually need to see these numbers, Tom,” Kendall tells him. “Market’s watching. First Tremendous Bowl — how’re we going to manage with out the king, proper?”
Tom is so anxious about staying sharp that he does a bump of cocaine and forces Greg (Nicholas Braun) to partake. He throws a number of tantrums about his personal self-importance, raging at Greg for bringing him low-grade bodega sushi. “Tonight my digestive system is principally a part of the Structure!” he bellows. That is the bumbling wreck of a person in control of figuring out the end result of a US presidential election.
Tom needed this kind of energy, as all the opposite major characters do in Succession. It’s what all his social climbing has led to. But he spends a lot of the episode denying that he’s the one making the ultimate name, passing the buck to his brothers-in-law. He’s simply the button pusher. An ATN producer asks Tom how a lot time the community ought to spend speaking about agitators — together with the Mencken supporters. Tom doesn’t decide. “I belief you,” he says tepidly. Shiv and Kendall strain him to cowl the Wisconsin hearth, which he initially is reluctant to do. “We all the time have to decide on what to deal with, and simply because one thing is on hearth doesn’t make it information,” he says. This kind of sensible editorial judgment is outwardly why he will get paid the large bucks.
Shiv picks this best backdrop to lastly inform Tom that she’s pregnant along with his youngster. She expects him to be shocked, for his anger to melt. Or perhaps part of her needed to see him lastly pushed over the sting right into a full-on meltdown. As an alternative, he scoffs.
“Is that even true?” he asks. “Or is that, like, a brand new place, or a tactic?”
Shiv is duking it out with everybody, significantly Roman over whether or not Wisconsin ought to go to Mencken or Jimenez. Kendall, in the meantime, appears deeply troubled, misplaced. Shiv appears to Kendall for backup. “I don’t know,” he responds.
“Don’t get cynical,” Shiv warns.
For a short second on this episode, Kendall is tempted to do the proper factor. It weighs on him that his daughter is being harm by ATN’s cynical politics. He wonders if they need to perhaps revisit calling Wisconsin for Mencken. He worries about being a very good man and a very good father.
Shiv, nonetheless rooting for Jimenez as a result of it advantages her and Matsson (Alexander Skarsgård), tells her brother they’ll’t let their short-term company pursuits cloud the significance of democracy. Mencken is a nightmare. Kendall desires to diffuse accountability right here, too. “We wouldn’t really be making him president,” he protests. However how a lot of a spot is there between saying somebody as president, figuring out that it won’t be true, and crowning somebody president? As viewers in 2023, we additionally know the dire penalties of perpetuating such confusion and misinformation — shaken religion in democratic establishments, a violent coup on the Capitol, and extra.
Kendall’s sprint of conscience is snuffed out, although, when he finds out that Shiv has been secretly working with Matsson. He and Roman are livid. Shiv tries to clarify herself. “There comes a time when it’s a must to get up for what you imagine,” she makes an attempt to say, however can’t get it out totally as a result of Roman is cruelly mimicking her stammering. It’s wrath that lastly strikes Kendall — they need to give the presidency to Mencken. He had the possibility to indicate some precise ethical fortitude, however he fails to seize it in his anger.
Not one individual takes accountability for what they’ve carried out all through election night time. Roman, Shiv, and Kendall inform themselves that they’re simply reporting info, or simply doing enterprise, and even that they’re doing it for the nice of the nation — Tom is simply taking orders. Within the effort to return off as worldly and shrewd, they don’t genuinely stand for something. There aren’t any true believers within the enterprise of truth-peddling.
Part of the deep pessimism on this episode is a manifestation of grief: Their god, Logan, is gone. “Nothing issues, Ken,” Roman says. “Nothing fucking issues. Dad’s lifeless and the nation’s only a massive pussy ready to get fucked.”
Mencken’s victory speech, aired on ATN, is chilling in its artifice. Echoing Trump’s inaugural presidential handle, he grimly bemoans that democracy has develop into a transaction; you scratch my again, I scratch yours. He guarantees he’s completely different. He has been willed by the folks. The general public is none the wiser concerning the Roys’ messy string-pulling. He asks the nation, “Don’t we lengthy, generally, for one thing clear?”