What was that about abysses and gazing again

The common refrain about this show: “None of the characters are likeable”.  Why?

Greg and Tom cement their weird adorable partnership by eating birds whole at a yuppie restaurant.  Shiv cucks her fiance romantically with her colleague and her colleague professionally with her boss.  Roman’s ego outstrips his ambition.  Connor is on Mars.

And Kendall – poor, tender Ken-doll – just makes the corporate power-moves we expect from someone in his position (and then goes on the requisite meth-and-wolves bender when they fail).

. . . Doesn’t this sound like standard fare?  Grey’s Anatomy-esque?  And they’re contrasted against one of the most monstrous characters since Walter White.

What about these folk is so off-putting?

* * *

Logan Roy seems created from a Jordan Peterson fame-addled fever dream, the Tyrannical Father spewing bile from his ailing body, slouching about Manhattan waiting to die.  Brian Cox made his Hollywood bones playing Hannibal Lector for Michael Mann, and Logan is essentially Hannibal with less murderousness but more psycopathy;  would Lector say to Clarice, “Maybe I should just let them come for you. . .” as Logan does to Shiv?

And yet the worst thing Logan Roy does is tell us something he really believes: “What you kids do not understand: . . . it’s all part of the game.”

* * *

It’s not about riches.  After Tom feeds Greg a bird, he takes him to a private booth at a club overlooking the dance floor; Greg asks, “So this is being rich, watching other people have fun?” and Tom’s “Yeah-ah!” is as convincing as Shiv when she denies affairs.  Connor’s only moment of lucidity is when he grasps the essential nature of what the Roys have: “Fact is, right now we’re somebodies.  Any doofus can have a few million bucks.”

It’s about power.  Marcia, Logan’s Lady Macbeth, spits acidly at Shiv when being confronted about her hilariously blatant attempts to deal herself into the Roy fortune, “Go out and see how you like it.”  Money is security.  Money is power.  Money is life and death.

* * *


* * *

Succession isn’t about rich people.  It’s about people who derive power by being within a corporate structure, and how that power – maintaining it, utilizing it, and above all reveling in it – becomes the only thing in their lives they are able to care about.

Connor gets off on his bullying of a prostitute into a relationship (indeed, the power dynamic of paying someone to fuck is probably why he sought her services in the first place.)  Shiv monologues warmed-over existentialism on the people she cares about most because she cares about power more than them.  Tom, about ten minutes after his honest and quite touching declarations of commitment to Shiv as a person, has completely bought into her mercenary loveless conception of marriage (and goes searching for bridesmaids) in order to secure his corporate position; the most important part of his whoohoo-he’s-finally-confronting-Nate speech isn’t “I’d hire men to break your legs” but “If I went to jail – *which I won’t*”.

Roman can’t even fuck.  Well he can masturbate, once, close to someone . . .

And Kendall can *see* this.

“C’mon Shiv, this is because you like the power.  This gets you close to the hill.  And Rome, you couldn’t get a job at a fucking burger joint, let alone a Fortune 500 without some nepotism.  And Conn, you like the glamour it gives to a fuckin . . . freak show in the desert.”

He also has everything he wants in his family; has anyone ever been happier to dance with their kids and ex for thirty seconds at a wedding?  But he can’t even bring himself to be a venture capitalist.  He needs the juice of the corporate hierarchy.  Despite every inch of him burning with the knowledge that he doesn’t really want it, and having to resort to blizzard-from-The-Shining levels of blow to ignore it.

* * *

Even the horror of the final scene isn’t about “a rich kid killing a boy” as Logan puts it.  Kendall has the option of skating only because “our guys know their guys, they’re good guys”.  It’s the corporate resources, the socioeconomic  relationships within and among firms, that can erase Kendall’s Chappaquiddick moment.

* * *

We don’t like these characters because we see that the only thing in their lives they care about is corporate power.  Money, even wealth, everyone has some conception of and can have some relationship with.  But corporate power is a shaggy amorphous collection of behemoth *somethings* over our heads that we know are there, tossing our lives about like leaves as they grapple, but can’t see and can barely even talk about.

We don’t like it.

And we can see it in human form when Logan Roy, while tenderly embracing his broken son in forgiveness, calls out “Colin” with self-assured command as an order for someone to lead his son away, the moment having served its purpose.