The wrong kind of love in ‘Succession’
(Second of three parts)
Last week, we looked at how Jesse Armstrong, the showrunner of the HBO hit series “Succession” satirically skewers the uber-wealthy. We saw how, in the first two seasons, media mogul Logan Roy continuously pits his power-hungry children Kendall, Shiv, Roman and Connor against each other in their bid to be his heir.
Warning: spoilers ahead.
In the third season, with no heir chosen, Kendall declares open warfare against his father, even as the siblings shift sides and jockey for control. Other characters finally get their share of the limelight. Shiv’s pathetic husband Tom Wambsgans (played alternately with pathos and humor by Matthew Macfadyen) provides much-needed comic relief, as he negatively practices the Golden Rule: doing unto Cousin Greg (Nicholas Braun) what his wife and the family do unto him, even as he tries his best to make his wife reciprocate his love (the only kind of genuine love to be found in the show, but at the end of the season, Tom’s pure love for Shiv may finally disappear).
On their wedding night, to Tom’s shock, Shiv tells him she wants an open marriage. She defines love as “twenty-eight different things, and they all get lumped in together into one sack, and there’s a lot of things in that sack—it needs to be emptied out. There’s fear, and jealousy, and revenge and control, and they all get wrapped up in really nice f** wrapping paper.”
Another time, Tom tells Shiv desperately, “I wonder if the sad I’d be without you would be less than the sad I get from being with you.” (This is the most romantic and saddest line in the series).
Shockingly, Tom discusses with Shiv the idea of being the fall guy for Logan, going to prison on behalf of his father-in-law. Shiv agrees and says that the gesture will be “gold” for her dad.
In the end, however, leveraging clan money and power, no one goes to jail.
Cousin Greg might be the underdog we long to root for, as he tries to claim his share of the family pie. But “Succession” resists any hint of redemption, and as Greg’s blunders increasingly grow less endearing and more banal, he symbolizes the parasitic hangers-on who hover around wealthy families.
My friend Lena (not her real name), who runs a manufacturing family business in Manila, hates Greg’s character most of all. She says Greg reminds her of second- and third-degree relatives who constantly demand money from the family.
“My father is the most hardworking, but my uncles and aunts constantly ask money from him, and he is too nice to say ‘no,’” Lena says.
The New Yorker film critic Rebecca Mead says, “[The show] withholds cheap catharsis. Kendall’s backsliding with drugs is only the most overt example of the show’s gothic sensibility: all the Roys have been poisoned by the toxic nature of the family fortune, and Armstrong refuses to impose on them the kind of artificial personal growth that fosters an easy bond with the audience. The closest that ‘Succession’ has come to giving its characters a respite from their crabbed emotional confinement is when Kendall, at a particularly low ebb, begs Shiv for a hug. She awkwardly complies, but only after saying in astonishment, ‘Give you a hug?’”
Other hangers-on include general counsel Gerri Kellman (J. Smith-Cameron), who Logan finally picks as CEO during the sexual harassment crisis, and company executives (all WEIRD: white, educated, industrialized, rich, democratic) whose ineptitude boggles the imagination.
Another friend, Mila, heir to a family retail empire, carps, “Logan’s people remind me of our executive committee. They have no ideas of their own. They get paid huge salaries for just saying ‘yes’ to everything my dad says.”
Lena retorts, “And whose fault is that? Beware, you don’t want your company turning into Waystar [Logan’s company].”
But whatever their fawning or ineptitude, there is no excuse for Logan to humiliate these hangers-on. One scene is particularly painful to watch: the paranoid Logan forces his executives to play “Boar on the Floor,” and they oink and crawl in front of him during a corporate retreat in Europe.
(To be concluded next week)
Queena N. Lee-Chua is with the board of directors of Ateneo’s Family Business Center. Get her book “All in the Family Business” via Lazada or Shopee, or the the ebook version at Amazon, Google Play, Apple iBooks. Contact the author at [email protected].