The third to last episode of Succession is in the books and well, it was explosive. Literally. Succession S4E8 saw the Roy siblings (plus Tom) turn on one another in dramatic fashion on election night, with the stakes as high as they could possibly get. We’re about to get into heavy spoiler territory so if you haven’t seen “America Decides,” you’ve been warned.
Who Really Decides?
As I wrote about last week, one of the things Succession has done well is play upon our collective fear of power. The fear that those in power make decisions behind closed doors that we’re supposed to have a say in. Here, on election night in Succession S4E8, those fears likely got worse.
It truly was perfect that the series finally had an election night episode. It’s a backdrop tailor made for this series, much like the product launch from a few weeks ago. Jesse Armstrong is checking off a lot of wish list episodes in the final season and we the viewers are the real winners here.
The polls indicated that the Democrat was projected to win, but the show was running the 2016 playbook. Nobody thought the fascist could win, even those publicly rooting for him. But Election Night showed that things were going to be much closer than anticipated.
Roman was all-in on Mencken. Kendall’s kids feared him winning. Shiv stayed close to her friends on the Democrat side. It was interesting to see how deeply invested in Mencken winning Roman was. He views Mencken as his key to power, the ability to have a President he can work with. A President who owes him. This is his relationship, not his brother’s or anyone else’s. And Roman would defend this political alliance to death.
With the election being closer than expected, ATN News was in a position to be of great influence. Tom was fascinating to study in this episode. He’s the most important man of the night, running the cable news network, and he has the ability to make calls. He’s fighting for his job, knowing that no matter who winds up owning the company, he’s not liked, and he’s feeling the stress of his knock down drag out fight with Shiv the night before as well.
Tom is on the verge of cracking. He resorts to bullying Greg, the person he probably trusts the most in the world, when he’s feeling stressed out, but Greg is making his own moves. He views Tom as weak and wants to ensure that he’s safe regardless of who has control. He’s playing both sides of the fence, much like Shiv, and even gives Tom cocaine, which would prove to be a bad move. However, it did make me wonder how many powerful people on election night are high on cocaine. It’s a valid question.
Real life issues crept into this work of fiction in Succession S4E8, as right wing terrorists set fire to a voting ballot collection center in largely liberal Milwaukee. A true election night catastrophe was on the Roy siblings’ hands as choices had to be made. If the burnt up votes counted, the election would go to the Dems. If they didn’t count, Mencken, the feared fascist, would be the new President.
It’s a scary thought. The idea of people who stand to to make a lot of money off the outcome, negotiating with the candidates. Kendall wanted whoever wins to kill his deal with Matsson. Mencken promised that, which pushed Roman into hyper aggressive territory we’ve never seen from him. Kendall didn’t want Mencken to win, but he did want a deal to be made.
The scene with Kendall and Shiv alone in the conference room was a tipping point for everything. In this moment, Kendall wanted to give into his more virtuous impulses. He wanted to use his power to make his children feel safe. To make the country feel safe. He wanted his news network to stand up and refuse to make the call for the more dangerous candidate. He was there. He confided in his sister that he believed he should be in charge. He was vulnerable with her when he realized that he’s not a good dad. He was at a crossroads. He dropped his guard with his sister, thinking she would understand.
Shiv betrayed him. She valued her alliance with Matsson above all else. Perhaps driven by the fact that she knew she was on her own with this pregnancy. That her and Tom were broken beyond repair. She’s hurt. She’s confused. She’s feeling cornered and vulnerable and her instincts told her to protect herself. Which you can’t fault her for. But it had implications on a global scale.
When Kendall put it all together that his sister was playing both sides of the fence, it was over. In that moment, power was all he thought about. He sided with Roman, called the election and made a deal with a man feared to be the devil. He turned his back on his children’s fears in the name of power. Kendall has been flirting with this crossroads for awhile now and now, he’s made his choice. He made the move his dad would have made.
The End is Near
After the events of Succession S4E8, we only have two episodes left. The feared fascist is President. Logan’s funeral is next episode. Tom and Shiv are damaged beyond repair. Shiv is on the outs with her brothers and is now firmly aligned with Matsson. Kendall and Roman are on the same side in the sense that they neither want to sell to Matsson, but their fight for ultimate power is coming and Roman now has the upper hand.
It’s not easy to see how this series will end. There’s no happy ending in sight. There’s no easy wrap up, no peaceful solutions ahead. We’re in the middle of full blown war and it almost doesn’t make sense that there are only two episodes left. We don’t feel near a resolution. But that’s the beauty of Succession. It’s a series that’s always avoided the easiest conclusions. It doesn’t take the most traveled path. The ending isn’t likely to be predicted by many. Nor will it be pleasant. It’s simply not what this show is about.