Capitalism: The Show
A spoiler-free analysis of Succession.
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This analysis is spoiler free.
On Sunday, the Emmy-winning series Succession went out with a bang(er). The show concluded in a series finale as beautiful as it was painful, doing what so few acclaimed television shows are able to do: end well. There’s been no shortage of ink spilled on Succession’s acting, writing, and direction. And while the production is worthy of praise, I find myself awed by the show’s ability to carry an obvious social critique while maintaining high levels of popularity.
Typically, television social commentary is subtle, never wanting to drive away viewers who disagree. But Succession took the opposite approach. Creator Jesse Armstrong is as on-the-nose with his political beliefs as a punch in the face. And to great effect. Succession is equally outlandish as it is intriguing because the creators lay the show’s thesis bare: despite what our world tells itself, Capitalism is not a meritocracy.
As the title suggests, the show is all about succeeding to power. With media titan Logan Roy aging towards retirement and/or death, his children vie for his place as CEO of the Waystar-Royco empire. Just like most businesses passed from one generation to the next, the Roy children aren’t candidates because they’re the smartest, the hardest workers, or even on the list of 100 most qualified candidates. They simply won the lottery of birth.
There’s Kendall, the inept heir-apparent, Roman, a walking-talking #MeToo allegation, and Shiv, the manifestation of ultra-rich, hollow feminism. Over four seasons they bicker over the most powerful economic entity in the country like kids fighting over the TV remote. Occasionally they unite to try and oust their father, only to have their fragile alliance shattered by his weaponization of their crippling daddy issues.
The supporting cast, consisting of the yes-men C-Suite, opportunistic spouses, and the clingy cousin Greg, provide the sycophancy the three Roy children need to believe they’re capable of running the most influential company in this fictitious but relatable America. By enabling toxic and illegal behavior, they, and the make-believe world the billionaire children have been raised in, convince the Roys that somehow capability is genetic, passed down from their father.
Through the story of the Roy children, Succession was able to highlight the inherent stupidity of the Capitalist system. With constant allusions to our real world, the show says what many in our real world are unable to accept: in many cases, the people controlling our economic system have absolutely no idea what is going on. They’re not the brightest, the most innovative, or even the bravest. They simply got lucky.
Eager to prove he’s a “serious person,” Kendall rebrands a gated-living community as “tech” and claims the company has invented a subscription-based eternal life plan. In the earlier seasons, Shiv advises the Bernie Sanders-stand in, only to run back to the family business to help her dad make a literal Fascist President. The final seasons introduce Lucas Madsen, a hot-shot Swede who represents the “New Capitalism” of the tech sector. Despite its “progressive” branding, Madsen shows that new capital is just as exploitative, illogical, and corrupt as old capital. The only difference is it’s run by six-packed Swedes instead of round-bellied WASPs. One by one, Succession shows that the things we consider to be Very Serious Systems — multi-billion dollar companies, media empires, and politics — hinge upon the personal interests of a small group of defunct individuals, who really need a therapist, not another billion dollars.
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