On the verge of any new season of "Succession" premiering, taking stock of what the wealthy people who inspired the Roys are doing augments one's appreciation for the show's accuracy.
Let's see …the Murdochs' cable news channel Fox News is the target of two defamation lawsuits by voting technology companies. The first, a $1.6 billion glove slap from Dominion Voting Systems is set to kick off next month. The second, courtesy of Smartmatic, seeks $2.7 billion in damages.
Who cares? At 92, Rupert Murdoch, who is thought to be the main inspiration for Brian Cox's Logan Roy, has found true love for the fifth time with 66-year-old Ann Lesley Smith, his Kerry (Zoë Winters). Everyone else can f**k off!
Then there's Peter Thiel, whose Founders Fund is said to have kicked off the run on investors pulling $42 billion out of Silicon Valley Bank in a single day, lead to its failure. The entrepreneur insists he had nothing to do with that, and we believe him! Just like we believe Elon Musk will make Twitter better, create self-driving cars that don't kill people, and slingshot humanity to Mars.
But if you really want to appreciate where "Succession" re-enters the conversation, help yourself to this logorrheic spout from the former President and possibly soon-to-be indicted 2024 Republican candidate, in which he pats himself on the back for getting rid of the death tax on farms during his administration.
"[W]hen you do pass away, on the assumption that you love your children, you can leave [your farm] to them and they won't have to pay tax," he brayed. "But if you don't love your children so much, and there are some people that don't, and maybe deservedly so, it won't matter because frankly, you don't have to leave them anything. Thank you very much. Have fun."
Nowadays we accept that the ultra-rich are as terrible as they are inevitable. They're simply going to do whatever they want to do and get away with it. Or as Logan puts it, "Money wins." Even if Dominion prevails the likelihood that Fox News will change its ways is miniscule, at best. Murdoch could pay off the damages out of his personal wealth and still be an obscenely wealthy man.
His "Succession" counterpart Logan, still the reigning head of Waystar Royco, may be even wealthier, has survived congressional scrutiny and dodged federal indictment, and is preparing to sail off into the sunset on a yacht freighted with gold from the sale of his media conglomerate to tech mogul Lukas Matsson (Alexander Skarsgård), who bears a passing resemblance Spotify's Daniel Ek, but kookier.
Alexander Skarsgård in "Succession" (Photograph by Courtesy of HBO)
But if there is one comfort that keeps the poors warm at night, it's the fantasy that true happiness eludes the astronomically rich. We like to picture them hollowed out and loveless, which is part of the reason the "Succession" merry-go-round could go on forever. Logan is a foul-mouthed devil, but he's a clever and devastatingly hilarious one, and series creator Jesse Armstrong and his writers arm Cox with lines that hit like armor-piercing rounds.
"Succession" may have arrived in 2018 like an awkward beast unsure of what to do with its teeth but leaves us at its roaring apex, the finest of the best.
The deadliest he saves for his children Kendall (Jeremy Strong), Shiv (Sarah Snook), and Roman (Kieran Culkin), especially when they team up in the third season finale. When the blundering trio thinks they have the power to stop daddy from selling what they see as their birthright and bust into the lion's den, they suddenly find their figurative guns have "turned to f**king sausages," as Logan cruelly teases.
Logan end-runs them yet again because, as he viciously bellows in their faces, "I f**king win." It's worse than that – this loss, the kids' latest in a string of them, is courtesy of treachery delivered by Shiv's obsequious husband Tom (Matthew Macfadyen).
As "Succession" enters its fourth and final 10-episode season, Shiv, Kendall, and Roman refuse to cede any momentum, and neither does Daddy or the show. The show may have arrived in 2018 like an awkward beast unsure of what to do with its teeth, but leaves us at a roaring creative apex, the finest TV has to offer. When it's all over but the crying there's no doubt we'll wish for more time with the Roys while appreciating that Armstrong and the cast are ending the show while its thunderclaps still shake us.
Fortunately the scripts roll booming peals in every hour made available for review, all of which is best experienced fresh and with as little exposition as possible. All that needs to be said is there's no dead space at these farewell parties, and each hour needs to be watched closely and savored fully. Before it all kicks off, here's an update on where we left the Roys and the people (un)fortunate enough to be caught in their gravitational pull.
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The first season of "Succession" drops us into Logan's life on his 80th birthday and immediately shows him as a man so laser focused on expanding his empire that tending to family concerns is secondary at best. His right-wing network ATN is dominant but increasingly losing relevance in the digital age.
His initial strategy is to embark on a takeover of ATN's left-leaning rival PGM, the drama's CNN equivalent that is also family-owned, by the liberal, erudite Pierces (the show's send-up of the Bancroft family, which owned The Wall Street Journal before the Murdochs' purchase). But the Roys' first dealmaking attempt falls apart when Waystar Royco's dysfunction spills into public view, in the form of a scandal involving their cruise line arm.
As loudly as Logan is praised for his business acumen and cutthroat style, his lack of wisdom with regard to grooming one or all of his children to take over his company continues to nip at him. Nevertheless, throughout "Succession" he can't resist creating fresh gauntlets of psychological games masquerading as competency tests, although they're designed to be unwinnable. By pitting Ken, Shiv and Rome against each other, Logan is convinced he can remain on the throne. Their imploded team-up in the third season finale proves him right, he thinks.
But as the media titan greets another birthday and prepares to tie a bow on his corporate legacy by selling to Matsson, he may not have considered the wider ramifications of his heartlessness.
Recommended viewing: Season 3, Episode 9: "All the Bells Say"
Supplemental reading: The New York Times Magazine's 2019 multipart profile of the Murdoch family.
"You act the f***knuckle, but you know, people like you," is one of the most heartwarming compliments Logan ever bestows on his youngest son and most twisted issue.
Nobody takes Roman seriously in the first season, until he moves into the hole left by Kendall's defenestration when the opportunity presents itself. And while Waystar Royco's COO isn't especially intellectually gifted – none of the Roy children are – he's charming and blue enough to make moves based on ballsy instinct, which Logan appreciates enough to give him more apparent responsibility without functionally increasing his power.
But he's also an entitled manchild with bizarre sexual kinks, including frantically throwing himself at Waystar Royco general counsel Gerri Killman (J. Smith-Cameron), which Gerri both encourages and discourages, using Roman to make her place within the company's precarious structure more secure. Their secretive verbal dominatrix-submissive arrangement works well enough until Roman accidentally sends an unsolicited picture of his junk to his father.
Because of this, when Roman sides with his siblings – who he hates, but he recognizes may be his best option for staying in the game – Gerri refuses to save him. She knows where the real power sits, and it isn't with the boss' horny failson.