Bah. Humbug. I’m starting to think I’m Ebenezer Scrooge and succession is my christmas. It’s not that I don’t like the HBO show where an extraordinarily wealthy extended family struggles for control of a media empire in an incredibly well-funded uncertainty about how low you can go. I like the constant mounting tension, a tourniquet on my last nerve. I enjoy watching the siblings writhe for splinters of approval from their patriarch, a charmless man who relentlessly uses familial empathy. I like Kendall Roy, the fallen Icarus who repeatedly tries to fly back to the sun. I like Shiv (is the correct spelling Siob?), who seems to be the most competent and strategic, but I’m still not quite sure why she married Tom. Tom is of course perfect; watching the dangerous family rearrangement of the conscious dessert spoon is a painful pleasure. Cousin Greg is my favorite not because he has less power hunger, but because he naturally feels less corrupt.
Each character is ambitious, arguably useless, and embalmed with privilege. At a time when so many media feel focused and crowdsourced and staffed, succession feels specially made for my personal preferences. I’m really entertained, I’m captivated.
But there are two successions: the one you stream and enjoy and the one you experience online through tweets and memes, a drowning watercooler moment that also wrings out the fun of the show. Mondays have become unbearable on Twitter. This is the way we look now. We are all geeks, avid streaming tribes, experts at the content we binge. I don’t care about spoilers (knowing what’s going to happen isn’t what ruins this for me), it’s using succession as personality. I find the bickering so intensely unpleasant. The Scrooge in me wants to cancel Christmas.
I loved the recent New Yorker profile on Jeremy Strong because I love gossip about the method. We found that Jeremy is seriously quoting TS Eliot; Jeremy annoys his fellow actors by refusing to rehearse scenes; Jeremy once nearly bankrupted a Yale theater company for a night with Al Pacino. People mocked the self-interest in the play, but to me it felt less like a savage breakdown of Strong and more like an examination of the pretensions of acting itself. I’ve met a few actors at parties, and they can get pretty furious if you suggest that their job is just pretending to be someone else.
Strong is portrayed as extremely selfish, and I think it’s this relentless ceremony that some readers found most icky. When he breaks character, Strong is as hyper-intelligent and naive as Kendall, as tenderly sensitive as he is unable to read the room completely. It makes sense that the man who plays Kendall does so without any bitterness or humor. But I think we hate that he plays it fair. In these Twitter-heavy, witty-retort days, it’s incredibly easy to be smooth, to languish. You might find yourself saying something direct or meaningful and a LOL at the end to soften the message.
Like the Roys, we are all in one way or another afraid of presenting the whole truth about ourselves, showing vulnerability and inviting genuine judgment. We win Twitter with our agility, with our brutality. It is curiously perverse to watch Strong lean into his truth, however unconventional and eccentric, without an ounce of fear. There’s a feeling that he should keep his cards closer to his chest, just like the rest of us. But his fearlessness is his success, it is his strength. Which one of us is next in line?