In November of 2016 I had pneumonia. So when Donald Trump was elected President I remember exactly where I was. I should have been at work, helping our news department cover the election. But I instead was at home.. doctor’s orders. I was standing at my kitchen sink when Election Night was called for Trump. I felt a sense of dread that I don’t think went away for four years. I’m not sure I’m fully recovered. Well, I am from the pneumonia but not the dread.

I’d like to thank Jesse Armstrong for filling me with that dread again. The most recent episode of his amazing series, SUCCESSION (Season 4, Episode 8) is called “America Decides”. Which is kind of ironic because in the episode America has nothing to do with what’s going on. It is not America deciding, it is a small group of billionaires who own a media conglomerate making the decisions. They make the call on who will be the next president of the United States. America is incidental.

This scenario plays out every year in our modern, cable news driven society. This episode satirizes the process with a lot of jokes and a lot of very uncomfortable conversations. But there is one character who was the dread whisperer. That would be scion Logan Roy’s (Brian Cox) youngest son Roman (Kieran Culkin). He cares very little about America. He only cares about it as a market to be exploited and if trashing democracy can make the family company, Waystar-Royco piles of money well then fuck America, fuck democracy and fuck the process. It’s Roman saying, “my pockets are lined. I’m a billionaire who will be comfortable no matter what”. So Roman Roy is not just questionable, he is purely evil. He’s a sociopath willing to burn everything down to make his pile.

This is quite the turn for Roman. At times in the nearly 4 years of SUCCESSION, he at times has been a sympathetic character. He’s mentally and physically abused by his father. He has almost no social skills. Roman has no normal relationship with a woman. He obsesses over the company’s general counsel Gerri Kellman (J. Smith Cameron) to the point they play little sex-tease games and he sends her dick picks. At times he seems to care for people as broken as he is. One example of that is trying to help Logan’s assistant Kerry (Zoe Winters) as she shows up in tears at Logan’s wake. Kerry is shunned by Logan’s estranged wife Marcia (Hiam Abbas), but Roman reaches out to help her. All of this would makes one kind of root for Roman to be the offspring who takes over in the end now that Logan has died. Man did Armstrong have us snookered.

All of Roman’s brokenness has piled up to make him a completely disturbed, evil-doer. He pushes the head of Waystar’s cable news channel ATN, Tom Wambsgans (Matthew McFadyen) to make an election night call that hands the presidency to the facist, white-supremacist Jarryd Mencken. He uses his force of personality and his position of power. It’s the act of a broken narcissist. It’s ignoring the greater good for what makes life better for me. Remind you of anyone. His name rhymes with Ronald Frump.

The entire series is so well done, so entertaining and spot on in its satire that even when the most horrible things that happen the show forces you to love it. Objectively every character on SUCCESSION is horrible. But they are so well drawn and the acting is so incredible that you try to find people to root for. Or you just like watching the kingdom burn. But Roman’s episode arc is beyond the pale. It made me have flashbacks to 2016, then pre-dread for 2024. Kieran Culkin is just incredible. He knows how to push all the right buttons to make us first sympathize then hate Roman. In this episode he takes it to a whole new level. It’s the kind of performance that wins people Emmys. But it also made an incredible hour of television incredibly hard to watch. But I stuck it out and don’t regret it at all. Once again Jesse Armstrong has proven his talent and mastery of storytelling on television. And if an episode of a show you love (and I do love SUCCESSION) makes you uncomfortable, yet you still adore it then that’s what this art is all about.


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