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This week, the Jewish Currents Slack was ablaze with takes on and responses to the series finale of HBO’s Succession. Is this the end of prestige television? Did the writers of this micro-generation’s most tweeted-about show stick the landing? This week, we’re bringing you four reactions to the series, which, unfortunately, do contain spoilers.

This week, news editor Aparna Gopalan expresses dismay in her colleagues’ ability to sample “different flavors of vileness;” executive editor Nora Caplan-Bricker reflects on the fourth season as a redemption of the show as a whole, even if the siblings themselves are irredeemable; associate editor Mari Cohen considers what it means for Succession to be, at its core, a show about the media; and editor-in-chief Arielle Angel apologizes to Shiv.

Aparna Gopalan (news editor): You can’t escape Succession. I would know; I’ve tried. Mentions of the HBO show have clogged my social media for months, and for months, I’ve scrolled past them. But rejoining the Jewish Currents Slack destroyed my resolve. Quite apart from wanting to be part of the conversation, I became curious about the series that could impassion even my most sober colleagues. So I rounded up my housemates and pressed play on episode one of season one, just as Twitter buzzed about the series finale.

Unfortunately, the show was just what I expected: a prestige entertainment product about a bunch of scheming suits who, tiresomely, were also a family. It was capably executed, of course: well-paced, fluid, and full of shocking and memorable scenes (I still retch thinking of cousin Greg puking out of the mascot costume’s eye sockets). Production value aside, though, I just didn’t care about any of the characters on offer, let alone which of them would eventually sit the boring, corporate Iron Throne of their dad’s media empire. From reading reviews, I’ve gathered that each character is supposed to give us a different window into how plutocrats are fucked up, perhaps further fueling righteous outrage. But if you, like me, weren’t able to get past episode one because you aren’t all that interested in sampling different flavors of vileness, I’m just here to tell you that despite what the rest of this newsletter will make you feel, you are not alone.

Nora Caplan-Bricker (executive editor): At the beginning of this season, I was worried about Succession. After a third season that spun its wheels (at least until the redemptive finale), the fourth seemed at risk of leaning into what I considered the show’s worst impulses. Remember the scene in the first episode where the siblings work on the pitch deck for their start-up “The Hundred,” which Kendall describes as “Substack-meets-Masterclass-meets-The Economist-meets-The New Yorker”? In such moments, you could practically feel the show hamming it up for the audience, pitching its bons mots toward the chattering classes that sat, Tweetdecks open, just beyond the fourth wall. The pleasure of watching Succession always stemmed from its particular blend of pathos and comedy, but I think it sometimes wobbled when it went too far in the direction of satire. It was excellent at reflecting our brutal present with almost unparalleled verisimilitude—this season’s rightly celebrated election-night episode, for example, felt almost unbearably real—but it didn’t actually have much beyond the obvious to say about the gilded world of the .00001% and their anti-democratic chokehold on our society. On the level of political analysis, I think there’s truth in New Republic TV critic Phillip Maciak’s amusing suggestion that Succession is “a photo negative version of Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing,” having “swapped out Sorkin’s pious centrist liberalism with a qualitatively better, but no less pious, left anti-capitalism.”

Happily, I think the show itself understood that if its sociological portraiture was merely convincing, its psychological dimension was richly compelling—never more so than this season. It’s hard to imagine a more inherently interesting topic than the sibling relationship, with its intrinsic solidarities and built-in forms of competition. And I could never get enough of the shifting alliances between the three (well, four) Roys, whose shared damage made them the only people capable of understanding each other even as it conditioned them to try to destroy one another. I would also contend that Succession’s tale of a patriarch who won’t retire has a particular resonance given the real concentration of wealth and power among senior citizens—not because the show’s hothouse flower protagonists captured anything new in a broad sense about that predicament, but because so much family conflict does indeed play out intergenerationally. (Please don’t read anything into this, Mom and Dad!)

Maybe that’s why the scene I keep going back to from the finale is the one in which Shiv and Roman, having temporarily agreed to join forces with Kendall, make him a disgusting smoothie—or what they all call, in a childlike sing-song, a “meal fit for a king.” As the siblings goof around in their mother’s kitchen, it feels almost like they’re tunneling back into their shared childhood—as if they could rewrite history, fusing themselves together at the primordial point where their father began splitting them. It’s a moment of sheer guilelessness unlike any we’ve seen before in this series—which is why its inevitable betrayal felt to me, when it came, like a point of no return. Even as Kendall drinks the strange brew his siblings have made for him, we know that this stunted trio and their fragile bond will surely be dashed against the shoals of the adult world, which they are so unprepared to take part in, or even perhaps to survive.

Mari Cohen (associate editor): For most of the time one is watching Succession, it’s easy enough to forget that the squabbling Roy siblings are engaged in a fight over inheriting what is specifically a media company—American Television Network, a rough analogy to Fox News, is the marquee product of Waystar Royco. Sure, there are a few hints as to what the hundreds of thousands of employees ruled by the Roy patriarch and his cronies are actually doing with their time—we see mentions of a popular Tucker Carlson like demagogue figure; a campaign against the network by a Bernie Sanders stand-in; a feud with the well-heeled Pierce family, who own a competing liberal news network. But otherwise, the world of Succession characters is siloed into private jets, boardrooms, chauffeured limos, and doormanned Manhattan lofts, distant from any average American home where ATN might be blaring day and night and mostly uninterested in the army of news vans ostensibly trawling the country at the family’s behest. The siblings have no grand vision for political change, no desire for public influence or even artistic vanity; they are negotiating over nothing more than access to corporate power and to the thrilling game of profit maximization. (It’s worth noting that they’re not really even negotiating over their ability to enrich themselves, since each kid already has access to 100 millions of dollars in cashable shares. Personal wealth is such a constant that it melts into air, no longer a meaningful motivating factor. Money, here, is a poker chip or Monopoly bill, simply something to up the stakes of the game.) Only occasionally are we reminded that decisions leak out from the boardrooms the siblings occupy, down the company chain, and into other people’s lives. In a famous and painfully on the nose season 2 scene, Kendall Roy shows up unannounced to Vaulter, Waystar Royco’s newly acquired digital news startup, and fires every single one of the company’s employees on the spot. This is corporate’s response to flagging traffic and an incipient staff unionization effort, he claims. Vaulter’s content, impact, and approach are irrelevant—the acquisition is a line item on a spreadsheet. For Kendall, if Vaulter means anything, it’s just an opportunity to impress his father.

The final stretch of Succession’s final season once again brings the Roys’ machinations in direct contact (though here only minimal conflict) with a news operation. This time, the show places us on the floor of ATN on presidential election night for an hour-long, anxiety-inducing episode that had me pacing around my living room. I found myself experiencing somatic echoes of November 2016 and 2020, sick to my stomach over whether a nationalist figure even creepier than Trump would successfully win a presidency in a fictional world. As vote tallies begin to roll in from various states, Succession reminds us that, even if a network like ATN has no official right to nominate the president, it certainly has outsized power to create a narrative that, once rooted, is hard to undo. In the last ten minutes of the episode, where we see different characters discuss how ATN’s call will influence court decisions and victory speeches, we realize how liable material events are to bend to a media narrative’s will.

In real life, the editorial side of news networks would probably be slightly more firewalled from corporate operations, but the fact that these decisions are made by insulated executives rings true. In this episode and the following ones, Shiv Roy becomes, alternately, the audience’s moral stand-in—a liberal genuinely horrified at the prospect of a Mencken presidency—and symbol of morality’s true and total irrelevance, as she later courts Mencken anyway in hope of gaining power. Yes, Shiv talks about wanting to clean up ATN and root out its right-wing fear mongers, but it’s never a core demand, never a clear vision, never something that can’t be compromised for the sake of the CEO seat. By the finale, fittingly, ATN’s political entanglements and the hordes of anti-Mencken protestors rallying against the network have mostly receded into the background, with Kendall, Roman, and Shiv back in their Upper East Side castles and Caribbean vacation homes, trying to outmaneuver each other. This is about them, not anyone else. The news is just any product, and the audience is just any consumer.

Arielle Angel (editor-in-chief): The most reasonable read on the moment Shiv realizes that she’s going to vote “yes” on the GoJo sale and hand the family company over to a sociopathic Swedish edgelord is that Shiv has just made a quick power calculation: She thinks she’s going to have more power with Tom at the helm than if it’s Kendall. And if she can land the fatal stab in Ken’s heart, considering how dismissive and nakedly duplicitous he’s always been in relation to her ambitions, all the better.

But I saw this moment very differently: as a moment of grace, even care, for the men in her life, one that is all the more powerful for how rarely (if ever) these virtues appear in the show. After all, Shiv knows by now she can’t trust either of these men; Tom has fucked her over at least as many times as Ken, and if anything, Tom’s backstabbing has felt like an even deeper betrayal.

But remember, Shiv wants Tom. She explicitly asks him, in her own miserly way, if he’s willing to stay with her. And as much as she tries to pass it off as some kind of “arrangement,” her watery eyes make clear that the request is her attempt to mitigate some profound chasm of loneliness in her life, to have something resembling “family.” It’s easy to forget that Shiv wants Tom given how clearly she sees all that’s odious in him—and how often she expresses it, to his face and behind his back (her comment to Mattson about Tom’s alacrity to “suck the biggest dick in the room” seems relevant here). But if you see those acts as the compulsive behaviors of an abused child, and not necessarily as expressions of hatred or contempt, things start to shift. The truth is that while Tom might be capable of a loving relationship with another partner, Shiv, like all of the Roy children, is not. Tom is what she has, and he is wavering on whether she is what he wants. In that regard, I read her last-minute vote reversal as her gift to Tom, the ultimate olive branch, and a way she might push him, at least for the moment, to consider her shitty offer. Much has been made of the unclasped hand-hold at the end of the episode, but this is basically the marriage they had before. It’s not a deterioration: It’s back to the status quo.

I also don’t think this moment is without concern for her brothers. In fact, if I had to parse the look on her face in that boardroom scene—even before she realizes what she might give to Tom—it seems to be a kind of ineffable realization of how this whole saga has mangled the siblings from the moment of their very birth. That first look is a look of horror, and also the mask she has repeatedly had to wear to cover the horror. A “no” vote promises more of the same. Of course, Ken comes back to her with all the wrong reasons why she should stay the course: He makes it about him, and argues only glancingly that his success would also benefit her, which gives her the chance to consider Tom. The icing on the cake is when he skips to patriarchal entitlement: “I’m the eldest boy!” he shouts at her, as if that isn’t the expression of everything that harms her. And yet, when Shiv tells Ken that she doesn’t think he’d be “good at it,” I don’t see malice, but mercy. Ken thinks he’ll die if he doesn’t ascend the throne. He may very well die if he does. Roman recognizes the mercy—and the rightness—of Shiv’s decision. Ken may never recognize it, but I don’t think this is the end for the siblings. The truth is that their father and his empire has made them as lonely as they are brutal. But this has made their relationships surprisingly resilient; there is no one else who understands this like one another.

One last, somewhat unrelated thought: A friend asked me by text, “Why not Shiv? She could have done it.” I was baffled by this take, and then I had to step back to examine my own bafflement. Did I really think there was evidence that Shiv was a less serious contender than either of her brothers, or was I just told over and over by the men in the show that she was no good? Was she incapable of rising because she wasn’t savvy or cutthroat enough, or because, at the end of the day, the men were never going to allow her to ascend? One thing to admire in this season is the masterful way it plays with the complicity of the audience. Why do we root for our silly, evil, undeserving overlords? Personally, I’ve been sitting with the way I was recruited into the show’s misogyny. Sorry, Shiv.

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And Jewish Currents contributor and nightlight producer Fancy Feast is co-hosting an all-star, anything-goes, highbrow-meets-lowbrow burlesque and variety extravaganza on Sunday, June 4th at 7:30 at the Abrons Arts Center headlined by Drag Race winner Sasha Velour! The Fuck You Revue’s JEWTOPIA is co-produced by the New Jewish Culture Fellowship and the Jewish Museum of Maryland as part of “Material/Inheritance,” an exhibition of boundary-pushing, community-building contemporary Jewish art. You can buy tickets here, and if you’re in New York, you should check it out!