Succession ended with a memorable and grand season finale that was as powerful as the series itself. Jesse Armstrong’s four-season story of the Waystar family has always been more than just a TV show: it has essentially teetered on the edge of comedy and drama, drawing on elements of both sitcoms and Shakespearean tragedies. There are many different aspects to the analysis of the prismatic series, all of which tend to follow from this: Succession is in fact a critique of Fox News, but it was also about much more… What is the ultimate legacy of the series?
“Speak again, and out of nothing shall come what will” (Shakespeare: King Lear)
The arc of the series is really about the heirs of media mogul Roy Waystar trying to go from nothing to something, then failing again and again and returning to nothing. They have enough power to confuse the world in the process, of course, but not enough to fundamentally change their destiny, which is the source of the satirical bitterness of the series. Maybe they could become somebody, there is some potential in each of them, and maybe they could succeed if they ever got real love from their father… This kind of nothingness is of course as much the father’s fault as it is the offspring’s. He has built a vast empire for himself, which can only be followed by nothing.
The Succession was originally going to be a documentary about Rupert Murdoch, the man who runs the world’s most powerful complex (his empire is also backed by The Sun tabloid and Fox News in the US), but the project was eventually scuppered and Armstrong began work on a fiction series about the family that runs a fictional media company. So he not only modelled the Roys on the Murdochs, but also drew on the lives and families of a number of media moguls (such as CBS and Viacom CEO Sumner Redstone and Robert Maxwell, who runs the Mirror Group) and read a lot of sources to better understand the world he portrayed. This is how the main characters of Succession, Roy Waystar and his children Kendall, Shiv and Roman, were born. HBO quickly liked the idea and the pilot was made, which started filming on November 9, 2016 – the day after Donald Trump was elected president, to everyone’s surprise. And the impact of this can be felt in the series: the world of Succession is fictional, but it cannot be separated from reality. In fact, there is not a single positive character who is not driven by the desire for power and money, and they give up their principles one by one when business interests demand it. Succession is as much about the corruption of power as it is often about the abhorrence of power.
Succession is perfectly in tune with the zeitgeist and zeitgeist of today, when people are less and less trusting of the media and more critical than usual, often downright hateful of the rich – think of the films The Sadness Triangle or The Hunger Games. And the elite we see in the series are exactly what we want to see: a collection of completely unviable idiots who have undeservedly been put in a position to control our destiny.