Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo

I Can’t Look Away from “Succession,” But Why?

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at SLU chapter.

“‘Succession’ is a dumpster fire and I cannot look away.”

This is how I have been describing the show “Succession” to anyone who has inquired about shows I binged over the summer.

“Succession” is a black comedy-drama television series that focuses on the dysfunctional and wealthy Roy family, who own Waystar RoyCo, a media and entertainment conglomerate. The show revolves around the mind games of social politics and greed, the fight to maintain control over their company and how family may matter, but money and power matters much more. The show is loosely inspired by the powerful media family, the Murdoch’s.

Created by Jesse Armstrong, “Succession” has been widely acclaimed since its premiere in 2018 with countless nominations for its writing, wit and acting. Jeremy Strong, Brian Cox and Sarah Snook have received Golden Globe awards for their performances, and many of the other actors have received nominations for a Golden Globe and/or Emmy award. The drama received 33 Emmy nominations for its third season.

I started this show a few months ago, but found myself unable to get past the few episodes. The plot and characters made me so angry that I couldn’t go on. Although I was aware the show was satire, I couldn’t look past how horrible the siblings treated one another and their arrogant display of wealth.

However, I was eventually convinced to try the show again, and this time, it stuck.

To anyone who also has attempted the first episode of this HBO show and been repulsed by every character, here is my advice for trying “Succession” again: tell yourself it’s a comedy, not a drama, and force yourself to laugh when you want to give one of the character’s a black eye.

Once you accept that every character is horrible and likely will not change, you’ll begin to find the dialogue amusing and recognize how powerful the show’s message actually is.

At the end of the day, “Succession” is a show about wealth, specifically how the top-wealth owners view the world. The Roy family, although aware of their uber-wealth, are also blinded by it, unable to imagine their affluent lives any differently. Most viewers likely find themselves relating more to Cousin Greg, a relative who comes from the humble side of the Roy family but nonetheless wants to try his hand at Waystar. Whereas the Roy family is snobbish, Greg is new to their extravagant displays of wealth and shocked as he finds himself tangled in business matters.

A key element to the show’s popularity is its political relevance. The Roy family represents the top 1% of wealth-owners. Today, there is a significant debate about the taxation of the wealthiest people. According to a White House report, the richest 400 Americans pay an average 8.2% federal income tax, while the average American pays 13.03%. Federal wealth taxes were key points of topic in the 2020 Presidential Election, with many Democratic candidates proposing 2-3% yearly taxes on those making over $50,000. A majority of Americans are bothered by the belief that some corporations and wealthy people do not pay “their fair share in taxes,” which explains why many are immediately turned off by the extreme affluence of the Roy family. Especially for people who strongly support taxing the wealthy more than what they currently are, “Succession” can be infuriating.

Conflicting emotions between hate and absolute fascination seem to define those who follow and love “Succession.” It’s no secret that the media we love often strays from how we see ourselves and our own, often more mundane, lives and “Succession” is no different. There is a fantastical element to the experience of watching “Succession,” the sensation of watching something entirely out of this world. Writer Rosalyn Wikeley describes the show as  “the opportunity to peer into uncensored territory.” The outlandish wealth and arrogance of the characters cannot help but leave viewers unexplainably fascinated by their behavior—and their wealth.

However, fascination doesn’t mean the characters are worth looking up to. Their displays of wealth and arrogance aren’t enticing, they’re horrifying. Journalist Emily Nussbuam writes on the brilliance of how the Roy family is crafted: “The great strength of the show is that it manages to deepen these monstrous characters—to grant them meaningful context, even pathos—without glamorizing them. They’re ultrapowerful weaklings, not cathartic fantasy figures.” Whereas other shows which depict the ultra-wealthy, such as “Gossip Girl” or “Revenge” make the character’s affluence appealing and favorable, “Succession” is clear in revealing that these characters are not heroes, they’re the villains.

In fact, to many, watching “Succession” is a morally uplifting experience. With the appalling actions and words of just about every character on screen, the show can give people a sense of pride in themselves, a pat on the back of reassurance. A professor of sociology at the University of California-Davis, Dr. Laura Grindstaff says that the show gives viewers “a sense of superiority or vindication.” Although many are attracted by the family’s lavish lifestyles, the opulence of the show does not persuade people to build their own flawed family dynasties.

It’s difficult to fully explain why this show has caught my eye, but I’ll admit it: I’m hooked. Media has always been a form of escapism personally, and it’s safe to say the Roy family are far from how I see myself. What is even stranger about the dual emotions of love and hate that I experience while watching this show is a faint presence of empathy. No, I don’t feel sorry for the characters (well, maybe Kendall), but instinctively, I find myself needing someone to root for out of the unlikeable batch. However, this empathy doesn’t stretch far. Empathy for the characters of “Succession” ultimately is asking myself the question of which character I hate the least in this episode.

I current serve as the Co Editor-in-Chief for the Her Campus SLU chapter! I love Nora Ephron movies, cups of tea, and trips to the library! When I'm not writing, you can find me playing the New York Times mini games or listening to my favorite podcasts.