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Succession Season 4 Episode 8 Review: It's Mourning In America

  • More dark satire of presidential election night, which fully lives up to its billing as one of the season's most "shocking" episodes.
  • The ensemble are at their scummy best, as they wrangle the comedy out of the depths their characters will sink to. They are TV's best cast for a reason, and they will be missed.
  • Unfortunately, "Succession" is always at its weakest when directly paralleling real life events — even if this suggests a darker timeline than ours, we know the Roys will be shielded from the hell they've brought loose.
  • Doesn't feel like a direct route towards a season finale, hinting at a subplot that can't be wrapped up in two episodes.

It shouldn't be a surprise that the Roy siblings would happily drag democracy into the gutter with them if it meant coming out on top, and I always feel like "Succession" is at its weakest when drawing its parallels with real-life events too closely. This makes any episode centering on the in-universe presidential election something of an uphill climb for me. ATN News does go one further than its real-life counterpart Fox in definitively calling the election for the far-right candidate before the votes have finished being counted, a chain of events likely to backfire in the final two episodes. Viewers will likely start assuming WayStar is speed-running towards sudden bankruptcy, or at least a costly court settlement like Fox News had to pay out recently.

But even though this week's episode, like last week's "Tailgate Party," remains consistently entertaining, it doesn't feel like a series nearing its conclusion. If we hadn't been told in advance of the season that this would be the last, would this episode have the sense it was nearing finality, or just that it was another hour with our favorite self-interested brats bumbling their way through running a news organization, haplessly triggering domestic terrorist attacks in the process?

The Real Disgusting Brothers

This week represents "Succession" at its darkest. We know Roman Roy (Kieran Culkin) is a POS, sympathetic to some fascist ideals from prior seasons. But this episode is masterful at illustrating just how close Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong) is to him morally, willing to sell out family members he isn't even in business with. Starting the episode reassuring his daughter that the nice-but-uninspiring candidate will win in a triumph of democracy, the resulting hour is a painful crawl to him giving in and getting into bed with the devil, attempting to overturn an election just to stop his company's buy-out in its tracks. It's foreboding stuff, but not in a way that feels like it could be neatly wrapped up within two episodes — especially as we keep getting informed that this could lead to a prolonged court case lasting months, if not years, to come.

I often think back to creator Jesse Armstrong's argument as to why COVID hasn't been a factor in the "Succession" seasons that have aired following the pandemic, stressing that it barely altered the lives of the rich and famous. Similarly, no outcome of the presidential election should have a lasting impact on the Roys either, who will still be in the one percent no matter what happens — making the decision to focus singularly on it in recent episodes less dramatically engaging than it ought to be. Even as we hear about polling stations set on fire, these are events that have no foundation in their lives, with the show's attempts to drift from their myopic focus in this plot line somewhat frustrating.

With the exception of Shiv Roy (Sarah Snook), who likes to project more liberal beliefs than her brothers (even if she is just as bad as them), this shouldn't be as significant a cause for concern as it is to other characters — it should be treated solely as a source for tasteless jokes, just like how Tom Wambsgans (Matthew Macfadyen) and Roman initially react to it. Both Macfadyen and Culkin are at their scummy best this week, with the former getting some of the best comedic material to work with since the season premiere. Again, that we're lapsing back into a straightforward political satire about the super-rich's personal beliefs at this stage of the run makes it hard to sense an appropriate climax in sight: this feels like a show being set up to run for a few more seasons without Brian Cox's lingering presence, not one winding down in its closing stretch.

Is the series finale really two weeks away?

Yes, the network's false reporting could tank the deal and lead to long-gestating legal inquiries — but as we know from real life, networks of this size can settle lawsuits and move on unperturbed, their loyal audience unlikely to start doubting their trustworthiness. The insulated nature of the Roys from the rest of the world makes any anxieties they have about helping to elect an authoritarian candidate somewhat insignificant; they'll be shielded from tragedies happening elsewhere in the country by nature of their privilege. What is unclear is just how this week's events will trigger the downfall of the empire their father built, which even with the drastic consequences to come from them calling a still up-in-the-air election, doesn't seem like the stake-in-the-heart of ATN that it should be. Riots are happening outside the newsroom, but it feels like everybody inside it remains on the same page that they were yesterday, even with the potential downfall of a republic on their hands.

This is ultimately my issue with what is otherwise another darkly comic outing with the morally repugnant family (make no mistake: I liked the episode, as much as I'm spending this week's review criticizing it). The wider world is rarely a factor in their decision-making process, so an hour spent considering the ramifications of the station's reporting beyond their vested business interests has dramatically limited possibilities. We know the Roys would have no qualms about being on the wrong side of history if it helped them stay afloat in the moment, so it never quite rings true as a moral dilemma for them, with the episode at its best as a pitch-black comedy of errors as they opt for every bad decision available. Perhaps the darkest joke of all comes from Kendall's internal dilemma at being a responsible parent, something we know he's incapable of considering how rarely he has been seen with his children in the show's entire run. It's through its satire that I understand why Jesse Armstrong described this week's episode as its most "shocking" – even though the real shock is just how insulated from the catastrophe they've inflicted they are.

An episode taking place in this universe on election day is much more amusing than I predicted it would be, even if it does play out as a particularly nihilistic "Veep" subplot pushed into center stage. It takes such focus, that the big secrets Shiv has been hiding all season (her pregnancy and her secret plan with Alexander Skarsgård's Lukas Matsson) are both revealed more casually than anticipated — the show is masterful at dropping long-hinted-towards bombshells to other characters with a shrug of the shoulders, despite the collateral damage they will cause. What would be a dark day for anybody else, amid a particularly dark day for the America of "Succession," is just business as usual for this family.