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Succession S4 Episode 8: Jesse Armstrong On Those Unsettling Election Parallels

Contains spoilers for Succession Season 4, Episode 8 — "America Decides"

In its final season, "Succession" delivers stunning episodes week after week that remind us exactly why we'll miss the award-winning hit. In the pivotal election episode, the series eerily reflects harrowing nights in American history while also showcasing riveting performances. Following the gripping installment, series creator Jesse Armstrong talked about toeing the line between fact and fiction, and how he was inspired by real-life events to craft the episode.

As pointed out by The Hollywood Reporter, Armstrong dove into the method behind the madness in referencing that chaotic 2016 night in America on the "Succession" after-show podcast. He mentioned how the writers avoided obvious depictions that chillingly capture the harsh reality with some fictional and comforting distance: "We use real-life analogs, and we think about them a lot, but we hopefully don't slavishly follow the jumping off point for what we want to do in this fictional world."

Armstrong also outlined the unpredictability that derives from the news outlets' part in revealing election results, which drives the thrilling "America Decides" episode: "It's a curiosity [of the American system] that the news organizations have this out-sized role in calling the election. You're not hearing the election result; you're hearing news organizations predicting the election result, and that's an interesting pressure point that they have on the system." That unnerving element sets Waystar Royco's ATN news organization as the center stage for announcing the disturbing results of the tight race for the United States Presidency.

Armstrong wanted to avoid portraying Mencken as a parody

"Succession"'s distressing episode conjures up uneasy feelings and memories from the 2016 presidential election. Jeryd Mencken (Justin Kirk) seems like an unlikely and outlandish candidate until ATN plays a crucial role in seeing him elected. Because of their quick decision-making, they preemptively called a state for Mencken when the results were still yet to be confirmed. This further snowballed the chaos of the election, which eventually ended with Mencken's narrow win and lead to his uncanny acceptance speech.

At this moment, Mencken best resembles his real-life neo-fascist counterpart, Donald Trump, especially in his victory speech mannerisms and diction. On the official after-show podcast, Armstong discussed how he and his fellow writers captured this portrayal without cheapening it or turning Mencken into a parody version of Trump. "We want the world to feel complete and not a satire in a kind of cheap way. So, he's evidently more eloquent and a rather more ideological figure and therefore feels more chilling." This commitment to authenticity makes the parallel feel even more real and effective, which grounds the episode in a stark reality.

Had Armstrong and his talented team not had the foresight to go this route, the series would've missed the mark entirely. Instead, it was deftly handled in a disquieting way that grasps the hollow tone of the evening with masterful precision.