Mark Overanalyses Film

Succession Pt II

January 31, 2023 Season 2 Episode 10
Succession Pt II
Mark Overanalyses Film
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Mark Overanalyses Film
Succession Pt II
Jan 31, 2023 Season 2 Episode 10

Mark does not think Greg would be Europe's weirdest King as he continues to wonder what makes Succession so riveting, how the show is a classic example of fractal structure, and how this family keep finding new and exciting ways to be this terrible.

Show Notes Transcript

Mark does not think Greg would be Europe's weirdest King as he continues to wonder what makes Succession so riveting, how the show is a classic example of fractal structure, and how this family keep finding new and exciting ways to be this terrible.

Hi everybody and welcome to Mark Overanalyses Film! Today, I will be continuing my overanalysis of the Jesse Armstrong created HBO series Succession.

In part 1, I went through the main characters, the pilot episode, and the main beats of season 1. Today, in order to not drowned in detail and to keep it interesting, I’d like to first do an in-depth analysis of the 3 main character arcs in season 2, then discuss more broadly the role I believe Season 3 fulfils in the series overall, and then take a look at what that might mean for the remainder of the show. 

A quick reminder here before I get started, as it will be important throughout: as far as I’m concerned the engine of Succession is the pervading question “Who will take over the company?”. However, to my mind, the real tension that keeps us engaged is whether or not the children, especially Kendall as the main protagonist, will achieve their Need or Needs, and in doing so truly move past their father to become their own self-defined, well-rounded persons. Again, I believe that Kendall’s principle Need in this regard is to gain courage and self-conviction; Roman’s is to knuckle down, focus, and really achieve something on merit; and Shiv’s is to learn to be vulnerable and love unselfishly. All these needs are swishing about and each of the siblings exhibit elements of them all, but I think as we go through the seasons, we can clearly see that there is one main thing that each main character is shown to lack over and over and over again. 

So, with that reminder in place, I’d like to pick up where I left off, much like a new season of Succession, and kick into the structure of Succession’s season 2.

Now, Season 2 follows the same pattern as season 1 very closely. Episodes 1 and 2 function as our ‘Act I’, episodes 3-8 function as our longer Act II, and finally the last 2 episodes as our final Act.  

This time, I’d like to try to walk through the shape of season 2 following all 3 full siblings to show how they all have the same shape to their arc. Hopefully this won’t get ‘too’ messy! So, we’re going to see if Kendall can gain some courage, if Roman can gain some elbow grease, and if Shiv can open up a bit and make herself vulnerable.

So, we begin with act I, which is made up of episodes 1 and 2. Now, you could argue that the inciting incident — or the event without which our story as it is would not happen — for the season is the events of the previous season’s finale. However, for the season itself, it’s really Logan telling Shiv that she’s the one that will replace him. This is what restarts the engine proper. In season 1, it was Ken who was wrestling for the top job. Now, it’s Shiv who almost has it but not quite. Anyways, in our first act we see that Kendall is really broken. But we also see that he really is effective once he has some conviction and direction. He shows this once he snaps to in his interview at the very start of the season, and again in episode 2 when he shutters Vaulter with extreme prejudice. The problem is: it’s not his conviction or direction. He literally tells the head of Vaulter, his only reason to do it was cos his Dad told him to. And just a quick note as well here: in an important foreshadowing of our climactic dilemma, at the end of episode 2, Kendall is invited into his father’s inner sanctum when he’s willing to publicly “wear” the Vaulter fiasco. Meanwhile, when our season 2 starts, Roman is theoretically in pole position, but manages to squander it by simply not being serious enough. In his one-to-one chat with Logan, he seems to think they can use the news division like they run a one-party police state. This ends up landing him co-COO, in the same position as Kendall — the one person who they should all absolutely be out ahead of right now. And again in episode 2, he convinces Logan to close Vaulter, but then can’t figure out what he’s actually meant to be doing when he’s told to go do his homework on the place. Finally, there’s Shiv. Shiv begins this season by immediately abandoning her honeymoon with Tom to get back to the business. She then gets exactly what she wants, but really not what she needs: the offer to succeed her father. And, notably, she does not immediately tell Tom. She does eventually tell him in episode 2, but won’t admit that she actually really wants it. The first act then ends when she officially quits her political job and asks to be looped in. The 3 kids are now in their starting positions, and so we begin Act II. 

Now, act II runs from episodes 3 to 8, and like any good second act, we have a clear central dramatic question to give the story its shape. The heart of Dramatic tension is this: Someone wants something badly, and is having great difficulty getting it. And in season 2 of Succession, there is one clear overriding tension: Will Shiv manage to be made the next CEO? This is the question raised at the end of episode 2, and seemingly answered at the end of episode 8: the end of our second act.

So, the first part of our second act is always our 3rd sequence or stage: the first attempts to solve the problem. This is also where the main character exhibits a refusal of the call to their Need. And so, Kendall rats out Roman to do his father’s bidding. Roman screws up royally thinking he can rely on schmoozing and connections. And Shiv cheats on Tom. But this then gives way to the acceptance of the call, or the character’s first unconscious move towards their need. And so, at the end of episode 3, Roman begins to seriously consult Gerri, and seems to accept that he needs to go on a corporate training programme. Meanwhile, Shiv actually seems to feel genuinely guilty about using Tom to do her bidding, and then cheating on him while he did so. Kendall’s first unconscious move though, appears to occur in the next episode, when he begins to frequent the roof of the company skyscraper. It looks for all the world that he is ideating an extreme kind of escape from his pain. At the end of the episode, however, he discovers that even that escape will not be permitted, as the roof is suddenly walled with plexiglass. Throughout this episode, Shiv also hugs Kendall and for a brief moment they actually seem to treat each other like real siblings, and Roman begins to actually work and meet actual, real people. Oh, and he has dodgy phone sex with Gerri. Just in case it got too straightforward. 

We then approach the midpoint of the season, where the characters make their first conscious moves towards their needs. So, Shiv ends up being humbled as her hubris gets the better of her and she announces at a dinner that she will be the next CEO. The pressure from this does actually bring her temporarily closer to Tom though, as she allows herself to be honest and vulnerable with him. As for Roman, he seems to break up with his flighty-seeming party girl partner, and has a kind-of in-person sexual encounter with Gerri. The relationship hardly seems ideal in the use of power dynamics and abuse, but Gerri is a serious person who has some kind of genuine connection with Roman. Most importantly though, Ken meets Naomi Pierce, an actual kindred spirit. Perhaps too much of a kindred spirit as another addict. But Ken finally, finally, finally has someone to really relate to. And at the end of episode 5, right around the exact midpoint of the season, he tells her to escape her family.   

This all then triggers the Honeymoon sequence of episode 6, and a little of episode 7 for Ken. Right at our series midpoint, the cruises dam finally bursts, and the family are really under threat now. Kendall, acting in accordance with his Need, eventually realises that they should do the best they can to address historic wrongdoing. He then once again stands up to his father when Logan hits Roman in the face and knocks his tooth out. Before getting said tooth knocked out, Roman proposes a rockstar-mole woman alliance with Gerri. Now, Shiv here is a bit more of a grey area to my mind. On the one hand, she’s pretty Shiv about the whole cruises thing. She hardly seems deep down overly concerned about the women who were so clearly abhorrently treated by her father’s company, and is far, far more concerned about keeping any splashback away from her. She then seems to think she can go out and say whatever she wants publicly and not get reprimanded for it. So, pretty classic Shiv. On the other hand, she does get jealous when she sees Tom chatting to another woman, and admits as much at the end of the episode. This gives Tom a rare moment of feeling at least some kind of love or care. 

But, the honeymoon period is not to last for any of them. And so, Kendall is brought low again for daring to question his father and getting involved with Naomi. Logan drags him to the house of the waiter who died at the end of season 1, and the whole thing decimates Kendall all over again. He tries to tell his mother about it, but she is typically uninterested in actually helping or supporting her children. Meanwhile, Shiv releases a statement that is pretty openly mocked by just about everyone. More importantly though, Tom is really panicked by being investigated internally, and Shiv barely even registers that he’s there. She’s back to completely taking him for granted, cos all she can think about is what she wants. And of course, her unchecked ambition and hubris walks her right into a trap set by Rhea. She allows Rhea to talk her up, and then accepts the compliment of being suggested as Pierce’s next CEO. This allows Logan to dress her down, and it would now appear that she is out, and Rhea is in pole position. And so we begin episode 8, the end of our second act, and Season 2’s low point. 

Roman once again begins relying on schmoozing and connections, and accidentally buys the wrong football club for Logan. Shiv, as per usual, can’t get anyone to go along with her, because of her transparent self-interest. In the end, she switches tack and uses her ruthlessness to her advantage. She withholds information from Logan about how bad the cruises’ situation is, and believing the appointment to now be a poisoned chalice, prompts Logan to make Rhea CEO. Again, though, Kendall and his lack of self-belief, is our main concern. And so, in episode 8, he is back to believing that Logan is always right, even rapping in public about it! Again, I’m not saying lack of self-belief is his “only” problem… Anyways, worst of all, he flies over the girl he’s seeing, gets awkward when she points out how much he talks about his father, and then sends her packing once it’s clear that Logan disapproves of her. And he doesn’t even have the guts to tell her to her face. And did I mention he raised the fact that he owns a movie studio to get this actress to visit him? Jesus, Kendall, even for you! The man appears to have no conviction or self-belief whatsoever. This is his low point. And so we end act II, and we enter act III.

Act III here is episodes 9 and 10. Episode 9 acts as our false resolution. So, Ken attacks congress for Logan, and accepts being thrown under the bus in public by his own father. While this is going on, Roman is sent off to play to his strengths. He’s sent off to people please Azerbaijani aristocrat coke-fiend Eduard. And it seems to go well enough, until a militia turns up and holds them all hostage. But, perhaps most telling of all, in this false resolution of not achieving their needs, Shiv convinces a female witness not to testify about her family’s corporation’s wrongdoing. It’s quite chilling to watch her prey on the woman’s fears.

But: this is the false resolution, and it does give way to the true resolution. In Season 2’s final episode, the characters all finally at least quasi-embrace their Needs. First, Roman is hailed as a returning hero, but does the hard thing and rightly tells his father that though his schmoozing was successful, it cannot be relied upon. Roman appears to be getting some real sense, and for doing so, he is finally promoted to full COO. For her part, Shiv finally listens to Tom. She discovers that she is making him unhappy, and that she maybe can’t take this relationship and Tom’s feelings just so, so for granted. This leads her to plead with Logan not to set Tom up for the big fall. And it really doesn’t seem like a tactical decision, but one borne of real, genuine affection for Tom. But of course, that leaves one person. Kendall is the one selected to take the fall, and it looks for all the world like he’s willing to take it. However, at the last minute, in the show stopping end of season cliffhanger, Kendall finally gathers his courage and conviction and reveals to the world that his father is a powerful, malignant bully and must be stopped. Kendall has finally, truly taken a stand, and there would appear to be no going back now.  

So, hopefully, we can see here that all the characters have arcs that are running concurrently throughout the seasons. They all get set or reset at the start of the season, they are all in position by the end of episode 2. They all have some version of an unconscious move, a midpoint, a honeymoon period, a low point, a false resolution, and a true resolution all around the same time. It’s elegant, isn’t it?! It’s not something I ever would have noticed had I not become a gigantic story structure nerd and done something useful with my life instead. But thank God that didn’t happen.

Now, I don’t want to go through Season 3 with the same level of detail. Rather, I’d like to very quickly point out the arcs of the characters, and then I’d like to talk about the series overall shape so far, with special reference to Season 3 in this regard. 

So, this time I’ll go through the full siblings one by one. First, Kendall. In Season 3, Kendall’s journey is really that of a slowly deflating balloon. He starts off on a major, major high and ends up shattered into a million pieces after a possible suicide attempt. This season feels a little different for Kendall I think. In the previous seasons, whatever else he is, he is shown to be a hard worker and to know the details. In this season, he really just feels like a total fucking idiot. The details stuff does come back a bit at the end, and that might be the point, but I’ll get to that. When we meet Ken at the start of Season 3, he is absolutely full of it, and constantly craving validation. He becomes completely obsessed with his image. He thinks about nothing but his twitter and TV appearances. And who knows, maybe that is because he really does know that what he’s got isn’t really enough. But his season is the journey of him learning that he can’t compete, and that he really is a fraud. His first unconscious move is somewhere between Colin the bodyguard whispering “I know you” to him and Shiv releasing a biting statement revealing his addiction problems and his poor relationship with his kids. His first conscious move is then most likely his getting excommunicated by his father after the shareholder meeting. This leads to a ‘quote unquote’ honeymoon period where Tom tells him to his face that he is the one who always gets fucked. His ego briefly inflates up again for his 40th birthday party, but of course that leads to disaster. Because he is a shallow fraud, and he knows it. His low point is when he lies on Naomi’s lap shivering in a blanket at the end of episode 7. Remember, the low point is when the protagonist no longer believes the counter-argument, but the argument seems impossible. His mania is over, but he cannot at this point see a way back for himself to a meaningful, true life. This only gets exacerbated in the false resolution where his family won’t have anything to do with him, but his father also won’t let him go. This leads to his possible suicide attempt. Eventually, the siblings try to have an intervention, which fails. But they do manage to reconnect once they are forced to. And importantly: they are forced to come together by the very real threat that they are being abandoned by their father. Once they do, Kendall finds some purpose again. Until they all get screwed of course. But more on that in a minute. 

Roman also has a trajectory here. He starts off as very much the one most in his father’s corner. But he does have a first unconscious move when he refuses to sign a letter rejecting Kendall. Now, I think there are 2 potential midpoints you could point to for Roman, depending on your point of view. You could look at the moment in episode 4 when Gerri warns him to always keep his own self-interest in mind, which will pay off later. Or, you could look at the moment in episode 5 where he blows talking to the president but then gets back in with his father by jumping on a bad moment for Shiv. This kicks off a period where things look really good for Roman, but he is not acting in accordance with his Need. He picks a presidential candidate purely for some combination of ratings, shits, and giggles. Then, even by Roman standards, he behaves like an absolute shit at Kendall’s birthday. But he does get to use his strengths here. He convinces Matsson to talk to Logan about making a deal, which is a major coup. And the false resolution looks great for Roman. And then: there’s a dick pic incident. And everything unravels for Roman very fast. He’s rejected by Logan, then left out of the loop by Matsson, then coldly reminded by Gerri of the limitations of their deal. His reliance on people skills blows up spectacularly in his face. 

Finally then, there’s Shiv. Now, Shiv’s season is just wall to wall attempts and failures to use people. In act I alone, she tries to play both sides with her lawyer friend, but gets rejected. Then, she is delighted to hear that she will be president with acting CEO Gerri being used as her human hazmat suit. In episode 3, she’s delighted to hold a town hall, and then is so furious with Ken for ruining her exciting moment that she dishes all the dirt very publicly on him. You know it’s bad when even Roman says it’s too much. Now, in this episode there is also something of a first unconscious move for her and Tom. Tom suggests he could propose taking the fall for Logan, and her interest in piqued. She eventually rejects the idea, but Tom broaches it with Logan anyways. In episode 4, she attempts to railroad Tom, then Karl, then Mark Ravenhead with limited success. In episode 5, she finally appears to have a breakthrough when she orchestrates a deal behind Logan’s back to get herself a seat on the board… But it’s not terribly well received. Further, the wedge issue of having children really comes up here for her and Tom. There is at least a brief moment here where Tom gets to comfort her, which could be argued as their midpoint. Perhaps more importantly though, as Shiv is pissing her father off, Tom is never closer to him than in this midpoint episode. As for Shiv though, she then further fails to convince anyone of anything at the Republican meet up in the next episode, and by episode 7 she can’t even pretend to care that Tom is not actually going to prison. This leads to the couple’s low point, where they are both miserable in the car after the party. This carries into their most famous 3rd act yet. In the false resolution, Shiv decides to have children to spite her own mother, but in doing so tells Tom that she doesn’t love him. In the true resolution, in the final beat of the season, Shiv realises that Tom has actually betrayed her. This relationship might not be as one sided as she might have hoped.    

So, again here, we can see that there are concurrent plots playing out throughout the seasons. But it’s not just within episodes or individual seasons that this happens. As I referred to in Part I, I’m fascinated by the concept of fractal structure. Or that every part represents the whole, and vice versa. So, now I’d like to zoom out and briefly discuss everyone’s journeys up until the end of season 3. The reason for this is that I believe there will most likely be 5 seasons of Succession, and if that’s the case then it should theoretically lend itself to a Shakespearean-esque 5-act structural analysis. 

In this understanding, Season 1 is obviously our Act I, where all the parts get set up for the main adventure.

So, in our first act, we have our inciting incident of Logan having a stroke, which causes Kendall to make a play for the top job. When he fails to accomplish this within the company, we have a second stage where he attempts to do so from outside the company. Of course, at the end of this grand first act, Kendall is involved in an accident, and Logan covers it up for him. 

Now, in this theory, that means that the ‘middle’ of the story only really kicks off at the beginning of the second season. And I think this idea has some merit. Cos we know this fight isn’t really over, but now we have this question of how on Earth Kendall could ever take over or escape from his father when Logan knows he fled the scene in a fatal accident. It’s also at the beginning of season 2 that Shiv quits her job and officially starts playing the succession game in earnest. Plus, she’s now married, so the question of whether she and Tom can really make it work is fully in focus for this grand middle section. Roman is made co-COO under his father and soon allies with Gerri to make him a more credible challenger. 

Now, one of the reasons why I like this 5 act, fractal theory approach to Succession is because of how neatly Season 2 works with it. As you’ll recall, the second act is defined by the first attempts to solve the problem, and/or a Refusal and then Acceptance of the Call. So, Kendall’s first attempt to solve the problem is to allow himself to be completely subsumed by his father’s will. Shiv’s first attempt to get what she wants is to accept her father’s offer at face value and quit her job. Roman’s is to make a deal with Gerri and try to become more serious that way. They all also exhibit a refusal of the call to their Need. In reverse order, Roman buys the wrong football club and turns the Gerri partnership into an awkward sex thing. Shiv uses and abuses Tom throughout, as well as trying to play everyone all the time when it’s all pretty obviously self-serving. And Kendall does his father’s bidding and dumps multiple girlfriends because his father does not approve. But then, at the end of our second act, we have the acceptance of the call. Roman shows that he is not just a schmoozer, but a keen judge of people. Shiv finally hears Tom’s unhappiness, and can’t sell him out. But of course, Kendall’s is the clearest first unconscious move here. Suddenly, at the end of the second act, Kendall stands up to his father and publicly denounces him. Now, the reason why I regard this as an “unconscious” move is because, really, Kendall is not totally doing this for the right reasons. In an interview on the show’s official podcast, creator Jesse Armstrong states that the show is really all about people doing the wrong thing for the right reasons and the right thing for the wrong reasons. And you can really see that throughout.

So, then, our season III should be our 3rd / middle act. Here, again theoretically, the protagonist approaches and first obtains their Need and enjoys a brief Honeymoon period by trying out this new discovery. Why I think season 3 works so well as this midpoint or first conscious move towards the character’s need is largely because of the season’s midpoint and climax. The episode “Retired Janitors of Idaho” is of really particular interest to me, because I think it is the middle episode of the middle season: the midpoint of the midpoint. So, not only is it the episode of the major shareholder meeting that has been discussed for at least a season by this point, but — crucially — for the first time since the very first episodes, it asks the children to act in a world where their father is not really present. When Logan gets a UTI, he becomes delirious, and the kids have to figure out what to do on their own. In other words, it is a real taste of what it might be like when their father is not around any more, and if they can really move beyond him. It feels like an utterly apt midpoint for the show, and it would not surprise me at all if it ends up foreshadowing events towards the end of Season 5. This is of course also the midpoint for the season, which leads to this midpoint season’s denouement, where the kids suddenly “really” have to come to terms with a life without their father’s well worn pre-made groove for them. 

And this, again, is ultimately what Succession is all about. Can you ever truly move past having a tyrant for a parent like Logan Roy? One thing you might notice with these characters is how often they bring up the idea of being a ‘somebody’, or a ‘nobody’, or ‘a real person’ — especially when they want to hurt each other. It’s what Connor worries about at the end of Season 1. It’s how Logan turns the screws on Kendall. It’s how Kendall tries to defend himself against Roman. The cruises case reveals they designated the incidents with the expression “No real person involved.” These kids have allowed their father to decide who is real and who is not. Whether their father favours them or not makes them feel actually significant or not. Succession is far from over, and things are likely to get worse before they get better. IF they get better. Also, in the “Retired Janitors of Idaho” midpoint episode, Greg’s grandfather Ewan tells him that he needs to take himself seriously. And that’s what you hope for all these characters: can they truly take a good hard look at themselves and take themselves seriously, and truly on their own terms. That is the only way they will ever truly succeed Logan Roy.  

This has been Mark Overanalyses Film on Succession. Next time, for the final episode of Season 2, I will be looking at the structurally fascinating romcom: the phenomenal Groundhog Day! If you enjoyed this episode, please like, rate, follow, recommend, and whatever else it is that’s good for this kind of thing! A special thanks to Mary Kate O’Flanagan who taught me everything I know about film, including these methods. Thanks for listening. Take care of yourselves, and see you soon.