Editor’s Note: The following contains major spoilers about the eighth episode of “Succession’s” fourth season, “America Decides.”
For the Roy children, it’s a long way back to that group-hug moment they shared earlier in the season, on what can only be described as a very-“Succession” election night.
Forgive viewers of the HBO drama – as well as Fox News employees – for perhaps experiencing a bit of post-traumatic stress as they watched the show’s brilliant election-themed episode, which brought politics and Waystar Royco’s influence through its conservative cable network, ATN, together in a dizzying mishmash of 21st-century elections.
Indeed, series creator Jesse Armstrong, who wrote the hour, almost seems to have been reading the leaked emails and texts from the Fox-Dominion lawsuit, which revealed the behind-the-scenes apprehensions as network officials wrestled with the fallout from their election coverage while worrying about being outflanked by upstart competitors on the right.
On that score the episode, subtitled “America Decides,” presciently mirrored internal discussions at Fox, where executives fretted about angering Republicans and alienating a sizable portion of its audience.
This being a drama, Armstrong raised the stakes with a sobering twist on a nail-biting election that also sounded chillingly plausible: Acts of intimidation and potential terrorism aimed at a voting center in a key swing state, Wisconsin, potentially throwing the state to Republican candidate Jeryd Mencken (Justin Kirk), a demagogue who the left-leaning characters view as a potential threat to democracy.
The electoral turmoil also set the stage for conflict among the Roys, with Shiv (Sarah Snook) backing the Democrat, fearing the consequences of Mencken in the Oval Office; and Roman (Kieran Culkin) all in for Mencken, in part because he sees him as an ally in helping to impose regulatory hurdles that will kill the proposed merger with GoJo.
Caught in the middle, naturally, was Kendall (Jeremy Strong), the epitome of halting indecision, wanting an outcome that will scuttle the merger while sharing Shiv’s concerns, though not as politically savvy as to what that might mean.
The debate came down to a bullied decision-desk chief, the unprincipled network head Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) and the three Roys, realizing that whatever they said on air would give the Mencken campaign’s claims of victory legitimacy.
The election drama was so tense and pointed that it overshadowed, without eclipsing, the continuation of Tom and Shiv’s epic fight from the previous week. When she finally informed him that she was pregnant, he numbly responded, “Is that even true? Or is that a new position or a tactic?”
Ultimately, Armstrong delivered a thought-provoking observation about dysfunctional media dynasties, placing corporate interests ahead of ethics or journalism and the potential collateral damage that can inflict.
Echoes of the Fox-Dominion lawsuit, meanwhile, could be found in another exchange between Tom and Shiv, with the former playing the good corporate soldier, citing the importance of the network recognizing its “unique perspective” and the need “to respect our viewership,” mirroring concerns voiced privately by Fox executives in 2020.
To that notion of respecting the audience’s feelings, Shiv snapped back, “By not telling them anything that they don’t want to hear?”
After an hour of waffling it fell to Kendall to cast the deciding vote, concluding – with a push from Shiv’s betrayal by serving as a conduit of information to Matsson (Alexander Skarsgård) – that Mencken was “a guy we can do business with,” setting aside her warnings about the country’s future.
Of course, the Roys still have the little matter, mentioned during the episode, of their father’s funeral. There will surely be fireworks there, too, but what they helped bury on election night promises to have greater ramifications.
At one point, half-brother Connor Roy (Alan Ruck), the hapless presidential candidate, delivered the episode’s funniest line, saying, “It just makes an election so much more interesting when you’re in it.”
“Succession” has created its own parallel world, but even so, a fictional election is so much more interesting when you feel like you’ve partially lived it.
HBO, like CNN, is a unit of Warner Bros. Discovery.