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‘Succession’s Election Episode Was Hard To Watch

Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong) in Succession

The political leanings of the Roy family on HBO’s Succession have always just been whatever benefits them the most. Shiv would at least work with Democratic candidates, but she would still also do whatever daddy asked her to do, and that would mean taking pictures with a Nazi-adjacent conservative candidate. And all of those elements came to a head in season 4 episode 8, titled “America Decides.”

ATN, the news network that Waystar Royco owns, has always been noted throughout the show, but in “America Decides,” we got to see exactly what happens when the news isn’t something we can proudly stand behind and exactly how our favorite characters react to it. From the introduction of Justin Kirk’s Jeryd Mencken, we’ve seen the divide of the Roy kids. Roman (Kieran Culkin) was infatuated with him, Shiv knew he aligned with Nazi views, and Kendall was doing whatever it was that his father said.

As we saw in episode 7, leading up to “America Decides,” the anger that Mencken breathes into society is akin to that of Donald Trump’s ideology. Kendall’s daughter Sophie (who is adopted) is confronted with the racist vitriol from the Mencken supporters and is tormented at school for what the Roy family did to uplift him, and we see how it’s tearing Kendall between supporting his father’s vision and what’s right for his daughter.

But all of this is led to an episode that was a little too close to home over our own political landscape and felt like rewatching the decline of American politics like we did during the 2016 election and even, in part, the 2020 election and subsequent attempted coup by Trump supporters. Succession really just hit home in a way that made fans uncomfortable about the Roys.

Sometimes, this show is just a little too real

Roman and Darwin in Succession

Succession has always been a complicated show. It’s a comedy, so you’re laughing with the Roy family, who would scoff at you in real life if you dared cross their path. It’s also a drama, so you’re crying at times because the show has manipulated you into caring about a bunch of rich brats. But at its core, it’s a show about deeply flawed people who are not ones to be coddled. Roman Roy and Connor Roy are two men who clearly wanted the love and affection from their father that Logan was incapable of giving to his children, and Kendall struggles with basic emotions but they’re all rich and willing to destroy democracy to keep it that way.

But this episode hurts so much because we all know that fear and pain of someone taking the presidency who doesn’t care about the American people or democracy as a whole. While not outright an exact copy of the Trumpian sickness we all experienced, Mencken and his camp don’t care about what happens to the voting process. We saw it with Roman’s reaction to the burning of votes, we saw it in ATN calling it, and it felt way too similar to the elections we went through.

What hurt the most was seeing how the news organization was willing to do what it took to benefit them. It wasn’t about what was best for the American people, but it was corruption at every level, all because the Roys made a deal they wanted destroyed, and Mencken said he’d do it. It is, in a lot of ways, the bed that Fox News was willing to lie in with Trump.

Shiv has never been “innocent”

Sarah Snook as Shiv in 'Succession'

One of the common thoughts I saw circulating online after last night’s episode was that the writing of Shiv smells of misogyny. The reality is that Shiv has never been a character to root for. No Roy family member is, and that’s the point of the show as a whole. But in this last episode, Shiv fighting Roman and Kendall over the election isn’t coming from a place of preserving democracy. She’s saving herself.

She’s in bed with Matsson on this deal, she lied to Kendall when he was on her side, and she’s taken pictures with Mencken because daddy told her to. Shiv Roy is not someone who would stand up for women if she had to. We’ve constantly seen her true colors, so watching her frantically fight her brothers to listen to her about the election, at first, is a lot to unpack.

But then you remember that she’s trying to defend the deal with Matsson and the Roys, and everything she is fighting for suddenly doesn’t have the same kind of meaning.

Supporters willing to believe lies sounds familiar

What was probably the hardest to watch was ATN calling Wisconsin before all the votes were counted because of an attack on the polling place in Milwaukee. The votes burned were, in the prediction by Darwin (who was literally dressed like Steve Kornacki), for the Democratic candidate, but Roman made the decision to call it for Mencken, and it became an uncomfortable reminder of the 2020 election in America.

Donald Trump went around telling everyone that he’d won and that the counting of votes should stop, and it led to the coup in the nation’s capital. To to see Succession laying the groundwork for that same kind of scenario was just taking us from our fun trash family into something we are all way too familiar with.

All of this episode was a lot to handle, because we’ve been here before. We finally saw what happens when Girlboss Shiv Roy doesn’t get her way, and now we have to see how an election called for a literal Nazi plays out when all the votes weren’t counted. It’s … not easy!

(featured image: HBO)

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Rachel Leishman (She/Her) is an Assistant Editor at the Mary Sue. A writer her whole life but professionally starting back in 2016 who loves all things movies, TV, and classic rock. Resident Spider-Man expert, official Leslie Knope, actually Yelena Belova. Wanda Maximoff has never done anything wrong in her life. Star Wars makes her very happy. New York writer with a passion for all things nerdy. Yes, she has a Pedro Pascal podcast. And also a Harrison Ford one.