[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “Succession” Season 4, Episode 8, “America Decides.”]
It all started with a Coke.
Last season, at the Future Freedom Summit in Virginia, Logan (Brian Cox) was parched. It was late, his fridge was bare, so he called up his good buddy — the Vice President of the United States — and asked if he could bring him a soda. The V.P., agitated over being roused in the wee hours of the morning, didn’t bring him anything. He came, he spoke, he bored the piss out of everyone in the room, but there was no Coke. No Coke, until Congressman Jeryd Mencken (Justin Kirk) stopped by, kissed the can, popped the tab, and plopped it down in front of Logan.
“I heard you wanted one,” he said, to which Logan replied with his simple but satisfied thanks. “Anointed with a Coke,” Mencken said, and walked out of the room.
Logan, of course, didn’t need a Coke. He needed obedience. Just a few days prior, he’d helped push out a sitting president who failed to heel when called, so what Logan prioritized in picking the next POTUS was someone who would do as he’s told, no questions asked. Mencken made it clear that he would kiss the ring — or the Coke, as it were — and now, he’s in the White House.
So on “Election Night,” when Roman (Kieran Culkin) asks Kendall (Jeremy Strong), “What would Dad do?” — the answer is clear: Logan would push through the candidate most likely to help him. Is it ironic that the candidate Logan chose in Virginia is the same one promising to destroy the deal that would ensure his legacy? You bet. But Roman is acting like Logan would, and Kendall knows it — Kendall just doesn’t want it to be true because there’s a small, tiny, infinitesimal part of Kendall that’s still “a good guy.”
In Episode 8, “America Decides,” the good guys don’t just lose. They’re buried. Democratic nominee Daniel Jiminez (Elliot Villar) is destined to be an ulcer-inducing footnote in American history. (Who wants to bet he won the popular vote?) Nate (Ashley Zukerman) won’t be remembered at all. Rava (Natalie Gold) and Sophie are already terrified and will live in fear for the foreseeable future. Whatever version of Kendall cared enough to spare his ex-wife and daughter that wretched fate died the second he realized his sister Shiv (Sarah Snook) betrayed him. If he can’t trust her to help kill the deal, how can he trust her when she tells Kendall he’s a good guy? And where does being good get him anyway?
“Some people just can’t cut a deal,” Kendall tells his driver in Episode 8’s closing moments — an apt kicker, given the cutthroat nature of “America Decides,” and “Succession” overall. Back at the Future Freedom Summit, GOP megadonor Ron Petkus (Stephen Root) kicked things off by proclaiming, “I happen to believe the next President of the United States is somewhere in this very room. … The health of the Republic depends on it.” An unnamed attendee then shouted, “And the health of my portfolio!” From there, we saw how business drove Logan’s decision-making (and butted heads with Shiv’s moral concerns over many of the Republican candidates), and it again becomes the scapegoat for every bad decision made on election night.
Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) has long excused his own bad behavior by believing it’s a job requirement. He’ll throw a fit over an absent coffee or his provided dinner (“Bodega sushi?!”), all because his well-being is instrumental to the company’s. But the servile head of ATN takes it a step further in Episode 8. After all his anxiety over election night and his many pleas to keep the Royco co-CEOs off the news floor, he leaves the final call to them. He cedes what little power he has, on the one night Kendall and Roman are legally required to let Tom take command. Greg (Nicholas Braun), in essence, does the same. When he’s told to deliver the final decision to the newsroom, there’s an awkward moment in the hallway when he’s confronted by Kendall’s assistant Jess (Juliana Canfield). Greg, in typical Greg fashion, tries to aggrandize his role while nullifying it (and laughing everything off in the process). But Jess, a Black woman, isn’t exactly eager to certify President Mencken’s election. She’s a loyal assistant and doesn’t overtly encourage Greg to stand down, but you can tell she’s kind of hoping he finds a way out of this — or at least recognizes why she wouldn’t support him in that moment.
Personal elements play their part. Tom is still seething over his fight with Shiv — so much so, that he can’t even hear her when she finally tells him she’s pregnant. Roman and Kendall’s dynamic dates back to fighting over what to have for dinner. (“Because we ate so much chicken when we were kids I have to like the fascist?”) Shiv getting caught helping Matsson is more than enough to spark the siblings’ long-standing distrust and push Kendall over to the dark side. But each destructive choice is still justified by dollars and cents.
In doing so, episode writer and series showrunner Jesse Armstrong (accurately) frames fiscal conservatives as willfully immoral; that they’re willing to justify violence and hate so long as their pockets remain full. Some, like Roman, may not care. They may be beyond empathy, to the point when they’re told a child is under threat all they can offer is curt reassurance that “they’re fine.” But others, like Kendall, recognize a bad apple when they see one and still sell it at market for full price.
When the two brothers initially argue over whether to call the race in favor of Mencken, Roman says, “This is all fucking upside,” to which Kendall counters, “Except for him smashing the country to pieces.” Both men speak in hyperbole, but Kendall has been trying, all night, to appreciate the scope of their actions. He’s in between Roman & Mencken, Shiv & Jimenez. Human side Kendall wants the latter team to win, but bottom-dollar Kendall knows Mencken is better for business. Having the option to couch his decision as what’s best for the company is all that keeps the door open long enough for the fascist to sneak through.
“Succession” uses the intense 65-minute episode to double down on one of its broader (if not all-that-new) points: Corporate influence is killing this country, and watching it happen is worse than simply imagining it. Anyone who experienced the last two presidential elections likely suffered uncomfortable flashbacks throughout Episode 8. But no matter what channels you flipped to or how long you were glued to those screens, there was no peeking behind the curtain; no one got to see how and why the calls were made — not in real-time, like we do in “America Decides” — and the real-world connections that do exist only make reliving them here more plainly devastating. Watching “the poison drip through,” as Kendall puts it, becomes it’s own unique brand of torture.
With just two more episodes of “Succession” left, what’s astounding is how extreme the difference in possible outcomes remains. As “Breaking Bad” neared its end, questions lingered about who would live and die, but the expected kicker — which proved out — carried a nearly undeniable harmony with Walter White’s introduction. (A man given a death sentence in the series premiere does indeed die in the series finale, albeit on his terms.) The series was no lesser for ending as many felt like it should; it was merely a testament to how well plotted the story remained from start to finish. “The Sopranos” had a similar “will he or won’t he” uncertainty to Tony Soprano’s ultimate fate, but again — given how death weighed so heavily on the mobster’s mind — it made sense for the Grim Reaper to pay him a visit. Either/or endings are common enough, whether it’s on “Friends” (where Ross and Rachel either make it work or end on a permanent break) or “The Americans” (where Elizabeth and Philip either make it out of America alive or end up more permanent “residents”) — with the latter example showing how much room there is for nuance, even in a story that builds toward a specific consequence.
But in the words of Lukas Matsson (Alexander Skarsgård): “Succession’s” either/or endings are crayyyyy-z! Option A) The stage is set for unprecedented disaster. Mencken’s win ensures GoJo won’t be able to complete its acquisition. Assuming the Failsons can’t go reverse Viking and buy GoJo, that spells doom for Waystar Royco, since tech is the future and old media is dying. Any dreams of spinning off ATN (or even completing the PGN purchase) could be kaput, once word gets out about corporate interference altering the election. Plus, you know, nearly every personal relationship in the Roy family is pretty fucked by now. Tom and Shiv are toast, Tom (on his own) is toast, and the siblings’ warm family bonds have been burnt to a crisp (along with all those ballots in Milwaukee). However it goes down, watching Logan’s business empire and surviving family collapse so thoroughly within a few days of his death would be an apt ending to a show about a dying old man who could never find his ideal heir.
But in Option B) “Succession” is just as likely to end with Kendall wearing the crown. As wealth inequality continues to expand, patriarchal systems grow further entrenched, and America slides from democracy toward corporatocracy, wouldn’t it be fitting to see the Roys’ maintain their status quo? Kendall doesn’t deserve to wield his father’s power, but when has that ever stopped a rich, entitled, nepo baby from doing it anyway? Wouldn’t the greatest tragedy be — both for the world and for Kendall — seeing him don his daddy’s coat and become the very man he hates? The very thing that will destroy him? (While propping up an outdated media empire that only succeeds by spreading fear and sowing discord?)
Maybe Jesse Armstrong has a third, fourth, or fifth option cooked up for a goodbye. At this point, the most shocking conclusion would be a bad one, and no one’s expecting that. But it’s still stunning that we’re this close to the finale and each of these polar opposite endings are plausible. Like Kendall said when he was still trying to decide how best to sway a presidential election: “I can’t get the scale of it.” But things happen, whether we’re ready or not. Here we go.
“Succession” Season 4 releases new episodes Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO and HBO Max.
Greg had a busy few nights! Now that Lukas sees his usefulness — a soulless suit willing to suffer endless humiliations for his master — the GoJo founder is taking Greg out, serving him drinks that aren’t normally drinks, and making him dance with old men(?!). Not only that, but Greg is influencing Matsson’s business decisions. Lukas tells Shiv he may not announce the funky India numbers after all, despite news outlets being distracted by the chaotic American election. Shiv doesn’t like it, but she’s also not going to let it stop her from using Matsson to get back with her brothers.
Greg doesn’t really care about any of that. He was willing to sell his silence to Shiv for a golden parachute, and when she refused — in not so polite terms — he spilled the beans to Kendall as soon as he was pressed. Greg’s shrug to Shiv after confessing her secret is the episode’s biggest belly laugh, even if it barely escaped from my clenched stomach. Not only is it the perfect bookend to the episode’s opening, when Tom bitches to Greg about all the things bothering him only to hear Greg say, “Well, I’m feeling pretty good,” but his gesticulating shoulders sum up his whole deal so perfectly: “Welp, I just ruined someone’s life — and maybe the world! — guess I’ll go get some more wasabi-dipped sushi.”
Way to go, Greg. Great job. No notes.
Throughout Episode 8, there was no suspense in who wins the presidency, Jimenez or Mencken. That was decided back in Virginia. Instead, the suspense was derived from how Mencken and his chosen Roy Boy would come out on top, which led the latter to reach peak slime puppy. Given his heinous actions and comments, I simply cannot spend much more time thinking about Roman. Still, it must be noted: He got a win this week, but last week he asked for “the big energy” spot at Logan’s funeral. Is he primed for a fall in “Succession’s” penultimate episode, or will he rise to the occasion like Kendall on Investor Day?
“Greg, do not put any more lemon water or wasabi in his eyes!” – Tom, after Greg put wasabi and lemon water in a colleague’s eyes.
“Conheads I salute you, and America be afraid. Be warned. Because the Conheads are coming.” – Connor Roy, delivering his concession speech live on ATN (and, presumably/hopefully, only on ATN)