Unpacking My Favorite Succession Theories—Real and Imagined
10.11.19

At the height of Succession season, I could be easily convinced that members of the New York media have their pay docked for each week they don’t compose a witty tweet about the Roy family. After all, the show is—to borrow a turn of phrase from Frankspeak—“unusually subject to the vicissitudes of public opinion.”

I’ve got a few opinions myself: At this stage I’m primarily invested in Kendall’s unconventional good looks, Roman’s capacity for love, Greg the “Machiavellian fuck,” and Connor’s sourdough starter. I’m not sure that any of the other characters defanged by Logan can surprise me now (live culture excluded), though I invite showrunner Jesse Armstrong to prove me wrong.

Succession’s prime Sunday night time-slot disposes me to lying wide awake in bed for hours afterward, ruminating on the few horses I have left in this race and unraveling the riddles of the season, rather than strategizing for the tangles of Monday morning that await me. In advance of the imminent finale, I am here to hyperdecant a blender’s worth of these theories, some of which are my personal takes on ongoing conversations, the more predictable fare, while others have been cooked up in a headspace all my own. Allow me to pelt a few metaphorical water bottles in your direction with this one-woman AMA.


Who will be on the receiving end of Logan’s blood sacrifice?

I’m putting my Monopoly money on Greg as Logan’s intended “blood sacrifice,” though I predict he’ll skirt his Grexit by exposing his damning Voice Memos (wherein Wambsgans narrates his own destruction of evidence). Nothing incentivizes familial blackmail like turning down a quarter of a billion dollars. (An aside: You may know that Sarah Snook who plays Shiv Roy is Australian, but have you heard Matthew Macfadyen’s British accent?!? Prepare to feel hoodwinked.)

What else will bubble up in the season finale?

While Logan suspects Sandy and Stewy are behind the whistleblower, “The Weasel,” my hunch is that the whistleblower’s generous funding can instead be traced to Greg’s sturdy grandfather, Logan’s brother Ewan, who had made menacing remarks to Logan at his 50th anniversary celebration in Scotland. This weekend’s finale is also bound to reveal the backstory of Logan’s sister, another haunting reference glossed over during the Scotland trip, (possibly resurfaced by Logan’s unwelcome biographer?) and how Logan’s guilt over that tragedy factors as one of his most major motivations. Not a theory, but here’s hoping that Roman and Gerri run off together into the sunset.

How far does the Godfather connection go?

I’m certainly not the first person with an Internet connection to draw a venn diagram connecting the Roy and Corleone families. My pet theory within this conversation is that Succession’s structured the way The Godfather was intended to be. At some point in the production process, Francis Ford Coppola designed The Godfather trilogy to have each installment centered around a different Corleone brother: the original Godfather focused on the eldest Sonny (James Caan), and Godfather II revolved around Michael (Al Pacino). Their adoptive brother Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall) was supposed to operate at the center of Godfather III, though financial disputes with the studio ultimately led to Duvall’s departure from the franchise (this offers an explanation for why The Godfather III falters under the weight of the original and its sequel). As we’ve seen, the first season explores Kendall as successor and the second considers Shiv, so the third must examine Roman’s potential for the role (with his bride Gerri). This logic would find Season 4—laughably—entertaining the idea of Connor as successor (at which point he may be leader of the free world).

And what about The Jinx?

I recently watched an interview with Jesse Armstrong where he conceded that Succession is less indebted to his own 2011ish screenplay Murdoch than it is to HBO’s The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst. This connection had been apparent to me at first blush, when I watched the pilot with its herky-jerky cinematography last summer—Succession’s opening titles draw rather explicitly from the intros of The Jinx and its predecessor All Good Things. (The latter is the feature film on Robert Durst that made Durst willing to cooperate for The Jinx. Casting Ryan Gosling as his doppelgänger might have been persuasive.) Succession learned a few tricks from the Robert Durst cinematic universe, crafting an opening title sequence with light-leaked, super 8mm home video footage of sibling tennis matches and seated lunches on the grassy property underscored by hints of family dysfunction, and the recurring motif of the rückenfigur, a compositional device that always finds the imposing Logan Roy framed from behind.

A Shiv fan wonders: Is Shiv losing her edge?

As someone who once went on the record as an ardent fan of Shiv Roy’s season one togs, I must now contradict myself: Shiv’s style undergoes a grayed-out sanitization over the course of Season 2 (to illustrate character development!) as she becomes more involved with the tasteless world of Waystar Royco. Her blazers get longer and longer, a cue for the otherness of her femininity which contributes to assignments like convincing a female victim to back out of testifying before Congress. Color altogether vanishes from the Shiv Roy staples, firmly planting Shiv on the greyscale where her father’s wardrobe resides. By comparison, Naomi Pierce suddenly looks chic in her chocolate brown courtroom suit.

Do any other shows pass the Tonsil Hockey Test?

Funniest-person-I-know Nora Taylor posed a rhetorical inquiry on August 20th in the form of a Instagram Stories poll: “Is there a better ‘prestige’ TV theme song to make out to than the one from Succession?” I crunched some numbers and the data speaks for itself: Nicholas Brittell’s theme has over one million plays on Spotify. More underrated is the official HBO 26-song, 37-minute-long soundtrack from Season Uno.

How am I going to bring Pete Davidson into this conversation?

I’ll tell you right here, right now. Nothing takes the wind out of my sails like an absent Pete Davidson in the first month of SNL season, but I theorize that Saturday Night Live is waiting for Pete’s return from the Suicide Squad set before staging a Succession spoof: Pete makes for an uncanny Roman. They share an archetype as the cunning delinquent, able to oscillate between juvenile humor and piercing wit, setting expectations low and yielding high rewards. It takes one to know one, I suppose: I took the Buzzfeed quiz and it turns out I’m a Roman, too.

How long must we wait for Season 3? And what do we have to look forward to?

My crystal ball shows next season’s themes orbiting around foreign money and corruption, the historical dynamics between Logan Roy’s own siblings, and Connor’s presidential run, mirroring the actual lead-up to the 2020 election. This is all underscored by my prevailing theory in television that the second season’s always the best, so enjoy it while it lasts.

What kind of Kendall Roy spinoffs are we potentially working with?

Deaccession, where Kendall Roy takes his talents for selling assets and redirects that energy toward unloading last season’s Lanvin sneakers on Grailed and TheRealReal, or JamSession, in which Kendall launches an ATN-adjacent podcast where he discusses new rap releases with former Buckley classmates and occasionally deigns to recite some of the song’s lyrics (off-key).


I welcome your own predictions and predilections below. I’ll be belting “ROMULUS!” to no one in particular and commenting on Nicholas Braun’s Instagrams with reckless abandon in the meantime.

Feature photos via HBO.

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