Roman Roy’s rocket blew up. Last week, so did Elon Musk’s. Kendall Roy shuttered the newsroom of Vaulter, an imitation Buzzfeed News. A few days ago, the real Buzzfeed News met a similar fate. Way back in the first season, Roman Roy mused that cable and print news would be supplanted by “tasty morsels” of video clips. He may just have forecast the rise of TikTok. Can Succession predict the future? Yes and no.
A set of very online people obsess over Succession. Creator Jesse Armstrong draws on inspiration from sources ranging from Shakespeare to Deux Moi. The writing is sharp and lends itself well to memes. It’s not the most popular show on TV, but it may be the one with the most cultural cache, especially as it approaches the back half of its final season. It’s a show about the media that lends those of us working in media a bit of insight into how our overlords may be thinking about our precarious futures.
Succession supports a theory to which we already subscribe: The people making momentous decisions about our news, democracy, and society are often power-starved egotists. They make decisions for arbitrary and sometimes outright stupid reasons, and we’re all affected by the outcome. Some of these capitalist kings are business savvy (Lukas Mattson, Logan Roy). Others, not so much (looking at you, Roy kids). Whether they actually know what they’re doing or attended the “Hanna-Barbera Business School,” money feels abstract to them. The numbers are arbitrary, more driven by emotion than logic. This season alone, both the Roy kids and Matsson have vastly overpaid for assets because they held personal grudges. Every time a newsroom gets gutted or a sexual harassment case gets buried in real life, we suspect that decisions weren’t necessarily made for economic or moral reasons. Here’s the (fictional) proof.
And a lot of news about the Murdoch family, upon which Succession is loosely based, has broken in the last couple of weeks. Their company Fox settled a $787.5 million defamation lawsuit with Dominion Voting Systems, which had accused the network of pushing conspiracy theories that harmed the company during the election. A 92-year-old Murdoch called off his engagement to his latest fiancée after just two weeks. And then Fox News announced Monday that it had parted ways with its most popular—and controversial—anchor Tucker Carlson. Each new bit of news, of course, required a meme. The message: “This is all just like Succession.”
Except it isn’t, really. The Roy family has yet to be sued for peddling untruths on the network. Logan, despite carrying on with his much-younger assistant Kerry this season, stayed married to his estranged wife Marcia for PR reasons. And while Carlson was reportedly blindsided by the news of his ouster, Logan never actually fired one of his anchors on the show. It sounds like something Logan Roy would do, but the only time the job of a controversial news anchor ATN was under threat is when Mark Ravenhead was accused of being a member of the Nazi Party back in Season 1. Tom interviewed Mark about his questionable beliefs—Mark had disconcertingly read Mein Kampf “a couple times” and named his dog after Hitler’s pooch—but Tom didn’t actually fire Mark. In fact, Mark shows up at Logan’s wake.
If anything, real-life history is repeating itself. The Los Angeles Times is reporting that Tucker Carlson’s dismissal had to do with a sexual discrimination suit filed by Abby Grossberg, a former Fox producer. Did the series of sexual harassment claims brought against Waystar Royco in Season 2 of Succession predict such a suit? Probably not. The cruises plot line drew inspiration from several other legal difficulties in Murdoch’s past, particularly the sexual harassment allegations levied against Roger Ailes at Fox News back in 2016 and the phone hacking scandal that lead to Murdoch and one of his sons testifying before British Parliament. Fox finding itself in legal trouble again wasn’t an aberration. It was part of a longstanding pattern.
The genius of Succession is that its plot lines are just plausible enough to feel familiar if not torn directly from the headlines. Matsson reveals in Sunday night’s episode that he sent bags of blood to his ex-girlfriend (who also happens to be the head of his corporate communications). On the official Succession podcast, host Kara Swisher, a longtime tech journalist who is no stranger to the bizarre and disturbing habits of tech bros, commented, “I can make a list of four people I think who would do something like this.”
And reality, in turn, is starting to sound like Succession. There’s a drop in Fox’s stock after Carlson is fired? Looks a lot like the drop in Waystar Royco’s stock on the show after Logan’s death. After CNN fires anchor Don Lemon, the network’s PR team sends out a tweet saying Lemon’s statements about his dismissal are “inaccurate”—did Karolina help craft that language?
On Sunday night’s episode, Mattson argued, “long term, I don’t think news for angry old people works.” He made this assessment of ATN just as Fox agreed to pay $787.5 billion in the Dominion settlement and parted ways with its most popular personality. It’s hard to not listen to the fictional Mattson’s assessment and wonder if the Succession writers have a better grasp on the media landscape than the billionaires actually running it.