Pop Culture Live with Alyssa Rosenberg: That 'Succession' twist

Oct 14, 2019

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Greetings, friends, and happy Monday to you all! Let's talk about that twist on "Succession," shall we? And annoyingly, "Joker" is still on my mind, so if folks want to chat about that, or "Ad Astra," which I don't think we ever got around to here, I'm very much game.

Last week I read FLEISHMAN IS IN TROUBLE. I went into the book thinking that there was some kind of twist, generally involving an unreliable narrator. I kind of got the impression that it would be one of the Fleishman's wrestling the story back from the narrator Libby's telling. But it wasn't that, and I honestly wasn't surprised by what we learn from Rachel's perspective (other than the fact that she apparently always liked Libby, which was kind of heartbreaking as Libby had said that the always disliked Rachel several times). It fit fine with the other lesson Toby was always trying to teach his fellows about listening to their patients. He regularly missed what Rachel was saying about herself and how she really only knew loneliness. The biggest key was Toby's memory of Rachel saying they should have just been best friends while he was certain they had no basis in friendship to have a steady relationship.

For those who haven't yet read Taffy Brodesser-Akner's novel, WARNING, HERE BE SPOILERS.

I really wanted to love "Fleishman Is In Trouble," and I think I stumbled over the fact that I was just much more interested in Rachel, the troubled and estranged ex-wife of the titular protagonist, than in Fleishman himself. To a certain extent, the whole affair is a kind of classed-up "Gone Girl," and to a certain extent, it works. But I think that the balance between Toby and Rachel isn't quite right, or at least, if it had been a bit more even, the book might have landed better for me. I don't know that I entirely think having Libby as the narrator completely lands, either. I do think the book is well-written, as is everything Brodesser-Akner does, but it somehow didn't convince me that I wanted to spend that much time in Toby's head, or that I got very much out of spending time there.

At first I though Kendall had some kind of long con where this was his plan all along and looking back at the season we'd see how scene could be read as Kendall's ulterior motive. Now I'm wondering if my first thought was wrong and Kendall only decided to not sacrifice himself was just something he decided towards the end?

I don't entirely know, which I think is part of what made this finale so terrific. I didn't see Kendall's decision to turn on his father Logan coming, but I also felt like it entirely made sense given what else we'd seen come between them both in this episode and in this season as a whole. AND it leaves me extremely desirous to see what events will unfold in the coming season and what reasoning we'll get about Kendall's decision as the show looks back. The whole thing is just extremely delicious and well-executed, and preserves my theory that the only way "Succession" can end is with Cousin Greg running the entire thing.

"Succession" fans among us, what did you think? If I have one complaint, I feel like it's perhaps that Shiv should have ended up more thoroughly destroyed. But perhaps I've been mistaken in assuming that each season of the show is about Logan nuking a different child, when rather it's primarily about the relationship between Logan and Kendall. Tell me why I'm right or wrong!

Thoughts on El Camino? This might be the first movie I've seen in years with such secrecy surrounding it, which to me made it even better.

I haven't watched it yet, and I'm not sure I want to, for some of the same reasons I haven't been able to bring myself to invest in "Better Call Saul." I loved and admired "Breaking Bad," and I'm sure there's more territory to be mined there, but I'm also not sure it's how I most want to spend my time when there are plenty of other worlds out there to explore. In general, I'm just a little depressed by the idea that even artists of the caliber of Vince Gilligan and David Chase keep returning to the scenes of their most beloved creations. Everything is a franchise now. Everything is a cinematic universe. I can't bear the idea of, say, having to live through the 1980s decline of Don Draper.

I remember watching a panel of academics and professional journalists saying regardless of whether they would have done the same thing, just because another outlet eventually did run it, NBC News were not wrong to not run Ronan Farrow's Harvey Weinstein story and their reasoning was sound.

I'd be curious to know who was on the panel and what their reasoning was. I think there is obviously more to be determined about what went on at NBC, but it is true that outlets routinely decide not to publish stories for reasons that are complicated or that they may not be able to fully explain in public because they want to protect sources or an editing and reporting process. 

I was about to watch that Trump in the "Church of Fake News." I've seen "Kingsman" before and recall the scene in question so it's not an issue of violence that bugs me. Maybe a flash "You can't unsee this." hit me. I didn't click on it, but I was curious who was in the video and so looked up the list (man alive, it's a long list).

Yeah, I haven't watched it, either. Reason's C.J. Ciaramella has a good dispatch from the gathering where the clip came to prominence. As he put it, "The video was part of an "art exhibit," located in a room to the side of the Donald J. Trump Ballroom, of videos created by the self-proclaimed 'memesmith' who goes by the pseudonym 'Carpe Donktum.' Typing that sentence made me hate myself....The Bikers for Trump were there in their leather vests, despite the South Florida heat. The Proud Boys, who reportedly take an anti-masturbation pledge when they join the group, were there too. So was guy who's known for dressing in a brick wall-patterned suit at Trump rallies. These were lifetime customers, the kind who would pay for airfare, conference registration, and $199 a night for a room at the hotel (plus $25 a day for the resort fee, plus parking)—not even to see Trump himself, but just to bask in his brand, be among the faithful, and hear others talk about how great the man is."

The idea that people are enthusiastic about the idea that Trump would do violence to his enemies, among them members of the press, is obviously disturbing! But I actually think the idea that memespeak and cultural references are the preferred idiom of political discourse is fascinating and unsettling in and of itself. I don't know that we've fully reckoned with what it means for political preferences to take over our identities, and for the language of politics to shift in this way. We may not understand it for a long time, but it's definitely going to produce some highly dissonant campaigns, ones where candidates are functionally speaking past each other.

Oh my God -- that was a great finale. Like it wasn't a surprise who the "blood sacrifice" would be. Nor the twist at the end. But just a great hour of television from start to finish. Give Jeremy Strong all the awards. I'm worried, though, that season 3 will be the last because I'm not sure where the show can go from here.

Oh, I can see "Succession" continuing on for quite a while. There will be a season, or maybe even two, of Logan getting investigated and possibly even ousted for good. We haven't even seen a season where Roman is on top, much less Conn or Cousin Greg! We haven't seen Tom try and fail to get revenge on Shiv! We haven't seen Roman and Gerri elope! We haven't seen Marcia unleash what will obviously be a fabulous and elaborate revenge that goes far beyond a hideous yacht redecoration.

One thing was kind of neat to notice was in the footage of Greg's testimony, the chyron showed the Bernie Sandersque politician Gil Eavis was a Democratic (not an independent) from Pennsylvania. Unsure if that squares. Anyhow was curious if you saw Kendall's public turn on his dad? I'll admit I didn't get how Kendall can be blamed for cover-ups from stuff from decades since how did he cover up stuff at age 10 or whatever. Also doesn't Kendall was grade school aged children? Also Connor's GIF is kind of lame.

I can't entirely decide if it's a strength or a weakness of "Succession" that it doesn't seem very interested in the actual content of what Waystar Royco airs, or the details of the political currents swirling around the company. It was sort of a shame that the show punted its story about a Tucker Carlson-like figure earlier in the season, and while it's done some things with Shiv's willingness to sell her soul for a chance to grasp her birthright, "Succession" doesn't seem to do a very good job of maintaining focus. It certainly has other things it's doing well, but that's been a frustrating element of the series for me, especially since I think it could heighten the series' thematic richness.

Also, everything involving Connor is the worst. And I really want to actually *see* Willa's awful play.

I read that Sandra Oh was nearly cast in "Firefly" and kind of bummed it never happened. A love triangle of Sandra Oh with Alan Tudyk and Nathan Fillion on either side would make for great television.

Never say never!

Separate or have a baby?

Well, having a baby together would definitely make them more miserable, so I sort of vote for that, except I also shudder to think about that poor kiddo...

How likely would a "Team America - World Police" puppet sex-like scene show up on "Bojack Horseman" with his human girlfriend? Would cable draw the line on explicit cartoon bestiality?

Since I am not the showrunners for "Bojack Horseman" or a Netflix executive, it's difficult for me to answer that!

I thought there was still one episode to go this season and it was the first time I was, "well I'll want to see this next week."

Well, they've got you hooked for next season, then!

I thought SNL's grim and gritty parody was one of the best things they've done in a while. It got me thinking again about Scorcese's dismissal of superhero movies. I don't think all or even most of them are high art but I thought it was odd coming from a man so obsessed with gangster mythology. The "reality" in his pics is at least as heightened as anything in the Marvel movies. I don't find any of them especially compelling after the first two Godfather movies.

You know what? I started typing an answer, but let's discuss in this week's newsletter.

I felt like Roman being more of a competent player was forced? I could feel the screenwriting there. Roman can't get just be this insult-a-minute doofus, but to make him a credible choice for the succession. It just felt inconsistent with the character they had been presenting us. I get people have different sides or evolve over time, but it felt more like, "we can't just have Roman around for comic relief, but we need him to be a viable choice in the whole 'succession' of it all."

I do think it's the case that not all of the characters in "Succession" are most interestingly explored through the lens of whether or not they are fit to inherit Logan's dilapidated throne. The best part of Roman's arc this season has been his evolving relationship with Gerri, which theoretically gives him another tie into and perspective on the company, but really is most interesting as a story about what he needs psychologically, and what happens to Gerri when she's appreciated and invested with a different sort of authority than that which is typically available to her. If "Succession" is a story about how Logan toys with and destroys his children one by one, than this framework is a weakness. If it's actually primarily about his relationship with Kendall, then maybe it's not.

I saw the twist coming as soon as Logan tried to dodge Kendall's question about if he thought he had what it took to be CEO and then finally telling him he didn't. It was the billionaire version of trying to get dad to say "I love you." Once Logan couldn't tell his son, who was falling on his sword for him, that, I knew Kendall would betray him.

Mmmm, that totally makes sense to me in retrospect, but I definitely enjoyed feeling surprised.

The firehose of revelations about the upper echelons of NBC don't make their concerns over journalistic standards too convincing. I'm an oldish white dude and it's creeping me out more and more that this was so commonplace and unremarkable.

Yeah, it's definitely not great! I'm curious: do you feel like you witnessed this sort of culture but assumed it was an aberration? Or are the #MeToo revelations new to you and making you see the world in a new light?

love it, so delicious. wondering what people are watching/binging now in its place... suggestions greatly appreciated.

I'll throw this out to the audience. But in the meantime, if you haven't seen it and are hungry for more depictions of the way capitalism turns us all into animals but with more heart and warmth, definitely watch "Deadwood." 

Do you know of any show that has been lamented so vociferously as Firefly? I've tried rewatching it and...boy howdy, has it not aged well.

"Bunheads" and "Freaks and Geeks" immediately come to mind, though "Freaks and Geeks" at least holds up well in part due to being a period piece. To a certain extent, I feel like "Community" existed in a perpetual state of crisis and pre-lament.

The origins of Columbus Day was meant to be a more progressive and inclusive holiday meant for Roman Catholics. I guess it's not wrong to note the not-bad original intent of the holiday. Unsure what Indigenous Peoples Day would exactly work. I mean Saint Patrick's Day seems like an excuse for bars to promote themselves these days and doesn't make me think more of Irish Americans.

New York Times editorial board member (and recent Pulitzer Prize winner) Brent Staples recently published a piece that I highly recommend on the processes by which Italian-Americans became white. And if you haven't read Nell Irvin Painter's "The History of White People," I recommend that as well. I mention both of these subjects because I think our discussions about holidays like Columbus Day would benefit from a more expansive historical understanding of how ideas of identity shift over time. Columbus Day is part of a larger journey by which Italian-Americans, once considered racially distinct, became part of the tapestry of white people in America. 

I say all of this not to forestall a closer examination of Christopher Columbus or to insist that his legacy is worth unambiguous celebration. Rather I think we might be better off talking about the disparate paths indigenous people and Italian-Americans have walked throughout American history, and why the latter was able to gain the benefits of whiteness while the former still struggle for even basic historical and cultural recognition. Columbus Day or Indigenous People's day aren't really about these two holidays; the debate about what we call it is a proxy for much larger issues, some of which feel too daunting. It's easier to gesture at the status of indigenous people in America by assigning a single day for remembrance than it is to tackle centuries of this continent's history and the idea that our founding myths are sanitized to the point of fiction. 

I was trying to think what characters they could bring in for next season? Connor Roy's storyline was a bit lame this season, but maybe his mother, Logan's first wife? I know Logan got his start in Quebec so maybe a Canadian actress like Geneviève Bujold? Or Jacki Weaver? There was a cute moment in the press tour for "Parkland" where Jacki Weaver (who played Oswald's deranged mother) said at a red carper Jeremy Strong (who played Oswald) came up to her and said, "Hi, I played your son." She thought it was a bit funny since they have never meet during production.

I adore Jackie Weaver, and would very much enjoy the chance to watch her chomp through a season of "Succession."

Simply have a woman with the correct views to "lean in" won't save us from the worst of the worst of corporate America? Also kind of random that picked Ford Motors of all the companies in the world to knock?

Does anyone think Shiv is going to turn Waystar Royco into a force for good in the world? I think it's been pretty clear since last season that she exists in the show to be corrupted and destroyed.

Every week I see you saying you'll talk about something in your newsletter, but I can never find where to sign up for it...could I please have a link?

I believe if you go to this page you should be able to sign up for the Act Four newsletter there. If you have any trouble, email me at alyssa.rosenberg@washpost.com and my tech colleagues and I can hook you up.

Depending if you've never seen them before, how about "VEEP" or "The Thick of It"?

For something in the same mode, these are excellent choices.

I never saw anything nearly as ugly as the stories that have come out. There was some good old boy sexism here and there but nothing that would derail a career or rise to a criminal level. I was a department head in a computer gaming company and had more women in my group than others. There was occasional creepy behavior but nothing that either they or I couldn't handle.

I'd be curious: have you talked to any of the women in your department since #MeToo started? It might be interesting to get their perspective on the company.


Thanks for passing it along!

Don't tease TV Gods...

They're cruel and capricious. Not sure I'll get ahead by sacrificing to them either.

LOVE your work! Re: Joker, I wonder how the movie would have been received if the lead had not been "Joker", but a character in a non-DC movie? Seems like if it had been some gritty movie about a guy who went through the same issues but didn't become a super villain, it would have been less criticized. Or just me.

Hmmmm, that's a tricky question, since my understanding is that "Taxi Driver," which "Joker" references extensively, did produce some moral panic at the time of its release. Part of the challenge of discussing this is the fact that it's simply harder to get the kind of movie you describe made these days. I do think it might have been a more interesting movie without the need to bring in all the Wayne mythos...

I thought it was just the basic idea was funny (Oscar the Grouch's gritty origin story that nobody wanted), but the actual sketch was super hilarious. Sort of the comedy of "oh, I recognize that."

Call me when we get a gritty Bert and Ernie origin story...

Okay, folks, I've got to jaunt off to my 2pm meeting. We'll talk next Monday!

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Alyssa Rosenberg
Alyssa Rosenberg blogs about pop culture for The Washington Post's Opinions section.
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