If you are even a little interested in TV series, you will not have missed the news of the conclusion of Succession (on Sky Atlantic; the version dubbed into Italian will also be broadcast tomorrow), which with the fourth and final season has definitively entered the Olympus of US seriality, in that restricted club which includes The sopranos, The wire, Mad Men, Breaking bad and a few other masterpieces. A tradition of great American epics perhaps close to extinction: there are many interesting titles in progress, but none of them really takes up the legacy as it did, in fact, Successionbecause the market is now going elsewhere.
One of the characteristics that unites all these series is the representation of evil through negative protagonists, often criminals, in contravention of the strict television rule which requires the presence of at least one positive character, with whom the viewer can identify. Succession has taken this transgression to an extreme never reached: not only is there no protagonist, not only is there no positive pole, but any point of identification is missing. All the characters are unfailingly petty, pathetic, reprehensible, ridiculous. The protagonist family, the Roys, own a global media empire at the center of which is ATN, an aggressively right-wing channel modeled on Fox News. Patriarch Logan Roy, centralizer and despotic, has always had the command, but now old age is looming and the three children are ready to fight each other for the inevitable war of succession. Who will inherit the top job and become CEO? The predestined but fragile Kendall, the underrated and buffoonish Roman or the intelligent but inexperienced Shiv? Logan, despite his deteriorating health, will never agree to step aside, and for his own benefit he does not hesitate to belittle, humiliate, manipulate and turn his children against each other. Children who, in turn, are spoiled children, adamantly convinced that they deserve the crown despite their inadequacies, blind to their own ineptitude. Around this family moves a circle of opportunistic, hypocritical managers, ready to stab each other in the back for a career boost. Yet, over the course of four seasons, Succession has succeeded in the miracle of making us passionate about the events of these characters, making them part of our daily life. How was this possible?
It is ironic that one of the last great American epics was created by an English screenwriter, Jesse Armstrong, formerly known for the two brilliant comedy, Peep show e The thick of it. Both share many elements with Succession: first of all the aesthetics from mockumentary, with handheld camera, blocked shots, visible changes in focus, abrupt zooms. It is a fundamental realism effect, which removes the glamour from the representation of wealth and gives the viewer the impression of spying on the private lives of members of the elite, of entering the secret chambers of power, where kings reveal that they are not up to the position they hold. The dialogues are wonderful, from the bravura pieces with bursts of cynical puns, to the creativity of the insults, to the hyper-realistic sequels of interlayers, stumbles, tautologies a la “It is what it is”. All of this creates a unique amalgam of poisonous satire, soap opera and tragedy.
On one side, Succession it is a kind of roman à clef that well represents the current intertwining of media, capital and politics, further complicated by the arrival of the giants of the technological sector. The Roys recall the Murdochs, as has often been said, but also the Redstones (CBS and Viacom), the Maxwells, and the many other dynasties of media barons present throughout the world, including Italy. The competing Pierce family recalls the Bancrofts, who sold the reputable Wall Street Journal to the demon Murdoch. Swedish entrepreneur Matsson is a cross between Elon Musk and Daniel Ek (founder of Spotify). True power comes not only from money, but above all from ownership of the media, from the possibility of influencing public opinion to “control the narrative”, as it is often said. From this point of view, although no one is spared, the series expresses a clear and severe judgment on how much the Murdoch style has poisoned the public debate.
On a deeper level, Succession is a Shakespearean tragedy of the third millennium: it is the story of a family who raised their children in the most literal application of capitalist competition, with the result of having made them completely dysfunctional adults. The question that underlies the whole series is: how does love (parental, filial, fraternal, conjugal) work in a culture where the only value is the rationality of economic action? How is affectivity, of which no human being can be deprived, articulated in a world in which it is assumed that everyone always has individual gain as their primary objective? To what extent does wholesome selfishness become an agent of chaos that will lead us all to destruction?