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Fate of the Republic: Breaking Down Episode 8 of ‘Succession’

It’s finally time for the U.S. presidential election, and ATN is ready to cover it with integrity

HBO/Ringer illustration

Television’s most miserable wealthy family is back for one final season of scheming, and The Ringer will be following their tragicomic power struggle every step of the way. Each week, we’ll break down the biggest developments, track who’s leading the literal line of succession, and catalog each episode’s most savage burns, best Cousin Greg–isms, and more. Let’s continue with the eighth episode, “America Decides.”

Succession’s Line of Succession, Week 8

It’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for: Succession crowning a new POTUS. It’s all hands on deck at ATN, which is covering its first election of the post-Logan era. It’s one that could have serious ramifications for the future of Waystar Royco (and, uh, the country). That’s because whoever wins the presidency could also determine what will happen with GoJo’s impending acquisition of the company. If Democratic candidate Daniel Jimenez prevails, it’s unlikely he would do anything to block the deal; as for far-right nominee Jeryd Mencken, his cozy relationship with Roman could allow the Roys to keep Waystar within the family.

Of course, the presidency is about more than just Waystar and the Roy siblings. Shiv is genuinely concerned about what a Mencken win would mean for American democracy, while Roman is, at the very least, alarmingly unbothered by the possibility of a fascist in the White House. “It’s fun, my team’s playing your team,” Roman tells Shiv. “It’s only spicy ’cause if my team wins, they’re gonna shoot your team.” That leaves Kendall, who is caught between supporting someone he is ideologically opposed to—his adopted daughter, Sophie, was recently harassed on the street by a Mencken supporter—and his own ambitions to take over Waystar. (A reminder that Kendall pulled Frank aside in last week’s episode to share his intention of running the company without Roman and Shiv.)

In any case, the polling models suggest that Jimenez will win. It seems like such a certainty, in fact, that Mencken meets with Roman to ensure that ATN would still give him favorable coverage in the event that he runs again. “Even if you’re not going to be the president, you’re going to be our president,” Roman says. But over the course of election night, the pendulum begins to swing in Mencken’s direction under controversial circumstances: A Milwaukee voting center was set on fire by far-right extremists, which destroyed around 100,000 absentee ballots that hadn’t been counted. Absentee ballots tend to skew heavily Democrat, especially in an urban area, and in a swing state like Wisconsin, those votes could determine the race.

The fact that 100,000 burned ballots can swing an entire presidential election in which tens of millions of people vote underlines just how stupid the electoral college system is, but that’s what Mencken is counting on. Rather than wait for a winner to be announced in Wisconsin, Mencken’s team urges Roman to get ATN to call the race prematurely, which it does. (More on that later.) Mencken then ends up winning Arizona, which theoretically puts him over 270 electoral votes—enough for the presidency. That puts ATN in an awkward position: No other major news network has called Wisconsin for Mencken, but if and when ATN announces the Arizona results, it effectively confirms, inaccurately, that he’s won the election. Roman can’t sign off on such a major decision without the support of his co-CEO, Kendall, and, to a lesser extent, Shiv. That’s when Shiv tries appealing to Kendall’s humanity, which is clouded by the possibility that doing the right thing would allow Lukas Matsson to buy Waystar. (It’s certainly convenient that Shiv’s political allegiances align with her personal interest in undermining her brothers.)

Kendall wants Shiv to call her old flame Nate, who is part of the Jimenez camp, and see whether there’s any way to guarantee that the Democratic nominee would block the GoJo deal. “We all wanna stop Matsson, right?” Kendall says to Shiv, still unaware that she’s been colluding against him and Roman. Shiv pretends to give Nate a call—she just dials a number that isn’t in service—and comes back to say that the Jimenez camp is “willing to think” about stopping the acquisition. Essentially, the fate of Waystar, how ATN covers the election, and potentially the republic as a whole rest on Shiv selling a lie that can fall apart like a house of cards, which it does in record time. Kendall calls Nate to corroborate Shiv’s story—you need only look at the siblings’ expressions to know that she’s been caught red-handed:

With Shiv’s betrayal finally out in the open, Kendall gives Roman the go-ahead for ATN to announce a Mencken win. Setting aside what this would mean for the country, the situation favors Roman far more than Kendall. If Mencken does prevail, then Roman has the ear of the president, and there’s no better ally to have in your corner than the leader of the free world. (There’s a brief shot in the episode of a framed photo of Logan and Ronald Reagan, which really hammers home that point.) After giving his “victory” speech, Mencken’s first call is to Roman: an early sign of how much influence he now wields. Not only did Kendall undermine the future of American democracy, but he also hurt his own chances of taking Waystar for himself. I’m pretty sure he’s more concerned about the latter; the rest of the country, not so much.

Takeaway of the Week: ATN Decides

On Wednesday night, CNN hosted a town hall in New Hampshire for former president and current Republican front-runner Donald Trump. The event was a complete shit show: Trump rattled off so many lies that moderator Kaitlan Collins—someone who, it should be noted, used to work at The Daily Caller—couldn’t keep apace with them. All told, CNN damaged its credibility as a news organization while tacitly legitimizing Trump by giving him a prime-time platform to spread misinformation. What’s even more harrowing is that the chairman of CNN, Chris Licht, believes the town hall was a success because it “made a lot of news.” (Perhaps CNN should focus on reporting the news rather than orchestrating a trashy spectacle.)

It’s hard not to think of Trump’s relationship with the media in relation to “America Decides” and how Mencken uses ATN to serve his own interests. When news of the fire at the Milwaukee voting station breaks, Roman gets Mark Ravenhead—the show’s Tucker Carlson equivalent—to go on the air and contend that liberals intentionally burned the ballots because they realized they were losing the election. It doesn’t matter that none of this happened: It’s all about controlling the narrative before the truth catches up to them, especially when Wisconsin’s election commission will need to litigate the results in court. It’s a process that could take months, and it has obvious echoes of the exceptionally tight 2000 election between George W. Bush and Al Gore, which went all the way to the Supreme Court.

Whether or not it’s warranted, ATN is viewed as a credible news outlet—that it prematurely announces Mencken as the winner will only help bolster his claim that he’s the next president. “The election has been called for me by an authority of known integrity,” Mencken says during his victory speech. There’s also an uglier side to this situation than the Milwaukee voting center attack: If Wisconsin manages to count the absentee ballots that were destroyed, then the election would likely go to Jimenez. ATN, in turn, can convince its conservative viewership that the election has been “stolen” from them, which could lead to Succession’s version of the January 6 insurrection. (In the trailer for the fourth season, we briefly see Roman out on the street with a bunch of rioters; I’m willing to bet those are so-called Mencken-ists reacting to Jimenez prevailing in court.)

Such is the power of the national media in our modern political landscape, revealing just how dangerous it is when news organizations that should have some modicum of integrity are deprived of it by influential figures with their own agendas. On the bright side, ATN could seriously damage its credibility if Mencken ultimately loses the presidency, the consequences of which could be similar to Fox News’ $787 million settlement with Dominion Voting Systems over false election claims. In the meantime, at least we have this incredible chyron from Pierce Global News taking a very suggestive shot at Tom:

The Most Callous Display of Wealth

I have to extend an apology to Connor: This episode of Succession is all about the election, and I haven’t mentioned him yet! Let’s amend that right now because Connor’s entire candidacy—and the untold millions he spent on it—is extreme privilege personified. “I’m so glad I didn’t drop out,” Connor tells Willa on election night. “It just makes an election so much more interesting when you’re in it.” If you say so, Connor: Not a lot of people can relate, including those in your tax bracket.

All jokes aside, Connor has been one of the surprising bright spots of Succession’s final season: compared to his siblings, who are constantly stabbing one another in the back, he seems to have figured things out. In his marriage with Willa, they both know exactly what they’re getting out of a somewhat transactional relationship, allowing them to be closer than Shiv and Tom have ever been. Connor might not become the next president, but he achieved something even more extraordinary: He’s a Roy with an actual sense of contentment in his life.

Naturally, the good vibes couldn’t last. Upon realizing that he won’t win a single state—no shit?—Connor tells Roman that he wants to concede and take up Mencken’s offer of an ambassadorship from the previous episode. (The implication is that Connor would become the ambassador to Slovenia, which, in my headcanon, means he will do a future photo op with Luka Doncic.) Even if Connor’s tiny fraction of voters wouldn’t be able to swing the election in Mencken’s favor, it’s not a great look to be associated with a fascist. As viewers, our only hope is that Willa would get Connor to come to his senses. “I mean, I am torn,” Willa says. “He’s very right-wing, but Vienna for lunch, Venice for dinner …”

“And Dubrovnik for breakfast,” Connor adds. With that, Connor does drop out of the race, handing a little more momentum to Mencken at the worst possible time. Dammit, Connor: I was rooting for you, we were all rooting for you! The only consolation from this unfortunate series of events is that Connor’s ambassadorship in Europe would make for an incredible Succession spinoff—one that ought to take place in the same universe as The Diplomat. A political drama with Alan Ruck and Keri Russell trading insults with each other? Now that’s a campaign I can get behind.

The Most Brutal Insults of the Week

5. Upon confirming his suspicions about Shiv working with Matsson: “I fucking asked you some real questions, Shiv. I wondered why you looked like a goose trying to shit a house brick. You piece of dirt.” —Kendall

4. While Connor is delivering his concession speech: “Connor was running for president?” —Frank

3. After Greg refuses to do a bump of coke: “Greg, it’s medically good for your brain. It is. What are you saying, all Aztecs are stupid? Don’t be a racist little bitch about it.” —Tom

2. When Shiv finally reveals that she’s pregnant: “Is that even true, or is that, like, a new position or a tactic?” —Tom

1. When Greg tries blackmailing Shiv for his silence after finding out she’s colluding with Matsson: “Uh yeah, how about I offer for you to keep all your internal organs on your insides rather than I pull them out your asshole?” —Shiv

The Cousin Greg Corner

For most of Succession’s final season, the Cousin Greg Corner has been sustaining itself on Greg Sprinkles; thankfully, “America Decides” was a goddamn feast for the ages. Let’s begin with the aftermath of Greg cozying up to Matsson during the preelection party, which went late into the night. “His crew knows some unseemly venues,” Greg explains to Tom. “I danced with an old man. … He didn’t want to dance, but they made us dance. He was so confused. I drank things that aren’t normally drinks.” I have so many questions—What does one drink that isn’t normally a drink? Does Greg need to go to the hospital? Is the old man OK?—but the important thing to note is that Greg discovers through Matsson that Shiv is working with him. It’s valuable information—something that Tom advises him to store like a fine wine and save for the opportune moment.

Back at ATN, Greg also provides Tom with an ill-advised bump of coke he still has on hand from his wild night out with Matsson. (Tom demands that Greg take a bump in solidarity; our guy’s had a rough 24 hours.) But if you think giving the head of a news organization some cocaine on election night is the most ridiculous thing that Greg could do in “America Decides,” the best (worst?) is yet to come. As much as Roman wants to force ATN to call the election for Mencken, such decisions have to go through not just Tom, but also the man known as Decision Desk Darwin: the company’s Nate Silver stand-in, who is apparently a numbers guru. (So, not totally like Nate Silver.) Incredibly, as Greg chows down on some bodega sushi—cocaine, drinks that aren’t normally drinks, bodega sushi; this man should be on life support—Darwin accidentally gets some wasabi in his eye. In the chaotic aftermath, Greg decides to pour lemon-flavored LaCroix onto Darwin’s face, and it goes about as well as you’d expect:

With a combination of wasabi and carbonated lemon water burning his retinas, poor Darwin is in no condition to argue with Roman, who basically gets to dictate ATN’s coverage for the rest of the evening. In a roundabout way, that means Greg played a meaningful (albeit incidental) role in the network legitimizing Mencken’s claim that he won the election. But wait, there’s more: Let’s revisit the Kendall dilemma from Greg’s perspective. Kendall is essentially the deciding vote between Roman and Shiv on whether they should be supporting Mencken’s narrative on the airwaves. When Kendall grows suspicious about Shiv’s real intentions after calling Nate, it’s Greg who seals her fate by sharing the hot goss he uncovered from partying with Matsson.

Would Mencken still have asserted that he won the election with ATN’s endorsement if Greg hadn’t set Darwin’s eyes on fire and told Kendall the truth about Shiv? Probably, but one can also argue that Greg was a genuine influence throughout “America Decides” in his own unique, bizarre, and incredibly idiotic fashion.