The final episode of HBO’s Succession is right here. What did we be taught?

Notice: This text incorporates spoilers for a number of episodes from all 4 seasons of Succession.

Early in Succession’s first season, skilled simp Tom Wambsgans instructed his punching-bag-slash-protegé Greg Hirsch that he’ll present him easy methods to be wealthy, as if it’s a talent to apply and soak up. They’re outsiders — Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) married into the Roy household, whereas Greg (Nicholas Braun) is a mere cousin, initially prodded into the Roys’ enterprise not by ambition however by his mom. He had solely just lately wormed his method into the household’s affairs. They’re in awe of the glittering world of billionaires nearly inside their grasp, with little thought of the distress and humiliation in retailer.

Over the previous 4 seasons, Succession, which airs its last episode on HBO on Sunday, Might 28, has proven its viewers not solely easy methods to be wealthy however the best way excessive wealth and energy could be a pestilence that subtly rots all the things it touches.

With out moralizing, Succession rigorously constructed its case through the years, charting the sluggish unraveling of the Roy household because it chased ever-higher heights of energy. The present was a Shakespearean tragedy, a automobile wreck that gained an enormous, rubber-necking viewers: The Roys, the magnates pulling the strings at media conglomerate Waystar-Royco, ate, dressed, and lived nicely, however they weren’t nicely. They and their social circle existed in a walled backyard, surrounded by an underclass of family servants, bodyguards, drivers, and assistants who oiled the machine of their elegant life-style. However their worry of dropping even a scrap of energy additional remoted them even from the folks they claimed to like. Their riches didn’t simply make them highly effective or self-absorbed — they made them paranoid. Removed from being happy with their lot in life, they hunched over in a defensive place, beset with gnawing nervousness over all the dear issues others had been jealously attempting to take from them.

Succession’s portrayal of the secluded halls of energy was deeply cynical, and its attract at instances was purely voyeuristic, but it surely’s onerous to disclaim the present’s realism. Succession’s world — its aesthetics and plotlines, its characters’ grand motivations and little tics — mirrored real-life billionaires and the circles they run in. Below showrunner Jesse Armstrong, the present employed a squad of wealth consultants to make sure the accuracy of the writing on the nitty-gritty of the media enterprise (like whether or not it’s attainable {that a} CEO of a giant conglomerate might disguise important debt from shareholders) and the way the rich behave (they by no means put on coats as a result of they’re all the time transported straight from one vacation spot to a different). They put on Patek Philippe watches, which might run nicely north of $100,000, casually take helicopter rides out of New York to throw round a baseball, relish consuming unlawful avian delicacies, and have no thought what a gallon of milk prices. Many in style TV reveals have portrayed the lives of the rich as glitzy and glamorous, however few have so deftly used the true symbols and language of wealth to inform a narrative of greed and abuse of energy that’s additionally a microcosm of a society struggling below the load of an more and more unequal, undemocratic financial panorama.

On Succession, as in actual life, wealthy folks have simply, and infrequently catastrophically, meddled in politics and society. It confirmed us how simply the rich misapprehend the magnitude of their energy, utilizing it to drive obedience and invade the lives of others whereas by no means considering whether or not it got here with obligation. They used the potent mixture of wealth and affect to keep away from the implications of scandal and regulation at any time when handy, and frittered away lots of of hundreds of thousands on vainness artwork tasks and political campaigns, even to sway narratives about presidential elections. In a single episode in season 3, the Roys attended an unique political convention the place a gaggle of wealthy donors and enterprise leaders hand-pick the following Republican presidential nominee after the present president has introduced he’s not working once more, partially as a result of he’s so overwhelmed down by assaults in opposition to him by ATN — the Roys’ information community. Logan Roy (Brian Cox), the household’s malignant patriarch, favored whoever was most useful to his enterprise pursuits.

Such personal gatherings are the place actual billionaires additionally whisper their political wishes, throwing their appreciable money behind one candidate or one other. Political mega-donors like Peter Thiel, Ken Griffin, Mike Bloomberg, and George Soros (and previously Sam Bankman-Fried) have undeniably helped form which politicians make it onto the poll and what pro-industry, anti-regulation insurance policies these candidates assist. The quantity of “darkish cash” in politics — political spending the place the donor isn’t disclosed — continues to soar, exceeding $1 billion within the 2020 federal elections. The ultra-rich, being as well-connected as they’re, contain themselves not solely in elections however in heated political points and even weigh in on White Home coverage. Billionaires pour their cash into politicians and social causes for quite a lot of acknowledged causes, however their interference results in mainly one consequence: Their energy grows, and infrequently, so does their web price.

The Roys’ most blatant inspiration had been the Murdochs, who personal a worldwide media empire that features right-wing community Fox Information (although the present additionally incorporates dribbles of the Redstones, the media household behind Paramount World, and others). ATN was Fox’s fictional twin, as was underscored on this season’s election episode when the community unfold disinformation and a story of anti-establishment mistrust that helps Jeryd Mencken, the present’s caricature of Donald Trump, turn into president. The core drama of the present — a bitter wrestle between siblings to take over the corporate their father constructed — was drawn from the true succession battle among the many Murdoch kids, notably Elisabeth, Lachlan, and James Murdoch. This feud of two brothers and a sister was dramatized throughout Succession’s 4 seasons: The Roys continuously scrabbled to maneuver up the ranks, or at the least to not tumble from them. Not regardless of their wealth however due to it, defensiveness was their default state of being.

Even within the small particulars, Succession was injected with references and homages to the Murdochs and others — Logan Roy’s thought of shopping for up a raft of native TV stations in season one was a web page out of a Murdoch playbook. Logan stood on packing containers of paper to offer a speech to ATN staff in an early season 4 episode, simply as Murdoch reportedly did for a speech within the Wall Road Journal newsroom. Logan Roy’s direct line to the US president, nonetheless, feels tame in comparison with Rupert Murdoch’s coziness with world leaders.

However for all their wealth and energy, Succession argued, the Roys had been by no means a cheerful household. Logan, who set the tone for the remainder of the household’s moods and behaviors, flew right into a rage at any trace that he was being insulted — and was all the time grinding his enamel on the unease that somebody, someplace, may not be giving him his due respect. (Assume: Elon Musk, a regularly impulsive, blustering tech billionaire, who has more and more spouted off on his perceived persecution within the media, regardless of his historical past of doing or saying issues that have an effect on his firm, shareholders, and the general public at massive.)

Logan Roy was a billionaire who based an enormous media conglomerate; one would assume his self-evident accomplishments could be sufficient to appease his ego. But Logan was petty, thin-skinned, and reactive to each slight. He delayed saying a Waystar successor — simply as Rupert Murdoch, now 92 years outdated, has — as a result of he might by no means bear the considered giving up energy. As an alternative, he spent his final years viciously preventing off any perceived risk to his throne.

It’s onerous to not see the parallels, too, between Waystar’s cruise line sexual harassment coverup and Rupert Murdoch’s largest scandal: His newspapers had been hacking the telephones of politicians and celebrities, together with these of the British royal household. Below parliamentary testimony, Murdoch’s son James admitted that he’d obtained an e mail in regards to the cellphone hacking after initially denying he had been conscious of it. Did Rupert know? In the long run, different senior members of the paper took the autumn, some being arrested, one senior editor serving a jail sentence, and plenty of different workers resigning or being fired. Murdoch’s firm additionally paid an undisclosed quantity in damages — however nobody within the household was personally punished past monetary and reputational injury.

In a eulogy for Logan within the penultimate episode of the collection, Ewan (James Cromwell) spoke of the meagerness his brother introduced out in others. He had a stinginess of spirit befitting somebody compelled to aggressively defend his scarce assets — not somebody with billions in belongings. Not somebody whose son cruelly dangled the prospect of a million-dollar reward to a groundskeeper’s younger youngster at a household baseball sport within the present’s first episode.

Such unkindness was the least of the injury the Roys wreaked on the less-privileged folks round them, whose struggling they barely even register. Kendall (Jeremy Sturdy) by chance killed a cater-waiter whereas excessive and on a reckless pursuit for extra medicine; an ATN worker shot himself at work as a result of he couldn’t bear the office harassment he confronted; the cruise scandal revealed that in incidents involving violence or abuse in opposition to employees at Waystar, the victims had been labeled “No Actual Individual Concerned” — as in, not excessive sufficient within the ranks to advantage a lot of a response. Later, when Waystar got here below scrutiny for his or her cruise misdeeds, Shiv (Sarah Snook) manipulated a sexual harassment sufferer into silence. They carelessly left a path of casualties of their wake, brushing the destruction apart as collateral injury for his or her all-important want for extra energy, and for his or her father’s reward. Maybe it’s not shocking that Armstrong included a nod to Ghislane Maxwell within the present, invoking a determine who has turn into a infamous instance of highly effective women and men abusing susceptible folks.

But, in an actual sense, the Roys noticed themselves as mistreated and maligned. Connor (Alan Ruck), the eldest son, was a libertarian who regularly railed in opposition to taxation. His household reins him in not as a result of they disagreed along with his stance however as a result of it lacked subtlety. Quietly decreasing their taxes was what they employed accountants and monetary advisers for. (Throughout Logan’s wake this season, Waystar CFO Karl Muller, performed by David Rasche, unironically opined that burning the Gauguin work Logan stored in a Swiss vault could be ideally suited for avoiding taxes and amassing insurance coverage cash.)

The Roys’ specific model of meagerness has been well-documented in actual life. The precise billionaires of US society pay extremely little in taxes in comparison with the typical middle- and low-income American. A ProPublica evaluation of billionaires’ tax information in 2021 confirmed that the 25 richest Individuals paid a tax charge of about 3.4 p.c, whereas the median American family paid about 14 p.c of their annual wages in federal taxes. Billionaires typically argue that tax breaks for them profit everybody, liberating up capital that may be reallocated to charitable causes, to their modern firms, to creating jobs. Succession gave us the sense that the reality is way extra avaricious.

In The Wealth Hoarders, creator Chuck Collins — director of the Program on Inequality and the Widespread Good on the Institute for Coverage Research, in addition to the inheritor to the Oscar Mayer fortune — provides an insider’s view of the mentality of high-net-worth people, who think about it sacrilege to not maintain onto their wealth. Give away the curiosity generated out of your belongings, certain, however to chip away on the principal is “class suicide,” as one wealthy particular person advised to Collins. The wealth administration {industry} — generally known as the wealth protection {industry} — has ballooned previously few a long time, consisting of a military of execs paid hefty sums to make sure that the Roys of the world by no means have to offer an excessive amount of away, whether or not it’s through the use of obscure tax loopholes or profiting from trusts and tax havens.

Armstrong’s delicate messaging in regards to the Roys’ imprecise discontent isn’t some moralistic fable about wealth; the uber-rich typically report being perplexingly dissatisfied and uneasy about their monetary state. Having “sufficient” cash tends to be relative. Millionaires fear about with the ability to retire. A well-known 2011 Boston Faculty survey of extraordinarily wealthy American households — whose common web price was $78 million — revealed that multi-millionaires typically aren’t content material with their fortunes, with one respondent saying he wouldn’t really feel safe till he had $1 billion. Psychologist Robert A. Kenny, who helped create the survey, instructed the Atlantic, “Typically I believe that the one folks on this nation who fear extra about cash than the poor are the very rich.” One wealth adviser instructed the New York Instances in a 2017 article in regards to the anxieties of the ultra-rich: “They by no means do really feel they’ve sufficient. It takes some coaxing to get them to spend cash.”

Ewan gave his grandson Greg some trenchant knowledge within the first season, earlier than he’d begun to be corrupted by his affiliation with the Roys. “One of many signs of an approaching nervous breakdown is the assumption that one’s work is ever so necessary,” Ewan mentioned, quoting the thinker Bertrand Russell. That’s been the essence of your complete present: a rich household teetering on the sting of a nervous breakdown. Because the present involves a detailed, it’s nearer to the precipice than ever.

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