What it takes
Photo: Macall Poland / HBO
Succession needs an episode like “What It Takes” for a long time. We know enough about Waystar and ATN and the Roy family to make comparisons to Rupert Murdoch, his children and the toxic legacy of News Corp, or perhaps Donald Trump and his smooth-brained fail children. If a show like Succession If we were to, say, address the Trump family more directly, we might understand Don Jr. as a Roman Roy guy, a pitiful sucker eager to please the distant, abusive father who will never love him. Such a show could only hint at the real world impact their familial intrigue is having by instead delving into the little, no doubt hilarious, conflicts that engulf dad and the kids behind closed doors.
The title “What It Takes” refers to Richard Ben Cramer’s book on the 1988 presidential election, a classic political nonfiction and perhaps the definitive book on how campaigns work. The 1988 election was an insane scramble to succeed Ronald Reagan after he reached his two-term limit, with then Vice-President George HW Bush and Bob Dole vying for the Republican nomination and Michael Dukakis, Gary Hart, Dick Gephardt, and a hopeless Joe Biden mistaking it for the Democratic side. There have been many wild turns in the news media, especially among the Democrats that led to a nomination, but it wasn’t like the media had a thumbs on the scales themselves. As in any healthy democracy, it was decided by the people of New Hampshire.
The perverse twist of âWhat It Takesâ is that the actual process of who becomes president – or who becomes the right-wing candidate – is completely opaque and decided in the lobbies and suites of off-the-books events rather than campaign stops and ballot boxes. Just as Logan Roy casually eyed the interim CEO of Waystar in his PFY’s cabin, he could also play the kingmaker from the couch in his hotel suite, even though he was the man in charge of making the current president the “raisin” , from trying to bully for a second term. He is on the hunt for the next white man who looks like the strongest contender in exchange for cheap coverage on ATN who will agree to a hands-free approach to Waystar’s criminal misfortunes. These are things that must not happen – the DOJ should be independent of the influence of the executive, elections should be decided by the voters – but from the point of view of Succession, to do.
So who is going to be president? We are offered four candidates: There is the current Vice President, Dave Boyer (Reed Birney), aka “Martin Van Boring,” who talks about his anti-big-tech babble and keeps wetting his lips. (“He’s like a comic bear and there’s always a picnic basket nearby,” says Roman.) There’s Rick Salgado (Yul Vazquez), a RINO guy who seems to have an awkward relationship with the party’s rabid grassroots but may have mainstream appeal. There’s Connor Roy, an anti-tax idiot whose candidacy is such a joke that even his family members can’t help but rant about it. And then there is Jerryd Mencken (Justin Kirk), a thoroughbred white racist and fascist who is also by far the most charismatic contender.
The bottom line for Logan Roy – and the bottom line, as we’ve learned in the real world, for Rupert Murdoch and Donald Trump – is not a question of ideology, but of power. Presidential candidates are judged on their popularity with viewers and how they could benefit from ATN’s ratings and Waystar’s business interests, but what they actually believe doesn’t matter that much. These adjustments can be made if they have not already been made. A network where Ravenhead is a popular prime-time demagogue can accommodate a guy like Mencken, and the rest of the program will adapt, even if the commercials go to an online pillow distributor. Logan needs a winner, especially now that he’s under threat from the DOJ and its shareholders.
The dispute within the Roy family over Mencken is absolutely terrifying. Shiv has proven to be politically flexible – not so long ago she played with a Bernie Sanders-esque flamethrower as chief adviser, and now she advocates the least appalling option. We’re so used to seeing Roy’s business as a fun, full-contact sport that Shiv’s real panic and disgust at Mencken’s candidacy is a splash of cold water on the face. If you thought that a company like Waystar – or, you know, News Corp – would draw the line on fascist authoritarianism, What It Takes would perish. Mencken’s extremism could end up coming back to bite Waystar, which might lead to the Succession Equivalents of NewsMax and OANN, but Roman thinks it’s good for business, and his daddy agrees. You are probably right.
In the end, Shiv makes a comical spineless choice. She can’t refuse to appear in a photo with Mencken and continue to be âpart of the familyâ, so she negotiates a pose that moves her as far away from him as possible. “You win, Pinkie,” her father says of this embarrassing, shameful defeat. She dumped her lot with her father and he will continue to abuse her for it, just like he did after she made a deal with his bitter opponents last week. In the photo she is not smiling. She’s not next to Mencken. But she should know that she is complicit, and as viewers of this very entertaining show, we should know that there are no corporate barriers preventing the worst people from taking control of the country.
â¢ Kendall’s longstanding refusal to listen to his attorney – who annoyingly doesn’t tell him everything he wants to hear – seriously undermines his standing in the cruise scandal. His smug replies in a preparatory session (“I approved the illegal payments because I love sexual assault and love to cover it up”) carry over to the actual questioning by DOJ officials. Meanwhile, Waystar buries the DOJ in paperwork, conducts a falsely conscientious internal investigation, and rubberizes the work until yesterday’s crisis was over.
â¢ Roman green light for a hit movie called Dr. Honk, about a man who can talk to cars, suggests Hollywood might be a good place for his talents.
â¢ Also through Succession Standards, Will Tracy’s script is salty and colorful than usual. Selected one-liners from the âATN-Primaryâ: âHow do you as a libtard like to cave the elephant’s asshole?â âHey Shiv, is it true that you are at the Hassfest festival, burning books and missing skulls in Nuremberg “Virginia?” “I’m not saying it’ll be the whole of the Third Reich, but I’m seriously worried that we might slip into a Russian Berlusconi-adorned Brazilian fuck pile.”
â¢ A wonderful episode for Tom, whose imminent jail sentence earned him the nickname âChristmas Treeâ in the office because others, like Greg, can hang their âcorporate misconduct ballâ on his branches. Meanwhile, he’s too depressed to sleep with Shiv, who is still on contraception (“It’s like throwing so much cake batter against a wall”) and rummaging through overcooked omelets at a local restaurant to get a feel for Getting food to the jail might be like.
â¢ But maybe he doesn’t have to go to jail! Kendall arranges a secret meeting to convince Tom to join his team and get an immunity contract for turning on Logan. The offer sounds great if it weren’t for the fact that Tom cheated on his wife and mixed up with a guy who is always losing. At this point Tom is so resigned to his fate that he orders dinner like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day: “I take the Griddle Hero Special with double hash browns, fully loaded and a simple waffle and a large cup of normal temperature water.”
â¢ It didn’t seem possible for Willa to loathe Connor any more than after he suggested turning her game into such a bad event, but using her body to indulge in the lustful donor (Stephen Root) who is responsible for the Future is Responsible to Flatter Freedom Summit takes hostility to another level.
â¢ Tom and Shiv’s winery produces a screw-top wine that looks as bad as their marriage. “It’s earthy, kind of Germanic,” seems like wine language for “It literally tastes like shit.”
â¢ Greg Line of the Week: “I just feel like my physical length means I could be a target for all sorts of mishaps.”