【N.J】 The Roys’ desires outweigh critiques of their influence – New Jersey News

#Roys #desires #outweigh #critiques #influence

Pour one out for the Roy siblings, who take their leave of the TV landscape as unhappy and misguided as they were when “Succession” premiered on HBO in 2018.

The show became an obsession for many, inviting audiences into an inner sanctum of lavish settings and private planes at their beck and call — and where viperous family dynamics reigned supreme. Sometimes the violence was literal, like a prestige Punch and Judy show — it certainly looked like Kendall was about to gouge his brother’s eyes in the finale’s eleventh-hour showdown — becoming a physical manifestation of the spiritual violence they were forever inflicting upon one another.

Their excessive net worth was handed down to them by Daddy. Their magnificent incompetence? Courtesy of Daddy, as well. Logan Roy’s real legacy wasn’t the billion dollar corporation he built, but the sons and a daughter he dumped into the world like a carton of battered, unwanted dolls missing tufts of hair. Congratulations?

The show’s driving force was the ongoing trauma doled out by a manipulative father and emotionally detached mother who left these siblings forever scrambling for validation, only to have it yanked from their grasp just when they think it’s within reach. They are incapable of keeping a secret long enough to surprise their adversary. They make the same mistakes, over and over. Can you not see their humanity? Can you not feel their anxieties? Who can keep a straight face watching these overindulged clowns slip on yet another banana peel?

How much of the show’s appeal was rooted in schadenfreude? They’re miserable, even with all that money — and hooboy, is it a lot of money. Why are they fighting over this company when they never even have to work?

Over four seasons, the series was filled with aspirational visuals, marvelous performances and biting-ridiculous interplay.

And yet, for me, “Succession” was a masterfully empty show. There was no room for anyone else but the Roys and their feelings.

That tunnel vision was by design and a nifty bit of deflection that provoked fan cams and weekly power rankings and questions of “who will end up on top???” because showrunner Jesse Armstrong had little interest in telling stories about anyone outside this family’s insular circle. There was no contrast — or anyone to meaningfully challenge to their worldview.

And that is “Succession’s” great fumble. As a show, it was too in love with the navel gazing of its central characters, becoming the equivalent of a closed room filling with carbon dioxide and muddling the ability to think straight. From a narrative standpoint, someone needed to open a window and let some air in.

I’ve talked about these critiques in previous reviews. The series finale has only reaffirmed what I see as the show’s strengths as well as its profound nothingness. It failed to give us a better understanding of how soulless corporate chieftains operate at this level and, like hospital shows and legal dramas, it gets many of the finer details about the business world wrong anyway.

But there are other things that don’t ring true. In life, some words and deeds are deal breakers — you can’t come back from them. Not so for the Roys. They trash one another, retreat to lick their wounds, and then pick back up again with a shrug. This hasn’t been my own experience of the world. Deep betrayals usually come with real and permanent consequences. The Roys are codependent and maybe that’s why they refuse to quit one another, even as they poison their own well.

It’s conspicuous that we never see them with the kind of pointless hobbies and distractions that the rich tend to favor — that Kendall hasn’t spent an inordinate amount of money climbing Mount Everest or Shiv isn’t breeding horses on a sprawling estate somewhere or Roman isn’t playing around with crypto.

But the series absolutely nailed one truth: Every business decision we saw unfold was, in some way, bad for workers unlucky enough to have their livelihood tied to Waystar Royco. Much of that was kept off screen. The show was disinclined to spend time developing characters who weren’t power players and who might have had pointed things to say about the Roys of the world. Imagine if the series had ended with a full circle moment from pilot episode when Roman taunted a little boy, ripping up a $1 million check in his face. Maybe that boy has grown into a teenager with a long memory. What is his life like now? What are his disappointments and grievances?

Roman never gave that moment on the baseball field a second thought. It was gone from his brain the second he stepped on the helicopter to venture back from whence he came. I suppose that’s the point. Roman’s disinterest is one thing. But the show’s disinterest is just as damning.

Armstrong favored the dollop approach, which always struck me as begrudging but also disingenuous. In the penultimate episode of the series, Kendall’s loyal assistant informs him she’s leaving the job, throwing him into yet another one of his emotional tailspins. But we never learn anything about her — what she wants from life or how she feels about this ridiculous family and the garbage behavior she’s had to endure. We never go home with her and see her in private. Those moments simply do not exist. The show does not care. The show maybe does not want you to care.

In the final episode, Waystar Royco is ultimately sold to a Swedish tech company and the emotional focus remains where it has been for the show’s entire run: How this affects the Roys.

Left unspoken is the fallout on those employed by this blasted company. The bid was way too high and it’s a deal that will likely saddle the new company with billions in debt and result in massive layoffs companywide. But never mind, “Succession” has always preferred to guide your focus back to the Roy siblings and their fishbowl temper tantrums. That’s an intentional decision and one that has always undercut the show’s ability to actually say anything meaningful. Everything is decontextualized.

It’s bad when billionaires use their wealth to exert influence on levers of power and make life unaffordable — untenable — for the rest of us. We might as well be nothing more than dots on the ground, to borrow from “The Third Man.”

You’re allowed to enjoy “Succession.” Liking or disliking the show isn’t a moral stance.

But it’s worth asking why so many prestige shows like “Succession” choose to center the concerns of fictional wealthy people while studiously avoiding a meaty critique of their influence.

Nina Metz is a Chicago Tribune critic

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