The Horrifying New ‘Succession’ Episode Gave Us 2020 Election PTSD

Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/HBO/Getty
Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/HBO/Getty

This episode of Succession might be one of the hardest—if not the hardest—to watch. The parallels between “America Decides” and the 2020 election are harrowing, and ultimately reflect a version of America we could’ve been living in had the results not swung a different way on that fateful election day in November 2020.

Though there are only two candidates really in the running—Democrat Daniel Jimenez (Elliot Villar) and Republican Jeryd Mencken (Justin Kirk)—the most noteworthy presidential wannabe is Connor Roy (Alan Ruck). Roman’s (Kieran Culkin) job was to push Connor off the map, but he failed to account for his brother’s stubbornness. “So glad I didn’t drop out,” Connor says to Willa before the polls start to close. “It just makes everything more interesting.”

Offering Connor a government post in Oman in exchange for dropping out of the election wasn’t enough—until Connor starts to lose every state. Then, without missing a beat, Connor comes crawling back to Roman, begging for a new position in a smaller country, articulating his request with a bizarre rhyming game: “Organize a little coup in old Peru. Put me in a van down to Kazakhstan. Couldn’t I just be our fun guy down in Uruguay?” Shocking no one, these rhymes don’t work. Connor does manage to walk away from the election with the ambassadorship in Slovenia, a country with a population lower than that of Houston.

While Connor broods in his palace of failure, everyone else in the Succession cast is storming around the Waystar Royco offices in an attempt to swing the election their way. Roman is a fierce advocate for Mencken, the white supremacist/fascist candidate who promises to block the GoJo deal with Matsson (Alexander Skarsgård), further securing Roman and Kendall’s (Jeremy Strong) place at the top of Waystar’s totem pole. While Shiv (Sarah Snook) has her secret deal with Matsson, she’s more cautious over the ramifications of Mencken’s possible win. Yes, a win for Jimenez would help with Matsson, but really, she’s more focused on the state of the nation.

<div class="inline-image__caption"><p>Nicholas Braun and Matthew Macfadyen.</p></div> <div class="inline-image__credit">Macall Polay/HBO</div>

Nicholas Braun and Matthew Macfadyen.

Macall Polay/HBO

It’s actually the biggest night for ATN flacks Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) and Greg (Nicholas Braun), who start their night with an awkward bump of coke and a bit of squabbling over who will be “Gregging” (i.e. running stupid errands). Ah, yes—it’s always comforting to know that those in power on election night are throwing temper tantrums over bodega sushi. God bless the USA.

After Shiv finds out Greg has been kicking it with Matsson and his crew, she grows wary that her brothers may find out about her alliance with their enemy. Instead of stooping to Greg’s level, though—in another scene, she literally hangs up on Greg just as he starts rattling off election info to her team—Shiv heads to Tom. Perhaps Tom knows of the little deal. Shiv apologizes for the blow-up in last week’s episode, but Tom refuses to accept her apology. When Shiv asks for a little bit of empathy—her dad just died!—Tom rejects and rejects and rejects until Shiv is tearing up. Her last resort: announce the pregnancy. The baby is Tom’s.

WTF Is Going on With the ‘Succession’ Election Plot?

“Is that even true?” Tom retorts almost immediately. “Or is that, like, a new position or tactic?”

It’s safe to say that, after such a hurtful comment, Shiv is done with Tom forever. Or, at least, she should be.

So, desperate to clean up her Matsson mess, Shiv resorts to Plan C, which is to reason with Greg. As the election heats up, she corners him in a copy room. Her first confrontation made me jump: “Do you find me attractive, Gregory?” she says, which probably feels more painful than a dagger to the chest for Greg.

“I don’t think of things such as that,” Greg responds. (This is a Greg Hall of Fame quote, close to “If it is to be said. So it be. So it is.” Spell-check always has a field day when I type up Greg’s grammatically disastrous quotes.)

Though it sounds incestuous—and Shiv makes a reference to the Disgusting Brothers, suggesting that Greg might be interested because his buddy Tom was also sleeping with her—Shiv is playing at something more metaphorical here. “I’m just letting you know that if you try to fuck me, I’ll kill you,” she tells Greg. Once again, Greg has secured some power in Waystar. Who did he feed the cruise documents to? Kendall. Who will he unleash this gossip to? Well, it’s not going to Tom, who has forced Greg to fetch coffee and non-bodega sushi all night.

More on that later, because as this is happening, the biggest news story of election night begins to bubble up in Milwaukee. Protestors with unknown motives have burned some big ballot boxes in the crucial district. Since Milwaukee traditionally swings Democratic, most of the media and almost everyone at ATN (except Roman) blames Mencken’s fanbase, who probably destroyed the ballots to be sure Wisconsin would be called in the Republican candidate’s favor. But Roman, who is hell-bent on leveraging his bosom buddy into the Oval Office, forces Tom to call the state for Mencken.

Who Is Actually More Toxic on ‘Succession’: Tom or Shiv?

When a few more states swing red, ATN then must call the election for Mencken. While Shiv and Roman do everything but have a screaming match over what the network should do, Kendall is level-headed, and expresses his concern over naming Mencken president. His adopted daughter has been facing racist threats at school. Giving Mencken counts white supremacists among his supporters, the win would embolden the bulliest. Shiv spins a web of lies to try and stop Kendall from giving the OK to announce Mencken as president. When Greg ultimately informs Kendall of Shiv’s secret alliance with Matsson, the co-CEO sides with his brother and tells Tom to call the race.

ATN deems Mencken the winner, he gives a speech about creating a more “pure” America, and the night is over. Kendall thinks he’s in control, but as Roman’s phone buzzes with a call from the new president; he realizes he may have just lost the reins. On Pierce Global News and other networks, the race hasn’t been called yet—instead, chyrons indict Tom for calling the race too early, before Milwaukee residents had the chance to revote. By the end of the episode, the race hasn’t been officially called, meaning ATN might have just lost all their credibility as an American news source.

<div class="inline-image__caption"><p>Jeremy Strong.</p></div> <div class="inline-image__credit">Macall Polay/HBO</div>

Jeremy Strong.

Macall Polay/HBO

As we enter the final two episodes, this is a horrifying turning point in Succession. Mencken fans, who feel a lot like Trump supporters, are waiting to enact violence if their candidate doesn’t secure the win. Most likely, he didn’t actually win. But ATN has called the race, and the folks who stand by Mencken believe that the network reported the truth. Everyone except Roman, who has become a bit of a right-wing incel, is too fearful to speak up at ATN.

While this may be reminiscent of the 2020 election (we hear a few utterances of “Stop the count!”) and the following Jan. 6 insurrection, the episode might actually be more prescient than it is a look-back on American events. Just days ago, Trump was featured in a town hall on CNN. The network was later blasted for platforming a famous election denier immediately after Trump’s event. This CNN controversy feels an awful lot like this “America Decides” episode of Succession, in which ATN interviews a bunch of Mencken supporters with no opposing viewpoints. As we roll into the 2024 election, best we keep this episode and its many consequences in our back pocket.

The Latest ‘Succession’ Episode Throws the Worst Party Ever

Keeping Up With the Roys

Even though they may not be in the main plot, we still want to highlight the most blazing burns and spiciest moments of Succession. Here they are from this episode:

-As Shiv and Kendall try to convince Tom that he should be covering the Milwaukee ballot burning on ATN, he gets frustrated and passes the phone off to Greg. “We’re not talking to Greg,” Shiv says. She hangs up the phone before he can even get a second “um” into his mouthpiece.

-Shiv begs Tom for forgiveness, using her father’s death as the reason for her cruelty. Tom’s not buying it. “You also sort of killed him,” he tells her, leading to more tears. “Sort of.” Tom, chill out!

-Roman and Shiv exchange plenty of digs in this episode. There’s no way I’m applauding any of Roman’s childish bursts of anger—I spent most of the episode wishing he would shut the hell up. So I’m awarding one point to Shiv for this one: “This is the grown-ups’ table. Be serious,” she says, echoing her father.

-Shiv tries to get Roman to hush, and Tom attempts to prove that his wife is worthless. “Shiv, you sound a little unhinged,” he says. That’s not going to work. Kendall steps up to the defense with his loudest, angriest remark of the night: “You fuckin’ watch it, Tom.”

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