Succession Season 4, Episode 8 Recap: Chicken or Fascism?

The Roy family’s sibling rivalry reaches national heights in one of the most powerful episodes of the season.

succession ep 8 recap
Photograph by Macall Polay/HBO

Maybe I’m biased because my first election as a voter was the 2016 nightmare, but to me, there’s nothing exciting about election night in America. While it once may have been a glittering display of our country’s democracy—and a peek into our upcoming future—it now feels more like an anxiety-ridden evening where the outcome is simply putting the lesser of two evils into office. Because of that, I wasn’t too excited about embarking on “America Decides.” Yes, Jesse Armstrong revealed at the season premiere that he believes episode eight to be the most shocking of the season (a crazy claim, considering episode three exists). Still, as I sat down to view “America Decides,” I found myself questioning why I’m supposed to care about this faux election.

While the show has been hinting at the importance of this presidency all season long, I still found myself fairly agnostic to the outcome. To start, we barely know these candidates. There’s Jeryd Mencken, the fascist Donald Trump-type, a dangerously right-wing guy inciting violence within his supporters; and his foil, Daniel Jimenez, whom I don’t believe we even met until this very episode. The stakes are laid out plainly—Mencken would be a win for Roman, who has an odd, possibly sexually tinged relationship with the presidential hopeful. And while the candidate would help shut down the GoJo deal, who knows what his victory might mean for the future of America? Jimenez, meanwhile, seems like your run-of-the-mill democrat, supported by Shiv, but not in the pocket of the CE-Bros. I understand the context of this election within the storyline of this season, but to spend a whole episode focusing on this seemed like a waste when we have such a short time left with these characters. Luckily, I was very wrong.

Photograph by Macall Polay/HBO

I’m not going to lie, it took me a while to appreciate this episode for its worth, but by the end of it, I understood that “America Decides” isn’t about the election. Instead, it is simply a tool to once again dive deeper into the psyches of these characters, and to further along the power struggle storyline. Shiv, Roman, and Kendall started this season as a united front (albeit a weak and flawed one), but with every episode and obstacle thrown at them, their relationship has fractured—with “America Decides” providing what may be the definitive blow.

All three siblings enter this evening with vastly different mindsets and goals. Shiv, who has been playing both sides, Survivor-style, wants to continue this charade, though her real loyalty is to Matsson. Because of this—as well as her fear of America transforming into a fascist hellscape under Mencken—she supports Jimenez. Roman, meanwhile, who has become increasingly manic since his appointment as the co-CEO, wants his puppet in office, and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to get him there. They are the angel and devil on Kendall’s shoulder, as the oldest stays mostly silent throughout the early portion of the evening, moving back and forth on whom to support. Mencken would shut down the GoJo deal, yes, but Roman’s control over the politician concerns Kendall when it comes to his future aspirations within Waystar. Oh yeah, and a Mencken victory could put his daughter in danger.

Photograph by Macall Polay/HBO

In my opinion, this is one of Jeremy Strong’s best performances of the season. Kendall sits in his swivel chair, listening to his siblings bicker around him, his face contorting in shame and sadness as he weighs his personal aspirations with his role as a father. When he comes clean to Shiv about his feelings regarding the situation, there’s the realization that, with Logan dead, he has now taken the place as the bad dad in the Roy family. And no security details or emotionless claims of love will change that. In the end, Kendall doesn’t have a moral breakthrough, but he makes the realistic decision for the character we’ve come to know over the past four seasons—the one that will allow him to keep the company he hopes to one day control.

Because of Armstrong’s comment about the shock factor in this episode, I was expecting a big, jaw-dropping moment. But I should have known better. Succession has never been about the grand reveal, but the subtleties provided by both the writing and acting that slowly tease out the characters and their motives throughout each episode. Shiv’s admission of her pregnancy to Tom, the continuation of Roman’s unravel, the exposure of Shiv’s betrayal. There was no major death like in episode three, no heart-wrenching screaming match like last week, but “America Decides” is a powerful episode nonetheless. Now, as we contemplate the legacy Succession will leave on television, it is assumed the show will be remembered for world-turning episodes like “Connor’s Wedding” or meme fodder like Kendall’s rap in season one, but it’s episodes like “America Decides” that I, personally, will miss the most.