In the world of Succession, just about anything is fair game to be skewered: the president, the news media, the one percent.
On Succession, the Roys are a fictional hybrid of big media and political dynasties like the Murdochs, the Redstones, and the Trumps (with a little bit of the Kennedys in there, too). Their media conglomerate—Waystar Royco—is a threatening behemoth well-versed in horizontal integration. Don’t like the liberal news media? Just buy it! (Or at least that’s what the leader of the Roy family is trying to do at this point in the second season of Succession.)
The fourth episode, which just aired last night, sees Roman Roy, the youngest boy of the family media dynasty, as he is shipped off to a six-week business management training program to be with the “normos,” much to his chagrin. Connor, the eldest descendent of Logan who has also recently announced his intent to run for President of the United States, is tasked with attending the funeral of a family friend, which he doesn’t mind because the deceased was close with some benefactors who might be helpful with his political campaign (he tells his girlfriend he’s “getting a donor boner” just thinking about all of the money he could possibly milk from these grieving funeral attendees, to give you an idea of the type of person Connor is). Viewers are supposed to find these two despicable.
That leaves the real drama to the big kids: Kendall and Shiv. They are vying for the throne of their father’s conglomerate, but disagree on his plan to acquire PGM, the news media company operated by Roy’s leftist nemesis (a possible stand-in for the Sulzberger family). Covering “actual” news (which is, “who did what, and who wore a hat,” according to Shiv Roy) is not a priority for ATN (the fictional conservative-leaning network owned by Logan Roy, and obvious stand-in for Fox News).
Roy’s wheeling and dealing process of trying to buy up PGM is interrupted by a nightmare: a gunshot is heard and it is announced that there is an active shooter in the Waystar Royco offices, specifically on the ATN floor. He, along with Shiv and the PGM CEO, are thrown into a safe room, while Tom, one of the c-suite bosses at ATN is ushered into a side room that he thinks is a safe room, while rumors circulate that he (being the head of the network) is under attack. They tentatively blame Antifa (a subplot of the episode involves Tom’s investigation into a fascist news host, who is spotted at a fascist rally, gets married on Hitler’s estate, and names his dog after the Nazi leader, so Antifa protestors gather at the foot of the office building) until it is revealed that the gunshot was the product of a suicide. It is a nightmarish plot that the writers of the show deftly inject with humor at the right spots, preventing the episode from getting to a too-dark point that might render it unwatchable.
But the key to understanding the tone of Succession is the news chyron. When Succession‘s first season premiered last summer, a cheeky lower-third that appears in the credits was the toast of the town on Twitter. “Why are so many of our older celebrities dying?” The morally dubious meets the ludicrous in these headlines airing on the fictional ATN news network, and episode four (“Safe Room”) also happens to be the episode this season that depicts the characters watching possibly the most news we’ve ever seen them watch in one episode.
This season, the running gag that appears in the updated title sequence, is a chyron that reads, “Gender fluid illegals may be entering the country ‘twice’.” The crawl below it boasts two headlines: “Supreme Court Justice wants to create a ‘Supremer’ Court” and “Is ‘sweetcheeks’ hate speech now?” As ridiculous as they may seem out of context (or even within the context of the show), these lower-thirds are not that far from the reality we face when we click on a news program (or when we’re forced to sit and reluctantly consume the news at a doctor’s office waiting room or an airport terminal). (Just take Kellyanne Conway singing Taylor Swift‘s lyrics at her on Fox News, for example. Each day we dip further and further into a dystopic uncanny valley.)
That is what makes it funny, after all. It’s no secret that the news has gotten harder to watch, and a cursory glance at Twitter would have you thinking that’s all anyone ever talks about anyway.
There should be an app that lets you generate your own random ATN chyrons, each one becoming more ridiculous than the last. But until then, thankfully, there is now an entire Twitter account dedicated to taking out-of-context screenshots of hilarious moments from Succession, and the actual news, which you can watch and feel just as horrified as you would by watching ATN.