The Roys are all too willing to sacrifice democracy for their own benefit as election returns come in.
After living through two traumatizing elections in our real world, “America Decides” may hit closest to home of any Succession episode. It’s written by showrunner Jesse Armstrong, a British writer who cuts directly into the rotting heart of American democracy with the basic truth that we’re standing on thin ice, and the only people keeping us from slipping into the black coldness below are coked-up weirdos too rich to face shame or consequences.
The anxiety ramps up early in the episode. Election Day exit polls show a tight race, and Tom (Matthew MacFadyen) is “just a little bit tense” as he runs the ATN election coverage on zero hours of sleep. Luckily, Greg (Nicholas Braun ) is there to provide plenty of cocaine to keep Tom going. Tom insists Greg join in, and when he refuses Tom bullies him with, “It’s medically good for your brain!” Hard to argue with that.
Meanwhile, things are getting heated throughout the country. There’s the “Happy Vans” filled with Mencken fans intimidating civilians, and a firebombing at an election center in Milwaukee that may have destroyed votes. Tom ignores all of this because, thanks to pressure from his conservative viewership, he wants to double down on the illegal voting news from a source that is “not well.” If reading this is giving you vertigo it’s probably because Fox News just had to pay almost $800 million for doing the same thing in 2020.
The Roy children (minus Connor) gather at the Waystar office and immediately pursue their own selfish schemes. Shiv (Sarah Snook) tries to convince Matsson (Alexander Skarsgård) to get ahead of the fake subscriber numbers out of India, but he declines, preferring to keep those numbers secret.
Kendall (Jeremy Strong) apologizes to Nate (Ashley Zukerman) for cornering him at the tailgate party the night before, but still insists that he pitch Democratic candidate Daniel Jimenez (Elliot Villar) about taking on tech together after he’s elected. He wants Jimenez to stop the GoJo takeover of Waystar, but the candidate doesn’t show any interest.
Roman (Kieran Culkin) heads over to the election headquarters of Jeryd Mencken (Justin Kirk) , already thinking of the next steps for when he loses. Mencken asks Roman for ATN to “control the narrative” by making his loss seem like a moral victory, and Roman responds with a chilling, “Even if you’re not the president you can be our president.” It’s another vertigo-inducing line for those who’ve followed the Dominion lawsuit.
The stakes are now clear. The presidency comes down to Wisconsin, the perennial swing state. After the fire torches who knows how many Jimenez votes in the liberal bubble of Milwaukee, there’s not enough votes for him to overtake Mencken. Do they let the courts handle it and eventually have a possible do over, or do they go ahead and call the presidency for Mr. Fascist?
Succession has always been a fun house mirror reflecting real life, but this episode goes one step further and presents the sobering consequences of late stage capitalism. The pressure increases when Mencken changes his tune and says he will block the GoJo merger with Waystar if ATN calls Wisconsin for him, giving the Roy boys major incentive to overthrow democracy.
In the middle of all this, Shiv and Tom have a brutal epilogue to their balcony fight from “Tailgate Party” in a hallway. She apologizes first, but it’s really just to get him to apologize. When his face doesn’t move and Shiv takes offense, Tom replies with a hilarious, “How should I frame my face?”
Succession has always been a fun house mirror reflecting real life, but this episode goes one step further and presents the sobering consequences of late stage capitalism.
Things quickly go downhill from there. Tom infers that Shiv actually hated her father and probably “sorta” killed him. Shiv retaliates by tossing the hand grenade that is her pregnancy at him. He asks her if this is another tactic and doesn’t believe her, but when she storms off in tears, Tom gives an all-time “Oh no” face.
The evening officially turns into a slow-motion nightmare when Tom forces ATN to declare Mencken the winner of that state. He forces the country into a constitutional crisis while high on coke and bodega sushi. When Mencken legitimately wins Arizona, he now technically has enough electoral votes to be declared the winner, putting ATN in a tough spot. Even though Mencken most likely would have lost if his goons had not torched the Milwaukee votes, he’s now one call away from being the most powerful man on the planet.
Everyone at ATN knows this, including Kendall, who may finally be having a coming to Jesus moment when he talks to his siblings in a conference room. He wants to “rethink Wisconsin” before he has a debate about the idea of America with Roman (“It is kind of a nice idea…all the different people together.”). Roman has no worries about destroying the republic. It’s just a “night of good TV” according to him.
Roman asks his brother what their dad would do. Logan would want to be on the good side of the man printing the money, but like Nate said last episode, they’re not the previous generation and that’s a good thing. When it’s just Ken and Shiv, he’s able to be more vulnerable with her. First, he admits he’s jealous of Roman and Mencken’s friendship, but he also tells her he thinks he’s a bad father and that, “maybe the poison drips through.
But let’s not hold our breath, because Ken still has his eye on the corporate throne prize. He tries to get Shiv to talk Jimenez into blocking the Waystar purchase. She tells him she’ll talk to Nate right away and then proceeds to fake the call.
In an incredibly staged scene by director Andrij Parekh, this Shiv trick quickly unravels from her POV in a conference room surrounded by glass. Kendall tries to call Nate to follow-up and we see his reaction through the glass, looking back at Shiv, appearing very guilty.
Kendall is done talking about the pros of US democracy. Mencken is going to get Kendall to where he needs to be (so he thinks) so that’s what has to happen, no matter how traumatized his own daughter is from one of Mencken’s fans assaulting her. The terrifying thing is these characters know what’s happening and let it happen anyway. Greg drags his feet delivering the news ATN is calling the race for Mencken like he’s being forced to launch the nukes. Kendall shows on his face that electing this fascist will be awful for people like his daughter who have to face the real world, or Willa who seems to be the most grounded of the family and strongly speaks out against Mencken.
Mencken is declared the winner, and takes a horrifying victory lapse (it’s never a good sign when an American president delivers a “I like democracy but…” speech). It leaves Kendall questioning his move while driving in the rain. He tries to talk to his daughter, but the damage has been done. He’s put the man who scares her the most in charge of the country, even though he’s “only doing this to keep his children safe.” The poison drips through.
Boars on the Floor:
- Adam Godley has been a reliable “that guy” over the years, ranging from Love, Actually to a great supporting performance in Breaking Bad. Here he gets to do his best Kornacki impression as Darwin, the nerdy data guru behind the scenes. He also gets an all-time Succession line reading with “I’ve got wasabi in my eyes!?” after Greg eats his disgusting bodega sushi too close. Greg tries to make it better by throwing lemon flavored La Croix in his face. It’s a perfect Succession move to have a hilariously farcical scene in the middle of a disturbing hour of political terror.
- Greg mentions to Tom he went out with Matsson and his crew the night before and says it was “monstrous”. He then has a Hall of Fame Greg speech with, “I danced with an old man. He didn’t want to dance but they made us dance anyway. He was so confused.”
- Tom trying to bully Greg into snorting cocaine: “You saying all Aztecs are stupid? Don’t be a racist little bitch about it.”
- Con-Heads Assemble: I love what Parekh does with the camera in the scene where Connor and Willa hear the early returns. The camera slowly pushes in on Connor as the consequences of his buffoonery washes over him. Alan Ruck brings it with a genuinely heartbreaking face as he realizes he just wasted so many hundreds of millions on this foolish quest.
- The ATN chyron during Connor’s concession speech: “America, You Flunked It”
- Based on Ken’s conversation with Rava at the end of the episode, it’s looking like we finally get the Logan funeral next episode. Will there be too much rioting in the streets for it to happen though?
- Tom is in some trouble after calling the election prematurely, as Greg tells him, “A lot of very important people want to scream at you.”
- What do we think Ken means with the last line, “Some people just can’t cut a deal”? Are we supposed to know who he’s referring to?
- Buckle up for November, 2024. It’s going to be a very chill month to be alive!