Succession has become a Shakespearean media horror story
In the closing moments of Succession Episode Two, we see a dead-eyed Kendall Roy toss a pack of shoplifted batteries into a Manhattan street corner trash can. Why? Maybe just because he can. Or maybe because it makes him feel something, anything.
The scene marks a perfect ending to an episode in which Kendall has transitioned into something more akin to a white-collar Michael Meyers than to something of a Selina Meyer-type caricature. He’s no longer a blubbering loser with a rich dad that we can laugh at. Now he’s a robotic, machete-wielding suit-and-tie monster who's chopping off the livelihood of innocent people.
And when you consider this show’s core audience, Succession—at least in this episode—is absolutely a corporate horror story.
We often find ourselves here at Esquire wondering who actually watches Succession. Look at any major culture outlet—including this one—and you’ll see breathless coverage of the HBO drama about the fictional Roy family. But that coverage doesn’t necessarily translate to viewers. Succession Season Two debuted to 1.2 million viewers last week, up 32 percent from its Season One debut. It's a good showing, but compared to HBO Sunday night premieres this summer like Big Little Lies—which debuted to 2.5 million viewers—its audience is meager. Compared to something like Sunday Night Football or The Big Bang Theory—which averaged 19.2 million viewers and 17.4 million viewers in 2018 respectively—these ratings are miniscule. Have you heard of Yellowstone on Paramount network? The seventh episode of that show’s second season just debuted to 5.4 million, but you won’t see nearly as much coverage of Yellowstone on most major media sites.
Considering that data, it certainly doesn’t seem like a wide swath of America is tuning into Succession—which is to be expected of a niche show that is a satire of powerful families in corporate America. So who is watching? Given the fervor of coverage, it’s obvious that journalists and critics are. And despite it being a very clear satire of billionaire families like hers, funny enough, Rupert Murdoch’s wife Jerry Hall happens to be a huge Succession fan.
It's certainly possible that journalists and media entertainment elites make up the show's core audience. If that's true, it makes watching Kendall emotionlessly gut a burgeoning digital media company even more horrifying. It’s surreal, like watching Alien for the first time after having just been trapped on a commercial space tug with a violent extraterrestrial.
When I moved to New York in 2015, I did so to escape the heartless gutting of the Denver Post by a heartless hedge fund. All of my friends at the paper have since been fired or forced to resign. I’ve watched from afar as corporate overlords ignored national outrage, and continued to beat down an already crippled regional newspaper.
On the orders of his father, that's exactly the sort of thing Kendall Roy carries out in this episode. He coldly stands in front of a group of journalists and tells them they’ve been fired, effective immediately. They must leave their laptops. They will not be compensated for unused vacation.