* Slight Spoilers Ahead *
The story of Logan Roy and his dysfunctional yet outrageously wealthy family has taken the international audiences by storm for its deliciously witty banter, its bitter satire of inconsiderate wealth, and its natural flair when it comes to showing vulnerability as the weakest character trait.
Whether we are talking about business, family, or love, Jesse Armstrong’s Succession has pinpointed its universality and gained its well-deserved place of honor amongst the most iconic shows of the 21st century, including the Sopranos, Mad Men, The Wire, and Breaking Bad. But, while these television series are characterized by original premises and characterization, the dynasty led by Logan Roy has a corresponding counterpart in another family, which no one was bold enough to face before in television – the Murdoch’s dynasty.
The more we go into the story, the more the thin line separating the Murdoch family’s affairs and what’s told in Succession becomes blurred. As confirmed by the creator, Jesse Armstrong, for the Roys he was inspired by the events of several dynastic families, but none of them offered more insights than the one that controls Fox News. Therefore, let’s explore this parallelism between the Murdochs and the Roys, and offer a proper takeaway for those still believing that Greek tragedies are just works of fiction.
The similarities between the events recounted in Succession and the latest tumults occurred in Rupert Murdoch’s life are pretty evident, so much so that Lachlan Murdoch said he was convinced that his brother, James, is collaborating with Jesse Armstrong himself. This is what Vanity Fair reported in an item that traces the tumultuous last twelve months faced by the ninety-two-year-old media magnate: from the divorce via email with Jerry Hall to the war between his children to gain the control of their media conglomerate.
In fact, the patriarchal dimension and control over a huge media conglomerate are the first commonalities between these two dynasties: ATN closely resembles Fox News, especially if we consider the ownership of international newspapers, too. Aside from having both billion-dollar media portfolios, they also have a very right-wing political orientation. For the sake of satire, Waystar and News Corp are supposed to be two specular subsidiaries that are particularly unpopular among Democrats. Also, if we consider that the show was released in 2018, one year after the beginning of Donald Trump’s mandate, we can detect all the toxic values that said event brought to the table: Narcissism, disagreeableness, grandiosity, and more.
In this scenario, there are two old, conservative men sharing precarious health conditions, and their priority is to avoid any discussion about their imminent demise. In addition, Rupert Murdoch’s aspiration has always been to live forever, but human biology cannot keep up with his God complex. That’s why him and his fictional counterpart, Logan, are torn by the question of succession: they both want one of their three children, all born from their second marriage, to emulate them, to become an extension of them, but they do not really trust any of them. That’s why there needs to be a Darwinian battle for the survival of the fittest. And this is what Succession is really about: describing the brutal mechanism of natural selection while wearing a suit.
A Greek Tragedy in Television
It’s not hard to see how the Murdochs inspired Succession, yet this juxtaposition shouldn’t affect the perception that audience, critics, and keyboard warriors have formed around this show. When an original voice shines through, it’s is almost impossible not to acknowledge it as a miracle, and Jesse Armstrong, along with his writing room, achieved something unprecedented. This isn’t just a self-referential work of fiction: Succession tells, from the inside, how the well of wealth got poisoned, and doesn’t offer any particular formula to purify it. This is how honest and self-aware the show is.
There’s no proof that James Murdoch is collaborating with Jesse Armstrong himself; we just know that, amidst these assumptions, there are interests that might be aimed at overturning the power dynamics in this multi-player, economics-themed board game – that’s a fact. At the moment, there’s just a slight discrepancy between these two worlds: While Rupert Murdoch is still very much alive, Logan Roy is already dead in Season 4. What if this unfortunate event was just a big mockery of Murdoch’s God complex? That would be lovely!
As we can see, there are different open questions that sink their roots in reality. That’s why the never-ending dialog between these two dimensions, fiction and reality, is just what might determine the enormous weight of this provocative television series that’s not afraid of taking risks and poking the most powerful people of the world. Putting them in front of their conceit, bigotry, and futility allowed ordinary people to identify with the authors rather than the characters, and this is a show that marks a new-found maturity in the contemporary audiences. Greek tragedians such as Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides used myths to reduce the distance between people and their own truths; Jesse Armstrong might have achieved the same result here.