Jesse Armstrong: Succession’s episode 8 in its final season is nothing short of a masterpiece. Teasingly titled “America Decides,” the episode defiantly drew the line between the Roy siblings, who had until now presented a united front. Although the cracks in their relationship started emerging ever since Kendall and Roman sidestepped Shiv from the top position at Waystar Royco, this episode manifested those realities in epic fashion. The show’s creator Jesse Armstrong, spoke about his thought process behind curating this special election night episode and how long he had wanted to do something like this when he first started the show.
While speaking to Kara Swisher on Succession’s official podcast, Armstrong explained that such an intensely politically-charged situation was the “best vehicle for” seeing the Roys acting on the culture in the political world. Shiv and Roman drew first blood and drew swords against one another from the first moments of the episode. Shiv supported Democrat Daniel Kimenez, while Roman sided with the Republican candidate, Jeryd Mencken. At the center of their inclinations were the future of the GoJo deal and, more importantly, the future of their familial nuance.
Armstrong drew heavily on real-life elections as the fictional fight went down to the wire. “We use real-life analogs, and we think about them a lot, but we hopefully don’t slavishly follow the jumping-off point for what we want to do in this fictional world. It’s a curiosity [of the American system] that the news organizations have this out-sized role in calling the election.
You’re not hearing the election result; you’re hearing news organizations predicting the election result, and that’s an interesting pressure point that they have on the system.” Even though in the fictional world of Succession, Tom Wambsgans, the head of ATN Network, has “called the election” in Mencken’s favor after getting the go-ahead from Kendall and Roman, the fight seems far from being over.
The main reason for this ambiguity is the State of Wisconsin, which suffered violence on the night from Mencken supporters, and a lot of ballot votes were lost in a wretched fire at the polling booth. Armstrong broke down why each of the sides supported either of the factions and also discussed the legal complexities of recounting lost votes in an exigent situation with political consultants on the podcast.
Roman’s “nihilistic” choice for “authoritarianism,” Shiv’s “moral compass” for making things right
At the heart of the conceit, Armstrong feels Roman chose to side with Mencken beyond the obvious reason of the president-elect promising to cancel the GoJo deal. “Maybe Roman has lost a father, and maybe he might be in the market for somebody in that role. And, a bunch of other psychological things which fit him to lead towards an authoritarian,” explained Armstrong while going over the psychology behind their inclinations.
Roman kept referring to what Logan would have done in his situation to justify his actions to Shiv, but Armstrong resisted jumping to conclusions. “It’s [a question] I would choose not to answer because a lot of this latter season has been about different people, especially the three who are in contention to take over, wielding what Logan would or wouldn’t have done.”
Shiv’s stance beyond the GoJo deal was immediately a point of discussion. The dynamics of doing good to appear to be doing good soon boiled over the tensions, and Sarah Snook, who plays the said character, had this to say in a post-airing interview. “It’s a dilemma about what motivates politicians and people through the ages: Why do you do the good thing because you want to be seen to be good? Because it serves your interests better? And that’s what particularly pisses Kendall off. When he starts to feel that her professed liberalism is merely preening, that’s what blows his gasket.”
Kendall’s increasing transformation into his father and the future of “election night”
Kendall Roy has always been central to all things Succession since Season 1. Jeremy Strong’s masterful portrayal has graduated from the hyper-charged golden boy slated to take over his father’s media empire to becoming the scapegoat, fighting back, and now handling the reins once again. Ken has a world of emotions inside him, and it often feels like he is confused about what to do. Episode 8 saw him get caught between his two siblings. But Shiv’s betrayal at the end was the final nail in the coffin for Ken to decide against his internal voice to support Jimenez in a telling reflection about his frailties as a father to Sophie.
When Ken expressed his concerns over Roman and Mencken’s “closeness,” it was out of self-interest. “He also has his base material self-interest, which is maybe latent until it’s really fired up by this feeling about his sister’s hypocrisy. Kendall is being amongst the frankest we’ve ever seen him,” reflected Armstrong. The creator also hinted that we might be in for some more of the election flavor in episode 9 of Succession. Wisconsin will be going to court, and the results of that might change the outcome of the tense battle.