Succession just completed its third season on HBO after taking a couple of years off during the pandemic. It was worth the wait.
Nominated this year for 25 Primetime Emmys (the most for any show this year), including Outstanding Drama Series, the show follows members of the Roy family as they manage patriarch Logan Roy’s multibillion-dollar media conglomerate. On the surface, the storyline and the characters seem distant and unrelatable. How much can the average viewer relate to the power struggles that come with dividing a vast media empire? How much empathy can we have for the superelite of society as they contend with their problems over $1,000 dinners served on million-dollar private jets? The characters are, at face value, rich degenerates whose selfishness and arrogance cause negative ripple effects through all of society.
But the best TV shows, regardless of their storylines’ absurdity, cause us to see the devil and angel that exist in all of us. It’s why we relate to seemingly unrelatable characters and make such huge emotional investments in the leader of a North Jersey organized crime syndicate (The Sopranos) or an estranged princess/mother of dragons (Game of Thrones). Like Succession, these stories are far from the experiences of most people, yet at the core they speak to common themes of family, betrayal, heartbreak, and the never-ending pit of the human heart.
In one scene, the son of family servants is offered $1 million to hit a home run at a meaningless family softball game. His hopeful parents look on as their son, who is barely old enough to understand this life-changing offer, fails the challenge. Though we might feel disgust as the family lawyer asks the servants to sign a nondisclosure agreement, we can all relate to looking after our own selfish interests at the expense of others. The more I have watched, the more enveloped I have become. The Roy family’s personal struggles, I realized, are just like mine, but on a much larger scale.
Succession is a continual reminder of the Old Testament wisdom book Ecclesiastes, in which the teacher reminds us that everything under the sun is meaningless, “a chasing after the wind” (Eccles. 1:14). No matter the wealth, influence, and power one family can wield, the basic depravity of humankind is inescapable. Succession offers the Christian viewer an extravagant reflection of the sandcastles of identity we all work furiously to create and sustain. I hope it also points us to our continual need for a Savior. (HBO; rated TV-MA for language and drug use)