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The Characters on ‘Succession’ Are Not Real People

The Characters on ‘Succession Are Not Real People

Photographs: HBO; Collage: Gabe Conte
Reddit users are posting sightings of Tom Wambsgans. People on Twitter are declaring that men should not judge Shiv Roy’s “actions.” How the babygirl-ification of the “flop nepotism” family has morphed into a darker collective fantasy.

On Sunday, May 14th, a Reddit user dropped a post in the gossip subreddit r/FauxMoi. “Any gossip on the flop nepotism babies, Kendall, Shiv, and Roman Roy?” they asked.

“Anon pls but I saw Shiv Roy and her husband (idk his name) biting each other at an investor dinner a few weeks ago??” one user replied. 

“I have a friend who knows Rava, and Kendall hasn’t seen those kids in months,” another shared, prompting a fan to remark that “those staged pap walks from the other day make more sense.”

This role-playing continues for another almost 300 replies. None of the situations or characters mentioned are real. What is very real is the investment Succession fans have in the show, especially now, as it barrels towards the end of its fourth and final season. On Reddit—and, less playfully and with less self-awareness, across Twitter—Succession’s characters are discussed, dissected, and most notably, defended, as if they are actual people. But the defending, at least, soundly backfired last Sunday.

The eighth episode of the season, “America Decides,” shows Kendall and, even more so, Roman going full fascist, ordering ATN to prematurely declare a far-right extremist as the winner of the U.S. presidential election because he’s promised to kill the GoJo deal they’re eager to squash. Shiv is on the side of democracy but gets caught in a lie attempting to advocate for it, and her brothers immediately turn on her. 

This behavior is not out of character for the Roys. Kendall’s season one arc ends with him accidentally killing a waiter and allowing his father to cover it up. Shiv once intimidated a victim of sexual harassment to prevent her from testifying against Waystar Royco’s cruises division. Roman’s been openly rubbing elbows with fascists since season three. But after a seven-episode lull in outright Roy depravity that allowed for the babygirl-ification of the Succession’s most explicitly awful characters, some fans appear to feel betrayed by them acting unquestionably like they were written. 

“I’m scrolling through the Succession hashtag and like I am a little surprised that people are like ‘wow there is truly no one to root for,’” writer Bolu Babalola tweeted after the most recent episode.

Shiv has become a particularly contentious figure. While it’s her brothers who commit the bigger sin, she’s the only one in the episode to face any consequences. She’s outed for her scheming with GoJo founder Lukas Mattson, and after finally revealing her pregnancy to Tom, is accused of inventing it as just another “tactic” in their conflict. While hard to watch, this low moment is likely laying the groundwork for a larger plot point. But some loyal Shiv fans have seemingly lost touch with the concept of storytelling, accusing the Succession writers of misogyny or declaring that straight men should be forbidden from having an opinion on her. 

Meanwhile, some fans of Roman’s seem to feel that they need to atone for their earlier support for him—as if they’re public figures who unknowingly platformed a propagandist and election manipulator. 

But the blind devotion some viewers seem to have to these characters is also as troubling. One of the reasons the Succession characters, as villainous as they are, have people genuinely rooting for them is because they’re not caricatures of evil. Like real people, they have sympathetic moments, and viewers are privy to—perhaps even understand—what drives them to do the genuinely awful things that they do. But this character building has fostered a sense of protectiveness so fierce that some fans seem to have forgotten that they’re watching a TV show, and act as if these are real people being unfairly targeted by the writers. In a series about power and corruption and how they ruin people’s lives, you can’t expect every episode to be karaoke nights and bachelor trips to Prague. 

At this point it is obvious that Succession isn’t really about who will or will not be enshrined as CEO of Waystar Royco, but rather, the damaged people and systems behind the veil of American power. There won’t be some reveal that proves the secret goodness of these characters, nor will perfect justice be served to the bad ones—because that’s the point the show is trying to make. In that sense, they are very real indeed.

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