'Succession' Made A Fictional Election Feel Almost As Stressful As The Real Thing

On "America Decides," the HBO series once again felt sickeningly close to reality.
Darwin (Adam Godley), ATN's Decision Desk head, and Roman Roy (Kieran Culkin) on Sunday night's episode of HBO's "Succession," "America Decides."
Darwin (Adam Godley), ATN's Decision Desk head, and Roman Roy (Kieran Culkin) on Sunday night's episode of HBO's "Succession," "America Decides."
Macall Polay/HBO

Leave it to “Succession” to make us feel extremely stressed about a fictional election.

On Sunday night’s episode, “America Decides,” the HBO series did exactly that, using a couple of the show’s signature moves. The episode zeroes in on a couple of hours during election night at the Roys’ right-wing cable news network ATN. It’s an approach to time the show often employs very effectively: focusing solely on events unfolding over a short period, plunging viewers directly into the chaos.

And with this episode’s eerie parallels to real-life elections, “Succession” pulls off its high-wire act of blurring the boundary between fiction and reality — but never quite crossing it. (TV and film writers, including those who worked on “Succession,” are currently on strike over pay and working conditions.)

Join HuffPost’s Marina Fang, Taryn Finley, Ruth Etiesit Samuel and Erin E. Evans as we flush out wasabi from our eyes, and recap “America Decides.”

Only 2 More Episodes Left

Next week: Logan’s funeral, and maybe a glimpse into the aftermath of this contested election. Buckle up, fuckleheads!

Details From This Episode That Will Now Live Rent-Free In My Brain

I have a funny one and a serious one. The funny one is the ATN chyrons. I love that this election episode gave the writers an opportunity to come up with some incredible chyrons, like “RAVENHEAD: WE DON’T KNOW YET WHO STARTED THE FIRE,” and “CONNOR ROY: AMERICA, YOU FLUNKED IT.”

On a serious note, I winced hard at the kicker of the episode, when Roman says to Kendall and Shiv: “We just made a night of good TV.” Especially eerie, given last week’s CNN town hall. — Marina

OK, but now I’m just singing, “Ryan started the fire!!!” from that one episode of “The Office.” — Erin

Shiv Just Chose The Absolute Worst Time To Reveal You-Know-What

You can tell Shiv and Tom are a similar kind of fucked up. They both weaponize information and use it as leverage for their own personal gain. Instead of telling Tom about her pregnancy when they were all lovey-dovey, biting the hell out of each other but on good terms, she waited until the day after their biggest argument (that we’ve seen) while he’s coked the hell up and running around the newsroom like a madman. She told him this not only expecting an apology, but protection to cover her ass. And I’m just like, who does that? She’s really her daddy’s child for that. — Taryn

Whew, I had to rewind this scene back because I could NOT believe she just threw that in there in THAT moment. I need to watch that scene again because they both were saying so much while saying so little at the same time. — Erin

I literally said out loud to myself: “Is she really doing this now?!” Also, Sarah Snook’s face when Tom asks if she’s being serious. Emmy! — Marina

When Tom said “You sort of killed him?” I was like, OH?! Y’all are going there?! Just nasty, nasty work. I’m mad they’ve taken so long to get divorced. Please wrap it up. My God. They should never have been together. — Ruth

HELLO!!! Get a divorce already. Y’all really get off on dragging each other for filth. Again, it makes sense why y’all were together in the first place. Terrorizing each other because it’s their love language. — Taryn

That Wasabi & Lemon LaCroix Scene Has Us Crying (Literally, In 1 Man's Case)

This was my favorite thing. Ever. As much as I criticize Tom for being a diva, hear me when I say this: If you ever offer me bodega sushi? Jail. Immediately. Not sure what spirit possessed you, but you need an exorcism — and a shred of common sense.

When the polling data analyst screamed “JESUS H. CHRIST?!” I yelped. The levels of just ... sheer incompetence from Greg absolutely sent me. I felt so bad for the man. — Ruth

"It's not that lemony! It's just a hint of lemon!" Dying.

Speaking of the sushi and LaCroix, this was another detail the show absolutely nails: how messy newsrooms get on big nights like election coverage. The multiple beverages strewn on everyone’s desks, the shitty food. I agree with Tom that bodega sushi is a huge risk. But it is also extremely accurate that hungry reporters and editors and producers on election night will eat pretty much anything in sight. — Marina

Greg really poured sparkling lemon water in that man’s wasabi-filled eyes thinking that he was doing something. When I tell you I hollered! He really can’t get it right if he tried. This is the same man y’all got announcing mass layoffs to folks. If I didn’t believe that there were folks just as incompetent that fell into this kind of power alive, Greg would be my favorite train wreck. — Taryn

I’m sorry, Marina, but like, how desperate do you have to be to willingly eat bodega sushi? I don’t even think “desperate” conveys the gravity of the situation; you have to be in the trenches. At that point, I will just eat sleep for dinner, abeg. And nobody come at me with the “bougie” allegations, because it is literally a health hazard! Food poisoning up by 1000, reporters? 0 on the scoreboard. — Ruth

Oh, I agree! I personally would not eat it. But I’m just saying that the larger point feels accurate: a lot of the vibe of election nights in newsrooms = eating shitty food at, like, 1 a.m. — Marina

All episode, I just kept saying poor Decision Desk Darwin. But I was cackling at this scene. “It’s not that lemony!” is just a really hilarious line. — Erin

DARWIN! That’s the analyst’s name. Bless his heart. — Ruth

The Siblings’ 'What Would Logan Do?' Debate

I’ve been thinking a lot about Roman’s insistence that Logan would have done the same thing, and I’m not sure what to make of it. Part of me thinks he’s right. I’ve always thought that Roman is most similar to Logan, and that’s why Logan was constantly dangling carrots in front of Roman and trying to split him off from his siblings in these later seasons.

But maybe that’s not the important question, since in this episode’s climactic moment, each sibling pathetically tries to use their dad to justify their thinking. Even in death, they’re still seeking Logan’s approval. Sad! — Marina

When I think about this question, the answer is really all of the above. Like you said, Marina, they’re trying to seek his approval, still. But even despite that, the apple just doesn’t fall far from the tree and each of the siblings had their selfish, manipulative asshole moment that was second nature to them because their daddy raised them. — Taryn

Yes, I definitely think each of them has like one singular characteristic about them that is similar to Logan. But then the whole rest of their personalities and business sense kind of seem to be totally different than their dad. Or at least different than any side we ever saw of him. Roman seems so so emotional — and well, Logan just always seemed stone-cold, except when he was trying to feign empathy for some larger tactical reason. — Erin

Last Night, 'Succession' Made A Rare Misstep

While most of this episode felt overwhelmingly realistic to a stomach-turning degree, I have a slight quibble. The way that the Roys can just force ATN to call the election felt off. In real life, it wouldn't play out quite this way, and certainly not so swiftly. One network fabricating a call wouldn’t instantly tip the entire election. It's a rare miss on this show, which is otherwise so brilliantly detail-oriented. It reminds me of a detail from last week that also felt a bit inaccurate to me: Nate being invited to Shiv and Tom's party. A top adviser to your family's chief political opponent being at your election party is a huge red flag. And in this week's episode, the Roys have multiple direct lines to the Democratic campaign, which, again, felt off. Fox News would not have a direct line to, say, Biden or Obama or Clinton.

Yes, these are slight quibbles. They certainly don't take away from the larger point the writers are trying to make: The fact that these idiot kids have THIS much power is so, so dangerous. — Marina

Marina, I was wondering about this. Poor Decision Desk Darwin. (We’ll get to wasabi-gate later.) But yeah, I agree, them calling the election and then Mencken immediately claiming victory felt ... so fast. Also, I might have just missed this but ... I wanted to see PGN somewhere in this episode. Maybe they were showing the intimidation in Wisconsin? But I’d have loved to see those two newsroom heads going at it. — Erin

Right, Erin! Was PGN also calling it for Mencken already? I doubt it. I guess we’ll find out if Mencken is really president-elect in the next episode.
It’s also just too fitting that this episode contained a literal fire. I like that the writers found something that seems extremely plausible: a fire destroying some outstanding ballots in a key state. And then in the absence of solid information in a breaking news situation, the lead anchor immediately starts spewing conspiracy theories and literally fanning the flames. Too chilling. — Marina

The Extreme Stress Of 'Succession' Doing An Election Episode

Much of what’s stunning about "Succession" is how the show often feels sickeningly like real life, but it never quite crosses the line between fiction and reality. Here, there are many eerie reminders of elections past that we instantly recognize: certainly 2016 and 2020, and a bit of 2000 as well. It's also a potential preview of 2024.

At the same time, it's not a direct reproduction of any of those real-life elections. The writers have always been very intentional about drawing from and reflecting real-life elements, but not creating direct, one-to-one analogies. For instance, Mencken doesn’t need to be exactly like Trump, and it’s arguably more effective that he isn’t. The way that the show consistently pulls off this high-wire act is brilliant — and extraordinarily stressful — television.

Also, as a recovering former breaking news and politics reporter, this episode was A LOT. — Marina

This episode was hard to watch and very triggering. Like Marina said, it wasn’t even hard to watch because of it being based off of exact events, but moreso because of the fine line there is between business and media and politics and the implication blurring those lines has on democracy. Shiv had been trying to ring the alarm on that most of the episode, even though she has her own self-motivating interests that factor into that. The entire energy around this episode felt more sinister than usual down to ATN-dubbed president-elect Jeryd Mencken’s victory speech in which he damned “welfare kings and queens” and promised to bring “something clean to this once polluted land.” If that speech didn’t send the hunting chill of 2020 down your spine, then I don’t know if we were watching the same episode. — Taryn

This episode made me incredibly thankful that I had the discernment early on to never pursue political reporting. Besides an op-ed or two, I knew from the jump that I never, ever wanted to cover Capitol Hill, politics, etc. Absolutely hellish. — Ruth

I had the now-unfortunate timing of graduating from college and getting my first job in the spring of 2015. There’s definitely a “before 2015/2016” in political journalism, and “after 2015/2016.” — Marina

LOL, Ruth. I definitely went to college thinking I was going to do political reporting. I minored in political science and was living in D.C., and by the time I graduated, I was like nah, I’m good on this. I’ve been in newsrooms for so many elections and every time it comes around it’s so stressful even being adjacent to the coverage. But I do have a confession about watching last night’s episode. I had to stop it about two-thirds of the way through because it was too stressful to watch right before bed and I didn’t want to be wired and just up after it was over. Watching that Mencken speech at the end, and seeing all the Roy children's faces, was just so chilling. I’m really not looking forward to 2024. I mean, it’s already starting. — Erin

Last Week On 'Succession'...

Here's what we said about last week's pre-election episode, "Tailgate Party."

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