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‘Succession’ season 4 recap – episode 8: ‘America Decides’

Adam Godley (left) and Kieran Culkin (right) play Dawrin and Roman in “Succession.” Episode 8 of season 4 of the HBO series premiered May 14. (Courtesy of Macall Polay/HBO)

“America Decides”

Directed by Andrij Parekh


May 14

By Natalie Agnew

May 15, 2023 5:58 p.m.

This post was updated May 16 at 9:26 p.m.

This election night, “America Decides” is an ironic misnomer: the Roys are in the driver’s seat, and the results are disputable.

Narrowing in on the “Succession” series finale, the eighth episode is a harrowing hour-long partisan dogfight, with Shiv (Sarah Snook) and Roman (Kieran Culkin) locked in a tug of war and a conspicuously directionless Kendall (Jeremy Strong) in the middle. Election night’s candidates, Democrat Daniel Jiménez (Elliot Villar) and Republican Jeryd Mencken (Justin Kirk), are in a deadlocked race as events unfold, eerily echoing elections past. In warp speed through ATN’s coverage, typical power grabs have glaring consequences, including the destruction of democratic institutions and company credibility.

In the evening dawn of election night, Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) and Greg (Nicholas Braun) are scrambling to deliver the viewership numbers ATN needs to secure stability, and Jiménez looks to be winning early. With Roman behind Mencken and Shiv supporting Jiménez, Roman sees it as “my team is playing your team.” To him, it is all one big game where people are pawns and kings make deals to rule the board, and at the end of the day, his support depends on who will block the deal with Matsson (Alexander Skarsgård). Kendall would rather play both sides, but the night is a “moment of maximum leverage,” which both other siblings seem to realize.

[Related: ‘Succession’ season 4 recap — episode 7: ‘Tailgate Party’]

Connor’s (Alan Ruck) candidacy remains a footnote rather than a focal point, and he realizes misplaced hopes of an imaginary Schrödinger’s cat will not come to fruition. He delivers a concession speech putting his support behind Mencken in the process, positioning himself to become the ambassador to Slovenia.

Touch screens are malfunctioning back at ATN, and there is word of a fire in Wisconsin, but Shiv has decided it is time to address the emotional wreckage of the night before with Tom. Though Shiv initially offers an apology, Tom views it as a tactical move and responds by telling Shiv she “hated” her father and “also sort of killed him.” Repair unimaginable, she drops the ticking time bomb with an offhand comment: “Actually, also, I’m pregnant.” He questions the validity of the statement instead of responding with the empathy she expects.

Meanwhile, at a voting center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, “nutjobs are going paramilitary,” or in other words, Mencken’s people caused a fire that destroyed 100,000 absentee ballots to stop the vote count in a historically Democratic city. Roman claims it’s unfortunate but that Mencken has won Wisconsin, and ATN should call it. Facing off in the opposite position, Shiv says the vote can’t be certified while Kendall mumbles, “I don’t know.”

Bolstered by Mark Ravenhead’s (Zack Robidas) fascist talking points, Roman pressures Darwin (Adam Godley) and the ATN decision desk to make a “pending” call that Wisconsin goes to Mencken and that “this isn’t actually a numbers thing.” But after an unfortunate wasabi incident is further worsened by lemon LaCroix, Darwin is left yelling in pain and is distracted enough to completely call Wisconsin.

Even with Jiménez winning Michigan, it soon becomes clear Arizona will go to Mencken, making it a decision between calling the election for Mencken or backtracking on Wisconsin – one decision cuts their ties with Mencken, while the other irreversibly damages ATN’s reputation.

Again, Roman wants to call it, and as he explains to Kendall, he deserves it since Kendall always got his way as a child. “So because we had so much chicken when we were kids, I have to like the fascist?” Kendall queries. Uncertain because of the strength of Roman and Mencken’s relationship, Kendall goes to Shiv for the voice of reason.

Voicing his misgivings about the call and that “maybe the poison drips through” with him repeating Logan’s parenting mistakes, Shiv gives Kendall the words his father never did, stating, “You’re a good guy.” He asks her to phone Nate to see if Jiménez will agree to block the deal, but Shiv fakes the call, sealing her fate. After her vague promise of a deal and cajoling by Roman, Kendall calls the campaign himself, and afterward, with a couple of words from Greg, all is revealed.

[Related: Second Take: Reboots — Revamping or redundant in age where originality drives content?]

Stuttering out an explanation, the curtain covering Shiv’s phony phone call and alliance with Matsson is lifted, and so is the guise of family and political altruism. Kendall, who is betrayed by the one person he thought he could trust, sides with Roman in calling the election for Mencken. With the final decision made, Tom makes the call, and the course is set: Mencken is declared victor despite the lack of validity.

Complemented by an ominous rendition of the theme playing in the background, the three children stare on morosely as Mencken gives a speech about the people taking power back, in a victory artificially constructed based on selfish business interest. Cynicism rules the day, as Kendall concedes that this is an individual they could “do business with,” and Roman says, “We just made a night of good TV.” In this universe, where there always seems to be a lack of consequences, this installment drops the mask of humanity manufactured by grief to reveal the Roys for who they are.

Reality jarringly shatters the sympathetic lens – Logan said his children are not “serious people,” but “Succession” wants the audience to remember they aren’t good people either.

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Natalie Agnew
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