Succession Season 4 Episode 8 review: The Anti-Newsroom
Succession Episode 8 is Season 4’s most entertaining, incendiary episode yet; in all of its shameless ugliness and point-blank refusal to bend to sentiment, it’s the Hugo to Aaron Sorkin’s Bart.
Sorkin took a lot of flak for The Newsroom, his sickly sweet, still-brilliant follow-up to The West Wing. The Twittersphere is never too far from pumping out the Osama Bin Laden clip or the ‘Fix You’ scene, but at least the show bowed out in 2014, two years before the Trumpian era of politics and news coverage – just think about the holier-than-thou backtracking we’d have gotten via Will McAvoy’s monologues.
Succession is the naughty genius, The West Wing and The Newsroom are the gold-star-glimmering teachers’ pets: both trade in lengthy, rapid-fire dialogue, and they each revolve around three mission-critical groups, for better or worse: politicians, reporters, and the corporate elite.
There’s one event in which all of those people converge: Election Night, fertile soil for electric television in real life and fiction, and Episode 8 is a breathless answer to the question: “Who watches the watchmen?”
Succession Season 4 Episode 8 turns up the heat
It’s Election Night: Jeryd Mencken vs Daniel Jiménez, red vs blue… and Connor. The real-life parallels are obvious, though they’re more potent with Mencken – he’s a far-right fascist who wants to “smash the country to pieces” and turn the country’s cultural melting pot into a supremacist broth.
Greg asks Tom how he’s felling, and he’s rather nervous: Cyd is running around New York “spitting poison like a king cobra,” and he needs to impress Kendall and Roman because they “want to rip his heart out.” Kendall gives him a quick call, but it’s barely a pep talk, demanding “gangbusters” for the “first Super Bowl without the King.” Tom takes any call, but he always yep-okays his way to the other end.
Everyone has something to tell him. If it’s not a story of a woman who voted for Jiménez 40 times under her dead parent’s name, it’s that he shouldn’t be wearing dress shoes on such a long night. When he meets Darwin, ATN’s on-hand election specialist who’ll be running the decision desk, he asks about “adult diapers.”
As Darwin explains the rules of the shift to the staff – no blabbing about projections, as any leaks that encourage turnout could result in the outlet being ejected from the national conversation – Greg tells Tom about his night out with Matsson. “I drank things that aren’t normally drinks,” he says, recounting eye-raising tales from “unseemly places,” until he asks Tom if he knows about Matsson and Shiv’s “business alliance agreement.” He even offers to “fry her ass”, but Tom advises him to keep his cards close to the chest, because information is like “fine wine” you can hoard and smash someone’s face with.
Roman vs Shiv
There’s always been a clear divide within the Roys: Shiv is a Democrat of the elite, her dad followed money and power, and Roman would probably scratch Mencken’s balls if he asked. Early exit polls are in Jiménez’s favor, but Mencken sends Roman a text with “two eggplants and a flag”, the ultimate mark of confidence. Shiv brands it as an example of his “misogynistic bravado” that’s put off the median voter, but Roman is convinced Jiménez’s complacency will catch up with him.
Behind a closed door away from peering eyes, Shiv colludes with Matsson and fills him in on the early word. “Good for democracy, good for us,” she says, before advising him to release his wonky India numbers – by “wonky”, we mean cooking his subscription numbers to the point that they’re twice as high as the actual figures – but Matsson has another idea. After talking to “Gregory”, his “normalist” counsel, he thinks they should “keep his terrible secret a secret,” much to Shiv’s annoyance.
She gives Nate a quick call, who says he’s “scared but good,” and despite the positive polls, battleground states may still be in play. Meanwhile, Mencken asks Roman to meet him in person… alone. “F*ck him,” Kendall says, but in Roman’s defence, Kendall could easily call up Jiménez’s camp and set up a meeting – but he’s too nervous. Kendall then gets a call from Reva, who’s scared about an SUV following her car. He tells her she’s not in any danger, because he’s responsible for hiring the vehicle, calling it an “extra layer of bubble wrap” after his daughter was pushed by a Menckenite.
Nevertheless, despite her issues with Kendall hiring covert security without asking, Reva is scared. “Stuff is burning,” she says, and there’s intimidation from both sides. Kendall asks her not to worry, and tells Sophie: “I won’t let the world push you, okay sweetie.”
Kendall and Roman meet the next president(s)
Kendall bucks up the courage to phone Nate and ask to speak to Jiménez. He obliges, and we get our first proper scene with the actor. Kendall wishes him luck, but quickly fumbles the bag by asking him to rein in Big Tech when he wins. Jiménez doesn’t have any time for someone like Ken – he represents the old guard and wants a taste of his dad’s politicking, but this guy is cut from a different cloth. He’s nice enough, but he couldn’t care less about what he has to say. Also, Kendall calls him “man” while everyone else refers to him as “sir” – play the game, Ken.
Mencken’s dynamic with Roman is much different. After some ribbing, he takes Roman to the side and addresses things very “directly”: he still believes he can win, but he’s more focused on losing. He needs to work on his strategy, “or what assholes would call the narrative”, and he needs ATN in his utility belt if he wants his loss to be “correctly characterized as a huge victory.” As Roman says, he “may not be the president”, but he’ll be “our president.”
Roman is the perfect partner for Mencken: he’s malleable, obedient, dispassionate about anything outside the orbit of his family, and seems to respond to his brand of scorched America machismo.
Back at the office, Tom bucks Greg back to his personal helper boy after he has the nerve to give him some bodega sushi. According to Tom, if he doesn’t get exactly what he needs, the US could lose credibility, China could invade Taiwan, and a barrage of tactical nukes could turn America into a swamp of amoeba. Greg eventually gives Tom some quick-as-a-whistle cocaine and is forced to take some himself. It really is a throwback to the days of the first and second seasons; Tom exerting his power over Greg, especially with how pathetic and conniving he’s been in the final stretch, will never get old.
You may have been wondering: where’s Connor in all of this? The presidential hopeful had the opportunity to take an ambassador position in Oman, but he threw it away to keep his horse in the race. Well, at first, it seems like it may have been for nothing in the simplest definition of the word. Mencken is cleaning up in any states where had a chance, and despite sending over lots of clips to ATN, none of it is being shown on the Election Night broadcast. According to Connor, it’s Schrodinger’s president, and if he wins, it’ll be “the story of all time” – but he has to face facts: The cat is dead.
What the hell is happening in Milwaukee?
Wisconsin has 10 electoral votes, placing it in the top 21 states across the US. It’s not a powerhouse like Texas or California, but it could swing the result. It also happens to be the most contentious state in the country on the night, thanks to a polling site in Milwaukee being set on fire. The blaze is a major issue, given more than 100,000 votes have turned to ash, but there’s a framing problem: does ATN retain its “unique perspective” and lean on ANTIFA being responsible, or do they go the truthful route and implicate Mencken’s supporters?
While Kendall, Shiv, and Roman yank Tom’s mental limbs about covering the story, he goes off his head about a broken touchscreen. One of Mencken’s men asks Roman to “help with the narrative”, and soon all three siblings end up on the newsroom floor, breaking one of Logan’s “Geneva Conventions”: no brass on the battlefield at any time.
While Greg tries to “wrangle” Roman, Shiv pulls Tom to the side and offers a half-hearted apology for “some of the things” she said during their intense, unforgettable showdown in the previous episode, but Shiv isn’t impressed by Tom’s attitude. “How should I frame my face?” he asks, and when she asks for a “bit of consideration” given her dad died a few days ago – remember, every episode in Succession Season 4 takes place over the course of one or two days – he says she hated him and “sort of killed him.”
Slack-jawed at his comment, she drops the bombshell on him: she’s pregnant and it’s his baby. “Is that even true? Is that a new tactic?” he asks, and Shiv can’t even respond. Perhaps they’re too far gone – also, the music that plays in this moment is one of Nicholas Britell’s most heart-rending motifs.
Roman takes control of Wisconsin
The right-wing media – or “maniacs” as Shiv calls them – are prepared to call Wisconsin in favor of Mencken, but Darwin has some reservations. His data has indicated that the votes counted would have given the Republican candidate the state, and the remaining uncounted votes wouldn’t be enough to close the margin. But, and this is a big but, Wisconsin state law says no result can be certified until all absentee ballots are counted, so if they go too early, they may get it wrong.
It boils down to the Shiv/Roman divide: she wants to hold off because calling the state for Mencken could give him the momentum to win the election; and he wants to call it because he wants Mencken to win, and he’ll block the GoJo deal. She accuses him of “making hay for political violence”, but he just keeps parroting “false flag” whenever she raises the possibility of Mencken’s supporters causing harm.
Amid the arguing, Tom says Shiv sounds “a little unhinged”, and Kendall’s big brother energy kicks in, just like when Logan hit Roman. “You f*cking watch it, Tom,” he barks, putting the lap dog in his place. Behind all of their backs, Roman hands Mark Ravenhead – yeah, the Nazi who read Mein Kampf twice – some “talking points” and he’s let loose on air, mocking the left for claiming only their votes were lost in the fire. Shiv is apoplectic and Kendall “doesn’t feel good” about it. Matsson phones Shiv to ask what’s going on, and if she should prepare to deal with “Mr Scary… don’t let them break my toy.”
Shiv tries to scare Greg
Twice over the course of the episode, Matsson says he’s been chatting to Greg. So, Shiv asks Greg if she can speak to him alone, and she goes on the offensive. “Do you find me attractive, Gregory?” she asks, and he starts nervously mumbling about how he “doesn’t think about things such as that” and that it’s inappropriate. “If you try to f*ck me, I’ll kill you,” she warns, but Greg doesn’t back down – in a past season, he may have gone running, but he’s earned his Machiavellian stripes. He thinks “silence is golden” when it comes to her and Matsson, but he asks: “How golden.” She doesn’t bite, instead offering to let him “keep all of his internal organs inside his body rather than pulled out of his asshole.”
Upstairs, Roman gets confirmation from Mencken that he’ll block the deal and throw his support behind the two brothers if they give him the same in return. Hesitantly, Kendall agrees, so he tells Tom to make the “telly box mouth people” call Wisconsin for Mencken, but Darwin says no. It’s important to remember that you can’t just call a state because you want someone to win. As Darwin says, the state commission could sue ATN and it’ll stoke the fires of debate and cause all sorts of problems if they’re wrong. Roman exposes his own ignorance when he argues it’s “not a numbers thing” – that’s all elections ever are: a numbers thing.
They reach a compromise: they’ll announce a “pending call” and get Darwin on the air to explain what it means. He accepts it and gets to work, but he accidentally swabs a bit of Greg’s wasabi from the bodega sushi and puts it in his eye. Madcap, hilarious slapstick ensues, with Greg pouring lemon soda into his eyes to soothe the burn which really cleanses the palette amid all the politics.
Connor concedes but rallies the Conheads
Connor accepts the truth: he’s been completely flatted by Mencken. He puts forward an offer to Roman: if he scratches Mencken’s balls, i.e. he concedes in his direction, could he get something in return? Roman is immediately keen on the idea and asks Mencken, who offers up a position in Slovenia. Willa is hesitant, purely because he’s “very right-wing”, but then she considers life in Europe. “Vienna for lunch, Venice for dinner,” she says, and Connor adds: “Dubrovnik for breakfast.”
He steps in front of an ATN camera and officially bows out of the race (all while Frank, Karl, and Hugo chortle in their private viewing area), but he can’t help but indulge his rhetoric a little bit. “Politics of envy… ugly game. I’m a billionaire, sorry,” he says, while sending a reassuring message to all six “Con-heads” watching at home.
Meanwhile, in the actual presidential race, the polls coming out of Arizona seem to be swinging towards Mencken. At this point, it’s super close between the two candidates, but ATN has a problem: they’re the only news organization that called Wisconsin, and if they call Arizona, those 11 electoral votes will technically push Mencken over the line. They’d be the first to call the whole race, something Roman is giddy at the prospect at, while others are terrified to take that leap.
Darwin can’t abide making that call, given how they’ve boxed themselves in with Wisconsin. He eventually buckles under the pressure, but Kendall doesn’t let it stand. He asks for a minute of privacy with Roman, who’s prepared for Kendall to “big brother” the situation. Basically, when they were younger, Kendall always wanted roast chicken, but Roman wanted steak. Roman would throw a temper tantrum, so he never got steak, but the only reason he threw temper tantrums is because he knew he wouldn’t get what he wanted. “So, because we ate so much chicken, I have to like the fascist,” Kendall quips, in the runaway line of the episode.
Roman is either wilfully ignorant or naïve to Mencken’s modus operandi. Kendall has genuine concerns about modern America being demolished. “It’s kind of a nice idea… all the different people together,” he says, but Roman has Mencken vision: he wants to call it. “We’ll be in the West Wing… dad’s dead, and the country is a wet pussy waiting to get f*cked,” he says, feverishly, proposing they motorboat the bosom of history.
Shiv blows her cover
Oh, Shiv. You’re not the only villain here: everyone is, but how else did you expect this to go? She has a heart-to-heart with Kendall, and he talks about his concerns about Mencken. He admits to wanting to run the company solo and feeling worried he’ll be ostracised if Mencken wins, because of his relationship with Roman, and Shiv tells him he’s a “good guy.” Kendall also opens up about his anxieties as a father, seeing himself as a bad dad – he is – but she offers him some comfort, even if it’s disingenuous.
“Maybe the poison drips through,” he says. Jeremy Strong’s performance is the best in the show; it always has been. It’s these moments that really fortify his position at the top; the deeply lived-in subtleties of his emotional range are so affecting.
In a moment of vulnerability, he asks her to phone Nate and see if he’ll get Jiménez to commit to blocking the GoJo deal. She goes into the other room and calls him… or at least, that’s what Kendall thinks. She yammers away without anyone else on the line, before trying to lie about Jiménez’s side “willing to think” about it. Roman sees through it and goes to bat for Mencken, arguing that the position of undisputed power is better than the stability Jiménez would bring. Shiv doesn’t think this is what their dad would have wanted, but Roman’s observations, no matter how brutal, are true: he ended wars, yes, but he also started them.
Kendall decides to phone Nate himself, and Shiv has to temper her desperation so she doesn’t give the game away. Her arrogance comes back to bite her, though: Kendall asks Greg if there’s anything going on between her and Matsson, and we don’t even hear the response. All we see is Kendall slowly walking back into the room and Greg strutting with a shit-eating smirk on his face. She should have coughed up the gold for that silence.
Well, hell hath no fury like a Roy scorned. Kendall wondered why Shiv looked like a “goose trying to sh*t a house brick”, and calls her a “piece of dirt.” She begs for them to not overreact, talking about the need for pluralism and her fears for the state of the republic – but they don’t care. She may be the Judas to them, but the boys order Tom, their own Pontius Pilate, to call the election. Roman is finally getting what he wants, and Kendall is blinded by the same sort of betrayal they resented from their dad.
Tom and Greg give the control room the news, and a few minutes later, the election is called. Mencken takes to the stage, thanking the “authority of known integrity” for announcing his name, before delivering a “speech for the ages”, according to ATN’s commentator. He says he’s not a demagogue, instead aiming to be “something clean in this polluted land.”
Roman then gets a call from “Hocus POTUS”, who thanks him for all his help over the course of the night, and Kendall isn’t at all fazed by their closeness. “He’s someone we can do business with,” he says coldly, as Shiv stands teary-eyed by the door, cut out of the circle of (extremely fragile) trust. While the mainstream media attacks Tom and ATN for blowing their load on Mencken early – the official term is “premature projection” – Shiv phones Matsson and tells him they’re going to release the figures. “We’re gonna f*ck them so hard,” she says.
As the episode ends, Kendall tells his driver: “Some people just can’t cut a deal.” But their story is far from over: the funeral is tomorrow, and we should expect fireworks.
Succession Season 4 Episode 8 review score: 5/5
Episode 3 may be the best episode of Succession Season 4, but this is our favorite. The political back-and-forth is scintillating, the sweary, verbose put-downs are especially cutting, and the momentum never dips; think of it as The Anti-Newsroom.
Succession Season 4 Episodes 1-8 are streaming on HBO and Sky now. Episode 9 will be available to watch on May 21 in the US and May 22 in the UK. Check out our other coverage below: