In Succession’s “America Decides,” Everything’s Courtesy of the Roy, White, and Blue

[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for Succession, Season 4 Episode 8, “America Decides.”]

America notoriously depends on free and fair elections, but what people might not be aware of is the fact that there’s some fine print that says if there’s a group of siblings in the midst of the shakiest alliance possible, all prepared to stab one another in the back at any moment, they’re actually allowed to sway the election results to suit their agenda and stop a less than stellar deal from happening. It’s in the Constitution! Look it up!

The eighth episode of Season 4 of Succession places us smack in the middle of election night stress at ATN: Tom is trying to keep a grasp on an increasingly chaotic newsroom, one that’s infiltrated by Roman, Kendall, and Shiv. Like many details in this consistently excellent show, so many parts of the evening feel a little too familiar; does the idea of an election featuring a loud, proud, right-wing candidate ring a bell? What about if those election results then became heavily contested, and a certain news channel gleefully added fuel to the fire for that candidate’s supporters?

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The Roy siblings are already on shaky ground at the start of the episode, with Shiv scheming with Matsson, Roman happily aligning with President-Elect Mencken, and Kendall ready to ditch Roman while simultaneously having a crisis about his parenthood, or lack there of. It’s pretty fun when Kendall periodically remembers that he has kids — according to his ex-wife, Rava, their daughter Sophie has experienced a sharp increase in schoolyard bullying, thanks to the rhetoric being tossed around by Mencken and his camp.

Somehow, it never becomes easier to watch these siblings fall apart — every moment of stability and care is undercut by episodes like “America Decides,” in which one of the most vicious and poisonous fights between the surviving Roys occurs. Sarah Snook is reliably incredible throughout Succession, but Season 4 has really given her opportunities to shine more than ever before. The magic of this show, overall, is in its ability to make us care about these horrible, no-good, very bad people — Snook is so layered as an actress that it’s incredibly easy to forget that, often, Shiv is not a very good person! At all! At the end of the day, Shiv is really only looking out for Shiv.

That being said, seeing Shiv getting emotionally battered throughout almost the whole episode verges on unbearable. Tom is in one of the worst headspaces we’ve witnessed throughout the show’s entire run; election night feels like a total reverse of the resigned man we saw ready to go to prison throughout the previous season. If we thought the balcony fight was bad, things somehow get worse when Shiv’s pleas for liberty and fairness fall on deaf ears, and a moment of desperation pushes her to reveal her pregnancy to Tom. His ice-cold response, questioning if it’s just another “play,” is legitimately devastating.

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Succession (HBO)

There’s another jarring moment towards the end of the episode when Kendall mentions that the funeral hasn’t even taken place yet. This is the most compressed season of Succession in terms of timeline — all of the events we’ve seen in the eight episodes so far have taken place days apart from one another. Logan isn’t even in the ground yet! When Shiv pleads with Tom, saying, “My father just died,” she’s no exaggerating one bit.

Equally distressing is Roman’s continued spiral into chaos. He’s unmoored, and this episode reveals that Mencken might be the lifeline to which he’s desperately decided to grasp. One moment, Kendall is ready to cut him loose and step into the CEO role solo; but when Shiv’s secret alliance with Matsson is revealed (courtesy of a cocaine-addled Greg), Kendall immediately falls into step with his miserable younger brother.

Like the rest of America, we almost forgot to mention Connor Roy, who, unfortunately, did not get elected president. This episode left off with some cliffhanger energy — even Willa (who was serving First Lady Chic this episode) seemed concerned by Connor’s threat of “the Con-heads coming,” and Kendall’s ride home was tinged with some serious unrest. Succession has been known to knock it out of the park with a shocking season finale or two, but this whole final season has felt like a high-stakes, out-of-control ride. Tonight, we careened that much closer to whatever fate awaits us. Next time: Logan’s funeral awaits.

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New episodes of Succession premiere Sundays on HBO and HBO Max.

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