In the sixth episode of Succession’s third season on Sunday, the Roy family heads to a conservative political summit in Virginia, ostensibly to hobnob with top Republicans and talk policy — but in reality to crown a new king.
With the family’s right-wing cable news network having effectively forced out the current president by pushing unfounded claims about his mental faculties (sound familiar?), Logan Roy (Brian Cox) is auditioning Republicans to decide whom he — and his media empire — will support for the top job.
It’s “The Room Where It Happens” — except, as Tom Wambsgans (Matthew Macfadyen) tells Cousin Greg (Nicholas Braun), this is “a nice safe space where you don’t have to pretend to like Hamilton.”
It’s also the show’s most biting political episode to date.
As legal troubles have mounted, Succession viewers have become accustomed to seeing the government exert influence on family company Waystar Royco, with FBI agents raiding its corporate offices, the DOJ investigating, and top staffers being hauled before Congress. But this is the first time we’ve seen such a naked exploration of how the Roys — and the Murdoch family, on whom they’re based — influence government.
“You do get the feeling that the real power — as we all know — resides with the people who control all the money and many of our so-called leaders are just dutiful servants obeying their masters,” star Alan Ruck (Connor Roy) told BuzzFeed News in an interview. “I would say this is probably the first time we’ve seen Logan in action how he goes about protecting his interests through his political picks.”
In the episode, the Roys host a blunt discussion in Logan’s hotel room — note that he, not the vice president, is staying in the royal suite — as they weigh the pros and cons of each candidate and, crucially, what they might mean for the DOJ investigation into Waystar.
Ruck said he genuinely believes that the wealthy and powerful gather in such rooms every four years to make decisions that alter the course of the country. “I absolutely think that it’s true,” he said. “Kings are made, kings are crowned, and some rise and some don’t. It just depends who they know.”
The episode is a particularly crucial one for Ruck’s character, the middle-aged scion of a billionaire who has never had to work a day in his life but who is now searching for purpose (and his father’s love) with an outlandish run for president.
Until now, Connor’s libertarian campaign has been something of a joke across the series and inside the Roy family. But, as Shiv (Sarah Snook) silently confesses to younger brother Roman (Kieran Culkin) as she takes her first glimpse of the far-right attendees at the summit, “in a room full of Timothy McVeighs, does Connor suddenly look like a Roosevelt?”
In perhaps one of the most surreal moments of the entire series, at more than one point Logan asks those around him whether they should, in fact, get behind Connor’s run for office. “Joe Kennedy did it for his boys,” Logan quips.
Shiv and Roman seem as stunned as those watching at home that the idea is even being considered. “Are we being serious about this?” Roman asks. “We’re talking about trying to make Connor president of the United States. Crappants.”
The moment is reminiscent of the feeling that millions of Americans had in 2016 as they slowly watched the campaign of Donald Trump move from joke to serious to… successful. Connor is even described by a supporter at one stage with terms that could easily apply to Trump: “He’s got a brand name, war chest, populist appeal, and he’s a fighter.”
Ruck told BuzzFeed News he thinks Logan’s flash of consideration for Connor’s candidacy stems in part from the guilt he felt in abandoning his oldest son as a child to his troubled ex-wife, but is also obviously self-interested.
“I don’t think Logan would do anything with this political stuff if it wasn’t advantageous for him, so the only reason he’d consider Connor is if somehow Connor would prove useful in that position,” Ruck said. “Obviously, he feels, and probably rightly so, that he could wrap Connor around his figure and get him to do anything he wanted.”
It finally falls to Cousin Greg, the only other character who is played for laughs as much as Connor, to be the one brave enough to speak out against the oldest Roy’s quest for president and what it could mean for the republic. “I think I owe it to my country to say I don’t think you should crown — or make Connor president,” he tells Logan.
“I think in that instance [Greg] had a moment of clarity and realized if this happens it could be the end of the financial solvency of the United States of America,” Ruck said. “If Connor becomes president, it could be a sign of the end times!”
The episode was filmed in April, Ruck said, a full year after the show’s initial production start date was pushed back due to the pandemic (Ruck himself tested positive for COVID during filming and had to quarantine for 10 days). While some exterior scenes were shot in Virginia, most of the interiors were filmed in New York City, including at the famous Plaza Hotel, which, to continue the theme, Trump once owned.
The entire 60 minutes of this episode ruthlessly satirizes Republicans today. As the billionaire Roys mingle in the hotel’s gilded ballroom, the show’s vice president (Reed Birney) states without a hint of irony that the GOP has become “the party of the working class now” while the “Dems and tech hold all the wealth.” (This joke about elites again emerges later as Tom talks lyrically about what he admits is terrible wine then eats at a diner to get a taste of what he imagines prison food will be like.)
Meanwhile, another contender for the top job, an extreme-right congressman with fascist leanings (Justin Kirk), jokes with Roman about sending people to gulags — “not work camps, summer camps” — and admits he’s willing to entertain ideas from Spanish dictator Francisco Franco or even a certain, more well-known German dictator who he refers to only as “H.”
“There was a very naughty boy named H,” Roman responds.
In yet another allusion to Trump, when Logan ultimately decides to support this firebrand — much to the horror of Shiv, who continues to swallow her morals — it’s in part because Roman has correctly observed that cable news viewers will be enraged, engrossed, or entertained by him.
Ruck said this reflects on the “symbiotic” relationship between politicians and news outlets.
“[These media executives think], ‘If we pick the right guy, we’re gonna have ratings through the roof, at least with our core audience,’” he said. “I absolutely think that powerful people who control the information and have access to huge piles of money are very attracted to people who seek high office. They scratch each other’s backs.”
Ruck, who was most famous before Succession for his roles in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and the sitcom Spin City, admits his left-wing politics inform his approach to the characters on the show. (Ruck made headlines in September when he volunteered to drive a press escort van as President Joe Biden visited California for a rally to support Gov. Gavin Newsom.)
“But there’s a little bit of Connor in everybody because nobody wants to pay taxes,” he joked.
Still, he cautioned Succession fans not to count Connor out, teasing that the Roys may regret their many years of teasing his character.
“As time goes on, we’re gonna see that Connor is not going to be the family punching bag anymore,” Ruck said. “At some point — and I’m not saying it’s going to happen this season — Connor is going to find his teeth and he’s going to bite back.”