“Succession” creator Jesse Armstrong always knew he wanted to tackle a presidential election in the HBO series, but he didn’t want to do so until the final season of the show. That moment came in Season 4 Episode 8, titled “America Decides,” which saw the Roy children scrambling on election night and juggling some serious moral quandaries when it came to calling the election via ATN.
“I’ve always wanted to do a presidential election, so it’s just been a question of when. It was part of the discussions of whether this should be the final season and the placement of when the election would take place in the arc of the seasons,” Armstrong said on the “Succession” podcast.
“It was one of the reasons for wanting to just go out with this last one that I felt like I wanted it to be near the end, and with where I wanted Logan’s demise to fall, it helped to make the decision for this to be the final season. I’ve always felt they have a bunch of things, this family, but what is their primary way of acting on the culture in the political world? Their news channel and an election is the best vehicle for seeing that.”
The episode saw Roman (Kieran Culkin) push heavily to call the election in Mencken’s (Justin Kirk) favor, Shiv (Sarah Snook) pushing for Jiminez and Kendall (Jeremy Strong) caught somewhere in the middle. While Armstrong confessed he doesn’t love to get too deep into explaining his characters, he broke down a bit of where each character was coming from on election night.
As for Roman, he suggested he might be looking for a new father figure in Mencken.
“I’m sort of sometimes reluctant to kind of get into the whys and the who’s but you would say, maybe, Roman has lost a father, and maybe he might be in the market for somebody in that role. So that’s one thing that might be brought to the table and a bunch of other psychological things which fit him to lean towards an authoritarian,” Armstrong said. “Roman doesn’t really have many doubts and it’s a very comfortable feeling, right? When your political instincts are allied with what also is going to get your paycheck to get delivered on time.”
When it comes to Shiv, is she pushing for Jiminez because it’s what she believes, or because he’ll tank the GoJo deal?
“That’s a bind that I always find particularly delightful — maybe that’s too warm a word — but to unpack when characters’ motivations to do the right thing are tangled up with what serves their interests best,” the showrunner said. “It’s a dilemma about what motivates politicians and people through the ages. Why do you do the good thing? Because you want to be seen to be good? Because it serves your interests better? And I guess that’s what particularly pisses Kendall off is when he starts to feel that her professed liberalism is merely preening, that’s what blows his gasket.”
As for that emotional confrontation between Shiv and Tom (Matthew McFadyen), Armstrong confesses that there isn’t “a scintilla of doubt in his mind” that Shiv is telling the truth about being pregnant, but he asks if she’s lying anyway as a mixture of “playing for time” and “a f—k you to somebody who’s withheld this rather important news and then deployed it on the most busy night of your life.”
So what about Kendall? Where do his political leanings truly lie?
“I think he has probably some liberal metropolitan values,” Armstrong said. “If you went out and met this guy at a party or dinner, I don’t think you would find him saying egregious things about sexuality, race or class. He knows what to say. But what does he really think? Does he have some of his dad’s kind of flinty nihilistic view of what people really want? I think that’s in there, too. He also has an adopted child of color, and that’s something which he has been made to think about. So he’s got a lot going on in there. And then he’s also got his base material self-interest, which is maybe latent until it’s really fired up by this feeling about his sister’s hypocrisy.”
Armstrong also said that Kendall can keep peace of mind about his decision to call the election for Mencken knowing that there’s still going to be a legal fight, and ATN’s call won’t be the be-all, end-all.
“It’s worth restating in this episode, they don’t elect the president, the president will be elected by the Electoral College after a legal fight, which is not over at the end of this episode. So we’ve always usually got some kind of barricade to hide behind and throw up our hands or wash our hands as Shiv says, and say, ‘Look, this is what I had to do.’ So I think he manages to not think about that when the moment comes, which is seductive and easy to do.”
The HBO series’ creator and showrunner added during the lengthy podcast discussion that they used “real life analogs” in crafting the election episode, and had political consultants, but still stressed they were telling a fictionalized story. One that’s barreling towards its final conclusion.
Listen to the full podcast episode below.