Succession’s Greg and Jess election scene was more important than you think
Succession episode 8 spoilers follow.
In the eighth instalment of the final season of Succession, America decided – or so the episode title told us. In reality, the election was decided in a corporate boardroom by three despots nurturing major father issues.
Boosted by ATN and the criminally inept Roy siblings, alt-right imp Jeryd Mencken (Justin Kirk) is en route to the Oval Office. That is, unless the scrambling Democrats of Succession find a way to salvage the 100,000 ballots lost in a suspiciously murky Wisconsin fire.
The decision to announce Mencken as the president-elect before all the votes had been counted came down to a pivotal sibling showdown, where Shiv's (Sarah Snook) secret alliance with GoJo was laid bare. As revenge, Kendall (Jeremy Strong) and Roman (Kieran Culkin) decide to destroy democracy.
The order is sent to prepare the vitriolic Fox News-style mouthpiece Mark Ravenhead (Zack Robidas) to call the election. The lackey given the job of taking the message down to the ATN newsroom is Greg (Nicholas Braun) and on his way he runs into Kendall's assistant Jess (Juliana Canfield).
Responsible for saving a giant rabbit from bagel exposure and reporting on the activity of the Kendall Roy hashtag, Jess likely knows everything about her occasionally cocaine-fuelled billionaire boss, except for his Chappaquiddick incident.
She has always been on the edge of the Waystar Royco executive inner circle, parsing Kendall's bro speak, while her eyes alone communicate frantic harried confusion. Yet in this moment with Greg we finally see her in a context separate from Kendall and get a glimpse behind her long-held poker face.
Greg tells her he's the missive of Mencken's win and Jess gasps, with a look of frightened disbelief. "It’s not really my choice. I’m asking them to prepare to press the button," Greg says, to which Jess replies that button will "launch a nuclear attack".
Greg walks forward a couple steps, stumbles and backtracks, with Jess at his side. They acknowledge that even if he doesn't go downstairs to raise the ATN alarm, it's not going to change anything. But for a moment, they have the power of that decision and wonder if they should take some sort of stand.
As Kendall said at the tailgate party in the previous episode: "We watch history, we make history, and then one day, we become it." But this upstairs, downstairs moment with Kendall's assistant and Tom Wambsgans' former assistant shows us the people who will not be remembered in the history books the Roys are so conscious of.
Jess is one of the only people of colour in the orbit of the majority-white world of Waystar and the Roys, reminding viewers of those who will actually be affected by a far-right populist and white supremacist like Mencken winning the presidency.
Mencken is the sleeker and more articulate model of the bombastic oafishness of Donald Trump, but the echoes of the 2016 election hover over the entire episode. By the end, Mencken is already grinning on TV screens as he delivers an acceptance speech filled with racist overtones.
While a shellshocked Kendall watches on, Roman sits disinterested, having run around making flippant comments about the election all night. While they ignore the possible consequences of this presidency, Succession refuses to let us forget them, with small references to the people who will bear the burden of their decision.
There's Jess, who is already on the phone as Greg walks off, presumably texting loved ones the horror news. Elsewhere, we briefly see Kendall's terrified adopted daughter Sophie, who has already been targeted as a result of the divisive election battle.
Then in the final scene of the episode, Kendall leaves the Waystar offices and says to his driver, "Some people just can't cut a deal, Fikret," pointing to another member of the support staff who has flitted on and off screen and who will be affected by this rhetoric from the highest office.
Jess's poker face cracks in this episode. We've never seen her calling friends to offload the latest shambles Kendall has tripped into – although I'm sure she does so, regularly. But in this moment, the weight of what has happened pushes her to speak up and ask Greg if he is sure.
Despite the apocalyptic feel of this, the ball keeps rolling and the next day/episode will be patriarch Logan Roy's (Brian Cox) send off. You would have thought they could push it a couple days after the election, if only so Darwin (Adam Godley) can actually get the wasabi and lemon La Croix out of his eyes.
The description for episode nine, when Logan will be laid to rest, states that Kendall receives "inopportune news" from Jess. So, their election manipulation may prove to be the push she needed to draft her resignation letter.
It's a miracle Jess has stuck it out for this long, but she could now be able to take the stand she was clearly itching to when Greg broke the news of Mencken's win.
Succession season 4 airs on HBO in the US, and Sky Atlantic and NOW in the UK.
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