Our Stories Are Driving Us Off a Cliff
After years of taking no notice of it, I’ve finally been bitten by the Succession bug. It was always going to happen eventually. It’s a beautiful-shot, perfectly-acted masterpiece that feels like a hollowed-out, Trump-era-dystopia take on an Aaron Sorkin show. The writing is superb, the characters are painfully realistic, and the social commentary is infused subtly enough to keep the effect interesting.
It’s funny getting so obsessed with a show where I don’t like a single character. At the same time, I find myself pulled towards empathy with nearly all of them, again and again, my allegiances shifting as fluidly as allegiances shift on the show.
The show has its villain — Logan Roy standing in as a flawless embodiment of the show’s real villain, unfettered capitalism — but it doesn’t really have any heroes. It just has characters: messed-up, traumatized, struggling people with their own pitfalls and strengths, each occasionally lighting up in brief moments of glory that are quickly smothered by the realities of living a cutthroat life. There’s tension and there’s change, but there aren’t many dramatic character arcs. We’re halfway through the last season and so far, (spoiler alert) no one has really redeemed themselves.
No one has profoundly transformed for the better. No one has gone on a quest. There are no wise sage mentors helping our hero face the ordeals that lie ahead. Only Kendall seems to have gone to that deep, dark place within to tango with his inner demons, but even then, the impact of his angst is wiped away with a shrug from his siblings. Succession is a world in which accountability is optional, development is arrested and any opportunities for transformation are buried under all the enabling forces that push us to stay the same.
The show still makes for gripping dramedy, but it is not a hero’s journey.
Joseph Campbell’s theory of “the hero’s journey” gave us an important lens through which to look at the stories we tell. The hero’s journey is what Campbell calls a “monomyth,” a meta-narrative explanation of what happens in a great number of our stories that follow a main protagonist, or even a set of protagonists, as they set…