Five Succession work scenes that every woman will recognise

·5-min read
Succession - HBO/ David M. Russell
Succession - HBO/ David M. Russell

Succession returned to our television screens this week and it’s been an unalloyed joy to find that all its exquisite components remain very much intact in series three: the acerbic wit, the monochrome luke interiors, the loathsome-yet-compelling dramatis personae and their irredeemably self-interested machinations. Episode one brought us the Roy family doing what they do best: coolly trying, like circling sharks, to tear one another limb from limb, each a player in a game that’s also a grotesque fight to the death.

Critics largely agree that a key part of the appeal is the schadenfreude generated by incredibly wealthy people being unhappy. And sure, that is extremely satisfying. But even if most families don’t preside over media empires, this drama of Shakespearean proportions is far more relatable than we may at first imagine.

There’s the sibling rivalry, for a start (a poll commissioned by Now TV to mark the launch of the show’s third season found a quarter of adults still argue with their brother or sister). There’s the bad romance (Shiv and Tom, Kendall and any woman in his orbit). And then there are the work scenes. It’s true that most of us don’t end up in a Sarajevo hotel room, avoiding extradition, during our average working day – but don’t let that obscure the fact that there are elements here that every woman can recognise. (Warning: spoilers included.)

1. Being talked over by a man

One of the most excruciatingly superb scenes from S3E1 is Kendall Roy listening to a pitch from two PR women he’s invited into his ex-wife’s apartment, which he’s using as a base for his (so far) one-man coup. We say listening – it was the special kind of listening a certain kind of Kendall-like man does when he already has all the answers. The immaculate PR women may have been, in his words, “the best”, but ultimately he didn’t actually need to hear them out because, it turned out, his own brilliant vision rendered theirs irrelevant.

Kendall is his own unique blend of ego and insecurity. He is, of course, a fictional creation. And yet, we feel we’ve seen his ilk somewhere or other before. The self-assured male colleague who repeats your idea in a louder voice and shamelessly takes the credit? It’s him, multiplied by 10. From your average town centre office to sky-high corporate boardrooms, you know this type when you meet him. The risk is having Kendall Roy as his mascot may just encourage him more.

2. Being hit on in a work setting

Few have the entitlement of Roman Roy, declaring “waiting” is “hot” to his much older colleague and object of his fantasies, Gerri Kellman. But plenty have the sense that if they badger their female colleague enough, she’ll eventually fall for their charms. Even if those charms include talking over her in meetings. The more said colleague rejects them, the more they bound back on the basis that it’s inconceivable their advances are truly unwanted.

3. The female friendship gone sour

Mixing business and pleasure is a notoriously dangerous pursuit. In practical terms this means if you have an out-of-work friend it may be better to keep her that way and not attempt to use her to advance your own career. Shiv Roy learns this lesson the hard way when she tries and fails to persuade her friend, hotshot lawyer Lisa Arthur, to provide her with legal advice. Shiv, being a Roy, does not take “no” well. Lisa, being a hotshot lawyer, does not take Shiv well. Not sure they’ll be at each other’s dinner parties any time soon.

4. Insane demands from the boss

Kendall again (oh Kendall), sitting in the car with his assistant, who must answer his phone for him, pretend he’s busy, then transmit increasingly ridiculous messages back and forth. “I’ll grind his bones to make my bread,” paterfamilias Logan hisses down the phone. “Tell him I’m gonna run up the f------- beanstalk,” Kendall instructs his assistant.

Even if you’ve never been asked to deliver creative fairytale-inspired insults on your employer’s behalf, you’ve probably been tasked with similarly unreasonable requests at some point in your career. In the lore of certain industries, it’s pretty much a rite of passage.

Critics largely agree that a key part of Succession's appeal is the schadenfreude generated by incredibly wealthy people being unhappy. - HBO
Critics largely agree that a key part of Succession's appeal is the schadenfreude generated by incredibly wealthy people being unhappy. - HBO

5. The power play

This is the show’s driving force, but perhaps we should not be too hasty in imagining we would never behave like the cut-throat, scheming scions of Waystar Royco. It’s all play – but careers and lives are at stake. The Roys may have more money, more staff, more private transport, more everything than almost anyone in the real world, but they don’t necessarily have more desire to triumph. Who has not, in the course of their career, encountered the backstabbing colleague who will sell you out the second it profits their cause? Who hasn’t worked out the best way to position themselves when a desirable opening comes up? Whether the job is chief executive of a media conglomerate or chief executive of a widgit factory, the power play is the same.

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