Breathe out, if you can. Succession’s presidential election is over—and, unless the Democrats find a way to reconstruct the 100,000 or so ballots lost in that mysterious Wisconsin fire, it seems Jeryd Mencken, the alt-right imp played by Justin Kirk, will be the next leader of the free world. 

It is, perhaps, an inevitable conclusion—though that doesn’t make it any easier to watch the episode, titled “America Decides,” unfold. “I was so scared watching this episode,” cohost Chris Murphy says in the latest edition of VF’s Still Watching podcast. “The PTSD of it all was so, so vibrant.” 

There are more than a few ways in which Succession’s fictional take echoes the 2016 election of Donald Trump: the initial confidence of Mencken’s Democratic opponent, the achingly narrow margins, the slowly dawning horror even among those who are ostensibly politically aligned with Mencken. But in real life, Trump’s ascent to the White House was decisive. On Succession, the result of the election is a little murkier—and Mencken may not be able to power himself all the way to the Oval Office without a boost from ATN and the Roy siblings. The real takeaway here, cohost Richard Lawson says, is how politics is really “about storytelling, and the momentum that comes from a narrative.” 

So yes, ATN can’t literally rig the election. But it can act as though all ballots have been counted even when they haven’t, giving Mencken an all-important final push. And why should the network do that? For Roman and Kendall, the decision is entirely selfish: Mencken will block the GoJo deal, allowing them to retain control of their father’s empire. In short, as Murphy puts it: “Their damage, their own childhood trauma, all of their baggage, has the potential to destroy democracy. That’s how high the stakes are…. None of them have the character, the integrity, to take their own bullshit, their own personal lives, out of the equation and do what is best for the nation. And now it looks like we’ve got a fascist president.”

What may be even more jarring, Lawson points out, is the essential sincerity of “America Decides.” Three episodes before Succession ends for good, its creators are laying out their genuine beliefs about who the Roys and their ilk actually are. “Maybe they’re doing a little bit of nose-rubbing for the audience like us, who have gleefully watched this for four seasons, and being like, These are bad people.”

Elsewhere in this Still Watching episode, Murphy and Lawson discuss the marginalization of Shiv—who finally reveals her pregnancy to Tom, only to prompt one of his most cutting insults yet—Tom’s coke-fueled evening at the decision desk, Roman’s descent into full edgelord nihilism, Connor’s brilliantly kooky concession speech, and the moment Kendall sells his soul. Meanwhile, David Canfield chats with Justin Kirk about who Jeryd Mencken is—“This guy may not currently
exist, but it feels like he will any second,” says Kirk—and his charged chemistry with Kieran Culkin. Listen to the latest episode of Still Watching below—and if you’ve got your own questions, comments, and final-season theories, please email [email protected].

Hillary Busis

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