‘Succession’ Creator Jesse Armstrong Explains The “Different Political Instincts” That Fractured The Roy Siblings On Election Night

The Roy siblings’ alliance is on thin ice during Sunday’s episode of Succession, and the fate of America hangs in the balance.

Episode 8, titled “America Decides,” takes place on election night, as two very different candidates battle for the presidency — Democrat Daniel Jimenez and Republican Jeryd Mencken. Roman (Kieran Culkin) and Shiv (Sarah Snook) have decidedly different hopes for how the election will play out, while Kendall (Jeremy Strong) remains torn between them. Roman is quite open about his intentions to back Mencken, who has promised to kill the dreaded GoJo deal if he receives support from ATN. Meanwhile, Shiv keeps her motives a bit closer to the vest. She tells her brothers she vehemently disagrees with Mencken’s right-wing politics (which is true) but leaves out the part where she’s been scheming with Lukas Matsson (Alexander Skarsgård) to help the deal go through.

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When more than 100,000 ballots go up in flames at a Milwaukee voting center, Succession shines a light on just how easily an election can be swayed, or even decided, by a few people in positions of power. Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) is calling the shots, and he has to decide whether to call Wisconsin for Mencken despite the missing ballots, which presumably would have swayed in Jimenez’s favor. With the Roy siblings in his ear, he ultimately directs ATN to make the call, which then backs the network into a corner, having to call the election for Mencken after he takes Arizona.

“The tension at the heart of the episode is people’s different political instincts, their professional interests, [and] their corporate interests colliding in this very direct way,” creator Jesse Armstrong said during Episode’s edition of “Inside the Episode” on HBO Max. “And we had some great political advisors who helped us find a way to the particular situation, the fire that happens in the episode.”

In a last ditch effort to get Kendall on her side, Shiv makes a rookie mistake. She lies to her brothers, telling them she’s spoken to Jimenez’s political advisor Nate, who has agreed to explore the option of killing the GoJo deal. Kendall is immediately suspicious, since he pitched the same idea to Nate the night before at the Roys’ pre-election soiree to no avail. He catches her in the lie and unravels her plan with Matsson, which undoes the remaining threads that had been holding the siblings’ relationship together.

“Shiv is being clandestine about her intentions, but at the same time that’s exactly what [Roman] is doing. He’s like, ‘I want Mencken to win so I can be top dog. I can be CEO. I can have the power,’” Snook said in the same vignette. “It’s convenient that it’s an altruistic side for her. Let’s remember she’s not an altruist. But she does believe in democracy and dictators not being president.”

From the close election call to the somewhat nefarious inner workings of a powerful news organization, it’s difficult not to catch the real-world parallels in Episode 8. They aren’t lost on Armstrong, either.

“Sometimes when we’d talk about it, we’d be in the room going, ‘Does this feel real?’ And then you feel like, ‘Wow.’ In the early republic, and then in 1960, and the year 2000 and 2016, these unbelievably close election moments kind of keep on coming in the U.S. So it felt legitimate to have another one,” he said.

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