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How Succession makes words as powerful as they are meaningless

Photo: Peter Kramer (HBO)

The stellar second season of Succession is now behind us, leaving us with little to do but rewatch and obsess over its 20 near-perfect episodes before season three arrives. On the case is Nerdwriter1, who rewatched the show to examine “the hilariously weird poetry in the show’s dialogue.” [For example, could anyone ever come up with a line more perfect than “You can’t make a Tomlette without breaking a few Gregs”?]

But Nerdwriter traces how the series’ deeper themes of disconnection tie in to its language and speech. Since Logan Roy lies so consistently and with such complete abandon, it’s little wonder that his offspring have such difficulty discerning what the truth actually is. When they fumble toward sincerity—when Shiv tries to tell Roman that she’s proud of him and she loves him at the beach, for example, Roman is so unused to candor over sarcasm that he calls her a “fucking bitch.” When Roman later asks his siblings if they’ll finally be able to talk about things normally, Shiv and Kendall immediately mock him by speaking in squeaky (and hilarious) voices.

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At one point, Kendall opines that “words are just nothing,” just “dusts of complicated airflow.” Just think of the extensive Succession speeches that, despite their sheer abundance, ultimately mean nothing at all: Tom’s testimony, Greg’s testimony, or Connor’s comically vague eulogy for “Mo” Lester: “All of us will die one day. In this case, it is Lester who has done so.”

Nerdwriter1’s dissection of Succession’s enigmatically fascinating dialogue exhibits how “words can be meaningless while having incredible power.” When Kendall tosses around who the “blood sacrifice” should be, for example, he leads off with: “I’m saying this, but I don’t believe it. I’m saying this because this is the time we’re all saying things”; the words that he’s saying have power, even if he tries to play off that he doesn’t mean them.

There is, however, one vocabulary slip in the video that’s the most telling: At one point, Nerdwriter refers to the three Roy children, ignoring Connor, like many of us try to do (or wish we could).

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About the author

Gwen Ihnat

Gwen Ihnat is the Editorial Coordinator for The A.V. Club.