For four seasons now, HBO’s Succession has given people something to tweet about on Sunday nights. Everyone, it seems, is obsessed with the Roys. With the finale airing on Sunday, it would seem that the big tent party is about to end. That’s not entirely the case. Online, Succession screengrabs, quotes, and references dominate the discourse in a manner that isn’t likely to dissipate anytime soon. Through its memes, Succession is already tiptoeing into eternity.
Evidence of the show’s meme-ification is everywhere, from the picket lines of the Writers Guild of America strike to your Twitter timeline every time a rich person does something dumb. It’s a testament to the quality of the writing and the specific style of the show that nearly every episode provides an all-time one-liner, the kind perfect for a GIF or image macro. Creator Jesse Armstrong previously made the sweatily deranged UK comedy Peep Show, and he clearly still hungers for the kind of singularly damaged quips that are ideal meme fodder.
The Simpsons’ online dominance can be ascribed to its quirky, coincidental predictive powers and to the fact that it’s always nice to see Homer sink into a shrub. When The Sopranos gained new relevance during the pandemic, The New York Times Magazine argued that it was the way the show had captured America’s national decline —“a humiliating, slow-motion slide down a hill into a puddle of filth”—that had given it online resonance. Succession, too, seems destined to live on in our online hearts. But what story will its memes tell?
Maris Kreizman is a writer and podcaster who recaps the show on Twitter by encouraging people to “tag yourself in tonight’s episode.” She traces her adoration back to a second season episode about Vaulter, a fictional Gawker/Vice-like entity that the Roys capriciously destroy. “Kendall fires the entire staff off, and afterward he walks into a bodega, steals a pack of batteries, and then throws the batteries in the trash,” Kreizman sums up. “Having dealt with multiple media companies that treat their employees like trash, I had never identified with an inanimate object as I did that pack of batteries.” She tagged herself as the batteries and then just kept on tagging.
Interestingly, Kreizman isn’t the only Succession meme-maker to say that the destruction of Vaulter was the moment they fell in love. Perhaps counterintuitively, Succession’s depiction of the workings of the digital media industry as ruthless and inane has actually motivated real digital media workers to actively interact with the show online.
Writing for Polygon, Gita Jackson described the show’s online fan community as “fiercely dedicated” to the fates of these fictional lives and ascribed that dedication to one major through line: “On platforms like Twitter and Tumblr, fans of the show analyze trailers frame by frame and discuss their hopes and dreams for the characters. Despite being a show about ruthless capitalists, some of whom supported a fascist presidential candidate, the way that all the characters have been so wounded by their abusive father makes it easy for the audience to empathize with them.”