Like most shows, Succession is defined by its relationships. Viewers hold their breaths at the blissfully uncomfortable sexual tension between slime-puppy Roman Roy (Kieran Culkin) and mole-woman Gerri (J. Cameron Smith) that ignites the screen whenever the two appear in a room together. The mere notion that there will be a scene between Waystar TV chief Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) and rookie Greg (Nicholas Braun) at some point in an episode has become enough to inspire bouts of pre-emptive laughter. Similarly, any scene between Tom and his wife, Shiv (Sarah Snook), is guaranteed to arouse a substantial level of discomfort and anxiety.
But Succession’s paramount relationship this season is an unlikely one. Admittedly, Waystar’s Chief Operating Officer Frank Vernon (Peter Friedman) and its Chief Financial Officer Karl Muller (David Rasche) might be described as integral to Waystar Royco, but largely dispensable to the show. (Even after two-and-a-half seasons, neither of my parents can remember their names). The way I see it, though, the duo represents everything that Succession stands for, and, ultimately, everything that we love about it.
From day one, it has been pretty clear that Succession transcends the average boardroom drama. Before half of Season 1 was even over, we’d seen enough barbarous interfamilial betrayals to give us severe whiplash, as well as a resurrection of a great, and the epic battles of behemoths in the business world. In summation, this isn’t a show about corrupt corporate suits facing off. This is a show about Titans and Olympians, Greeks and Romans, goliath deities engaging in epic warfare.
Indeed, references to ancient mythology aren’t hard to come by in Succession. Of course, we have no shortage of Oedipus comparisons. In the first two seasons, numerous characters allude to Kendall (Jeremy Strong) as an Oedipal figure based on his betrayals, and near-betrayals, of his father Logan (Brian Cox); in Season 3, Kendall wears this comparison as a badge of honor. When, in Season 2, we meet Rhea (Holly Hunter), a candidate for the spot of Waystar CEO, characters refer to her as Coriolanus, a Roman general. And as for Rhea, she affectionately refers to Logan as a cyclops. The list goes on and on.
Amidst the spears and battle armor, though, there is a fundamental ancient value that is vital: the platonic male friendship. Of course, Greg and Tom have a habit of stealing the spotlight in this department, and there’s also the rocky bromance of Kendall and his turtleneck-wielding sometimes-ally Stewy (Arian Moeyad). But, ultimately, Frank and Karl’s relationship discreetly epitomizes everything that the characters of Succession strive to embody.
In ancient times, the platonic male friendship was widely understood as the ultimate symbol of virtue. Greek mythology’s Damon and Pythias highlight the importance of being willing to sacrifice yourself for a friend. In Homer’s Iliad, Patroclus is the only one who has the ability to make Achilles a better warrior, and that’s because they’re best friends. Similarly, in The Labors of Heracles, Heracles and Iolaus battle in the name of their friendship. It has been suggested that this kind of friendship was put to an end by the popularization of Christianity, which often placed God as a mediator between interpersonal relationships.
But the ancient, platonic male friendship did more than just foster virtuous individuals. In fact, it arguably created a more profitable society altogether. As Aristotle posits in Nicomachean Ethics, the principle of fruitful friendships expanded into society constructs an ideal, magnanimous political atmosphere. Simply put: the bromance makes for a more prosperous workplace—whether that be on the battlefields of Troy, or the conference rooms of Waystar Royco.
So, back to Frank and Karl. What is it that makes those two so oddly… magnetic? After all, they don’t draw attention to themselves like the flashy, handsome Kendall and Stewy, nor do they have a theatrical, roller-coaster relationship like Tom and Greg. They simply exist in the corporate bubble that is Waystar, with their identical suits and their balding heads and their meaningless jargon.
But if we are to take Aristotle’s analysis and apply it to Succession, their uniformity, paired with their invisibility, is exactly what makes them successful on the corporate battlefield. If they are to use their own friendship as a blueprint for how to treat other Waystar employees, the company will be an exemplary political model.
But don’t worry—I am not trying to wax poetic on the merits of being a loyal cog in the capitalist machine. Obviously no one in Succession is a model citizen, and, obviously Frank and Karl have done their fair share of shady deeds. No, the real lesson to be learned here is that, in a show with a multitude of mythical allusions, a bromance is undoubtedly a heroic act. This can be denoted, in particular, by audiences’ sudden infatuation with their friendship. Indeed, if Succession had been set in Achilles’ time, there would be no question of Frank and Karl’s heroism. But it’s not. It’s set in the twenty-first century, and, today, the male friendship bears centuries of turbulent history. Between Patroclus and Achilles, and Frank and Karl, men were taught not to show affection to one another, as it made them appear less “manly.” In its mythical allusions, though, Succession confidently rejects this notion.
Indeed, it’s difficult not to see a show where male friendships are not only the cornerstone of corporate prosperity, but are also recontextualized as heroic, as somewhat radical. No moment in Succession is without subtext, and I would be a fool to suggest that two men in suits eating sandwiches together at lunch time means absolutely nothing. And even though everyone in Succession is basically a monster, this restructuring of platonic male relationships is a good thing. So anyone who says Succession lacks humanity, I kindly beg to differ.
Aurora Amidon is a film journalist and passionate defender of Hostel: Part II. Follow her on Twitter for her latest questionable culture takes.
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