Succession Has Sold Us a Lie and Its Name Is Cousin Greg

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<i>Succession</i> Has Sold Us a Lie and Its Name Is Cousin Greg

I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed. Or more accurately, I’m that mix of angry, elated, and pumped-full-of-adrenaline that Succession makes you feel, especially after Season 3’s “Retired Janitors of Idaho.” Because in the background of the panicked tug-of-war that was Royco’s shareholder’s meeting, a man as dumb as he is tall revealed his soul.

It feels ridiculous to say now, but for a while I honestly thought Cousin Greg was Succession’s endgame. Not to take over the company as has been speculated (that resolution feels like too much of a joke to ever work dramatically), but I believed Greg could “win” Succession by emerging from the whole shitstorm not completely morally destroyed. I thought in the end there could be something left of Gregory Hirsch.

This is partially due to how winningly hysterical Nicholas Braun’s performance of the ambling sycophant is, which helps expand Succession’s comedy as broadly as a drama can allow. And it’s been easy to give some sympathy to this likeable fool; he provides great insight into the anxiety-inducing effect being an intermediary for horrendous people might have on a lackey.

Everyone in Succession tries to get something they want out of Greg—except for Greg. Sure, he asks Tom’s permission to blackmail him, and has no qualms with climbing the corporate ladder without ever deserving his ascension, but his real obstacles seem to be largely internal: a lack of conviction, self-doubt, anxiety, confusion. As such, he’s left in a bizarre between-state of being uncomfortable with much of the Roys’ behaviour, but too cowardly to do anything about it.

Greg stood out early on in Succession as the person with seemingly the most upstanding ideals, and the least ability to stand up for them. But in Season 3, like a pervert with no stage presence, Cousin Greg has anticlimactically revealed himself. His initial siding with Team Kendall is not a righteous act, but a weak display of self-preservation—it seemed like the winning side, until he realized (through a misunderstanding about a $40k watch) that his brave leader just needed something from him whilst having little interest in Greg himself. After joining the Roy joint defence and ditching his grandfather’s long-standing lawyer—and with it, denying the opportunity to actually stand for something—Greg confirmed he’s a paper-thin man desperately trying to convince us he’s made of stronger stuff. And when he discovers his inheritance will go to Greenpeace, he sets about how to affectionately sue his relative.

More than anything, I just feel like a rube. All of Greg’s previous displays of moral fiber now seem performative. Keeping copies of cruise line documents was simply to have leverage and get out of prosecution. His conflicted feelings about working for ATN was less because he couldn’t articulate his principles, and more to do with the fact that he knew he should have some without being smart enough to pinpoint which. (Except for the blindingly obvious, as Tom retorts: “I’m against racism. Everybody’s against racism.”) And even if Greg really did have morals, if he really wanted to take Grandpa Ewen’s lawyer and make a stab at the cancerous system Royco operates on, it would still render him completely useless, as what good are convictions if you’re unable to independently follow them through? You don’t get extra points just for believing something righteous, you have to actually act on it yourself.

The most obvious shift in Greg’s arc regards the other half of television’s best codependent relationship: Tom. Prior to now, Tom and Greg’s friendship has operated as a parasitic infatuation with the other; namely, they each want what the other has. Greg wants to be accepted into the powerful executive circles Tom swims in, whilst Tom is viciously jealous of Greg’s authentic blood connection to the Roy dynasty. Tom saw Greg as the only person he could trust—which is really saying something considering he has a wife.

But a turning point came in Season 2 where Greg drew the line at Tom’s workplace toxicity, not necessarily because he morally objected to it, but because he didn’t want it turned on him. In Season 3’s “Lion in the Meadow,” we saw the effects Greg’s choice had on his former mentor, where Tom confesses to his young ward his fears of penal institutions and his desires to replicate Nero’s marital mutilations. There’s a reserved distance between them, a recognition of their lost kinship. Greg doesn’t depend on Tom anymore. He’s outgrown him. But feeling superior to a pathetic man doesn’t mean you automatically have a solid constitution, and Greg’s growth is leading him to a much more vapid existence.

Part of my belief that Season 3 would have Greg finding his moral way was that, by now, his exploitation had reached critical mass. There was no way Greg could not acknowledge how little he was valued by others. But alas, his grovelling, pathetic sensibilities made him learn all the wrong lessons. His reaction to Kendall saying he’ll burn him if he doesn’t drop the joint defence is not to join the morally upright front of his grandfather, it’s to snivel at his feet before stomping his foot like a child just because he’s been denied the solution that’s most convenient to him. He’s picked up on all the combative, destructive behaviour that defines his relatives, but he has none of the fierceness and resolve necessary to be impressive. Don’t sue someone affectionately, Greg. Sue them like a goddamn Roy.

Greg represents the most embarrassing side of nepotism. Connor does as well, but at least Connor has flexed the Roy gift of being a colossal asshole. Greg is just a display of uninteresting, irrelevant privilege; because he has no standing, his selfish actions are devoid of the abhorrent but understandable accumulation of power that make up Kendall and Shiv’s vision. Succession knows this, keeping Greg unnoticed in the background of the shareholder’s meeting as he figures out how to pursue legal action against Greenpeace. This is how Greg’s soul is revealed; in pursuit of something no one cares about, gaining nothing interesting or worthy along the way.

So is the dissolution of young Mister Hirsch due to the direct influence from the Roys? Or is it just the inevitable product of inherent shittiness germinating in a toxic environment? With Succession, we’re constantly recalibrating expectations of who we root for, backing those with more integrity rather than who’s traditionally “good” or “bad.” More than that, our empathy is engaged in surprising ways; Kendall began the show as bitterly dislikeable, but after witnessing his abuse by his father in Season 2 (“You’re not a killer. You have to be a killer” echoes around my mind daily), we feel vindicated and rewarded as he pushes through with his Season 3 crusade. His future is guaranteed to be complicated, compelling, and unpredictable.

But what of Greg’s future? Rather than setting himself free from the heinousness of the Roys, I see him getting comfortable in some unremarkable executive position, with a crew of underlings baffled by his incompetence, none of whom he has anything resembling a meaningful connection with. Season 3 confirms there is little change on his horizon, just regression. Looking at him, more and more I see an empty space where a human being should stand. It was on me for thinking I’d see something take shape there. If Succession gives us a single good egg, it certainly won’t be this one.

Rory Doherty is a screenwriter, playwright and culture writer based in Edinburgh, Scotland. You can follow his thoughts about all things and stories @roryhasopinions.

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