For Succession, Everything Is IP

TV Features Succession
For Succession, Everything Is IP

In “Living+” we finally see an often ignored part of the Waystar Royco empire: the movie studio. Waystar Studios have often served as the butt of the Roy family’s jokes, a graveyard for unimportant family members (sorry Amir) or as a dinosaur in Waystar’s catalog of brands and businesses. But in Succession’s final season we are finding out what’s going on out West and what happens when the belief in intellectual property is left to fester.

The most common joke at the studios’ expense is its use as a content factory. It’s responsible for producing the iconic character Dodrick, the hit hibernating-robot franchise Calypsotron, and of course the loveable family comedy The Biggest Turkey in the World. In Season 1 we learn that Roman used to be more involved with the studios, but left due to their transition into making content slop above art. Maybe Waystar Studios once made great movies, but have no sense of that history.

At one point in “Living+” Roman is seen being driven through the Waystar Studios’ backlot filled with cameras and green screens. The look of utter disdain on Kieran Culkin’s face is palpable. The studios are a rotting corpse of creating nonsense entertainment to fulfill the bottom line. Every time the studios come up it’s a joke. The general public presumably loves Dodrick,  but we only see him through the lens of Greg throwing up in his mascot suit or Lukas making a poor taste Holocaust joke at Dodrick’s expense.

One of  Succession’s most striking throughlines is how it depicts what the uber-rich do for fun. The Roys and the people they associate with do not have the same entertainment we do. We see the different ways they play games. There’s the Monopoly game in the Season 3 finale that pokes fun at the flimsy rules that are easily by-passed (several characters cheat throughout the game). There’s also the infamous Boar on the Floor, a game without rules that acts to demean and intimidate. The show even begins with a casual baseball game that humiliates a young boy who fails to win a million dollars by hitting a home run. Entertainment is found by poking fun at the existence of rules, showing that they can be bent to the whims of the rich in order to see just how far people can devolve.

The only time entertainment-as-art is truly shown in Succession is during Willa’s play in Season 2. It was her great artistic pursuit that ended with horrible reviews and Greg getting bitten by sand fleas. Succession posits that creating true art is a fool’s errand. Treasured paintings are bought for tax write-offs, and putting your soul into something is worthless if you’re still working within the field of “entertainment.”

What “Living+” solidifies across all of Waystar’s endeavors is said simply by Roman. When studio head Joy voices her concern about ATN’s coverage of the fascist-leaning political candidate Jeryd Mencken, Roman replies “Mencken’s IP. Same as everything.” For mega-corporations like Waystar Royco, politics and movies both act as different branches of the content factory.

Succession utilizes a bird’s eye view of the corporate entertainment landscape to dissect how muddled the waters actually are. Hearing Kendall and Roman talk about the talking points for the investor’s meeting would give anyone engrossed in the world of new media deja vu. Building franchises, boosting intellectual property, consolidating brands… it sounds like the writers are taking lines straight out of WarnerBros. Discovery’s own shareholders meeting (I half expected to see a Venn diagram that divided Waystar’s brands between male-skewing and female-skewing).

“Living+” takes Succession’s philosophies about the rich’s approach to entertainment and pushes it to its illogical Big Tech next step: letting you live in IP. Kendall’s description of Living+ sounded like it was ripped straight from a Black Mirror episode: a world where content infects every part of your life. The project is reminiscent of Disney’s residential communities, specifically the newly announced Storyliving. Disney promises that you never have to leave the comfort of their world. Living+ clarifies that as a luxury experience that allows your life to become overrun with brand tie-ins.

Kendall’s big pitch for Living+ is Succession’s biggest skewering of capitalism yet: the promise of living forever. Living+ residents will get to access life-extending medical trials and drugs before anyone else. If Succession wasn’t harsh enough on the media landscape before, roping Big Pharma in seals its entire corporate philosophy together.

The announcement of Living+ during the studio-centric episode is incredibly purposeful. The IP factory is used to house the next big sell: immortality. Immortality is only offered by living in Waystar’s pool of IP. The corporate mindset turns IP into the closest anyone can actually come to immortality. The worthless dribble can achieve what even Logan Roy could not.

One of the standout parts of Episode 6 was when Shiv and Tom were talking in the bedroom about Tom’s betrayal. He displays a frankness hardly seen in the show, saying simply that he likes having money and he doesn’t want to lose it. The Roy kids have so much money they forget it’s there, they start looking beyond into other ways they can inflict their power on the world. But Season 4 sees the kids finally face the one thing they can’t buy their way around: confronting mortality. In the wasteland of the studios you pull yourself up with the trash, buoyed by Big Tech evaluations and promises of something more powerful than a product. But all a company knows how to do is produce; products are all it’s capable of.

As Succession enters the back half of Season 4 the kids are trying to grasp at forever through the language and strategies of corporate nonsense. The studios produce garbage, so you integrate that garbage with all the other junk the company makes. Fighting immortality is the only game left for the uber-rich to play. And when you can buy the world, you can only think of everything as property.

Succession airs Sunday nights on HBO and HBO Max.

Leila Jordan is a writer and former jigsaw puzzle world record holder. Her work has appeared in Paste Magazine, Gold Derby, FOX Digital, The Spool, and Awards Radar. To talk about all things movies, TV, and useless trivia you can find her @galaxyleila

For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.


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