It’s no secret that the television landscape has always favored men more than women and younger women to their older counterparts. HBO’s Succession, a show ostensibly about white males, privilege, and power dynamics, is a show that’s trying to change that landscape.
Since the series’ inception, women have slowly cracked the frat-boy foundation that Waystar Royco, the show’s fictional media empire, has cemented itself on. There’s Shiv Roy, of course, who has blazed past her brothers in a sweeping move to steal the company right out from underneath them. And there’s Willa, the escort-turned-paid-girlfriend of Connor Roy. She has been manipulating his feelings and using his money to benefit her own motives since the very beginning.
This season, however, Succession has flooded its cast with older women who are just as powerful, outspoken, and cutthroat as their male counterparts. And the show has never been better.
Take Nan Pierce, for example. Pierce (Cherry Jones) is a woman in her 60s who runs media giant PGM alongside her CEO Rhea Jarrell (Holly Hunter). She has no qualms about going toe-to-toe with Logan Roy when she feels that their potential merger deal has soured and she fires Jarrell on the spot when she begins to suspect that Jarrell and Roy are conspiring against her.
Cyd Peach, too, has entered this season as another powerful force to be reckoned with. She is the big bad boss of ATN (a Fox News-esque station under the Waystar umbrella) and has been running the station since before most of us were alive. She is quick to put newly-promoted, latte-sipping Tom Wamsgans in his place when he shows up to ATN with one motive: to bring the station and its archaic views into the 21st century. Peach shuts that down immediately, informing him that they will continue to serve the loyal viewers who are “tired of being patronized elsewhere by latte-sipping douchebags with $100 haircuts.”
And, of course, there’s the ever-present Gerri Killman, General Counsel of Waystar Royco and perpetual manager of the Roy family neuroses. She is perhaps the most qualified to take over Waystar once Logan Roy decides to hand off the baton; however, she may not even want it.
None of these women are saddled with storylines about aging, grandchildren, or doting on their husbands. Rather, they are all ruthlessly concerned with money, power, and success – just like every man they share the screen with.
Perhaps even more radical than Succession‘s depiction of 60-something women as powerful and dynamic is its depiction of these women as, get this, human beings deserving of romantic love.
Where television has previously allowed older women to grace the screen in sexless, hackneyed roles like the long-suffering wife or the lonely, declining widow, Succession refuses to trap its older female characters into those boxes.
Viewers were taken by surprise this season when Killman begins a quasi-affair with Roman Roy, a man half her age. There’s no “cougar” implication, no suggestion that perhaps he is after her money. (And why would he be? He has his own money. Everyone in this world has their own money.) There is only a love story – if you can call it that – that is perfectly weird, perfectly dynamic, and perfectly them.
And when it seemed like Logan Roy’s eyes might be straying from his wife, it wasn’t for a 20-something in a power-imbalanced position – it was for 61-year-old CEO Jarrell. And, in typical Succession-verse fashion, Jarrell may just have her own motivations for playing up their star-crossed romance.
Succession continues to blow its competitors out of the water when it comes to quality television. And, whether other showrunners are ready to admit it to themselves or not, providing a space for interesting, dynamic, different women only makes for more interesting, dynamic, and different television. Succession continues to prove that in spades.
Succession is currently streaming on HBO.
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Feature photo: Succession / Instagram