Margaret Mahy, Judith Kerr, and the Berenstain Bears all had unexpected cameos in the final series of Succession. Toby Manhire watches and reads.
Children don’t appear much in Succession, and when they do, it’s on the fringes. And yet, children – in the offspring rather than young sense of the term – are absolutely at the heart of the show. Right there in its title. The king’s children vying for his throne are the central premise of the story. Their dependence on their father is total. “Without you,” Shiv admits to Logan in the final scene of the last series, “we’re screwed.”
And they also behave like children. Kendall, Shiv and Roman are infantile adults, their juvenile aspic postures. In this final scene of the third series, which aired this week, Logan responds to his children’s ultimatum attempt by shouting, “You’re playing fucking soldiers. Come on, fuck yourself. Earlier in the episode, the grown children, at their mother’s wedding in Italy, play Monopoly – something that would be unforgivable on most shows, but works here. In the second episode of the season, “Mass in Time of War,” Logan’s four children awkwardly reunite for a high-level summit in the bedroom of Kendall’s daughter, Sophie, stuck in children’s furniture.
The world of children has another place in the third series, in the form of children’s books. I counted three, which is enough for one reason, right? Episode four is titled “A Lion on the Prairie”, based on the classic and alluring story of Margaret Mahy. Episode seven is “Too Much Birthday,” a book in the Berenstain Bears series. And in the finale, episode nine, Logan reads Judith Kerr’s Goodbye Mog to his grandson.
(It’s tempting to also include Lukas Matsson’s description of Logan, the Elon Musk-esque tech titan played by Alexander Skarsgård, as “Hans Christian Anderfuck” as a hint to a children’s story, but let’s not screw it up here. .)
A lion in the meadow
New Zealand has had a few mentions during the succession. In the first series, Tom – then unapologetically devoted to Shiv – tells him: “Let’s go and be sheep farmers in New Zealand!” In the second, Roman declares his aspiration for wealth to “own a wealthy private army in New Zealand”.
But however thrilled we are as a nation for these songs, none come close to summoning Margaret blimmin ‘Mahy. The title of his 1969 classic A Lion in the Meadow is borrowed from the fourth episode of the third series – the one with Adrien Brody, in which Kendall crawls with Logan through a barren landscape, wondering if his father is telling him the truth.
A Lion in the Meadow, as you probably know, tells the story of a little boy who spots a lion in, well, the prairie. His mother doesn’t believe him, laughing that there’s a dragon in a matchbox that’s going to protect them. It’s one of those books – like Where the Wild Things Are, let’s say – that hangs in my memory, a mixture of majesty, domesticity, and ambiguity. “I’ve always admired this children’s book,” series creator and showrunner Jesse Armstrong says IndieWire this week. “It’s not that famous, but it’s a wonderful children’s book.”
Logan is the lion, I guess – the oversized chimera. Or Logan is the mother – the distracted, almost indifferent parent. Most likely neither, but the mood is fine.
The ending to A Lion on the Prairie that most of us who grew up with the story know about: good night hug, the lion had apples, stories, and a good night hug too.
But that wasn’t the original ending. The original ending – which Mahy changed for a reprint at the publisher’s request – was: “Mother never made up a story again. ”
A few years later, Mahy said, “Now I view A Lion in the Meadow very cautiously, feeling the cruelty of the first ending still lurking beneath the nicer second, and believing that this is the real ending.”
Am I suggesting that all of this informed the use of the title in an HBO TV show? Absolutely not. But I thought you might like to know.
Too much birthday
In The Berenstain Bears and Too Much Birthday, Sister Bear is overwhelmed by all the noise, complexity and paraphernalia of her sixth birthday party. Together, the bear family come to terms with what really matters on a birthday. In ‘Too Much Birthday’, Kendall Bear is overwhelmed by all the noise, complexity, and superficial bullshit of his 40th birthday party. The Roy family turns on each other and behaves like absolute animals.
Childhood haunts the whole hot mess of Kendall’s party – from the entrance hallway through a birth canal, to a VIP area built as a replica of Kendall’s childhood treehouse, back home. to the youthful asshole between siblings, to the sudden, desperate, desperate Kendall searching through the pile of presents for her children’s present.
The episode is when Kendall recoils from his synthetic, ostentatious version of himself, leading up to his arrival in a fetal position in the show’s final episode.
Mog and the Mogul: who would have believed? In the opening scene of the last episode of season three, before we know for sure whether Kendall survived a drunken near-drowning in the pool, there is a rare moment of fondness between Logan and his grandson, Iverson. . This is in contrast to Logan’s previous gruff and even violent engagements (remember the cranberry sauce?) With Kendall’s son; in truth, it’s a contrast to Logan period. The old man reads the Goodbye Mog picture book to the boy. “Mog was like, ‘I want to sleep forever,’” Logan says. “And that’s what she did.”
Maybe it was a bit too much, so soon after Mahy’s Lion, that Logan read The Tiger Who Came to Tea, but it’s perfect that Judith Kerr gets a moment. In the last of Kerr’s Mog’s books, the beloved tabby dies. It is painfully melancholy. “I don’t think it was so much about killing Mog as it was about doing something to die” Kerr said in 2002. “I get to 80 years old, and you start to think about who is going to stay – the children, the grandchildren. I just wanted to say: Remember. Remember me. But go on with your life. Kerr passed away in 2019.
Is Goodbye Mog a clue to the mortality, even death, of a central figure? This was put to Armstrong by the Guardian. “As you know,” he said impassively, “there are several readings of Goodbye Mog. You could probably list them. But it was probably more of a Marxist than a Freudian reading. Kendall is not dead.
Goodbye Mog also deals with how functioning families cope with sadness, change, and loss, which may be why Iverson, seemingly too old for such a book, is interested in it. Either way, Logan hastens to read a picture book and yells at his assistant to bring a new one. “Something with a little action! “
What does all this mean?
Maybe not a lot. In the case of the episode title “Too Much Birthday,” for example, Armstrong said he arrived late in the play. In a sense, assigning children’s book names to episodes is part of the bathos that so permeates Succession – the show can leap from the gravity of something like “Mass in Time of War,” the work Haydn composed in 1796. under the name of storm clouds of conflict watched Europe from above, up to the picture book “Too Much Birthday” without stopping to catch his breath, just as he can happily ride the worlds of drama and comedy. (To the question “Is Succession a drama or a comedy”, moreover, the answer is of course: yes it is. It is the best drama on television and the best comedy on television. television.)
But if writers are spreading children’s books all over the place, here’s a thought: They are doing what future parents do. They nest. There was a lot of speculation last week as to whether Succession killed one of its main descendants, leaving Kendall floating headlong in the Tuscan pool. What if the opposite is true? What if he’s getting ready to give birth to a new one?
Certainly the prospect was sown, Logan having smoothies delivered by his assistant and alleged lover, Kerry, who had grated maca root in them. Because maca root is believed to promote fertility – or, as Conor puts it, “He’s working on his baby dough. Dad prepares a more sticky and powerful gloop.
Series four could then bring a fifth child Roy, another potential successor to the scene. The other siblings would turn on her or him and the mother. And what about this: Logan chooses Jeryd Mencken, the future right-wing president he named to “the ATN primary” as godfather and godmother.
Weird? Yes, like much of the source material. Logan is absolutely not a simple clone of a character, but still. Rupert Murdoch had his fifth of six children, Grace, at the age of 70, with his new wife Wendy Deng. At the time, her other children were between 28 and 38 years old. Grace’s godfather is Tony Blair.