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"Succession" is deeply weird about food
Even the most powerful ouroboros still eats its own tail 😘
Content warning for references to Succession-typical physical and emotional abuse.
Also, spoilers through season 4, but no major plot points.
I was a latecomer to Succession, so I knew what I was getting into re: everything looking like stock photography. Still, I’m often in awe of how aesthetically sterile the show manages to be, despite its use of film and consistently beautiful composition.
Throughout its 4 seasons, I can count on one hand the number of times we see people on Succession enjoy food, have (good) sex, or meaningfully interact with any form of art. This sensory vacuum is of course intentional, and succposters have spent a lot of time examining the role of clothing, music, or any other crumbs of the human experience this show allows its characters. But, other than this exploration of food and class or the New York Times piece about eating signaling a loss of power, I haven’t seen much on Succession’s relationship to food.
Ahead of its upcoming finale, I rewatched most of the series to figure out what the deal is. As it turns out, the way Succession uses food is delicious, unsettling, and ultimately pretty tragic. Succession shows us the rules of its complex food logic with calculated clarity, and it follows those rules painfully well until the end. Fun!
Food as ceremony
The ceremonial aspect of food is nothing new in any show or any culture. Preparing and consuming food has always been steeped in ritual and tradition, and thus in power plays, whether it’s the Eucharist or The Office’s “Pretzel Day.”
For the Roys, a billionaire family running a media conglomerate, ceremony and tradition surrounding food are extremely important. This is a life that revolves around banquets, luncheons, toasts. A dinner table, power lunch, or cocktail party is the main place to swing your dick around. It’s where you prove that you’re not that old and feeble, actually, or that you’re cool and chill and can do business with the Europeans. Or that your company isn’t spiraling. Or that it’s all your failson’s fault.
Even outside of a formal dining setting, food as ceremony rules the day. Tom commemorates one of his most significant breaking points by stealing patriarch Logan Roy’s chicken. Kendall’s brief stint of candy theft is its own kind of ritual when our man is really goin’ through it. Tom and Shiv often use little food ceremonies—a beach picnic, breakfast in bed—to playact a happy marriage. And everyone knows that when you visit your (also abusive) mother, you must witness but not necessarily eat her burnt poultry dish.
With people this rich and powerful, it’s about having and orchestrating the food, not the undignified business of actually eating it. Acknowledging this—food as ceremony, as a show of control—is key to understanding why eating, or even talking about food outside of a business metaphor, are such rare things on Succession. The Roy’s wealth is excess that refuses to enjoy itself. Excess that doesn’t dare to revel in its spoils, because excess is the livelihood. Who sits around talking about how great it is to have blood in your veins? A spread of food shows your bounty and helps you live to see more—more dinners, more business brunches, all leading to more assets for the beloved Company.
And if food ceremonies, like all other ceremonies, are a way to exercise control, then the food itself is the more primal element, the thing to be controlled. The eating experience is a war between the primal and the order of the world. Eating is also how a media conglomerate like Waystar Royco stays alive—but it’s a process full of inner and outer struggle between propriety and the beast. In both business deals and literal dining, Logan loves this struggle, fixates on it, and facilitates it at every turn.
Food as weakness
So having eaten means you’ve won. But the food itself is the means, and the means get ugly. Something as primal as eating must be contained, elevated, and sequestered through ceremony. Food and its intended purpose are an embarrassing weakness, then—and eating is the only bodily function these characters are prudish as hell about. On Succession, people vomit through theme park character costumes, piss on office carpets, jack off onto skyline windows, poop in guest beds. But consuming food is something you preferably do in the privacy of your own dim home.
On Succession, food reminds us of our mortality; it’s the fleshy gap in our armor we hope the enemy doesn’t see. Despite the fact that these fuckers rarely eat anything with sauce on it, their food is always smothered in shame.
Early in the series, Logan’s preoccupation with lasagna at his big business banquet is treated like a sign of him having gone off the deep end. Later, in the infamous “boar on the floor” game, Logan (now accepted to be sane) literally makes the weak links of Waystar Royco oink and wrestle over sausage. The time Tom introduces Greg to the delicacy of the deep-fried whole songbird, they share an oddly vulnerable moment with a napkin over their heads to “mask the shame.”
And in one of the most violent demonstrations we ever get from Kendall—relatively tame for this show, but still—he hits his team’s snacks off a table because he feels they aren’t working fast enough. The message is clear: you eat or be useful, not both.
The few times characters treat food like a normal person—no whole songbirds, no floor sausages, just livin’ life—they’re framed as incompetent. In season 1, we spend time with Greg, the oaf, the gold-digging cousin barely on the Roy’s radar, eating a sandwich in Logan’s home while Logan is in the hospital. In another episode, a new-money minor character fills up on appetizers and is damned to hell and tackiness by the other partygoers. Hugo demolishes a breakfast buffet in front of the GoJo people and then almost immediately shows up on Matsson’s kill list.
Food as a humiliating vulnerability to overcome also explains why hardly anyone ever eats in Logan’s presence. From his typical business meals to the family Thanksgiving, we see the food, we see it prepared, but we don’t really see anyone eating. Logan is usually the last person you want to show weakness to, so that makes sense. The most we ever see the siblings eat is during the first few episodes of season 4, when they’re working together and have cut daddy and the company (mostly) out of their lives.
Food as weapon
Of course, in most narratives, weaknesses exist to be weaponized. Succession goes just a bit further with it—apparently, across the board, food is here to fuck you over, tear you down, and cause you pain.
My full list of every time characters weaponize food on this show is way too long to include here, but here are some highlights:
The “dog food” (maybe just cake, maybe not!) that the siblings forced Roman to eat in a cage as a child
Connor’s “looney cake,” obviously—More cake-centered harm! Logan fed young Connor sponge cake for a whole week as some kind of consolation prize after sending his mom to a psychiatric hospital. Neat and normal.
Kendall interpreting hospital fruit baskets a threat:
Logan sending his children possibly-poisoned donuts just to mess with them
Kendall having more poison paranoia at a dinner with Logan, asking the waiter to switch his and Logan’s plates, and then Logan making his grandson test the food! THESE! PEOPLE!!!!!!!
Logan hitting his grandson in the face with a can of cranberry sauce :(
Wasabi in the eyes of the numbers guy on election night. Not intentional violence but still a fun metaphor.
Can’t forget Bitey—Forearms aren’t really food, but Shiv introducing Tom to her messed-up little game is one of the only times anyone sinks their teeth into anything. You hurt me, I hurt you, we live to do it again.
Finally, even Kendall’s famous line this last season, “Maybe the poison drips through,” leans on this concept of weaponized consumption. Succession food is often violence disguised as nurturing, a vehicle for poison you ingest whether you realize it our not.
Ceremony as weakness as weapon
In the Succverse, if food is all these things, then all these things are each other, even independent of food. This might not be the most sound logic in the real world, but Succession wills it so and commits to the bit.
The importance of ceremony, legacy, and tradition for tradition’s sake is the Achilles’ heel of almost everyone on this show. And this weakness is consistently weaponized against them—usually by a family member or other machinations of Waystar Royco—to propagate abusive behavior. Logan strings people along over the course of the series, using ceremonial power as both the carrot and the stick.
The family’s weaponization of weakness is also ritualistic, and a flaw in and of itself. It’s a source of friction with the Pierces, GoJo, and even good ol’ Stewy. We see the Roys consistently play themselves by coming off as too brutish, too stabby. Finally, many characters use weakness, or at least the performance of weakness, as just another ceremonial step in a well-worn dance. Logan plays the martyr to get one of his children to take a fall; Roman leans into his role as an outlet for people’s rage; Shiv throws down the baby sister card to facilitate almost all her attempts at sabotage.
Of course, you don’t need a food deep dive to glean these themes from Succession, but I’ve never seen a show follow such unified food logic over the course of multiple seasons. The three ways we see food operating dramaturgically [lol] on this show are nothing new on their own, but the interplay between them all both mirrors and fuels the cycles of abuse these characters, especially Logan’s children, can’t escape.
At its core, Succession is about generational trauma, the violence of capitalism, and the way those concepts stick their tongues down each other’s throats. Think Capitoline Wolf mixed with Saturn Devouring His Son with a dash of that Spider-Man meme where they’re all pointing at each other.
Succession is obsessed with the endless ways love, creation, and life itself get distorted and bent back on themselves through machines of our own making. When food is simultaneously a vehicle for legacy, weakness, and violence that could be turned against you, you’re probably not gonna be normal about it. For the Roy siblings, it’s eat or be eaten (duh), but the eating is shameful, and the eating hurts.
My favorite parts of this godforsaken show where someone actually got to enjoy their food <3
A brief palate cleanser:
#1: Ken eating the aforementioned ketchup burrito. I’ve never seen anything like it, lads.
#2: Shiv and her little pita chips or mango strips or something, during the calm before the season 4 storm. This is possibly the longest amount of time any character eats uninterrupted.
#3: Roman and his pajama pastry while on the phone with Gerri 💖
Honorable mention: The so-called “tailgate party"—this is the one time we get glamour shots of food, and it’s so fucking funny. This is culinary Dave & Buster’s cosplay, and you do see some guests actually eating it, so that’s something.
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