america decides

Is Jeryd Mencken Succession’s Fortinbras?

Call him “far-right-inbras.” Photo-Illustration: Vulture; Photo: HBO, Getty Images

Watching Succession, it’s almost too easy to think about Shakespeare — specifically King Lear, what with the whole “dying patriarch and three squabbling children” dynamic, but also elements of many of his other plays. Brian Cox pointed out to me that there’s a lot of Henry IV parts one and two in there, given the way Logan distrusts the focus of the generation below him (Kendall’s obsession with looking cool makes him a good analog to Prince Hal). In Shiv and Tom you can probably read into some sort of Macbeth dynamic (who is Lady Macbeth? Depends on the episode) and Greg is, of course, a great Fool, kept around in the court for wasabi-based jests and japes. But as the series heads toward its endgame, watching Sunday night’s election episode, the finale of another big Shakespeare tragedy kept coming to mind: Hamlet.

There’s some resemblance in the plot of that play to what’s currently transpiring with the GoJo deal — squint hard and Kendall’s equivocations about whether to commit to throwing his support behind Mencken and stopping the deal with Mattson are a bit like Hamlet trying to decide whether to kill his usurper uncle. But what’s really interesting is how Hamlet ends, which might provide a glimpse into how Succession unravels. After almost everyone in Elsinore kills each other, the militant prince of Norway, Fortinbras, arrives and claims the castle for himself. Hamlet, right before he dies, lends his support to Fortinbras, saying, “He has my dying voice” (it’s right before the whole “the rest is silence” bit), and Fortinbras then delivers the customary return-to-order speech at the end of the play, announcing that he’s going to give Hamlet a soldier’s burial with “the rites of war.”

It’s an ironic end for Hamlet, considering his whole problem is that he’s bad at taking action, but it tracks with the fact that Hamlet’s had a bit of a crush on Fortinbras from a distance (not unlike Roman Roy and Jeryd Mencken) for the whole play. He’s obsessed with the fact that the Norwegian prince is spending his time marching armies into Poland while he waffles about whether to kill his uncle or not — never mind the fact that Hamlet’s dad (named Hamlet) killed Fortinbras’s dad (also called Fortinbras). If you’re directing Hamlet, you can take that dynamic in all sorts of directions, casting Fortinbras’s crowning at the end as rightful or a coup. Robert Icke’s production at the Armory last summer had recorded cable-TV footage of Fortinbras, played by Starstruck’s Nikesh Patel, leading an invasion. In this way, Hamlet’s dithering leads to his kingdom, already in dire straights, being subsumed by fascism.

That brings us back to our pals in the court of the Roy family. At the end of Sunday night’s Succession, we have Jeryd Mencken — call him “far-right-inbras” — giving his speech on TV about purifying America while Shiv, Roy, and Kendall are at each other’s throats about the fate of Waystar, which is already floundering. Kendall, Succession’s most melancholy prince, goes along with the idea that Mencken is the one to support, simply because he convinces himself it will be possible to do business with him — not unlike going, “Hey, well, at least this guy is also a Scandinavian prince.” Extrapolating forward into the last two episodes, it seems quite plausible that, instead of any one of the Roy children ending up in charge of the company, the three of them destroy each other and then hand over the actual power to outside invaders.

Speaking of which, we should acknowledge the actual six-foot-four-inch Scandinavian prince in the room: Lukas Mattson, who is also watching things from the sidelines, an old (sort of) foe of the Roys’ father. Really, we should have seen a Fortinbras-style ending coming with a character like him from the moment everyone started talking about how their media empire was losing the battle to tech back in season one. Mattson’s numbers in India are probably fake, but in terms of deportment, he’s everything the Roy children are not: decisive, canny, an actual killer. As much as Kendall and Roman think they might be able to use Mencken to stop the GoJo acquisition, or even reverse the flow and swallow the tech giant back (good luck with that), if we’re looking to Hamlet as a model, all the internal conflict between the family will just make it easier, in the end, for Mattson to sweep in and take control without expending much blood of his own (except for the bricks he’s already FedExed to Ebba). Maybe he’ll even be nice and give a little speech about how noble and soldierly the Roy children were right at the end of the show. If that happens, tallying up the numbers, Succession will end up having two Fortinbrases, three Hamlets, and one Yorick (Karl).

More From This Series

See All
Is Jeryd Mencken Succession’s Fortinbras?