Despite its title, Succession is perhaps HBO’s most unlikely success. It inundates viewers with boardroom jargon and indulges the most lavish hobbies of the 0.1 percenters during the political rise of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. The show also dives into what I imagine are the same dark family politics of one of the most polarizing families: that of Rupert Murdoch and his media mogul offspring.
Succession simply succeeds—in wardrobe, in writing, and everything in between. It’s essentially the Game of Thrones of Midtown Manhattan (but like “Red Wedding” GoT, not series finale GoT). I wouldn’t be surprised if Slack saw an uptick in Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong) mentions following his cutthroat press conference in the Season Two finale of the show, which aired on Oct. 18. As a seasoned corporate communications analyst (I kid, I was an intern for a whopping 10 weeks.), I can confidently say that a coup d’etat of that magnitude would be punishable by death in the industry.
And yet there’s one element of Succession that is objectively a cut above the rest: the opening credits. The foreboding trap bass intro of the title song signifies the intensity to come: the formation of off-putting alliances, the bloodline betrayals, and the sheer insanity of having that much money and influence. Composed by Nicholas Britell, the one-minute and 40-second track packs the punch of a modern hip-hop song—and it recently became one.
On Oct. 11, Pusha T released “Puppets,” his own version of the track. The rapper lists the driving forces behind the show’s most unbelievable drama: “Family, fortune, envy, jealousy / Privilege, passed on legacy / Secret, sabotage, borderline felony / Suicide, subtract, selfish, pedigree.” Clearly, Pusha T is well versed in the happenings of the luxurious world of Waystar Royco, the Roy family’s media conglomerate that, like a fictional Disney-meets-News Corp (Well, technically Disney did meet News Corp.), has its hands in everything from amusement parks to cruise lines to right-wing TV news. But even without the added Pusha T verses, the track’s slick electronic beat is as magnetic as an office key card in the back of a company-branded phone wallet.
Enter sweeping piano notes and violin chords. You’re no longer among the masses on crowded street corners or slipping onto the Subway for your morning commute—these classical music elements are an invitation into the corridors of the elites. The piano chords, which Britell designed to be slightly out of tune, exalt the show’s opening credits to intoxicating can’t-skip status.
Together, the trap beat and classical layers transport the show’s viewers to the high-ceiling Fifth Avenue home of Logan Roy (Brian Cox), a timeless abode that injects old money taste with small doses of modern white elements. (Adding to the News Corp parallels, Succession production designer Stephen Carter told Architectural Digest that he researched the home of Rupert Murdoch to craft the look of Logan Roy’s home). Put simply, it’s a song that Pusha T can rap over and The Wall Street Journal’s Gear and Gadgets Editor Matthew Kitchen can respectfully set as his ringtone.
But the utter success of the opening credits doesn’t stop at the title music. Like the song, the scenes of the credits explore duality. Vignetted film of family home videos is cut between scenes from the bustle of New York City. The accompanying visuals also serve as exposition to the narrative. The Roy children—Kendall, Shiv (Sarah Snook), Roman (Kieran Culkin), and Connor (Alan Ruck)—are portrayed in the days of their silver spoon youth, days which aren’t particularly fleshed out in the actual plot or dialogue of the show but add depth to each character once depicted in the credits.
Kendall, who is made out to be Logan’s likely successor in Season One, is featured heavily in that season’s opening credits. A young Kendall is depicted in a pristine white ensemble while playing tennis, each hair on his head combed perfectly into place. Following the events of the second season, Shiv is more prominent in that season’s opening credits. As a teenager, she peers anxiously into the camera as her dad places his hand on her shoulder, presumably for a family photo. Logan keeps his distance, staring out windows and pacing in the grass, in both seasons’ opening credits.
The close attention to detail, from the manicured bushes to the shiny marble floors, illustrates the standard of perfection expected of the children—during their youth and well into adulthood. In a show where the patriarch evaluates his children not on the content of their character, but on their ability to create shareholder value, nothing can be good enough.
During the Season Two finale, Logan decides which child will be his “blood sacrifice”—i.e. take the fall for the company’s latest scandal—and he utters, “It hurts, but it plays.” The same could be said of the subtle sting of the opening credits. It hurts, but it plays every single time.
Featured Image by HBO