In a typical episode of Succession, food is everywhere, side-order to the plotting and scheming which forms the backbone of the show. Pastries line conference tables in Waystar Royco meeting rooms, canapé platters float across the screen at parties, breakfast buffets sit on crisp white restaurant linen. Considering the amount of food on display, however, it’s rare that we ever see the wealthiest characters – Kendall, Shiv and Roman, those born into genuine one per cent wealth – actually doing anything so exposingly human as actually eating.
As such, the way different Succession characters relate to food in a literal sense also reveals something about their place in the show’s metaphorical food-chain.
Primarily, food’s appearance on Succession signposts the general atmosphere of a casual approach to excess. The countless six-star hotel platters might as well be potpourri for all anyone on-screen actually eats them – witness Connor’s “funeral management committee” power-breakfast meeting in season four episode seven (Tailgate Party), where a “three-day griefathon” is ducked, and so are the croissants. Food in Succession usually isn’t there to be eaten. Instead, it implies that eating – and indeed gluttony – is always possible: where there is food, there is abundance and, crucially, money.
In the context of the Roy siblings’ relationship to it, having food around about demonstrating wealth, because its actual basic function – sustenance – is so entirely taken for granted. When you’re a billionaire, there’s no reason to consider hunger. Food, then, becomes decorative. During the episode Tailgate Party, in which Shiv and Tom throw a mixer the night before the election, a particularly fine point was put on this, with passing shots of fussy snacks – tiny sliders pierced with US flag cocktail-sticks – being prepared.
It follows, then, that when some characters on Succession do actually eat, it’s sometimes considered to be vulgar, symbolic of the class divide between the show’s real one percenters – the Roy family – and the rest. Think of Hugo’s mountainous continental breakfast at the GoJo retreat in Norway, or the siblings’ snarky comments about Willa’s mother as she loads up her plate among Logan’s mourners at Marcia’s apartment.
Even Shiv, Roman and Kendall, however, get a taste of their own medicine any time they come up against the show’s oldest money of all: their mother’s. When Lady Caroline serves them freshly-shot pigeon in the second series’ seventh episode, it’s not a nourishing meal delivered up by a mother to her children with love. Rather, it’s a severe reminder of her position as countryside landed gentry (whose tastes are generally more earthy than lavish), the grandeur of which far outweighs her children’s, mere new-money billionaires that they are. As Roman recoils from the dish, his mother side-eyes what she views as his tacky New York preferences, cuttingly scoffing when she asks if he’d rather eat “truffle fries”.
Food, then, is directly linked to status. And as the character with the least stable, most grasping relationship to social status, the character with the most interesting relationship on the show to what he and others consume is Tom Wambsgans.
He’s obsessed with wine (“Don’t say it’s biodynamic!”) and meals that convey apparent refinement. Remember when he took Greg to eat ortolan, the French delicacy that requires covering your face with a cloth while you crush a songbird whole in your mouth? Tom always seems to be trying to outrun the Roy siblings’ perception of him as a Midwestern hick, his fancy tastes worn on his sleeve and often deployed when he’s trying to ingratiate himself. Sometimes, though, the mask slips when Tom is under pressure.
In the season two finale, he snatches Logan’s chicken from his plate on the yacht to assert himself in a brute manner, at odds with his usual “I’m here to serve” simpering (and it arguably works better), while in one scene from season four’s election night episode, he demands a simplicity that betrays his real sensibilities: “American bottled water” and “spaghetti and olive oil.”
Generally, then, food in Succession can be said to symbolise each character’s relationship to need. Rich characters don’t eat because they’re beyond need, and for those who do eat, it’s almost as though they’re exposing a weakness. Indeed, this is demonstrated neatly in another election night moment, as the wasabi from Greg’s sushi platter somehow ends up in the eye of ATN’s leading poll expert (Greg, in a perfect, inspired moment, attempts to wash it out with lemon La Croix).
As decisions about the future of western democracy are made and machinations whirl in the air, Succession’s resident silly sausage essentially causes a pivotal state to be prematurely called for the Trump-by-way-of-Jordan-Peterson analogue Jaryd Menken, all because he needs to perform the undignified but necessarily human function of eating.
The moment is an acknowledgement of the reality and stupidity of base humanity, even – and especially – at the supposedly highest levels of society. This invocation of food, ultimately, feels like a perfect microcosm for all that Succession satirises: a world-changing decision, made because some idiot fucked up with a cheap tray of sushi.