Creative Sensemaker: What to read, watch and listen to this weekend
A rundown of the books, films, music and more by Tortoise Media, the slow news agency
By Matt d’Ancona
Welcome to the latest Creative Sensemaker from Tortoise Media.
I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t immediately see the point of Succession when it made its debut. Yes, the idea of a televisual roman à clef allegedly based on the Murdoch dynasty was fun. But, to start with at least, I doubted that the joke would be sufficient basis for a multi-season prestige television series. A couple of episodes in, I realised how totally, utterly wrong I had been.
Yes, there was plenty of media speculation about how similar the 80-year-old Logan Roy (Brian Cox) might be to the Australian-born press tycoon; whether Logan’s sons Kendall (Jeremy Strong) and Roman (Kieran Culkin) were loosely based on Lachlan and James Murdoch; whether their sister Shiv (Sarah Snook) bore any resemblance to Elisabeth Murdoch; and whether the fictional ATN News stood proxy for Fox.
Yet the power of Succession – which returns for its third season on 18 October (Sky Atlantic; Now) – has much deeper roots and mythic foundations. The show draws greedily on the familial psychology of Freud, of Greek tragedy and of King Lear, and depends upon the force of ancestral, constantly repeated tales of power, family and mortality that have lodged over the millennia in our collective unconscious. Logan is the ageing king who knows that the integrity of his realm depends upon an orderly transfer of authority to one of his children – but with no less conviction believes (must believe, however irrationally) in his own immortality. Like Zeus, he is never quite sure whether to empower his children, or to consume them.
Yet the central character in Succession is really Logan’s son Kendall, the intermittent heir-apparent. If all the protagonists wear a mask, Kendall’s is one of ruin. In a single shot, Jeremy Strong can communicate the cruel price of being Logan’s son: the terrible sense of expectation, the certainty of falling short, the suspicion that all around him think he is an entitled weakling compared to his formidable father. The sense that he represents a step backward for the Roy dynasty is an impression that his father misses no opportunity to nurture, often in public.
As Cox observed in a recent Observer interview with Mark Kermode, there is a wound within Logan, too: ‘The thing that’s so hard for him is that, like Lear, he loves his children, and he would hope to see some of that love reciprocated, as opposed to them just seeing him as a chequebook, or as the road to entitlement.’
It is this paradox that keeps us watching. All the characters in Succession are, to varying degrees, horrible, and the writers never offer us the cheap satisfaction of straightforward redemption. Instead, there are moments of true affection between the siblings; memories shared; years of familial pain sensed in daunting aggregate. Because these moments are so few and far between, they are all the more potent.
Here are this week’s recommendations:
COBRA: CYBERWAR (Sky Max, 15 October)
Robert Carlyle has certainly come a long way since he first played the psychotic Francis Begbie in Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting (1996). As Prime Minister Robert Sutherland in the first season of COBRA (2020), he and his chief of staff, Anna Marshall (Victoria Hamilton) saw off a disastrous energy crisis, caused in this case by a solar flare rather than a shortage of fuel and lorry drivers. In season 2, he must deal with a serious cyberattack upon the nation and a storm of fake news. In Whitehall jargon, Cobra stands for Cabinet Office Briefing Room A, where meetings of the Civil Contingencies Committee are traditionally held. In practice, this series owes more to the enduring legacy of The West Wing, 15 years after that show ended, than to the reality of UK government practice: just as most prime ministers yearn for an Air Force One, so those that work for them wish from time to time that they had something like the White House Situation Room to work in. COBRA indulges that fantasy and is, as a consequence, a lot of fun to watch.
The Power Of Ideas: Words Of Faith And Wisdom by Jonathan Sacks
Launched on Monday at Spencer House with a speech by Tony Blair – who described the late Rabbi Lord Sacks as ‘my rabbi too’ – this collection of essays, articles, contributions to Radio 4’s ‘Thought for the Day’ and speeches, encapsulates what made the author (who died in November 2020) such a unique and revered intellectual and moral leader. Sacks’ religious learning was formidable, but one of his greatest gifts was to stretch out a hand to believer and non-believer alike, and to explain why inherited wisdom was of more value than ever in the complex, hectic, and often bewildering context of 21st century modernity. This compilation, like all his books, is a box of gems to be treasured. (You can watch me interviewing Tony Blair on the legacy of Lord Sacks here).
Censored by Loski (15 October)
The release last November of the 21-year-old Kennington rapper’s debut album Music, Trial & Trauma: A Drill Story marked the emergence of a talent with clear potential. Produced by M1onTheBeat, CZR and Rymez, Censored, his new 10-track EP, promises to be even more bracing in its whip-smart pulse – try the already-posted ‘Rolling Stones’ and ‘P.U.G’, and the terrific ‘Woosh And Push’, a collaboration with Active Gang’s Suspect. This is street music so gutsy and unfazed, you’ll think the pandemic never happened.
That’s all for now. Enjoy the weekend and take care of yourselves.
Editor and Partner