Like many other people, I thought Severance and Succession were the same show. Two shows with long "S" names, always getting recommended to everyone, with a loser male main character in a suit (I love them). I eventually got around to watching Succession, then Severance. Now having seen both shows in full, I have to ask, which one is better?
Keep in mind, Severance has only one season and Succession only has three. Both shows have not concluded yet. For this analysis I will only be taking season 1 from both shows into consideration. Some minor spoilers.
Quick summary / background information
Succession follows a very wealthy family in a battle for power over their company Waystar Royco. Waystar, a major worldwide conglomerate, is the 5th largest news station in the world. At the core of the family is cruel Logan Roy, the CEO; his sons, Kendall, Roman, and Connor; his daughter, Shiv, and her husband, Tom; and their middle class cousin, Greg. In the first season it seems as if Logan is going to step down from his position of CEO and give it to Kendall. He then suffers from a stroke and the family scrambles to find a replacement, aggressively fighting every step of the way.
Severance is a procedure workers go through to separate themselves into essentially two separate entities mentally. Once they enter their place of work, their brain shifts into their “innie” version of themselves that work at Lumon, a company up to no good (it's still unclear what they do). Their innie has no recollection of their life outside of the office. They've never seen sunlight, have no knowledge of family or friends, and know nothing about themselves other than their name and last initial. At the end of the work day they leave the office and switch back into their “outie” who knows nothing about what they do for a living or what their life down there is like. Mark Scout signed up for severance to cope with the tragic death of his wife. His innie, Mark S. works in macrodata refinement with three others, Irving B., Dylan G., and the new girl, Helly R. The innies, miserable with their existence, begin to speculate about the intentions of Lumon. They hope to find a way out and tell the public about the constant abuse they face. Simultaneously Mark Scout reluctantly starts to piece together that Lumon is evil.
The beginning sequence is iconic in any good show. We all know the Friends, The Office, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and Parks and Rec’s intro sequence. Succession and Severance have the two best introductions to any tv show. Succession’s song is so iconic. I could dance to it. I could cry to it. I love it so much. The song matched with the old videos of the Roys is pretty cool. The shots of New York are slick, organized, very put together, and nice on the eye. As much as I love it, it can get a little tiring. It goes on for a little too long. It's not something I'd want to rewatch multiple times in a row.
Severance’s opening sequence is immediately strikingly unsettling. It makes me feel uneasy. There's something wrong with it but in a good way. I could watch it for hours on loop. They really capture so many unique, beautiful parts of the show in a short, uncomfortable, uncanny valley animation. Seeing it for the first time in the second episode, when you have little to no information, brings up so many questions. You don’t understand its relevance. What in the world is the deal with the black goo? Yet again, Severance beautifully makes the viewer piece things together and process information. The song that accompanies it is amazing. It's quiet piano that also makes me feel nauseous (a good thing). It matches the animation perfectly. You couldn't casually listen to it. In short, both have great intros but Severance has better imagery and Succession has a better theme song.
Succession does probably the best job out of any show defining characters. They are all so specific. I swear you could pull a random quote out and guess correctly who said it. Kendall being whiny, Roman being absurdly inappropriate, Connor being Conner, all of it works. The quick brilliant insults all of them manage to come up with on the spot are very telling of who they are.
"You can't make a Tomelette without breaking some Greggs." -Tom
Severance really distinguishes the innies from their outtie. They use clothing, attitude, posture, their faces, how they interact to things physically, all to show that they really are two different people in the same body. Mark Scout and Mark S. are two completely different characters that happen to be trapped in the same body. The show does a really flawless job of keeping that consistent.
Main protagonist, Mark and Kendall
As more time goes on, the more I realize they really are very similar. They both have addiction issues, recently lost (or divorced) their wife, moderately directionless, mostly seen wearing a suit, a lot of pent up anger and sadness, and they fall under what I call “I can fix him” / “loveable loser” character category. If I had to say who did it better…. I'd say Succession.
They both did a great job of making the audience love (or sympathize with) them. But making a character truly horrible while making them somewhat redeemable is hard. Kendall stands for everything I despise. He’s rich, he doesn't use his wealth to help people, he’s preformative when he does “help” people, he’s reckless, he barely takes care of his children, he condones doing drugs and driving, he’s a lying coward, he has major toxic masculinity issues, he cares so much about his image, and when his father abuses the people he loves he doesn't do enough to stop it. Kendall Roy is the perfect example of what a man shouldn't want to be. Yet I find myself enraged at the idea of anyone hurting him. I love Kendall. I can't help it. I want to justify his behavior because he hasn't learned how to cope yet, he's constantly in the public eye, his father abused him growing up (and currently is), he’s simultaneously powerless while yielding too much power, he has his good moments, or his drug addiction. Regardless of why he does what he does, he's not a good person. That opinion has a lot to do with my real life relationship with classism and wealth so I'm heavily biased. They give him so many reasons to make us love this man, not character. They make him so real.
Mark Scout is also hard to justify at times. When he's on the date with Nikki (his sister's midwife) and he lashes out at anti-severance protesters, it's hard to watch. You see this desperate man pouring his anger out onto this stranger in front of his date directly after he talked about memories of his dead wife. By no means would I ever say Mark is a bad or even neutral person. He’s good. We see him demonstrate kind, caring, generous, selfless, and friendly behavior constantly (especially his innie). At times it's just slightly hard to watch the things he does.
Nonetheless, what I'm trying to say is, both shows know how to make you love and sympathize with its protagonist. Which sounds like an obvious statement. Every show should have a loveable main character… they are the main character. Sadly more times than not I find shows making it way too hard to like their main protagonists. Whether that's due to them being annoying, hateful to fan favorite characters, doing things that go against the goals of the show with no reason, or having bad morals without justification, it's a very real issue. My favorite examples are Eric Foreman (That 70s Show) and Piper Chapman (Orange is the New Black).
Along with every other queer person, I'm constantly looking for media where I can see a piece of myself in it. When trying to calculate the value of a show, queer representation is always a major factor.
I actually got into watching Succession because I kept hearing friends of mine talk about Tom and Greg's interactions, often mentioning the possibility of them being in love. The writers on this show know what they're doing. They know how to get you hooked into the drama, give the characters genuine defined depth, and demonstrate real chemistry. Tom and Greg are a perfect example of that. Their relationship is just so interesting, hateful, and loving that I couldn't help but really root for them. Their chemistry is undeniable but what is deniable is if their relationship is strictly platonic. I personally say that they're in love with each other. The show gives us so much. An inch away from them talking about that feeling or them being together. It's relatively frustrating. They go so far out of their way to put on display how Tom prefers Greg over his wife (which mostly happens past season 1). Succession loves to laugh at toxic masculinity, constantly showing it every episode (Romans entire character). Greg and Tom are definitely a reflection of toxic masculinity but I can't measure how much of their interactions is motivated by toxic masculinity or (not healthy) love. I wish that there was any real defined queer representation but there isn't. When this show is dedicated to showing how cruel this rich powerful white (mostly) conservative family is there isn't going to be a place for diversity. Which in itself is a statement. I just wish that there was something confirmed.
Unlike Succession, I went into Severance with no expectations for queer relationships. Irving and Burt’s office romance was a shock. I didn't expect it. It left me giving my full attention and screaming (in a good way). The way the show so carefully went about it was beautiful. They meet in the second episode and right away you can see Irving light up. Slowly they become closer and have some sort of a relationship. Irving goes from being 100% focused on work and worshiping the Egons to diverting all of that attention to Burt. I found that very sweet. Their romance ends with Burts outtie retiring, thus ending his innie’s life. There's nothing anyone can do to prevent it. They have a very soft gentle goodbye and Burt leaves. Which motivated Irving to break out of Lumon. I love that Burt retiring was his last straw. It felt natural and authentic. When queer relationships are in media the story is often repetitive. One of them loves the other, the second one loves them back but won't be with them because of some homophobia driven thing (bullying, comphet, religion). These topics are important to discuss but I long for more variety. I want a happy ending. I don’t want to see Jack Twist die over and over. Severance avoids being cliche and repetitive completely, taking a new indirect take on religious guilt. Irving worshiped the founders handbook (the only book they're allowed to have) which very obviously mirrors the outside world's bible. They quote it like a bible, the book is formatted like one, and the way the founder speaks in a similar tone. In the handbook office romances are forbidden, giving Irving a lot of guilt for his feelings. I feel like I had a much better understanding of Irvings thought process compared to other media with a similar theme. Seeing through Irvings innies eyes changes the entire perspective of guilt. A moment that broke me (not necessarily in a bad way) was the scene where Burt and Irvng are in the greenhouse-like room. They almost kiss but Irving stops it, saying he's not ready yet. Burt responds, "It's fine. Just stay. Stay here with me." The way they left the season off gives me a lot of hope for Irving and Burt. I can't wait to see what happens next. I applaud Severance for having a queer relationship be so important to its main story, not being cliche, and doing the bare minimum.
"I Am Certain You Will Remain With Me In Spirit, In Some Deep And Yet Completely Unaccessible Corner Of My Mind." -Burt
Sets / Color
I have nothing special to say about Successions sets other than - mansions are cool. They’re interesting to look and it pushes even further the point that the main characters are unnaturally insanely rich. The office building is your standard building and the houses are wealthily decorated. Which is really cool but it doesn't leave me sobbing and my jaw on the floor, but Severance's sets did. The long winding confusing bright white hallways, the dark long mysterious hallway heading to the break room, to their work space and desk setup. The walls on their desks blew me away for some reason. I thought it was really awesome how they used to communicate with each other. Irving overhearing something and quickly pulling the wall down just to say something scoldingly and raise it up again. The room is uncomfortably big giving it a liminal space feeling. I've been obsessed with liminal spaces for the past couple years. I really appreciate how they crafted this perfect set that really nailed down liminal spaces. Perfect. I love love love the use of green. Why is it so creepy?? All I know is they effectively used my favorite color to unsettle me. Awesome.
In the end, who's better? My overwhelming answer has to be… Severance. I wholeheartedly believe Severance is the best thing to ever happen to television. It accomplishes more in its 9 episodes than Succession’s 29 episodes. I've seen many different popular shows showcasing rich people and their crazy family dynamic (Arrested Development and Schitt's Creek). Succession is by all means nothing but amazing. It knows how to keep you hooked and has made me feel like I'm about to puke because of the well formed tension. I can compare Succession to other shows. I can't compare Severance to anything else. I don’t want to. Its concept is so original that I wouldn't know what else to compare it to. I think that Severance went out and did something beautiful and was extremely successful. The first season of Succession is a work of art but nothing can beat the brilliancy of Severance. The sets, concept, characters, relationships, opening sequence, use of color, how it reveals information to the viewer, just everything about Severance is perfect. Thank you Dan Erickson and Ben Stiller.