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Succession Is Ending, but 'No Context Succession' Is Forever

How TV's most zeitgesty show is also poised for internet immortality.
  • Brian Cox and Matthew Macfadyen in Succession (Photo: HBO)
    Brian Cox and Matthew Macfadyen in Succession (Photo: HBO)

    If you are anything like me, you awake each morning and scream at the fact that before summer is even properly here Succession will be over. Forever. The show has been an unusually steady companion in the otherwise volatile half-decade since it debuted. It walks a few fine lines: sharply relevant without being an exhausting discourse generator; funny and sad without being a sad-sack dramedy; built around a central, resolvable mystery without being a Reddit-goading mystery box. Everyone’s got a theory about how things might end up, but that’s not the central lure here. Succession is popular because it is just really, really well written. I will miss it so much.

    And so I have found some comfort in the No Context Succession Twitter account, which, if you are unfamiliar, posts screenshots of the show overlaid with subtitles lacking (yes) context. It is not the first no-context account and it is far from the biggest. The estimable team at Know Your Meme traces the format’s genesis to the murky fan-swamps of Tumblr circa 2010, as well as a Twitter account which posts New York Times phrases out of context (160K followers, launched 2013). A 2017 Vulture article explores the rise of no-context Twitter accounts devoted to The Good Place (253K followers, founded 2017) and The Great British Bake-Off (108K followers, founded 2016). A quick search today reveals popular accounts devoted to immortals like The Office (575K followers, founded 2018), Parks And Recreation (364K followers, founded 2014), and Nathan For You (202K followers, founded 2017).

    The Vulture article (and a similar one on Mashable in 2019) argue that these decontextualizations somehow heighten a show’s humor: removing a joke or exchange from its original setting makes its appreciation a little more pure, more of of a museum piece, I guess. But I think the appeal may be a little simpler. These are passive ways of not just expressing fandom externally but of actually experiencing fandom internally. If you spend a little more time than you would prefer on Twitter, you might as well be reminded, intermittently, of a thing far outside of Twitter that you really do like. A series of text-free screenshots feels like bucking the algorithm, fighting the anxiety-machine with a reminder of something not connected to the day’s news. It’s like flipping through an old book and revisiting the parts you underlined: They’re hyperlinked to sometimes deep emotional resonances. You depart from the timeline and descend into a reverie about, like, Frank.

    I emailed Anna, who runs the no-context Succession account, about her experience helming one of the internet’s most popular fan hubs for TV’s most zeitgeisty show. She started the account in July 2019 — a month before the second season premiere — because she wanted to post a clip of Kendall’s bathroom breakdown from the pilot and realized no one was maintaining a proper no-context Succession account. Now at some 260K followers, including a truly impressive roster of media and cultural figures, she takes between four and five thousand screenshots per episode, maintaining a running spreadsheet that catlaltogs every episode and its corresponding tweets. Her day job in social media management affords a sort of tactical view on the account — she’s already thinking about the show’s awards-season run, for example — but it’s also provided some insights.

    “I've learned a lot about how people watch this show and view the characters,” she told me. “It's interesting to go through my notifications and see how people react to certain scenes.” That singular tension of the show — how do we care deeply about these people when we know they are monsters? — plays out beneath her decontextualized (or is it recontextualized?) pull-quotes. “People will sometimes end up having debates in my mentions about who's more ‘good’ or ‘evil’ or who ‘deserves to win,’ whether it's a drama or a comedy, and so on,” she told me. One recent post from the account spotlighted a particularly noxious strain of the fandom that lionizes Logan as an alpha fending off his weak children. Gross!

    Or whatever! No one should be surprised by a bad opinion on the internet. I’m on my third runthrough of the show and I am increasingly convinced that morality has no place within its appreciation. Nor, really, does the show’s discussion of the media, or power, or capitalism. This scale heightens the show’s intensity, and its interest in the value of information within a declining empire gives its drama a strange, apocalyptic frisson. But this is ultimately a show about a family. It is fine to care about any of these characters, because they are presented as humans suffocating beneath (or as) an over-powerful patriarch, trapped within a generational cycle of abuse. This at least in part explains the popularity of “fancam edits” of the show online: montages set to artists like Taylor Swift and Lizzo that often create narratives whole-cloth, like a pro-LGBT Logan edit or a Kenstewy shipping fantasy. While these things evince an almost flagrant disregard of the show’s writing and tone, they do centralize character, relationship, and the ambiguity of interpretation. These are the exact things I am mourning in advance.

    I asked Anna how she thought the show was going to end, thinking, well, she’s got 5,000 screenshots of every episode, it must’ve revealed something. She’s seen some spoilers online, and she’s got theories, but concluded, “I'm not particularly interested in who's going to inherit the business. Will there even be a business for anyone to inherit by the end? I'm invested in this show as a family drama and I hope at least that aspect of the show will have a satisfying ending.” This is why I suspect Succession will have a particularly long life on the internet: its narrative threads contain the emotional richness of real familial drama. Sh*t-talk at Thanksgiving never gets old, but neither do cherished family photos. No-context Succession posts, somehow, feel like both.

    Succession airs Sundays at 9:00 PM ET on HBO. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.

    Clayton Purdom is a writer and editor based in Shaker Heights, Ohio. You can see other things he writes on Twitter.

    TOPICS: Succession, HBO, Brian Cox, Jeremy Strong, Jesse Armstrong, J. Smith-Cameron, Kieran Culkin, Sarah Snook, No Context Succession, Twitter