Brow Beat

All the New Murdoch Family Revelations That Should Become Plot Points on Succession

Yacht accidents, foreign spies, and other details that HBO should pluck from the NYT’s investigation.

A photo of the Roy family from Succession above a photo of Rupert Murdoch and his sons.
Above, the Roy family from Succession, and below them, their possible real-life counterparts, the Murdochs. Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by HBO and ohn Phillips/Getty Images.

What’s the next best thing to a new episode of Succession? No, not a new episode of Billions. It turns out that the optimal way to get your Succession fix in these Succession-less times is by reading a three-part investigation in the New York Times Magazine. While the show isn’t set to come back for Season 2 until later this year, this week the Times Magazine published thousands and thousands of words about the Murdoch family, one of the dynasties that seems to have inspired the show’s Roy family. The show’s creator has claimed that it isn’t based on any one family, but the parallels are strong: Both the Murdochs and the Roys are headed up by foreign-born patriarchs who built global media empires, and in both families, the siblings of the next generation have jockeyed for years for control of the family business.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

The Times Magazine report is brimming with juicy new details about the Murdoch clan, including how they have helped destabilize democracies and even overthrow governments, and it should be read in full. But—more importantly for HBO—many of these revelations could easily double as fodder for future episodes of Succession. Here, the bits that seem the most ripe to become prestige drama.

The Ne’er-Do-Well Son Orders a Custom-Built, Dual-Purpose Yacht

Lachlan had personally overseen the design of the 140-foot sloop — named Sarissa after a long and especially dangerous spear used by the armies of ancient Macedonia — ensuring that it would be suitable for family vacations while also remaining competitive in superyacht regattas.    

Writers’ room, take note: This sounds like just the kind of money-wasting project that Connor Roy (Alan Ruck) would take on with gusto.

Advertisement

The Yacht Proves to Be a Dangerous Setting for a Fragile Octogenarian

But it was not the easiest environment for an 86-year-old man to negotiate. Murdoch tripped on his way to the bathroom in the middle of the night.   

Logan Roy (Brian Cox) had a heart attack on the show already, but there’s something so profound about a rich man suffering a fall on his son’s cursed superyacht that he may just have to endure another one.

Advertisement

Then, Just a Little Family Cover-Up

The family prevented word from getting out on both occasions, but the incidents were concerning.    

The Roy siblings and Waystar-Royco’s senior executives wouldn’t hesitate to bury any kind of health-related scare. Didn’t they already do this at least once?

Advertisement

The Stepmother Summons the Children Because She’s Afraid This Is the End

[Murdoch’s fourth wife Jerry] Hall called his adult children in a panic, urging them to come to California prepared to make peace with their father.   

Advertisement

I think this also may have already happened on Succession too.

The Patriarch Forces His Children to Compete for His Favor for Their Whole Lives but Also Wants Everyone to Get Along

Murdoch tried to manage the tensions, arranging for group therapy with his children and their spouses with a counselor in London who specialized in working with dynastic families.   

This also kind of already happened on the show, except the therapy took place on a retreat to New Mexico, not in London. Time for a change of location?

Advertisement

The Kids Try to Talk Dad Out of His Engagement

[Lachlan] and James had tried to talk their father out of marrying Wendi over a 1999 dinner at the Manhattan restaurant Babbo — she was the rare subject on which the two sons agreed — and both of them had grown even less fond of her in the years that followed. … And family members felt that she treated their father terribly, calling him “old” and “stupid.”   

Advertisement

It would have to be in flashback, but the Roy kids undoubtedly tried to talk their Dad out of marrying Marcia (Hiam Abbass) at some point. Possibly at Babbo.

The Stepmom Is a Spy?

James and at least one other company executive had heard from senior foreign officials that they believed she was a Chinese intelligence asset.   

Advertisement

The Roy children speculate that Marcia, who is, like Wendi Deng, a third wife, is a secret agent for the country she’s from—incidentally, the audience doesn’t know where that is, and the Roys might not either, which only makes them more suspicious.

“Dad, You Can’t Sell Our Childhood Home”

According to six people close to the family, James and Lachlan were upset to learn that their father had put the house on the market and had a $35 million offer on it from Leonardo DiCaprio.    

Advertisement

Succession hasn’t delved much into real estate squabbling yet, but it’s only a matter time. DiCaprio, of course, plays himself.

Another Sibling Enters the Fray After a Major Scandal Has a Longtime Favorite Looking Weak

Advertisement

For his part, Murdoch blamed James for surrounding himself with feckless, sycophantic advisers who failed to neutralize the crisis when it still could have been contained. Elisabeth, having long been out of the succession [!] mix, reinserted herself, urging her father to fire James and replace him with her, four people familiar with the conversations told us.    

Advertisement

On Succession, you’d think it would be Shiv (Sarah Snook) who would do this to one of her brothers, but actually I can see this for Connor.

The Dramatic Gesture of Showing Up in a Crucial Moment Looking Like a Million Bucks

Lachlan used the opportunity to play the family savior in a time of crisis, calling his father from Bangkok — en route to Britain from Australia — to urge him not to do anything rash. He swept into the company’s London offices looking tan, fit and rested, despite the daylong flight from Australia. His presence appeared to be an instant comfort to his father.    

Advertisement

Roman showing up somewhere looking good as a way to play family savior and stick it to Kendall (Jeremy Strong)—yes, this is plausible. No, wait, it would be Shiv.

Dad Refuses to Relinquish Responsibilities and in Fact Starts Taking On More

Rather than replace Ailes with a new executive, Murdoch moved into his office and took over the job himself, a short-term solution intended to reassure both shareholders and talent. He was soon back in the newsroom, attending meetings and visiting sets — “my retirement job,” he called it — and was having more fun than he’d had in years.    

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

Imagine Logan taking a bigger role in day-to-day operations at his company—and how much it would terrify Cousin Greg (Nicholas Braun) and Tom (Matthew Macfadyen).

Advertisement

The Idiot Son Overdoes It With the Corporate Perks

[James] bristled when Lachlan built a rock-climbing wall on an old soundstage on the studio lot and hired a private security guard to accompany him everywhere.   

Roman (Kieran Culkin) has talked about his time in Hollywood on the show. Who’s to say he wouldn’t give it another whirl, and then flame out again and decide to get into rock-climbing instead? And I can see the private security guard providing a great straight man for him. Think of the banter!

A Long-Silent Wife of One of the Sons Chimes In With Some Pointed Criticism of the Family Business

[James’ wife] Kathryn had historically kept her complaints about the network and the business inside the family, in accordance with the unofficial Murdoch code of conduct. But Fox opinion hosts’ embrace of nativism and white nationalism during Trump’s rise had eroded her restraint. Her frustration with the family business occasionally broke through on her Twitter account.     

Advertisement

One of the wives must decide to tweet. Maybe it’s Kendall’s ex, Rava (Natalie Gold)? A B-plot.

Advertisement

The Children Strongly Dislike Dad’s Plan to Sell Off Half the Company and Dismantle the Empire

Lachlan’s anger at his father boiled over during a dinner in Manhattan in the fall of 2017, three people who were familiar with the incident told us. “If you take one more call on this deal, you will not have a son!” he threatened. “I will never talk to you again.” (Representatives for Murdoch and Lachlan denied that he made these threats.)   

This dialogue can be directly copied and pasted into the script for Roman.

Advertisement

The Conference Photo Op Becomes a P.R. Stratagem

Advertisement

Lachlan generally avoids on-the-record interviews, but now that he was taking ownership of the family business, it seemed appropriate to make at least one public appearance. He chose the New York Times-sponsored DealBook conference about corporate leadership.     

Kendall strategically appears at the … Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit.

“If Dad’s Gonna Pick My Brother, That’s It, I’m Leaving”

Having spent almost his entire adult life trying to prove that he was worthy of running the Murdoch empire, James had finally broken with it. He struck out on his own at the end of 2018, setting up his own family office in a new building in Greenwich Village to manage his vastly expanded fortune and invest in technology start-ups. By now, he and his brother were barely on speaking terms.   

Advertisement
Advertisement

Kendall could try to strike out on his own, but it wouldn’t last.

One of the Siblings Thinks He’s Finally Found a Way Out of This Boondoggle

James saw only one solution. He would sell his stock to Lachlan and his father, and maybe his sisters would join him. What was once a complex family dynasty would become a simple hereditary monarchy. Elisabeth and Prudence enthusiastically agreed. Murdoch, too, was excited about the idea, seeing it as an opportunity to rid the company of an in-house critic. He urged Lachlan to do it: The two of them, father and son, would own the company together. The documents were drawn up, but in late 2018, given the chance to have the company to himself, Lachlan balked.    

This would be great for one of those season finales where it looks like a huge, game-changing thing is going to happen, but instead nothing happens and everyone is just a little worse off than they started. Succession in a nutshell.

Advertisement