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With This Week's 'Succession,' It Feels Like We've Crossed the Spoiler Rubicon
A few thoughts on the state of spoiler culture.
This post will contain massive spoilers for Succession Season 4 Episode 3, ‘Connor’s Wedding.’
Stop reading now if you do not wish to be spoiled on what happens in the most recent episode of Succession.
The Los Angeles Times did a crummy thing this past weekend.
In this week’s episode of Succession, ‘Connor’s Wedding,’ a shocking development occurs: Logan Roy, the larger-than-life family patriarch portrayed by Brian Cox, dies. The show does nothing to telegraph the fact that such a death might be coming. The early scenes of the episode make it feel like it’s just another Roy rodeo, with Logan skipping out on his son Connor’s wedding in order to put the screws to his rival/business partner Lukas Matsson. It’s a masterful episode full of amazing performances, as each of the Roy children tries to grapple with their complex relationships with their father and figure out what his death really means. It may be one of the greatest TV episodes of all time.
While I typically get screeners in advance for Succession, this week HBO declined to provide one (a wise choice, in retrospect). Succession airs at 9 p.m. on HBO on the East Coast, and it’s made available on HBO Max at the same time. I hit play on this week’s episode right at 6:01 p.m. and was able to watch along as the entire country of Succession viewers lost their minds.
But even I was surprised when at 6:43 p.m. Pacific time, at around the time it became clear that Logan’s passing was not some kind of ruse or hoax, The Los Angeles Times Twitter account sent out this tweet:
The piece it’s attached to is a fun fake obituary for Logan Roy. But in today’s streaming world, it’s pretty reasonable to expect people will watch Succession at different times. The show hadn’t even aired on HBO on the West Coast yet, but the LA Times was already dropping major plot details right in the headline. Even if you were staying off Twitter, this spoiler could follow you to other apps like Apple News or the Los Angeles Times’ website. Anyone who was in the Los Angeles Times orbit could’ve been exposed. (For what it’s worth, Vulture and a few other outlets also pulled something similar, but even Vulture waited till after the episode aired before dropping a spoiler in a headline).
Other sites were far more careful and considerate in their headlines.
When it comes to spoilers, I’ve been doing this long enough to understand that different people have wildly different policies. For some people, any exposure to plot details will negatively impact their experience, while for others it makes no difference at all. I personally don’t like knowing anything about what I’m about to watch which is why I don’t even watch trailers anymore if I can help it. But I also believe that it’s up to each person to control what they see. If you don’t want to know any plot details, don’t read a review of the movie before it comes out! On the flip side, I believe it’s the responsibility of any writer or producer to clearly mark spoilers in order for people to make informed choices about what they read (see: the massive, copious spoiler warnings at the top of this post).
With this week’s episode of Succession, it feels like typical methods of spoiler-avoidance are no longer sufficient. Every outlet is now in a race to be first. There’s no longer any consideration of the viewer experience; the headlines must have all the spoilers, they must be SEO-friendly, and they must be live before anyone else has them, lest you miss out on that sweet sweet advertising money. In the time since the episode has aired, I’ve heard countless stories of people who’ve had their Succession experience ruined by a random push notification or a stray tweet. I hear much less from people who were really grateful they got to read a fake obituary of Logan Roy right as it happened.
It’s clear that you can no longer mute certain words or just stay off of Twitter; you need to go on a total media blackout in order to avoid something of this magnitude. And that’s an unfortunately large ask for someone who just wants to finish dinner before they turn on the TV to watch Sunday night’s prestige TV episode.
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