‘Prague’ by Jesse Armstrong

— Melissa Mesku

Last week’s episode of HBO’s Succession is entitled ‘Prague’. Prague is where the characters are supposed to go—for a bachelor party, as it were (how classic). Yet, in this episode, no one goes to Prague—so why keep ‘Prague’ as the title?

As with most things about this show, the question holds up under further inspection.

Author Arthur Phillips, in 2002, came out with his debut novel, Prague. It’s a sweeping historical saga that humbly seeks to define an era, that of post-communist Hungary. Only, it did so through the lens of some of that era’s most detestable pariahs: English-speaking expats. Like vultures, the expats fly in and prepare themselves for the feast. Only, it seems, the feast was someplace else. When Phillips’ characters are met with failure, it’s not viewed as a personal matter; rather, it’s situational: the characters see themselves as simply having been in the wrong place. The party, as it were, must be elsewhere. In Prague, perhaps—that glittering, exotically distant city. In their eyes, to be met with success, all they have to do is show up—if only to the right place. While the entirety of the story takes place in Budapest, the novel’s title, oddly, is Prague.

In both Prague the book and ‘Prague’ the Succession episode, the characters are each possessed by an ulterior motive and are blind to everything but their petty aspirations. And in both, the city of Prague represents their longing. Its spires we never see become the shadow of unfulfilled desires; in its unglimpsed labyrinthine streets, a Kafkaesque MacGuffin wends an untraceable path. A city never visited is never made real, making it the perfect metaphor for a dream deferred.

While Prague itself remains a vibrant and very real city, it makes sense that its use as a metaphor may be on the rise. As the entitlement of wealth continues to seduce us—whether we’re the toady heirs of Succession, the enterprising expats of Prague, or simply ourselves, watching—we all quietly suspect our best life is waiting for us somewhere, in some glittering and exotic far-off place. For those borne on twin wings of privilege and ignorance, there is a strong sense that all one must do to claim it is show up. Cautionary tales like these haunt us with the truth: Everywhere you go, there you are, whether or not you make it to Prague.

Succession episode 8: ‘Prague’