Amid an 18-month stretch of consistent awfulness in the real world, the return of HBO’s Succession after nearly two years is a welcome homecoming. If the new season only provides us a vehicle with which to vent our existential frustration with the world’s socioeconomic systemic failures, that would be enough. But Season 3 also has the naïve, sweet, and vulnerable, Cousin Greg (Nicholas Braun) admitting that when it comes to Roman history, such as Emperor Nero, he’s “not familiar with the IP.” Never change, Greg.
When last we left our merry band of villains and villainesses, Kendall (Jeremy Strong) had lobbed a grenade into the Waystar Royco fox hole after his father Logan (Brian Cox) ordered him to be the fall guy for the company’s sickening cruise ship scandal. Instead, Kendall publicly pushed the blame onto Logan, thus lining up his next shot at the King. Elsewhere in the Season 2 finale, Tom (Matthew McFayden) and Shiv’s (Sarah Snook) marital strife came to a head in a devastating conversation that left their future in limbo. Roman (Kieren Culkin) and Gerri (J. Smith-Cameron) struck up a, ahem, unique sexual bond and we cautiously ship it. Connor (Alan Ruck) is in need of cash as Willa’s (Justine Lupe) play goes down in flames. And, oh yeah, Sandy (Larry Pine) and Stewy (Arian Moayed) are attempting to spark a revolution among the investors to get out from under the Logan Roy regime (though their motives, like everyone else’s, are hardly altruistic).
That about covers the update and sets up Season 3, which almost feels like a chamber piece of sorts as the Kendall and Logan camps go to the mattresses and prepare for war. It’s all reminiscent of the second half of a close game that feeds a rush of potential outcomes after an offensive lightshow.
Seven episodes of the new season were provided to critics and, as in previous years, I’d almost feel bad for these broken children clawing over one another for Daddy’s approval if any of them possessed a shred of moral fiber they weren’t willing to immediately sell off for an advantage. The need more emotional honesty directs their business decisions because it’s the only way they know how to articulate and translate their feelings. Logan raised each of them on a transactional basis; how could they not turn to oppositional mind games to express themselves? The truth of Succession is that none of their tactics and gambits really matter. It all comes down to the constantly shifting loyalties of the Roy family who are doomed to chase intangible power that they believe will validate their insecurities. Pass the popcorn.
It’s all about gamesmanship in Succession—feints, strikes, counters, and evasion. That’s how a lifetime of abuse shapes these characters. The golden moments are when strategy and honest expression occasionally overlap (See S3E4, “The Lion in the Meadow”). Really, no one seems to be able to accomplish much of anything because the goals of slithering snakes rarely align. Succession highlights the terrifying reality that these 1% are still driven by what could be—the next meal, the next deal, the potential of the horizon. They’re so absolutely blinded by privilege and the promise it brings that they can’t even enjoy their current status. The upside is that we (the giddy audience) do get to enjoy it in the explosion of wealth porn that is Season 3. Suits, helicopters, exotic locations and all manner of gauche displays. Gotta love the operatic sludge this show slings with the precision of Tom Brady.
Kendall’s need to carve out an identity apart from his father and his father’s need to be the worst of the worst spawns a whole lot of action-planning and status updates this season. These episodes feel like a blur of strategy meetings straight from Game of Thrones, but only if every character was hooked up to an IV of Starbucks coffee (Logan’s liberal and iconic use of the F-word rivals even the Hound). Creator Jesse Armstrong and the writers room have always boasted an unrivaled way with words and Season 3 is no different. The script and performances combine to turn each line of dialogue into a barb of Shakespearean proportions or an immediately GIF worthy LOL moment that underlines the themes of each episode (I’m convinced that Cousin Greg is the net positive of Jar Jar Binks). Only Succession could create a parallel between Afghanistan and an overly salted diner omelet.
Succession has always excelled with casting, but new characters such as Alexander Skarsgard’s tech CEO, Sanaa Latham’s hotshot lawyer, and Adrien Brody’s billionaire investor have yet to make much of a mark in limited screentime, which could change as the rest of the episodes run their course. The show also wants us to simultaneously believe that Waystar RoyCo is a waning legacy media empire in desperate need of scale since they have “nothing that looks like growth,” but also powerful enough to potentially pick the next president of the United States. The scale of influence is all over the place. But these are relative nitpicks atop a façade that embraces its blemishes.
Season 3 appears to be setting up the central message that money can’t prevent a self-created catastrophe, it can only contain the blast zone. For the Roy family, the only hope is that there’s anything left after going full scorched earth.
Succession Season 3 will premiere on HBO October 17.