Succession, the best show on television, is back. After an explosive season two finale and two year hiatus, the world is finally ready to catch up with the dysfunctional Roy family in HBO’s Succession. The show primarily follows the four children of Logan Roy, CEO and founder of multi-billion dollar media empire Waystar Royco, as they attempt to become the named successor of the company. Season 3 picks up right where the previous one left off, directly after Kendall Roy’s announcement to the world that his father was complicit in a systemic cover up of abuse on Waystar’s cruise lines. Kendall is estranged from the rest of his family after this act of rebellion, and his siblings must decide if they want to stick by their father. Having seen the first seven episodes of the third season, I can say that the show has lost none of its charm is as sharp, witty, and tragic as it has always been.
The writing of Succession has always been masterful, and remains so. The series is a juggling act of a multitude of characters and their motivations, and somehow it follows all of them equitably while remaining engaging and complex. Each of the Roy children, Connor, Kendall, Siobhan, and Roman, each have motivations colored by their relationship with their father. Lines are drawn in the sand, and they must pick a side. This season tests how far they’re willing to go, how low they’re willing to blow, and what they’re willing to do– simultaneously for and in spite of family. Positively ghoulish behavior, and their relationships are pulled as taught as ever.
As a satire, the show remains as relevant and present as it always has, some scenes clearly pulling inspiration from current events. One scene in particular felt familiar to me, and I realized I had made a Tweet about a contemporary event and joked that Succession writers were taking notes on it. It turns out they were. Even while it balances dark themes, it maintains its comedic quality. Not laugh out loud funny, but clever instances of hyperbole and wickedly wry, unexpected punchlines. While Shiv and Roman have quite a bit of pointed back and forth this season, nothing is quite as perfect as the relationship and quips between cousin Greg and Tom, Shiv’s husband. Matthew Macfadyen has always been perfect in his role as Tom Wambsgans, a man composed of nearly equal parts flippant disposition, diligent commitment, and melancholy, and season 3 highlights his mastery at occupying all those spaces concurrently. Sarah Snook also gives a layered performance as Shiv as she angrily vies for respect.
If there is any criticism of this season, it would be that it drags a bit in the middle. Succession, although it has an ingrained, overarching plot, is very episodic in nature. Whilst each individual episode is great, they can sometimes feel like a frustrating detour, especially when the last one left off on a momentous event and a bit of a cliffhanger. This season delves further into the investigation regarding Waystar Royco, and after the interrogation scenes at the tail end of season 2, we know how exciting the battle can be. For a large portion of season 3, it feels like much of the legal proceedings are handled offscreen. While we still witness how the characters react to the case and grapple with the ever-shifting tides, the middle episodes feel stilted since the primary focuses of them are placed elsewhere. If all the episodes cannot be dedicated to the case, then at least incorporate it into them in a tangible way that reinforces the stakes. While there is no doubt that the ending of this season will be as astonishing as it has in the past, I wish that the momentum could’ve carried from episode 1 to the end.
While all the performances in the show are fantastic, a standout that counteracts the dragging pace is Jeremy Strong as Kendall Roy. After the brutality of watching Kendall be emotionally broken throughout the entirety of season 2, fans might expect a rebirth of sorts. A Phoenix rising from the ashes. Succession is no such show. Kendall has entered a new era, one we haven’t quite seen from him, and that era is pure mania. He wants to be the phoenix, he wants to resolve his past sins, he wants to be better, so he’s doing his best to project that reality onto his own, though thoroughly unsuccessfully. It’s difficult to watch, like a car crash, but fascinating. As Kendall attempts to convince everyone around him in a frenzy that his morality allows criticism to simply roll off of him, this insistence is punctuated with moments where we see just how saturated he is with self-hatred and grief. Jeremy Strong masterfully balances along the line and has such an intimate, comprehensive understanding of his character it’s impossible to imagine anyone else in the role.
Succession season 3 is very good. Even at its weak points, it’s still leagues above the competition. The character writing is unparalleled, the humor is cleverly crafted, and it manages to keep audiences invested in a family of tragically flawed and uniquely awful people. It understands the human condition, the baseline of empathy we operate with, and strips bare the connections we hold sacred while flaunting just how terrible people can be. It’s nearly impossible for a show to explore this dichotomy while remaining engaging and accessible, but Succession not only accomplished this feat, but masters the form.