How do you top the most masterfully plotted, practically Shakespearean patricide culture has seen since… well, Shakespeare? As Succession season 3 proves, with chaos.
It’s a maelstrom of just that when the new season of the Emmy-winning drama series kicks off on Oct. 17. It’s been nearly two years since the last episode of Succession, but the premiere begins just seconds after those dramatic events.
That whirlwind is quite literally dramatized: Logan (Brian Cox) is in a helicopter on his way to his “next move.” (This is a world in which that phrase seems entirely normal.)
There are accusations that his company, Waystar Royco, covered up “misdeeds”—corporate speak for things like murder and sexual assault—and he was complicit. But, in a twist, it was his own son who, in a press conference, placed the blame on him, the same son he was about to send to jail as a sacrifice. What? These aren’t the things you talk about at your Thanksgiving dinners?
The episode begins cutting between Logan and Kendall (Jeremy Strong), who after the press conference that essentially operated as a sniper hit on his own father, is in a bathroom calming himself. The whir of choppers contrasted with cleansing breaths. Catastrophe abutting desperate attempts to assuage. There you have, basically, the plot of Succession season 3.
The Roy family’s power plays have been tantalizing for three seasons now. Is it Murdochian? Trumpian? Redstonian? Take your pick. But the treat of spending so much time in their gilded cage is seeing just how many feathers they molt trying to escape it.
We’re two seasons in, and, now, seven episodes of the third have been given to critics. Perhaps we once referred to their maneuvers as an outrageous game of chess. But now the power plays have become downright dizzying. The chess game is being played on the ceiling while Anya Taylor-Joy is high on pills, the pieces flying around so quickly they basically become twinkling stars.
It is so gratifying to watch these people scramble. Logan is a tyrannosaurus. He doesn’t speak so much as roar. When he crashes into a room, no one else is noticed. He’ll offer his own son up as prey if it’s good for business. And now we’re seeing the weakness. The T-rex has comically short arms. The pieces have fallen, but those flailing stubs can’t pick them up.
Two of his other children, Shiv (Sarah Snook) and Roman (Kieran Culkin), alternate between being grateful for escaping their father’s gauntlet—imagine that reality—and seeing opportunity. Everyone else, especially J. Smith-Cameron’s Gerri, is a pawn in the game. As expendable as a Squid Game contestant… yet also as potentially valuable. It’s how you’re used that matters.
Still, chaos reigns. Logan and his entourage are exploring his options.
That means immediately. When asked where they’re flying to in the aftermath of Kendall’s press conference, Gerri responds, “Either New York, or Geneva, or London, or Singapore, or L.A.” But also in the long term: This season, more acutely than ever, is about the future of Waystar. Can Logan still function at the top amidst not only the scandal, but his age? Will shareholders rebel against him? And, in the absence of Kendall, which Roy, if any, could rise to be the successor?
The funny thing about Succession is that things move both fast and slow. It’s the flippancy that kind of pace produces that is the fun.
A quick phone call between Kendall and Logan immediately after the debacle has Logan asking Kendall to publicly apologize and, when he refuses, Logan telling his son (through an assistant), “Then I’m going to grind his fucking bones to make my bread.”
While en route to try to salvage things, Shiv and Roman are eyeing each other, asking back and forth in several different cadences, “What’s your fucking game?” There are people who might go to jail over this, specifically Shiv’s husband, Tom (Matthew Macfadyen, sensational as always) and put-upon Cousin Greg (Nicholas Braun). The game is blood sport, yet these two people wearing Gucci in a private jet are concerned about job titles and board seats. Welcome to Succession.
What’s interesting about all this is how it runs parallel to Kendall’s own power plays. While they’re contemplating the future of Waystar as they know it, he’s manipulating the public into reconsidering what Waystar could be. He gives speeches about wokeness and makes public displays of philanthropy. The idea is that, following his big press conference, he can win over the masses and then take over the company. And you’d think that would be noble. Except it’s Kendall.
Kendall has ascended to peak levels of extreme douchebaggery. He’s basically a walking Adderall pill at this point, both too distracted and too tunneled into his jackass mission statements and manifestos—during a speech about the “revolution” he plans to lead, he calls the chauffeured Escalade he’s riding in a “righteous vehicle”—to prevent self-destruction.
And yet, even while parading an attitude that is the problematic equivalent of an erection lasting more than four hours, he’s still a tragic figure—the prodigal son sent to the wolves by his father. The man child screaming for daddy’s love and attention (just, you know, by kicking off a Department of Justice investigation that could ruin his life). It’s a testament to how good Jeremy Strong is in this role that a character so charged his nerve ends are on the fritz can still be the melancholy center who defines this series.
By virtue of what the family did to Kendall and the unlikelihood that the grenade he detonated in the finale will produce the carnage he anticipated, he’s the underdog. His delusions of grandeur may be bold, but they’re also pathetic. Whether it’s Shiv’s puppy-dog eagerness to prove herself—and then sad, drooping tail when she’s not validated—or Roman’s inability to form authentic connections, this is a show about sadness, which seems to be a defining trait of the 1 percent.
Season 2 of Succession arrived with its dick swinging, all confidence, swagger, and ego—and all of it earned. Season 3, at least in the first seven episodes given to critics, is about paying the price for that. An arrogant hothead can only balloon so much before it pops. When the air lets out, the deflated remnants require a humbling. And that’s just what we’re getting.
That’s not to say that this new season doesn’t measure up to that boffo second run. In fact, what it pulls off is a brilliant pivot. It takes a shrewd creative team to know that its rocket-blast of bombast would, at some point, send itself careening off the cliff.
This is the same Succession you know and love: crude, uncomfortable, deplorable, indulgent, and the kind of smart that is both obnoxious and inspirational. But where season 2 was all about letting that manspread with reckless abandon, now we’re seeing what happens when it’s time to bottle it all up again.
It wouldn’t be surprising if, for example, someone in the writers’ room was counting the number of fucks said in each episode to avoid self-parody. Don’t be mistaken, they’re still used often. But it’s in a strategic, soaring fashion, really allowing each letter the punch-cross-jab-uppercut combo it deserves.
It also leaves space for the writers to exercise their true callings as bards of the inventive explicit insult, dutifully taking the baton from the Veep creative team and then sprinting across the finish line and out the stadium. There are timeless maxims delivered, like, “Play it smart today, you won’t look like a cunt tomorrow.” Or compassionate check-ins, such as, “You worried that you tied your dick to a runaway train? You’re not Judasing, are you?”
There are roughly five metaphors in every sentence spoken, an exaggerated and unreal style of dialogue that allows audiences to be at a remove. People in everyday life don’t talk like that, so maybe we can count this all as an escapist fantasy and not feel so guilty about cheering on the exploits of the wealthiest, most callous, and most corrupt.
But even that signature of the show is compressed by the nature of this season’s circumstances.
One of the most alluring pleasures of the second season of Succession was how almost every episode was a lavish, passport-required set piece. The top floors of Manhattan high rises are its own foreign jungle. But soon we were playing “Boar on the Floor” on a hunting trip in Hungary, Having dinner with the Pierces in the Hamptons. Attending a business retreat in “Argestes.” In Scotland for a party. On a yacht for the family fight of the century.
Perhaps it’s pandemic production-related, or perhaps it’s clever plotting, but in the first seven episodes of the new season, we largely stay put. (New York magazine broke the news that the cast travels to Italy for the final episodes.)
The nuclear fallout of Kendall’s actions require a scrambling, and that scrambling is claustrophobic. Sure, it happens in the executive suites and penthouse apartments with panoramic views of Central Park, but there’s something intimate about the paranoia. Everything that was so big about last season still exists, but it’s being hurriedly packed away, like a felon fleeing town.
For all that grandiosity that we knew, there’s something even more captivating about that. This season plays like fireworks exploding inside a box. The stakes are so intense—who will be CEO, will the company even exist, the presidency???—that every conversation requires an antacid after. It’s a truly visceral viewing experience.
There’s an elephant in the room when it comes to Succession. And he flew in on a private jet wearing a $400 T-shirt. We’re all enlightened individuals. Why are we clapping and cheering about the awful behavior of the corporate elite? There are too many lines of dialogue to count about how us plebeians are expendable, except for our buying dollars, and even ones that acknowledge how controversial it is to be living the extravagant life—controversy to which every character gives the middle finger.
Is Succession a celebration of that? An indictment of it? It’s too verbose and, let’s face it, sexy to be a clear-eyed chronicle. So what is it saying about all that wealth, and those awful people who make the selfish decisions at a conference table that trickle down to our miserable lives, making them even more miserable? Three seasons in, and I’m still not sure.
We’re in the Golden Age of “eat the rich” discourse. But here we are delighting in watching them feast. I can’t think of another show for which we’re so excited for new episodes. Perhaps the sentiment is falling out of fashion, no matter who is wearing it on a dress at the Met Gala.