Everyone’s favourite rich, powerful and morally bankrupt family is back. Succession Season three is an all out power struggle and no-one is safe. Season two left us reeling when Kendall (Jeremy Strong), who spent the entire season acting as Logan’s (Brian Cox) lap dog, betrayed his father by threatening to take down the company in a live press conference. The third season picks up moments later as Kendall, on a manic high, attempts to recruit others to his attempted coup. As he unwittingly spirals towards self-destruction, the rest of the family and business associates scramble to preserve their own self-interests.
Written by Tresca Mallon
The magic of Succession is in the minute details. Showrunner Jesse Armstrong, writer of Peep Show and Fresh Meat, brings the subtlety of British humour to an American setting and the result is perfection. Small moments, like Colin (Scott Nicholson) removing the imaginary dead cat from under the hallucinating Logan’s seat to the increasingly perverse multitude of incest jokes, make the show special. Even the choice to place the season at an uncomfortable nine episodes feels deliberate. Another sublime detail that is developed throughout the season is the morphing of Logan’s assistant, Kerry (Zoë Winters) from a relatively non-descript side character, into a defined and suspiciously Marsha-esque main player, as she gets closer to Logan.
Relationships are at the heart of season three. Kendall has ruptured his relationship with his entire family, despite desperately needing and wanting them as an support system. Jeremy Strong gives a masterclass in physical acting. His phenomenal performance, which clearly stems from a pretty eccentric process as evidenced in this excellent New Yorker profile, makes it impossible not to feel immense pity for a despicable character. Kendall has always been excruciatingly cringeworthy - see his rap for Logan in season 2 - but the first half of season three gives us a Kendall whose descent into delusion results in the world’s most extravagant and horrendously chaotic 40th Birthday party. In episode seven, it becomes glaringly obvious how much Kendall’s family still mean to him and when they reject him he begins to crash and burn. Kendall is broken, and in the finale, his siblings are the only ones who can attempt to put him back together.
Roman’s arc is season three is arguably the most interesting. The epitome of Mommy and Daddy issues, Roman (Kieran Culkin) is flying high as his father’s new favourite son. While Roman has always been fairly despicable, this season he ups the anti, from partnering with a neo-Nazi to sexually harassing a co-worker. He really is an indefensibly bad guy and yet, it’s hard to hate him. Shiv (Sarah Snook) describes him perfectly; he is a “dirty little pixie.” We forgive him for his disgusting vitriol, because beneath it all he is just so deeply unserious and obviously damaged. Yet, it is still a welcome catharsis in the finale as a terrified Roman finally stands up to his parents and is mercilessly beaten down. Additionally Gerri, the most quietly conniving of them all, who despite his perverse behaviour towards her, Roman really trusts, betrays him. Culkin viscerally crumbles in front of her and gives a stunningly satisfying finale for the weakest of the Roy children.
Shiv, the youngest and most calculated Roy, is thwarted again this season. Shiv is defined by insecurity. She is constantly vying for her fathers approval, which changes with the wind and she never truly seems comfortable from her political opinions to the clothes she wears. The place she has complete control is her marriage and she uses this power to full effect. While her husband Tom Wambsgans (Matthew MacFadyen) has always been an expertly written character, this season MacFadyen brings out a even more tangible complexity that is truly a pleasure to watch. Beyond a shadow of a doubt Tom is the MVP of the season. His relationship with Greg (Nick Braun), while horribly manipulative, is the most genuine and weirdly heartwarming in the show. Tom is the ultimate catalyst for Greg’s transition to the dark side as he declares “What would I do with a soul, anyway.” Braun does some of his best acting as Greg gladly accepts his completed transformation to a vindictive shark. The resolution of Tom’s bizarre Nero and Sporus analogy, potentially the series’ most quoted moment, is a masterclass in TV writing.
Connor (Alan Ruck) and Willa (Justine Lupe) have some brilliant moments this season. Lupe rarely gets the recognition for her portrayal of the ever-suffering Willa. The resignation of her “fuck it forever” declaration as she accepts Connor’s proposal is one of the most laugh out loud moments of the season. There are also a few brilliant guest characters this season, most notably Alexander Skarsgard. His fits in so perfectly with the cast and his chemistry with Kieran Culkin is terrifyingly electric. However, one unfortunate consequence of the introduction of so many guest characters this season is that characters like Stewie (Arian Moayed) were sidelined. This is a real shame as Moayed has been a compelling and menacing antagonistic force since season one.
There is no moral guide for Succession. Audiences are left to traverse the dynamics of the Roy family and their cohort without any handholding from the directors or writers. There are no signposts to the good guys, because let’s face it there are none, and the lines are completely blurred on how bad the bad guys really are. So who do we root for if there’s no good and evil? Jesse Armstrong removes this tired binary and provides a blindingly well written and biting satire that sparks endlessly interesting conversations. Each character is horrendously flawed and every time a potentially redeeming feature rears its head we are assaulted by the reality that from Cousin Greg to Logan Roy, these are horrendous people. Season three is a maze of twists, back-stabbing and back-handed dealing that keeps the characters and audiences endlessly guessing.