Succession returns on October 17 to remind us of the growing chasm between HBO’s smash hit and everyone else. Jesse Armstrong’s show has evolved into a cultural phenomenon over the years and has become the standard for which others strive to reach. The watercooler television of last spring like Mare of Easttown and The Queen’s Gambit have kept the seat warm for the the return of the king, Logan Roy.
In the beginning, the Roy children clamored for their dad’s empire after he falls ill and the Emmy-winning series examined how much greed could shape who they were. Then, in season two we got a closer look at interpersonal relationships and how everyone would react when the “shit” hit the fan. Is anyone in this family loyal? When we last left the Roy’s, Kendall (Emmy winner Jeremy Strong) did a 180-degree turn and announced that Waystar Royco knew about the sexual assault allegations in the cruise ship division, it appeared that his moral compass that had run aground might finally be finding an even keel.
Not so fast. It’s quickly apparent that Kendall Roy’s motivation was more career-driven than any sense of morality. Armstrong uses this to set the stage for season 3. Will the Roy children continue to turn a blind eye to the awful things their family has done and to those sexual assault allegations that occurred on their cruise line? Are Kendall, Roman (Kieran Culkin), Connor Roy (Alan Ruck), and Shiv (Sarah Snook) capable of finding their humanity after all these years, or has immense wealth eroded their sense of morality?
Now, the battle lines between Logan and Kendall are clearly drawn. Initially, it appears that Logan (Brian Cox) might be on the ropes, but it’s always foolish to underestimate the old man. Of course, Roman, Shiv, and Connor waver as to which side they want to be on. As the walls begin to close in on Logan, it appears he’s willing to do what is necessary to maintain control of the company (even in the face of overwhelming odds). At one point, we see his lawyer attempt a reconciliation with his estranged wife, Marcia (Hiam Abbass), because the optics look better when they are together. Of course, this only ends up costing him financially.
Gerri (J. Smith-Cameron) and Shiv are thrust into the spotlight as part of Logan’s strategy is to install an acting CEO that he has some control over during the government’s investigation and Gerri ends being the choice. From the start, she was battered verbally by Logan and undermined at every turn. While Gerri has remained fiercely loyal to the Roys through so many scandals, it’s easy to see that she’s nearing her breaking point. Who could blame her?
Shiv is brought on as the President of Waystar Royco to oversee the operational side of the company. She initially hopes this is her moment to ascend to the top of the corporate ladder, but Logan is more interested in Shiv being a female than any skill she might bring to the company. What’s sad is she realizes this relatively quickly but still attempts to help her father in hopes of winning his favor. Shiv begins to see how futile all of this has become and her authority being undercut at every turn; her patience is wearing thin.
Roman is seemingly following Gerri’s lead. The problem with that is while she’s very levelheaded, he’s a bit of a wild card. That’s not a formula for success in any corporate setting. Complicating matters is the romantic chemistry these two have. Is it a bit twisted? Of course. But is anything in the Roy family ever straightforward?
While Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) and Greg (Nicholas Braun) seem preoccupied with their imminent incarceration, what has stood out so far is how each of them is coming out of their “shell.” It appears that Tom is no longer happy with just being Shiv’s trophy husband and is beginning to look out for his own best interests. Greg seeks out his own legal counsel, so he’s protected from any federal investigation. During that process, we begin to see that Greg has his own aspirations in the corporate world. Tom and Greg do provide some of the best comedic moments and they continue to have the best chemistry on-screen of anyone on the show.
Oscar-winner Adrien Brody (The Pianist) and Emmy winner Alexander Skarsgård (HBO’s Big Little Lies) both join Succession in guest-starring roles this season with Brody playing Josh Aaronson, an investor in Waystar Royco, who is pivotal in the battle for ownership, and Skarsgård playing tech mogul Lukas Matsson, whose an interesting addition because if anyone has seen the trailer, his character openly questions when Logan will die. Hope Davis joins the cast and plays Sandy Furness’s (Larry Price) daughter, Sandi. Her character ends up playing a pivotal role during the beginning of season 3, and it wouldn’t surprise me if she plays a more prominent role down the line.
The writing is better and more meticulous than ever, with Armstrong connecting the littlest of moments from the past to this narrative arc. The standout performances that everyone will be gushing about (other than Jeremy Strong and Brian Cox, who are amazing) will be J. Smith-Cameron and Sarah Snook. For Smith-Cameron, this slow build towards seeing Gerri at the center of it all will add another layer of enjoyment for fans. Without revealing too much, this is a different side of her character that fans will enjoy.
Sarah Snook’s Shiv undergoes an identity crisis. Her whole life, she’s been striving to one day win her father’s favor and hopefully run his empire, and now that seems like a pipe dream. When she attempts to seek sympathy from her husband Tom, he’s cold towards her after he’s made of her sexual exploits. She’s seemingly at odds with Kendall yet intrigued by what he’s trying to accomplish. Does she team up with Kendall? Is she even capable of working with him?
Kendall and Logan are certainly at two ends of the spectrum. Kendall knows he’s doing what is right, but the wear and tear of going against a monster like Logan would sink anyone’s self-worth. How far is he willing to take it? Is the allure of running his father’s company enough to risk it all, or is it part of the journey of realizing when limits are reached?
However, Logan feels trapped in a corner and is willing to do anything or say anything to win. Of course, he is the man who was willing to sacrifice his son to law enforcement. However, this type of behavior has its consequences. Eventually, if you’ve burned so many people, it will come back to haunt you. In Logan’s case, it hasn’t, but he’s been lucky.
While the tone of this season is in line with what fans have expected, there is this sense of something ominous approaching Logan Roy. In the past, we’ve been blindsided by various twists. Kendall’s reconciliation with Logan at Shiv’s wedding and Kendall’s announcement about the scandal at Waystar Royco caught us all by surprise. After seven episodes, it seems everything seems a bit too neat, and anything that would be classified as “shocking” or “mind-blowing’ is resolved within the context of that episode. Won’t go much further than that to avoid spoilers but this is certainly a pivot from Armstrong. Does that mean something mind-blowing is around the corner?
Succession has quickly ascended to the type of series that ultimately defines a network, much like Game of Thrones and The Sopranos did for HBO years ago. Season 3 reminds the world once again of the brilliance of this ensemble and the stellar writing of Jesse Armstrong. Succession will exceed all expectations fans have and then some. It’s appointment television.
Season three of Succession returns to HBO on October 17 with new episodes airing weekly.