Photo By: Noah Nickel via HBO
*Warning: This article contains spoilers for the first two seasons of Succession, as well as some minor spoilers for the latest season.*
HBO’s latest in a long line of masterful TV shows wrapped its third season this week and rest assured, Succession’s showrunners delivered yet another gripping season (especially the finale).
The show, for those who have not seen it, follows the fictional Roy family, owners and operators of a multinational, multi-billion dollar right-wing media conglomerate, Waystar RoyCo. As Waystar’s aging CEO, Logan Roy, continues to draw nearer to his end, his children, Kendall, Shiv, Roman, and Connor all scramble to serve their own interests, as do many other relatives and top executives who play big roles in the company.
Season three begins where season two left off, with the family’s second-born son going all in on his coup to once and for all end his abusive father’s reign by accusing him of decades of misconduct, sexual abuse, and cover-ups.
The show is both a harrowing family drama and a hilarious dark comedy, and the writers of Succession ride this line to perfection. Think of a much darker version of Arrested Development. The show’s ability to oscillate between drama and comedy is remarkable, and it does so all while maintaining a level of palpable anxiety that can only be described as breathtaking and exhausting.
One of the more remarkable aspects of Succession is its ability to create high drama despite there being relatively low stakes. Ultimately, the show is a drama about a family business. Despite all the talk of “killing” people, it is very unlike Succession to actually follow through with a Red Wedding-esque slaying of any of its main characters. The points of contention in the show are never life or death, but what makes them so compelling is the complex power dynamics and constant angling for an improved position from each character. There is not a gun to be found, but that does not change the fact that this is a brutally violent show. The violence here takes shape through words and psychological torment, not in physical actions.
Another of Succession’s strongest features is the fact that every individual character is written in a way that’s so authentic to what the audience expects from them. This is not the type of show to rely on a shocking twist for its drama, if a twist does occur (as it has in the last two season finales), you can be sure that breadcrumbs have been littered for episodes, if not seasons, in advance leading up to it.
Despite being a show defined by its study of characters and not its action, the show is so much more about behaviour than it is about development. Each main character is so stuck in their ways, and has been long before viewers picked up their story in season one. Each character is despicable in their own way, another testament to the show’s stellar writing team that they have viewers caring for these heinous people.
What becomes apparent in this season is that the show is, at its core, a study on the effects of abuse. Each character is identified through their association to Logan, and the constant jockeying that goes on around him is always calculated based on his expected reactions. The show does a masterful job at showing and not telling the viewers how manipulative, sadistic and vile Logan is, and the repercussions it has had on his children and those around him.
Season three truly shines in this aspect. Any multi-billion dollar lawsuit, merger or acquisition is, in reality, just in place to set the characters into motion and force conflict between them. The show is in fact at its best with multiple main characters in a room interacting with each other. The writers assure that no character is left out in the cold, as each key figure gets their chance to shine.
Beginning at the top with Jeremy Strong, who not only portrays, but completely embodies Kendall Roy. Kendall’s arc is the most focused on in the show, and in this season, Strong’s range is put on full display. Strong shows off Kendall’s forced charisma, his glaring insecurities, and his eventual complete and total hopelessness so well, and his performance is one of the strongest on the small screen in recent years.
If Strong’s performance of Kendall is one that can change on a dime, Matthew McFadyen’s portrayal of Tom Wambsgans is one that conveys almost every emotion at the same time. Tom spends most of the season preparing himself to go to prison as a result of Kendall’s allegations, but displays this dread with a heartbreaking desperation through his own humorous ways. This season featured Tom more heavily than ever before, and he is sure to be a key part of season four as well.
Sarah Snook and Kieran Culkin, portraying Shiv and Roman Roy respectively, deliver top tier performances as well. These two display some of the best physical acting that you’ll ever see, though they do so in different ways. Snook’s performance is defined by the consistently forced aura of power that Shiv tries to give off, and through her facial expressions, the audience can see through that and into her psyche. Culkin on the other hand plays an admittedly twisted and broken man, and his oft-distorted body language conveys his own shame, guilt, or confidence, depending on the scene.
So much praise is granted to the actors of the Roy siblings, but the sadistic patriarch of the family, Logan, played by Brian Cox is an on screen presence that feels larger than life and something straight out of Shakespeare tragedy. Whenever Cox is on screen, he is at the very forefront of the action. Each line spoken or glance delivered feels like a calculated blow, and referring back to the violence mentioned earlier, Logan is perpetually violent in everything he does.
The acting and writing are without question the fuel that makes the Succession engine run, but secondary aspects of the show should be commended as well. The production design gets to show off even more than before with an increased budget, cinematographers capture perfectly staged scenes, and the score composed by Nicholas Britell is as effective as ever.
Viewers will have to wait quite some time for Succession to return, with season four not set to start filming until summer 2022. Regardless of the wait, Succession continues to prove itself to be one of the best shows on television.
*Season three spoilers ahead*
The spoiler segment will be very brief, but it had to be included because you can’t really talk about Succession without discussing that staggering season finale.
The decision to have Tom flip to Logan’s side and effectively cut the Roy children out of the company is perhaps the most monumental move of the series to this point. Again, the breadcrumbs were laid dating all the way back to season one, and it makes perfect sense that Tom would serve his interests after giving Shiv innumerable opportunities to include him in her plans.
Season four sets up Kendall, Shiv and Roman to take on Waystar together, a venture that has been a solo pursuit from Ken thus far. That last scene was so unbelievably effective I think in large part because of Kendall’s complete composure while Shiv and Roman unraveled. He has come for Logan multiple times before and failed, while his siblings are experiencing this for the first time.
Kendall’s confession to his siblings on the death of the waiter from the first season represents a sort of rebirth for the character. Also, that scene should be shown in acting classes for years to come. While many felt his storyline had run its course and the character was entirely broken, he appears to now have a new life. Kendall has always been the one to take down his father, and now his position to do so is even stronger than it was at the beginning of this season. They’re all terrible people in their own ways, but I’m really rooting for the Roy kids in season four.