In the explosive final moments of Succession’s second series, Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong) accused his billionaire CEO father Logan (Brian Cox) of complicity in numerous sexual abuse cover-ups within his media corporation, Waystar Royco. For two years, fans have waited to see how this act of insurrection would shake out amongst the Roys—an uber-rich New York family comparable to the Trumps, Murdochs, and Redstones in their wealth and societal influence. In the first three episodes of its third series, creator and showrunner Jesse Armstrong has delivered on the long wait: Succession has become a spectacular tale of a family mired in civil war, with more than enough exquisitely disgusting profanity to go around.
Moving away from the complex web of inter-family drama that marked previous seasons, Succession’s third series hinges on the two-sided conflict between Kendall and his father Logan. As the family’s domineering patriarch, the Roys have traditionally revolved around his brutal regime of fear and manipulation. Kendall’s anti-Logan rebellion upsets this system, leaving his three siblings Roman (Kieran Culkin), Shiv (Sarah Snook), and Connor (Alan Ruck) in uncertain positions. Will they ally themselves with their father, the tried-and-true business magnate, or with Kendall, who might bring about long-needed culture change?
As always, head writer Jesse Armstrong does well to show that both sides are equally ego-driven and facile. Kendall markets himself as herald of a corporate feminist revolution, but it’s easy to see how narcissistic it all really is. He exposes the horrific abuses against women and migrant workers within Waystar Royco, yes, but also throws sexist temper tantrums when his sister won’t join his rebellion. (“It’s only your teats that give you any value!” is one of the more sickening lines this season.) It’s hard to take seriously a man who yells “Fuck the patriarchy!” before the press, just after faux-feminist power trips where he mansplains social media strategies to female PR consultants much smarter than him. Kendall’s “wokeness” proves little more than egocentrism.
Logan is equally hypocritical. For all his talk of family values, his own children follow him entirely out of fear. In this series’ funniest scene so far, Roman, Shiv, and Connor decide to side with their father because of a rather threatening box of donuts. “I’m like 98% sure those are not poisoned,” says Roman, terrified of the pastries that their father just sent to their secret meeting with Kendall. Daddy Logan’s vision and influence feels all-encompassing, so much so that even a box of donuts can scare his children into submission.
The show has certainly written this kind of Kendall vs. Logan narrative before, particularly in its first season. But never before has the family been so explicitly at odds, and never with such cruel vehemence between family members. It’s an electrifying narrative, but one that occasionally barrels into hypertension. With so many characters, relationships, and plotlines to keep up with, Succession sometimes fails to keep together a coherent narrative. The first episode of this new series suffers particularly in this regard: the show already works at such a breakneck pace that adding even one more crisis into the mix can risk toppling the entire structure. Yet the Roy family power pyramid has never felt so uncertain, nor so enticing—the knives seem as though they might come out at any moment. Succession continues to cement itself as the most important show on television. No other show offers such a sophisticated and subtle lens into the lives of the people who, in many ways, control our destinies to a terrifying degree. Armstrong and his writing team portray the Roys as despicable, laughable, and tragic figures all at once. Even though they act as gods, they are, at their most basic, just people—flawed, self-centered, understandable.
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