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HBO's crown jewel series is better than ever with a new season that keeps us gasping for air
SUCCESSION: Season Three (Jesse Armstrong), premieres Sunday (October 17) at 9 pm on Crave. Rating: NNNNN
Succession became a social media sensation in its last season. Each episode in the HBO series about the Roy family – a Murdoch-like clan controlling a media empire – brought a new flurry of tweets, memes and parodies. Fans shared and obsessed over the most cutting mic drops, side-eyes, one-liners and F-bombs from Jesse Armstrong’s Emmy-winning series. Nicholas Brittell’s ear worm score, with its chilling and operatic piano notes riding a hip-hop bassline, inspired a hundred remixes. And there’s the two court jesters: bumbling Cousin Greg (Nicholas Braun) and the maniacal and sensitive Tom Wambsgans (Matthew Macfadyen). Both stand on the periphery bracing for the shit they catch every time tyrannical patriarch Logan Roy (Brian Cox) or the heirs competing for his attention take a dump. And both became Succession’s reigning kings as far as the Twitter-verse was concerned.
Perhaps that’s why during the new season, the show’s ostensible lead Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong), keeps checking where he stands on social media – it’s a nod from the witty writers to their engaged fanbase. Not even 10 minutes go by in Succession season three before Kendall – who we last saw torpedoing his father’s empire when giving testimony at a congressional hearing – enlists Cousin Greg to gauge his “cultural temperature” or “slide the sociopolitical thermometer up the nation’s ass and take a reading.”
“You’re the number one trending topic,” Cousin Greg reports. Over the first seven of nine episodes shown to critics, Kendall continues to check in at regular intervals, trying and failing to temper his excitement at the sound of praise or mask his hurt when a rando skewers his vulnerabilities and need for affection.
He did just make enemies with his own family by exposing some truths about buried sexual assault cases. So now, ostracized by his own siblings and family firm, Waystar RoyCo, Kendall’s trying to win the hearts and minds of the people. That is no easy task in today’s climate for a white male with a net worth of $2 billion, who compares his victory before Congress to OJ. “The juice is loose,” Kendall proudly declares.
Kendall also tries to win public favour by hiring a Black woman named Lisa as a lawyer (the terrific Sanaa Lathan isn’t playing around in her debut in the cutthroat series) and an Asian-American PR consultant named Berry Schneider (Jihae), and courting a sarcastic TV host played by Ziwe.
This is easily the most diverse season of Succession, but in a way that doesn’t feel shoehorned in like so many other movies and TV shows reacting to the current climate. Succession is rather tactical and brilliant about mixing up the make-up of its cast, knowing its characters only mingle in the most extremely white and privileged circles. This is a family that commands a fleet of choppers and private jets (which they call “PJs” for short) at a moment’s notice and attend private parties where they decide who will be the next President, even when they’re under FBI investigation. If there’s going to be diversity in their ranks, it’s strictly for the optics. Succession wears that.
The show is also better than ever, cementing its position in Game Of Thrones’ absence as HBO’s crown jewel. “We’ll go full fucking beast,” Logan Roy announces in the first episode. Succession season three lives up to that rallying cry, delivering one helluva rollercoaster ride that keeps us gasping for air between the laugh-out-loud absurdity and intensely claustrophobic, emotional and no holds barred standoffs.
Remember the board room massacre in the first season? That kept me feeling like I was dangling over the edge of a Manhattan skyscraper for an entire episode. Pretty much all of Succession season three keeps me feeling that way, as faves like Shiv (Sarah Snook) and Roman (Kieran Culkin) maneuver and repeatedly stab each other in the back from their positions between the warring titans, Logan and Kendall, who reveal themselves to have a lot more in common than they initially let on. If the patient and brilliant world-building of the first two seasons forged a kinship with this toxic and rarified crowd that we thought impossible to root for, this season convinces us that we know them, and understand their most irrational moves and motivations. We’re even moved to tears for them.
As Kendall, Strong has been a persistent dramatic force, a flurry of unchecked emotions stirring turbulence from within the Roy family. He becomes even more of an open wound in Succession season three. But its Macfadyen’s Tom who surprises as the player who demands the Kleenex. He’s been so used and abused that he spends much of this season on the ropes, abandoning the toxic male bravado and tragically resolved to his fate as the Roy family giftwraps him to be their fall guy.
Meanwhile, Tom’s counterpart, Cousin Greg, continues to be a delightfully mystifying presence who will continue to win the social media meme competition this season, while encapsulating so much of what this show is about. He’s a white male who seems to fail upwards, whose bumbling and dimwitted demeanour could actually be disguising his own sly and cunning manipulations.
In a late episode, Greg seeks counsel, asking if it’s possible to sue family “in an affectionate way that might convey ‘I love you. I’m glad you’re part of my life. But I’m taking legal action against you.’”
These are words that Succession lives by.