The below is a spoiler-free review of the first seven episodes of Succession Season 3, which premieres on HBO Oct. 17.
After a stunning Season 2 cliffhanger that saw Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong) finally stand up to his bruising father Logan (Brian Cox) — by refusing to take the blame for the multiple sexual harassment cover-ups of the family’s global media and entertainment company — Succession Season 3 hits the ground running. The first two episodes of Jesse Armstrong’s HBO series have an edgy pace as these ridiculously rich and toxic characters try to close ranks and secure power before they lose control of their empire. Overall, it builds up to a season, in its first seven episodes, that lives up to the first two enthralling installments.
Once the shellshock has worn off, Kendall is surfing the high of serving up his dear old dad to public scrutiny over the cruise scandal. Strong gives him a swagger in his step, a glint in his eye, and a chaotic stream-of-consciousness way of talking that means no one can get a word in edgewise. It’s ironic that this is never more prominent than when he’s speaking to the women in his circle who he’s brought in to protect and finesse his image. Sanaa Lathan is enlisted for a few episodes as Gloria Allred-like high-powered attorney named Lisa Arthur. However, she’s ultimately underused, along with two PR handlers whose advice he rarely listens to.
Kendall certainly sees himself as a female-empowering, heroic rebel as he describes his backstabbing move as a “f**king revolution” and his thinly veiled attempt to replace his dad as saving “the soul of the company.” This is the guy who left a waiter for dead in the previous season, which makes his sharp pivot to pretentious, woke feminist absurd and often painful to watch, especially when holes are poked in his performative activism.
The Roys have long been inspired by the Murdoch media dynasty, but this season has a more regal quality akin to the Windsors. There’s a bit of Prince Harry about Kendall’s break from the family, but he doesn’t get an Oprah interview. Rather, in episode three, he pays a visit to a late-night talk show hosted by a Ziwe-type comedian (who’s actually, in a nice touch, played by Ziwe), which is where his comedown truly sets in.
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Cox is once again in formidable form as Logan. His ability to switch between quiet dominance, sweet manipulation, and cruel rage makes every scene he’s in a Russian roulette for how it’s going to pan out for the people in his crosshairs. There’s no shortage of “f**k offs” to enjoy, though Cox has the canny ability to say the most when Logan’s not saying anything at all. Certainly, for a show revered for its brilliant execution of dialogue and witty bantering, this season delivers some essential moments of silence and reflection that reveal just as much about these characters as any speech could.
A considerable amount of time is spent on the tumultuous relationship between Kendall and Logan, but his siblings aren’t squandered. Roman (Kieran Culkin) and Shiv (Sarah Snook) are contending with their own career instability as they try to curry favor with their tyrannical father in order to take up his CEO mantle and prevent a corporate takeover. Roman certainly turns the cruelty up to 11; no one is safe from his biting one-liners, though a quietly exasperated Gerri (J. Smith-Cameron) succeeds in keeping him in check in some sharp scenes. Shiv might just be the most balanced sibling out of the bunch as her more liberal values come into conflict with the corrupt nature of the family business, but hell hath no fury like a sister scorned, and Snook’s cold derision is glorious to behold. Even Connor (Alan Ruck) gets a backbone and serves up a few cracks worthy of a giggle.
And Tom (Matthew MacFadyen) and Greg (Nicholas Braun) shippers won’t be starved of madcap one-on-ones. Both are facing serious legal trouble for their involvement of the cruise scandal cover-up, but as soon as they’re in the same room together, the pleasant and respectful façade Tom saves for the people he thinks matter slips to reveal the conniving and torturing face he gleefully reserves for his wife’s dolt of a cousin. There’s a wonderfully weird codependence to their relationship that is never more ridiculous than when Tom is invoking the Roman tragedy of Nero and his slave boy Sporus.
It wouldn’t be Succession without a few needledrops, and Season 3 makes use of Nirvana’s Rape Me and Billy Joel’s Honesty to cringe-worthy effect. And though the pacing dips in the middle, around episode 5, the following episodes quickly increase the heat again. Given how many times characters ask “what’s the temperature?” throughout the series, the tonal thrusts into hot and cold only intensify the cracks in the glasshouses each character has built around them. And the rocks this family throws at each other has us waiting in anticipation for the glass to shatter.
The beauty of this series is that we’re never really rooting for any of these characters; rather, we’re egging them on towards mutually assured destruction. I’m not sure how this civil war will end — HBO didn’t preview the final two episodes of the season for the press — but the journey Armstrong and his writers take us on this time around is so far filled with just as many electric conflicts, fiery performances, and biting one-liners.