Success is hard to come by in the Season 3 premier of Succession, which aired last night. As the media and the Department of Justice circle the doomed, dysfunctional Roy family, and patriarch Logan (Brian Cox) continues to waffle over his replacement, the Roy progeny are busy preening and plotting against each other, in increasingly expensive, claustrophobic environments.
In other words, it’s another season of Succession, only more so. The fear with every new series of a hugely popular show such as this is that the makers will spoilt it. The first episode is a little suffocating, but that’s no bad thing. The board is being set.
Kendall (Jeremy Strong) spent most of Season 2 drug-addled and wanly obedient, but in the season finale, perhaps encouraged by his edgily-coiffed bisexual girlfriend, he publicly accused his father of covering up sex crimes on the WayStar cruise line. The opening of Season 3 finds Kendall constructing a strategy for his ‘revolution,’ which will be televised, memed, and highly litigious.
Kendall’s cold-blooded, dead-eyed denunciation of his father as ‘a malignant presence, a bully, and a liar’ — a fine example of whistleblowing. But as always with Kendall, one step forward means two steps back. His careful documentation of abuses and calm, powerful press conference quickly give way — with a bump or two of coke in between, one assumes — to paranoia and delusions of grandeur.
He’s done exactly one thing right, and immediately returns to bungling over his own vanity, pretensions, and unseriousness, this time obsessing not over any company or deal but instead over his own reputation. Can he hire one of the Bojack writers to manage his Twitter feed? He asks the PR team who believed in his cause before meeting him. You don’t need to own a private mountain lodge to know when someone is over his skis.
In the wake of Kendall’s betrayal, Logan whisks his remaining children and advisors off to the Balkans, where the US can’t extradite them. He racks his brain for a surprising number of hours, considering there are only three candidates, about who should become the stand-in CEO. The private jets and hotel suites barely contain Logan’s bellowing rage - a striking contrast to his loyal offspring Shiv (Sarah Snook) and Roman (Kieran Culkin), who are getting anxious under pressure, and hatching their own plans.
Shiv, Logan’s only daughter, seemed early in the series to be the brightest Roy, the only one with the chops to make it in the real world. But Season 2 showed that she’s an empty pantsuit, crumpling when faced with the confidence and competence of anyone who doesn’t work for her. It takes an encounter with the Gloria Allred-type power attorney Lisa Arthur for Shiv to realise that her performance of friendship and feminism won’t win Lisa’s protection, and may not win the public’s sympathy, either.
Roman, whose business advice usually consists of wise adages like, 'Fuck ‘em, who gives a shit,' is self-aware enough to know two things: striving is embarrassing, and he is not fit to be CEO. He instead encourages Logan to pick his general counsel Gerri (J. Smith-Cameron), either to cultivate his weird sexual fixation on her, or out of genuine fear of the job, or both. Disappointed in Roman’s lack of killer instinct, Logan counts him out entirely and Roman continues to play the annoying, ineffectual little brother who masturbates a lot.
That leaves Connor (Alan Ruck), Logan’s eldest son, about whose presidential ambitions we have no update other than the fact that his girlfriend Willa looks more like Melania Trump every episode.
Set in a series of small, makeshift war rooms, the premiere gives a sense of stasis and airlessness - the same circle of tired advisors surrounding Logan, the same bad habits surrounding Kendall. By the end, we don’t know much more than when we started. The key dynamics are established: Tom and Shiv’s fraying marriage, Kendall’s deepening dependence, Logan’s deteriorating health, and something about Roman’s sex life, probably.
Maybe next week a Roy will score a win but don’t bet on it.