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► Succession season three will air on Sky Atlantic and Now weekly from 18 October
In the two years since Succession last aired, there have been two series of Ted Lasso, which won a Peabody award last year “for offering the perfect counter to the enduring prevalence of toxic masculinity, both on-screen and off, in a moment when the nation truly needs inspiring models of kindness”. Now back for a third series, Succession offers the perfect rejoinder to that perfect counter, centring as it does on the Roys, a family of toxic men (plus Siobhan ‘Shiv’ Roy, who perhaps only appears to give as good as she gets) with a deathlike grip on America’s media landscape.
The last series of Succession concluded with a breathtaking coup de théâtre, as Kendall Roy, the tormented son of media mogul Logan Roy, denounced his father and challenged for the leadership of Waystar Royco in the wake of a historic sexual abuse scandal that threatened to tank the company. Season 3 picks up just after that putsch, with Kendall, his siblings Roman and Shiv and their father still viciously jostling for supremacy. Succession’s genius lies in anchoring the almost inconceivable rapaciousness of these power-plays within a believable family dynamic, which lends every act of one-upmanship a further dimension of discomfort and pain.
In truth, Season 3 – at least, in the seven episodes available to review – offers more of the same. While Kendall, the closest the show gets to a beating heart, is further isolated from his family, the programme essentially rehearses the same bids for primacy. This is no bad thing when the programme makers are so confident and the writing is so fine: this new season has the feel of an exhibition match, where every zinger, every masterly side-eye is honed to perfection. Succession’s biggest asset has always been its exhilaratingly athletic dialogue, and this season is bursting with belters. In Episode 1, during the fallout from his power-grab, Kendall asks an aide to “slide a socio-political thermometer up the nation’s ass” to gauge how people are reacting, and is informed, “You’re the number one trending topic ahead of Tater Tots, and the Pope just followed you.” Also in Episode 1, Logan barks at his chief operating officer, “If your hands are clean, it’s only because your whorehouse also does manicures.”
Perhaps more than ever, the interfamilial bust-ups come laced with disquietingly incestuous overtones, not least because in this family fucking someone usually means destroying them. Thus, Roman can say to his sister, “Why are you making fucky eyes at me?” To these monsters, this nihilistic cruelty is merely jousting: tellingly, the insult that hits home most this season is, simply, “You’re not a real person.” The show thrives when it offers up some downtime in counterpoint to the verbal pyrotechnics, when we can observe the characters in their inner sanctum. Kendall’s self-aggrandising birthday party in Episode 7, a masterpiece of vulgarity to which he has invited “Zadie Smith and, fucking, Chuck D”, offers a few of these moments, for both him and Shiv, as a small glimmer of conscience struggles in the vast darkness of their minds.
Among a cast of extraordinary accomplishment, flitting with ease among its registers, Jeremy Strong as Kendall is once again the stand-out, teasing out his character’s megalomania and delusion alongside a strain of increasingly disconsolate world-weariness. Kieran Culkin reaches new heights with the spoilt and odious Roman, giving his disturbingly puerile barbs a new layer of brutishness, while showing his fragility. Meanwhile, Brian Cox, as Logan, should win an award for his delivery of the line “Bring Greg some Coca-Cola!”
As usual, the show’s casually assured level of screenwriting, which affords character development to all while providing inspired setpieces, is the jewel in an equally luxurious casing, with Nicholas Britell’s glossy score and a series of glassy interiors contributing to the programme’s pristine production values. HBO’s chequebook is visible everywhere, and that money has been well spent: Succession feels on another plane – a private plane, if you will – to most other shows, in not seeming disposable. Its success is due in no small part to its opulence of means, which is matched by the care that goes into its making. If Season 3 feels somewhat short on narrative in its first seven episodes, viewers know from past seasons that the biggest fireworks are saved for last – and who cares, when the drawing of battle lines is so pleasurable?
Twenty per cent less hope: the very English satire of Succession
The jostling for position among the maladjusted offspring of a billionaire media magnate in New York provides the fuel for Jesse Armstrong’s bleakly comic portrait of corrupt power, which somehow manages to combine sympathy and ridicule for the one per cent. Hannah Mackay explores its secrets.
By Hannah Mackay