Words wound like bullets in the family battleground and media fishbowl of HBO’s Emmy-winning Succession, which is worth every minute of the excruciating two-year wait between Seasons 2 and 3. That’s how long we’ve been reeling from the shock of heir apparent Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong) turning whistleblower, the damaged sacrificial lamb biting back to expose the Roy company’s scandalous financial and sexual misdeeds.
“It’s war!” bellows Logan Roy (Brian Cox), patriarch and power-broking CEO, who steams as the remaining offspring under his thumb squirm with uncivil ambition, wasting no opportunity to attack and undercut their fellow siblings and other rivals.
Here’s Logan shooting down the hopes of an underling who suggests he could take over should the old man temporarily step aside: “If your hands are clean, it’s only because your whorehouse also does manicures.” Did I mention Succession is as funny as it is brutal? This is cutthroat corporate theater played at a Shakespearean level, King Lear with a bracing shot of bawdy farce.
While Kendall broods and struts like a cross between Hamlet and Macbeth, never more pathetically than at an over-the-top 40th-birthday bash he throws for himself, the series revels in the chaos he left behind. Is it possible he’s managed to burn down the House of Roy he insists he was trying to save?
It’s hard to imagine any of these vipers guiding the Waystar Royco conglomerate into an ever-changing digital-media future: feckless eldest son Connor (Alan Ruck), nursing political delusions of presidential power; bratty, sexually inappropriate—and hilarious—Roman (Kieran Culkin); and Shiv (Sarah Snook), the youngest and only daughter, who’s desperate to break into this boys’ club.
Providing excellent comic relief are the family outsiders: Shiv’s insecure hubby, Tom (Matthew Macfadyen), nervously trolling prison websites as he foresees a future in a different sort of pinstripe; and naive cousin Greg (stammering Nicholas Braun), a gangly guppy amid a sea of sharks. In a classic moment of Succession self-interest, easily panicked pawn Greg wonders aloud about his shifting loyalties: “What’s it worth in terms of the me of it all?”
Wouldn’t they all like to know?
As the season builds to a tense shareholders’ meeting in the November 14 episode, you sense there may be no winners in this blistering chess game.
Succession, Season 3 Premiere, Sunday, October 17, 9/8c, HBO