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Print Editions Thursday September 28th, 2023

Season 3 of 'Succession' falls short

HBO’s critically acclaimed drama proves impressive, entertaining but repetitive

<p>Although the show’s storyline seems to be coming to a close, HBO has already renewed “Succession” for a fourth season.</p>

Although the show’s storyline seems to be coming to a close, HBO has already renewed “Succession” for a fourth season.

HBO’s satirical drama series "Succession" returned for Season 3 with its usual acidity. The dialogue is quick, the comedy acute; its moments of raw honesty are even more potent as a result. With media tycoon Logan Roy (Brian Cox) callous as ever, his children are given two options: either shove him out of his own company, Waystar Royco, or admit defeat. The first episode makes clear that there will be no meeting him halfway.

The third season of "Succession" picks up right where the second leaves off. Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong) is riding on the highest of highs, having just exposed Waystar Royco’s coverup of systematic sexual misconduct and criminal activity within the company’s cruise division. From the start of the season, his motive is painstakingly clear: Kendall plans to wage a legal war against his father. The assault, unfortunately, is lacking on more than one front. He sets up headquarters in his ex-wife’s house, is unable to solicit help from either of his siblings and appears to revert back to the overzealous, overconfident “it-man” persona he exhibited in season one. Of course, all that Kendall does — hiring celebrity lawyers, making impulsive decisions and releasing baseless announcements — is merely part of a balancing act. It takes only one bad birthday party to snap him out of his optimism, realize that he has not healed from past family conflict and take on the demeanor of a wounded animal.

Unsurprisingly, Kendall’s sister Shiv (Sarah Snook) plays a big part in pushing him to such a place. Although she starts season three seemingly content to be Logan’s little girl, her father’s choice to place confidence in her youngest brother Roman Roy (Kieran Culkan) rather than herself leaves Shiv bitter. She becomes even more selfish and contemptuous, exposing Kendall’s issues of addiction to the public and showing absolutely no regard for her husband Tom’s well-being. Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) has volunteered to be a scapegoat for Logan in Waystar’s cruise scandal and spends much of the season worrying over his possible prison sentence. But Shiv is no comfort to him, instead augmenting his anxiety and brushing over his concerns. She seems — without shame — to simply not care.

Season three of "Succession" also showcases Roman’s first real shot at becoming CEO. He becomes a wingman for his father, landing a deal with tech entrepreneur Lukas Mattson (Alexander Skarsgard) and even offering Kendall a way out of his legal troubles. Like Shiv, he initially sides with his father over Kendall, although there is something strikingly more human about Roman’s approach. He draws a line — albeit a fine one — between family and foul play. He is, at times, even likable. 


Though each Roy child begins the season in a different spot, their arcs eventually end up converging (albeit eldest son Connor, per usual, is barely included). It’s a moment for which viewers have done their fair share of waiting. For about twenty minutes in the finale, a coup seems within reach. The scene itself — Kendall, Roman and Shiv seated in the back of a car, heads bunched together and minds turning simultaneously — is wholeheartedly refreshing. The Roy kids, for once, actually resemble a team. Unfortunately, the moment is short-lived, failure comes imminentently and the siblings prove to be no match for their father. To amplify the siblings’ struggles, their mother sabotages their efforts in an attempt to sweeten her divorce settlement. 

The final episode ends on only one satisfying note. Tom, who has spent much of the series yielding to his wife, finally strikes back. Both viewers and the Roy children are left with only the faintest picture of a Waystar without Logan that never came to be. 

The cast of "Succession" delivered phenomenal performances — as was expected. Both Strong and Snook received Golden Globes for their work, and the show’s three leading men (Cox, Strong and Culkin) have all been nominated for the same Screen Actors Guild award. Macfadyen is simultaneously hilarious and tragic, while Nicholas Braun (who plays Cousin Greg) is perhaps one of the funniest men currently on TV. It is impossible to truly like any of the characters on the show, but it is just as impossible to hate them outright. They are mutable and layered — an acquired taste. They are, in all honesty, some of television’s best offerings.

While the third season of "Succession" has received much critical acclaim, it is nonetheless lacking on the emotional plane. Ultimately, the show is a drama about a splintered family. Yes, there are inopportune UTIs, unbecoming text messages and the comic relief of Cousin Greg, but these humorous moments are not what give the series its substance. Although season three is full of levity, there are no scenes to rival Tom’s honesty with Shiv in season two, when he tells her flat-out, “I wonder if the sad I’d be without you would be less than the sad I get from being with you.”

Sure, Kendall breaks down, but the series has already explored this sort of boom-bust cycle for Strong’s character. And while Kendall’s concession that he’s “blown into a million pieces” still hits viewers in the chest, the effect is not as great as the writers may have intended. The moment loses meaning simply because it has been done before.

The entire series, in fact, is starting to become a bit repetitive. Logan can only dangle something in front of his childrens’ faces so many times before their inevitable defeat becomes mundane. While HBO has renewed "Succession" for a fourth season, it is difficult to see the series progressing much beyond where it has already gone. This isn’t anyone’s fault, per se; the storyline is merely coming to a close. As viewers, we can only hope that the people behind the show realize this. A failure to do so is often the difference between an ordinary and exceptional work of art.


Rya Vallabhaneni

Rya is an arts & culture section editor from Albany, NY. She is a junior studying English and Literary Arts, and her favorite TV show is Breaking Bad.

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