REVIEW: Succession – Season Two (2019)

Release Poster – HBO

The following is a short review of the second season of HBO’s Succession.

In the second season of Jesse Armstrong’s Succession, the future of Waystar Royco is still uncertain as shareholders are still considering the coup that Kendall (played by Jeremy Strong) orchestrated. So, to prove that the Roys can still be trusted to lead the company into the future, Logan (played by Brian Cox) has to start to consider who his successor should be. This season, Siobhan (played by Sarah Snook) becomes interested in the top position, Roman (played by Kieran Culkin) becomes fascinated by Gerri (played by J. Smith-Cameron), Connor (played by Alan Ruck) wants to become President of the United States, and Kendall seems incapacitated under his father’s thumb.

For a couple of years now it has felt like HBO has been looking for their next golden goose, their next number one show. For a moment there, it looked like Westworld was it, but the second season of the series probably took it off the table. Some have said that Watchmen or His Dark Materials could fill the role, and, I guess, they still might. But I firmly believe that with its outstanding second season, Succession has become the heir apparent to Game of Thrones — it just needs a bigger audience, everything else is lined up perfectly.

Succession has the humor of Arrested Development but the tension, drama, and vicious clawing to reach the top of Game of Thrones. The show has these strange scenes where one member of the central family gets into an odd, rich-person-problem, like, when one member of the family is upset when his father is unwilling to force journalists to write positive reviews of his escort girlfriend’s extremely expensive stage play. But this season also has a scene that is arguably as incredible and shocking as Game of Thrones‘ iconic Red Wedding-sequence, though, obviously, nowhere near as bloody. Jesse Armstrong handles these tonal extremes really well, and the cast, all of whom play immoral characters, is able to play even the most amusing and the most soul-crushing scenes.

Like I indicated earlier, Succession isn’t just one of the best shows on television, it also might be the funniest. In the first season, there were moments when it felt more mean-spirited than fun, but, with the second season, the show has become the satirical drama it was always meant to be. Characters like Connor, Greg, and Tom are mostly there to be mocked, whereas the bullish, playful, and obscene Roman Roy is a quippy motormouth with severe issues related to childhood trauma. Each and every week these characters make me laugh out loud, even though their storylines are affecting. Jesse Armstrong has found the perfect tonal blend, and his writing, though prone to way too many ‘’uh-huh’’ remarks, is clever and deft in shifting from one extreme to the other in mere moments that are sold by an outstanding ensemble cast that includes the intense and commanding Brian Cox, the trickster Kieran Culkin, the comical Matthew Macfadyen, and the chameleon Jeremy Strong, the latter of whom is incredibly skilled at making even his perfectly timed most vacuous expressions speak a thousand words.

It is a show about characters battling to get the top position but also their father’s affection and respect, whether they will acknowledge it or not. It has these minor but explosive moments that speak to childhood trauma, but plenty of scenes that emphasize just how immoral or two-faced these characters are. Throughout this season you see characters bully a clearly defeated member of the family until they finally realize just how broken he is. The cast is incredibly skilled at selling moments when their characters break in any way, shape, or form, so much so that whenever the siblings acknowledge how much they are hurting, or whenever they are caught off guard, the scene hits you like a ton of bricks. For instance, I was incredibly moved by a scene in the season finale when Roman showed just how concerned he was for Kendall. There is a vulnerability to many of these characters that is relatable and quite moving.

I do have one issue with the second season, though. You see, I am of two minds when it comes to how this show handles the passage of time. On the one hand, I think it can often be difficult to figure out what has transpired in between episodes as well as how much time has passed. We see this in how Roman Roy’s second season storyline is resolved in between episodes. On the other hand, I think that this makes it all the more satisfying when it surprises us. In the season finale, I kept looking at the runtime because it seemed like nothing major would happen if they were just going to stay in the location they were in, but then, in just a few minutes, we were in another country, presumably a day, or days, later, watching a storyline culminate in an incredibly satisfying and earned way. It can achieve a rollercoaster of emotions in me in mere minutes, which few shows masters as brilliantly.

The second season of Succession is hysterically funny and utterly riveting. This season has had moments of nail-biting tension as well as uncomfortably awkward unforgettable moments. It has become the clever and amusing Shakespearian drama that Jesse Armstrong’s series showed it had the potential to be with its first season, and it is one of the best shows of the year.

A

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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