REVIEW: Succession – Season Three (2021)

Matthew Macfadyen as Tom Wambsgans in Succession: Season Three, Episode Nine, “All The Bells Say,” — Photo: Graeme Hunter / HBO.

This is a full season review of Succession: Season Three — All episodes are available now on HBO Max.

Some of the best television show writers, directors, and creators know how to seemingly blow up their shows in exciting season finales all the while still making these unforeseen events feel true to the show, and then they pick-up where the last season left off with equally good and layered writing, and with convincing twists and turns. While that description may sound more like Breaking Bad than a show about the line of succession in a right-wing media company, it is also true for Succession (and their writers), which, again and again, takes its characters in enthralling new directions. The second season of Succession was right up there with The Leftovers, as some of the most gripping and well-written television on HBO ever, and I’m happy to say that the third season, which went in directions that I hadn’t anticipated at the end of the second season, is equally good. Jesse Armstrong and the Succession writers’ room have done it again.

Quite apropos, the third season of Succession does appear to pick-up almost immediately after the events of season two. In an act of defiance after his father asked him to be the family’s ‘blood sacrifice,’ Kendall Roy (played by Jeremy Strong) has outed his father as being aware of and, at least in part, responsible for the Waystar Royco misconduct. While Kendall is struck by a minor panic attack in a hotel room, his father, Logan (played by Brian Cox), is scrambling to figure out a proper response to these damaging allegations that are piling up. Logan Roy and his war room, as it were, moves to Sarajevo, which has no extradition treaty with the United States, while Kendall is setting up shop at his ex-wife’s apartment. While the increasingly overconfident and self-righteous Kendall and the irate Logan are preparing for some kind of internal corporate and familial warfare, Kendall’s siblings have to figure out which side they want to support.

When the cast and crew for Succession went on their scheduled hiatus after the second season in 2019, I’m not sure they realized how popular the show would become. Sometime during the second season and since it ended in late 2019, it feels like so many people have caught up with the story and now, as was revealed during the release of this third season, it has become one of the internet’s favorite shows to discuss. People have certainly had a lot of time to catch up since two years have passed between the second season finale and the third season premiere due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which presumably didn’t just postpone the season release but also made for some difficulties in production vis-à-vis social bubbles and whatnot.

Conveniently, it does feel appropriate that certain characters are paired up with some characters and kept away from others since battle lines have been drawn at the end of the last season. There is also some kind of call to arms as the third season opens, and, really, this rallying of the troops is what much of the season is about as Kendall is trying to take down his father (without losing control of the family company), while Logan is trying to pressure the President into letting him off easy. So, what should Kendall’s siblings do? Is now the time to jump ship and leave their father in the wreckage, or do they still think they can become Logan’s actual successor? Those are essentially the major questions, as the season opens. Similar questions come up for cousin Greg (played by Nicholas Braun) and Tom Wambsgans (played by Matthew Macfadyen), who hold important information but who are still very much barely holding on at the edge of the family inner circle.

All of this puts a lot of the focus on the supporting roles, and one of the great joys about this season is actually the way these characters explore their options and try to leapfrog each other in the family hierarchy (or, in one of their cases, who is willing to sacrifice themselves). Although the entire ensemble cast is extraordinary, the supporting performances that stick out when you look back on the season were given by Matthew Macfadyen and Kieran Culkin, the latter of whom really gives an awards-worthy performance. Macfadyen’s character takes a lot of verbal beatings this season like we’re used to, but it is the ways that he stands up for himself that really impressed me. Also, he’s still incredibly fun to watch. Culkin, who plays a wildly screwy character, shows new sides of himself and his character, and he is particularly fantastic and nuanced in the episode “Chiantishire.”

Although it only consisted of nine episodes, I think this season has some of the best episodes of the entire series. “Lion in the Meadow,” features such a fascinating forced partnership between Logan and Kendall, as well as a fun guest performance from Adrien Brody. “Retired Janitors of Idaho,” which chronicles the events of the annual shareholder meeting might be the funniest and most stressful episode of the season, due to an in-episode medicinal mishap. “What It Takes,” in which the Roys essentially picks the Republican nominee for President features such a great microcosm of the show, as the different candidates, in a way, are stand-ins for the Roy children most likely to succeed Logan eventually. “Too Much Birthday,” which is about Kendall’s fortieth birthday party, sees Jeremy Strong, who is yet again extraordinary this season, at his very best. The last ten minutes of “Chiantishire,” are jaw-dropping, and the final shot sent fans and journalist into a tizzy (and gave the show its own version of the ‘who shot J.R./Mr. Burns?’ moment). And then, in the final episode of the season, the show had its own Godfather-esque ending, as well as an unforgettable moment of vulnerability from Kendall, which was acted brilliantly by Jeremy Strong.

A lot of time has been spent on the following question by both actors, journalists, fans, and critics: is Succession a Shakespearian drama or more of a comedy? I believe the story goes that Jeremy Strong thinks of it as the former, whereas Kieran Culkin is more in the latter camp. I think the answer is found somewhere in between the two. It is such a special show that keeps on improving upon itself. With this ridiculously good third season, Succession is, to me, the best ongoing series of the year

A

– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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