It has been 735 days since we first watched Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong) deliver the “But” meant to dethrone daddy Logan (Brian Cox) in Succession season two finale “This Is Not For Tears,” and a lot has happened since October 13, 2019. But who cares about the past two years in the real world? It was awful! Instead, let’s soothe ourselves by diving into the glorious acidity, curdling toxicity, and subversive flirtation of a Jesse Armstrong script, all qualities of which remain in “Secession,” this third season premiere that picks up a few hours after “This Is Not For Tears” ended. All of that is well and good, especially now that we have a definitive “Gerri (J. Smith-Cameron) is Roman’s (Kieran Culkin) boss” dynamic. Slash fic writers, start your engines.
What is a bit concerning, though: Does “Secession” seem a little too self-aware of the champing-at-the-bit hype in which this series is now ensconced? Judging by my highly biased Twitter account, it felt like everyone jumped on the Succession train in the past two years. During this episode, it also feels like Armstrong knows that, and is leaning (slightly extraneously) into it.
Everything seems amped up in a slightly performative way. Kendall and Logan trading barbs pulled from fairy tales through Kendall’s assistant Jess (Juliana Canfield, who also plays Beth on the hopefully-not-forever canceled Y: The Last Man). Greg’s (Nicholas Braun) pandering obeisance and stammering ignorance as he dealt with social media and his mom’s credit card. “Full beast” acting as a remix of “boar on the floor.” Shiv (Sarah Snook) and Tom’s (Matthew Macfadyen) gender-swapped recreation of Han Solo and Leia’s “I love you”/“I know” exchange.
All of these moments deliver the visceral discomfort and aghast enjoyment we’ve come to expect from this series. But they also seem less like original-flavor Succession and more like a tongue-in-cheek satire of Succession.
Still, “Secession” is a solid introduction into the next chapter of Roy family backstabbing, and I mean “Roy family” in particular. Succession briefly incorporated “regular” people at the end of season two as all the cruises allegations blew up. But “Secession” is all the Roys, and only the Roys and their various hangers-on. “No real person involved” was an immoral classification that Waystar Royco employees used casually and often, and “Secession” crawls inside the insularity that leads to that kind of nonchalance.
These are all astonishingly awful people being astonishingly awful to each other, and I appreciate how there is very little here with which to sympathize. If you fist-pumped at Kendall taking on Logan at the end of last season, “Secession” is a reminder that he is just as narcissistic, self-obsessed, self-pitying, and delusional as the rest of the Roys. Strong’s big ol’ smile when Kendall joked to Greg, “Who said I never killed anyone?” Horrifying!
The Roys are always telling on themselves (Roman calling himself a fuckup, Shiv and her threesome suggestions), and Kendall isn’t automatically a good person just because he’s challenging Logan. But is he a better person than Roman or Shiv or Gerri or Connor (Alan Ruck) or Karl (David Rasche) or Karolina (Dagmara Dominczyk), or any of the people who stand by Logan, who is very much—as Kendall said during that press conference—“a malignant presence, a bully, and a liar”?
Ethical questions are mostly ancillary to Succession. Succession is about power and access and how access to power corrupts and complicates, and Logan and Kendall have always been at the center of that in all their love, hate, jealousy, and resentment. Recurring Succession director Mark Mylod, who also helmed “This Is Not For Tears,” thrusts us right next to father, son, and their respective “action stations” (lol) as “Secession” begins, and the episode’s familiar visual style (quick cuts, rapid zooms) works to keep things steadily disconcerting.
The fallout from Kendall’s statement is immediate, but my man clearly didn’t think this through. Did he really think he could go back to his office in Waystar Royco and everything would be fine? Does he truly believe what he says to Karolina about “acting in the best interest of the company”? I suppose he has to, because Kendall wants to be a hero. This is Kendall wanting to depose Logan because Logan is wrong and bad and abusive, not just because Kendall wants to take over because he thinks Logan’s health is failing, or because he thinks he’s owed it.
He’s been motivated before by those reasons and they didn’t pay off, but now he has rightness and “the soul of the company” on his side! Strong is excellent at careening between emotional extremes, and he gets a lot of opportunity this episode as Kendall looks to everyone for affirmation of his choices: at Greg, at reporters, at strangers at Twitter, at Karolina (who doesn’t pass the test, and gets kicked out of the SUV), at Rava (Natalie Gold), at Naomi Pierce (Annabelle Dexter-Jones), who Kendall now says he loves, and finally, at newcomer Lisa Arthur (Sanaa Lathan).
Attorney Lisa is a big damn deal, and she—like Holly Hunter’s Rhea Jarrell—is another woman who the Roys think they can convince to abandon their ideals for the right price. But unlike Rhea, Lisa doesn’t fall for what Logan, or (former) friend Shiv, are offering. She sticks by Kendall, and she’ll help him take on Daddy. This woman defended trafficked sex workers before and Logan thought she would defend him? And Shiv, high on being able to intimidate that whistleblower Kira (Sally Murphy), thinks she can waltz into Lisa’s office and do the same thing? You sweet summer child. The lack of self-awareness, I love it.
But Logan’s side is spiraling, so I understand the desperation. When “Secession” begins, while Kendall is making moves from inside that SUV alongside Greg and Karolina, Logan is with everyone else, trying to put together a list of extradition-less places around the world to which they can decamp. Can they leverage their relationship with the President? Gerri tries, but bumps up against the Department of Justice. What should they do about Kendall? Roman suggests the “mentally ill… He’s insane” attack (which raises the question of whether Logan would ever leak what really happened the night of Shiv’s wedding).
While Roman is fine throwing Kendall under the bus, though, he doesn’t really have what it takes to be CEO quite yet; his insistence that he could do it felt half-hearted compared with his sponsorship of Gerri. And Shiv for some reason continues to have a scrap of faith that Logan will hand the company over to her; it’s never going to happen, Shiv! So instead, Gerri is named interim CEO, with Logan breathing down her neck and looking over her shoulder (and wandering the streets of Sarajevo, potentially?). Is anyone paying enough attention to see whatever is going on between Roman and Gerri? And, more importantly: Would anyone really care that Roman is ready for “Crone-y Time”?
I suppose there are larger issues at play than their thirsty flirtations. Oh, just the future of Waystar Royco, and Kendall’s place in the Roy family, and whether Frank flips sides to join his one-time mentee, and whether Shiv ever realizes that Logan is endlessly stringing her along, and whether that disastrous rocket launch for which Roman was responsible gets him in trouble. And yeah, the blood on Kendall’s hands, and on Logan’s and Marcia’s (Hiam Abbass), too (because she was involved in that coverup and brought in her son Amir, played by Darius Homayoun, right?). “This rabbit hole of bitterness” is how Gerri described Kendall’s grudge against his father, and this seems like a season-long journey to me. Let’s fall down it together.
- If Roman and Gerri don’t actually hook up this season, what are we even doing?
- However: “I’d lay you badly, but I’d lay you gladly” is the kind of line that online-dating nightmares are made of.
- Shiv’s high-waisted pants: still there, still spectacular.
- In the season-two finale, Kendall said during the press conference that he had copies of Waystar Royco documents bearing Logan’s signature and proving his involvement in various coverups, which I took to mean that they were copies provided by Greg. But Greg tells Karolina, “I had no prior warning … But now I am obviously concerned and interested to hear more,” which of course is crap, right? (Karolina seems to assume that, given her disbelieving “OK” and accompanying smirk.)
- Is Connor still running for president? While he’s holding down the Balkans?
- No comment on whether Greg could have broken down that hotel door.
- Where is Stewy?!
- Rava has the patience of a saint when dealing with all of Kendall’s shenanigans, but that whole wine-bottle subplot was a weird, muddled way to cheaply position Rava and Naomi against each other.
- Best line of the episode: Tie between “I got fired, he got fired, she got promoted, I got rehired, she got demoted, right?” and “We can find them. They’re… on Twitter.”
- Best back and forth: You would think it’s Logan’s “You want to suck my dick?” and Roman’s “…Is what he said to his son as the sexual assault allegations poured in.” But actually, it’s Roman and Shiv’s discussion about what they’re actually thinking about whether Logan is “toast.” All of Snook’s and Culkin’s intonations and inflections in that scene were a master class in fractional degrees of nuance.
- Karl “really feels he needs a sandwich,” and that is why I love him.
- Of course Kendall is a fan of BoJack Horseman. Nothing has made more sense.
- Actually, I take that back: Kendall saying “I’m your puppet” is what makes the most sense.