You want the short version? Karl has it. “That’s the full Baskin Robbins 31 flavours of fuck right there.”
Succession is back for its third season and it doesn’t miss a beat. We pick up right where fans hoped we would – in the immediate aftermath of Kendall’s denunciation of his father Logan live on national television. He is still high on events. Even for one used to the highest grade cocaine (except of course when Greg is put in charge of supply), it turns out that there is no buzz like patricide.
The half-smile on Logan’s face – or was it a knowing smirk? A gambler’s anticipation of the next game? Or an old man welcoming the beginning of the end? No matter now – has gone. At first, he’s in shock. “Did you know?” he asks his other children, almost softly. “I was wondering.” Then he rallies a little and offers Kendall an olive branch. Retract, says Daddy, claim you misspoke and all can be as it was. Kendall, still rejoicing in his shriving, rejects it. For those of us who have spent the two seasons in Kendall’s company longing only for him to experience one true moment of happiness, this is glorious. For Logan, less so. His fury deepens from thereon out and the season looks set to be a battle royal.
Logan and what at least for the moment counts as his gang – Gerri, Shiv, Roman, Tom, Frank, Karl – strategise in a variety of vehicles taking them to various corners of his empire (though the boss himself heads to extraditionless Sarajevo). The main message, to employees, shareholders, back room boys, business contacts and everyone in between is “Play it smart today and you won’t look a cunt tomorrow.” Words, truly, to live by.
Meanwhile, Kendall sets up headquarters and marshals his forces. On the downside he has Greg, who is put in charge of metadata and charting Kendall’s cultural temperature (“Good meme-age …” he says uncertainly. “But the internet is – big”) and an increasingly messianic gleam in his eye. On the upside, he has the lawyer Shiv is friends with and that Logan wants. And, you know, maybe sometimes messiahs end well.
It’s a fast-moving, exhilarating return for the Roys. There is no shortage of the corporate manoeuverings, jockeyings for position, eyes on chances and arses being covered that we have come to expect of America’s most monstrous family company, at the end of which – and hold on to your Mem & Arts here – a new CEO has, after two seasons and 20 aneurysm-straining episodes, finally been appointed.
But there is also no shortage of the things that make Succession truly great. It still never loses sight of the fact that this is a family. All the joy and all the horror, the torque, the exquisite agony of every interaction depends on this awful, hilarious knowledge. And so we have Roman eagerly calling Shiv to break bad news – seriously, seriously bad news – and reiterating it via a song he’s made up. Any little brother would do the same. The Roys differ in scale not form. We have useless Connor patted on the head and left to keep an eye on the Balkans rather than the pet rabbit but his face is a picture we all recognise.
The writing – though there is in the particularly plot-heavy, season-setting opener less room for the delicate characterisation that customarily leaven the script and make you wring your hands with their deftness and intelligence – remains immaculate. The performances – and let’s just make a little corner of appreciation here for Matthew Macfadyen as Tom Wambsgans, a man so needy, so appalling and so entirely credible that the mere sight of him makes you want to fling both him and yourself off the nearest Royscraper – remain unimpeachable.
In the unlikely event that Succession’s devoted fans ever doubted him, they will be able to breathe a sigh of relief within minutes knowing that creator Jesse Armstrong has lost none of his mastery of the Roys and their world. Their appetites, their weaknesses, their multitudinous depths are all still there. All the pieces are still in play. It’s just that Kendall’s changed the game.
• Season three of Succession begins on HBO/HBO Max in the US on 17 October, and on Sky Atlantic in the UK on 18 October.