At its best, Succession feels like watching the world’s most profane game of chess, charting the baffling and brilliant moves of players willing to risk everything and spare nothing. HBO’s stellar satirical black comedy-drama follows the conniving actions of the Roy family, the dysfunctional owners of media conglomerate Waystar RoyCo. In this game of power-hungry chess, the Roy family are all some of the worst players around, offering aggression and attack. Short-term victories define this game, pawns sacrificed left and right, giving temporary bitter satisfaction before another clever move is made. However, even though the Roy family is evenly matched in this game, someone still must lose.
Logan (Brian Cox), the fierce head of the Roy family, concedes to his son Kendall (Jeremy Strong) that he made “a decent move.” After Kendall’s actions in the Season 2 finale, it’s surprising to see his father offer this generous admission. The Season 3 premiere, titled “Secession,” sees Logan and the rest of the Roy family in complete chaos following Kendall’s public revelation that millions of dollars of payouts were made by Roystar RoyCo to silence cases of sexual misconduct on the company’s cruise line. Kendall’s actions are noble, at least on the outside. Who wouldn’t applaud him for making these horrific crimes public? However, it becomes increasingly clear that nobody planned for the aftermath of these revelations, least of all Kendall himself.
After calling his father, “a malignant presence,” Kendall emerges a hero to the press, spending much of this week’s episode locked down in various locations swarming with frantic reporters. First, he finds himself thrust into a car with Karolina (Dagmara Domińczyk), his overwhelmed head of PR, and his affable if ill-equipped cousin, Greg (Nicholas Braun). He spends the car ride spouting off nonsense about a sea change at the company, clearly immersed in his own delusions of grandeur. He even threatens those who helped him get to this place of public acclaim and acknowledgment, tossing aside anybody not backing him one-hundred percent in his self-described “revolution.”
Kendall proceeds to set up at his estranged wife Rava’s home and even pitifully attempts to win her favor by claiming his actions were for her. While holed up at Rava’s, Kendall meets with famous attorney Lisa Arthur (Sanaa Lathan) and proceeds to embarrass himself by flaunting his own naivety. Arthur admires Kendall’s position as a whistleblower, a good impression which he promptly shatters by spouting off social media logistics and awful one-liners for the press.
Arthur cuts through this facade, however. “This is quite a complex situation to progress,” she says, “because, as I understand it, you want to take down your dad without implicating yourself? And without damaging the company to the extent that you lose control at your shareholder meeting?” Kendall is as insincere as anybody else in the Roy family, willing to play the hero role if it means he maintains control and gains power.
In a brilliantly plotted parallel to Kendall’s press plight, Logan likewise spends the episode surrounded by reporters, driven to isolation and desperate plotting. At the front of Logan’s mind is his pick for CEO, someone to maneuver the company while he waits in the wings for the scandal to subside. And while Logan may be prone to outrage and anger, he knows how to play this game better than Kendall, immediately calling his bluff. Throughout the course of the episode, it becomes clear that despite it being at the front of the Roy family’s minds, the misconduct is hardly a concern for anyone, simply a powerful property to be wielded as necessary, and Logan recognizes this is true for Kendall more than anybody.
Logan glides from tarmac to tarmac in the Balkans, meeting with the remaining members of his family to plant seeds in their minds. The end of this week’s episode sees Logan pick his new CEO, the ever-reliable Gerri (J. Smith-Cameron) getting the key role in Waystar RoyCo’s shaky future. It’s a move that shows Logan knows exactly how to play this game with Kendall, confirmed as he promises to destroy his own son.
“Secession” is a powerful and chaotic introduction to Succession’s third season, allowing creator Jesse Armstrong and his writers to show off what they do best: smart plotting and bitterly funny one-liners delivered full of venom. Succession could feel tired or irrelevant (it’s an issue I had with HBO’s similarly themed The White Lotus), but the show is filled with such clever writing, and boasts one of television’s greatest ensemble casts, that it becomes easy to forget this is a show a bunch of white rich people arguing for hours on end. Instead, Succession becomes a labyrinthine game not to be missed, with “Secession” allowing the pieces of this season to be set before brutal attack. Season 3, unpredictable as it looks, is sure to be full of drama and intrigue with a dose of deliciously cruel conflict.
Succession airs on Sundays 9:00 p.m. EST on HBO and also on HBOMax.