'Succession' Season 3 Has the Dead Cat in the Bag
Succession is now my favorite show of all time. I can’t stop rewatching it. I’ve seen the entire show twice, watched the pilot six times, and watched the first season three times. Rewatching this show is one of the most rewarding experiences television provides, in large part because of the strength of the show’s writing. Its storytelling is subtle and its dialogue indirect. The show never has characters deliver lengthy swaths of exposition. Instead, it leaves the viewer to determine what the relationships between different characters are and what power dynamics exist among them.
The quality of Succession’s writing has always been a point of praise for the show, and the circumstances surrounding the production of this season only make the strength of the writing more apparent. The filming of season three was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, resuming in late 2020 and wrapping mid-2021. The pandemic meant the cast and crew were limited in where they could film, how many people could be in scenes, etc. There’s less time spent globetrotting and more time spent in hotels, offices, and conference centers. That element stands in sharp contrast to season two, where seven of the ten episodes saw the Roy family travel to new locations. Season two had a distinct sense of momentum – each episode felt like it pushed the overall story forward in a consequential, meaningful way. The season also managed to balance exciting development with substantive character development. That marriage of plot progression and character development made for a fantastic season of TV, and season two is my favorite season of the show.
On my first watch, I felt that season three lacked momentum. It seemed to be spinning its wheels and it looked like the stakes were lower than before. Certain plot threads seemed to meander into nothingness while others seemed to appear out of nowhere. It was hard to tell where the season was going. After rewatching, however, the direction of the plot became a lot clearer. Knowing what was going to happen left me more space to revel in the character development that dominates this season.
Season three’s primary plots involve Kendall’s (Jeremy Strong) attempt to derail Waystar with the DOJ investigation into the cruises scandal and Waystar’s attempt to acquire GoJo, a streaming platform owned by Lukas Matsson (Alexander Skarsgard). In season two, each episode felt like an event with a self-contained plot that also moved the seasonal plot forward. The episodes in season three, by contrast, are more liminal, as if they’re always working towards an event in a future episode. The Waystar Royco shareholder meeting is one of the more important events of the season and occurs about halfway through. It’s referenced very offhandedly a few episodes prior, but there’s never a scene where a character says, “Oh! We need to prepare for this shareholder meeting which is happening for [insert reason].” It’s left up to the viewer to figure out why Logan (Brian Cox) and Kendall are meeting with activist shareholder Josh Aaronson (Adrien Brody) and how the stakes of the Sandy (Larry Pine) and Stewy (Arian Moayed) takeover are supposed to naturally conclude. The GoJo plotline is briefly referenced early on in the season, but it doesn’t really get going until episode seven.
The always-moving, transitional feel of the season means that some plots resolve in unexpected ways, namely the Kendall whistleblowing plot and the Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) going-to-prison plot. They simply… don’t happen. Kendall’s leverage against Waystar is deemed insufficient and as a result, Tom doesn’t have to go to prison. Both arcs abruptly end in episode seven, and the result is simply a return to the status quo. That mirrors the excellent season finale, where for a moment, the viewer thinks things might actually change. The siblings team up against their dad for what might be the first time in their life, only to learn that he has bested them yet again. As Tom says to Kendall in episode six, “I’ve seen you get fucked a lot. And I’ve never seen Logan get fucked once.” The season’s conclusion is in line with the conclusions of the whistleblowing and prison arcs in that nothing really changes, even if the established order seems to be shifting. This idea is also reflected in the seasonal arcs of each of the Roy siblings (yes, even Connor).
Connor (Alan Ruck) and Shiv (Sarah Snook) are the characters whose positions largely remain static. Connor is still a delusional laughingstock, just like last season. Shiv continues to get in her own way and be excluded from any major company decisions by her siblings and superiors. She also continues to treat Tom dismissively. Those are reductive descriptions, and I do take issue with Shiv’s depth of characterization compared to that of Roman (Kieran Culkin) and Kendall, but that’s for another article.
With regard to Kendall, each season sees him trying to find a new sense of belonging and identity. Season one observes him attaching his sense of identity to that of Waystar’s successor, and season two saw him tie his sense of identity to his father through utter and complete subservience. Season three has Kendall trying to exist outside of the company as a whistleblower, but his ploy proves unfeasible because of his shallow motivations. We know he doesn’t really care about the women affected by the cruise scandal: he’s trying to get back at his dad. “I need people to see this was part of a coherent philosophy, not just punching an old guy in the fucking nose?” he says.
When the whistleblowing doesn’t pan out, he tries to sell his shares in Waystar Royco and cash out, but Logan doesn’t let him. Kendall is trapped, unable to divorce himself from the company and his father. He doesn’t know exactly who he wants to be, but he knows who he doesn’t want to be. The irony is that the old Kendall would have wanted to be in the company, and the tragedy is that he can’t escape.
Since Kendall became a whistleblower, though, Roman has stepped up. We saw some of his potential in season two when Roman dealt with the Vaulter layoffs in an effective and cunning way. This season, we see him take point on the GoJo deal, and who knew he had such business savvy? Unfortunately, none of that matters in the end. Roman essentially falls into the same trap Shiv did in season two. He appears to be the favored sibling, but it turns out, like clockwork, that his dad is using him. Shiv points their father’s manipulation out to him at Kendall’s birthday party, but he doesn’t listen to her until it’s too late and Logan has decided to sell the company.
Roman’s arc exemplifies Succession’s perspective on people changing. Showrunner Jesse Armstrong has stated in interviews that he doesn’t believe these characters can change, and the Logan-Roman relationship further cements this. Logan ostensibly wants one of the kids to run the company…but not really. In season one the successor is supposed to be Kendall, but that’s thrown out the window in the pilot, and Kendall subsequently fumbles his attempts to displace Logan. In season two Logan promises it to Shiv, but that promise was never true, and Shiv starts to flounder when it becomes increasingly clear that she’ll never be named CEO. Roman’s business savvy puts him in closer proximity to his dad than any of the other siblings this season, but his trust and love for his father become his undoing. Nothing changes.
I love this show to death, and I could write pages more about everything I loved about this season and the show at large, but there’s always so much going on and so much to pick apart and analyze that any effort to do so would be unwieldy and cumbersome. But that’s the beauty of Succession, the show that keeps on giving. I can’t wait to see where it goes in season four (which might be its final season). Perhaps it’ll be Connor’s time to shine.