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“IT’S WAR,” Logan Roy bellows, in the first episode of the brand-new series of Succession, “SO F*** OFF!” The phrase, ringing around the cabin of his private jet as deafeningly as a gunshot, would be such a perfect tagline for the season that I found myself Googling to find out whether it appeared on the posters. (The real tagline, “make your move”, suggests something more like chess than violent warfare, although since even the games the Roy family play tend to end up being forms of warfare, anyway, the difference may be negligible.)
After a terrible year, full of struggle and calamity and sickness, it is somehow still a pleasure to spend time with some of the worst and most narcissistic people ever written. The Roy siblings – a squabbling nest of vipers with a net worth of what must be tens of billions of dollars – have been jostling for position as the primary object of their brutal father’s love for the entire run of Succession, failing largely because Logan (Brian Cox) does not appear to be capable of feeling love at all. In light of this, each of them is willing to settle for his money, or his job. The show is funny, elegant and pleasurable precisely because there is no hope of an actual happy ending for its bratty, spatting leads.
The players, then, and where we left them last: Shiv (Sarah Snook), a sensuous would-be leader, learnt at the tail-end of season two that she may be a little less adept at scheming than she’d previously thought; Roman (Kieran Culkin), a foul-mouthed and sybaritic party bro, ended up as COO; mournful, rumpled former junkie Kendall (Jeremy Strong), with his slack mouth and his terminally uncool love of rap, sank a metaphorical knife into his dominant daddy’s back on live TV in the finale by revealing Logan’s knowledge of a slew of workplace crimes. (It is telling, and in keeping with the show’s internal logic, that in listing the Roy children I initially forgot to include Alan Ruck’s Connor, the eldest, most useless Roy, who when we saw him last was running to be president despite not having done a day’s work in his life.) Cousin Greg (Nicholas Braun), a sweet and gangling buffoon whose idea of corporate espionage at first appeared to be using a sharpie to write “SECRET” on a folder of illegal documents, revealed himself to be a canny enough climber to affix himself to Kendall at the moment of betrayal. Tom (Matthew Macfadyen), a soft-bellied and ineffectual Midwesterner married to Shiv, bullied by his superiors, and only able to exert a modicum of dominance by being oddly, sometimes almost sexually cruel to Greg, finally admitted to being unhappy, before choosing to rebel by eating chicken furiously, somehow impotently, straight off Logan’s plate.
Logan Roy, the genius loci around which both show and family revolve, remained one of the most frightening characters on television, an inscrutable emotional black hole with a tendency to lash out like a kicked dog at the mere notion of a threat. Brian Cox, an actor whose rumbling gravitas perfectly complements the quasi-Shakespearian machinations of Succession’s family plot, is never better than when he is playing Logan trying to hide his fear. In the opening episode of season three, which begins immediately after Kendall’s transformation into what his father might call, admiringly, “a killer”, he is cornered, and accordingly extremely dangerous. “No need for me to go running back,” he snarls, refusing to return to New York or to Waystar Royco, “like a slapped girl!”
If the mood of the show’s first two seasons tended to reflect that of its upstart children – jittery, tricksy, caustic, sly – the third begins in the hot-tempered tenor of its father-figure: violence, there is no doubt, is afoot. Using his last available weapon, Logan vows to finally choose which of the available candidates – namely Shiv or Roman, or the company’s general counsel, Gerri – to select as his successor then and there. Tensions, already unbearable, reach something beyond boiling point, all good sense sublimating into vapour. There is an extraordinary moment in which Logan speaks to Kendall via a PR lackey, and un-ironically takes on the air of an evil giant from a children’s bedtime story, threatening to “grind [Kendall’s] f***in’ bones to make my bread”. Kendall, being neither a giant nor an industrial titan, but at best a fattened goose, offers a faltering, hysterical retort: “Well, then,” he stammers, Jeremy Strong’s face delicately registering bewilderment under the bluster, “I’m gonna run up the f***in’ beanstalk.”
As is expected of the Roys, more double-crossing happens in an hour’s span than happened to most Roman emperors in a lifetime. Here, though, is the elephant crashing around the cabin of this private jet: I am writing in the unusual position of the new season’s embargo having lifted a full week before the show actually airs – a situation that bespeaks a cast-iron confidence on the part of Succession’s makers in the quality of their work. Because it would cruel for me, as a Succession fan myself, to spoil some of the genuinely thrilling moves the family makes on, against, at and for each other in the season premiere, I will simply say that this cast-iron confidence is – as if you had not already guessed – entirely warranted.
If this season happens to be more frenetic than the last, it is also uproariously funny, painful and delightful in its skewering of this family, faithful in its continued adherence to each character’s design. Roman Roy, played with a perverse, slimy sex appeal by Culkin, remains an incorrigible satyr; Snook, as Shiv, still exudes an air of brittle overcompensation in the face of daddy’s power. As Tom, whose hilarious surname “Wambsgans” somehow feels like nominative determinism despite not actually being a real word, Macfadyen still elicits the same blend of sympathy and ire.
Mostly, I am certain audiences will be delighted to learn that Cousin Greg, whom Braun continues to play like an idiot, millennial Jimmy Stewart, has a number of perfectly Greg-ish lines, all destined to live forever online. “Nice memes, good memeage, and so on,” he assures Kendall with his signature Greg blend of childishness and elderliness, as if he were an extremely simple 14th-century prince who had just been reanimated in the present. “Oh God, this is like OJ,” he breathes nervously as paparazzi stalk them, before clarifying: “I mean if OJ never killed anyone.”
In general, the episode’s funniest scenes are those that fold in the reaction of the internet to Kendall’s very public character assassination of his father, in particular those in which he meets with a PR team in order to discuss how best to wash his hands of any scandal. If I were a betting woman, I would put my non-existent family fortune on a gif of Kendall Roy saying the phrase “cool tweets” becoming inescapable online for several weeks after this airs; ditto one of him casually uttering the chilling line “I’d like my Twitter to be off the hook.” So far, at any rate, Succession’s latest season is certainly off the hook – a real good job do-er, full of little Machiavellian f***s, and funny enough to leave viewers laughing as if they grew up on a hyena farm.
‘Succession’ season three is available from 2am on Monday 18 October via Sky Store and NOW, and will subsequently air Mondays at 9pm on Sky Atlantic