'Succession' Has a Succession Problem

·4-min read
Photo credit: Macall Polay
Photo credit: Macall Polay

The third season of Succession arrived into a world turned upside down since it departed in October 2019, which is perhaps why it feels strange that so little has changed at Waystar Royco. Picking up minutes after the season two finale, the game of CEO hot potato (or as Tom Wambsgans nervously calls it in episode one of season three, "dice with God") continues to linger as the question of who will take over the company remains largely unanswered.

We appear to get some clarity in the first episode when Logan names Gerri in the role, but three episodes in he has confused the chain of command by also naming Shiv as president, while continuing to pull strings himself. In essence he has installed two women in the shop window at a moment when the company is facing sexual abuse allegations, but given no concrete sign of who he will really pick to be the future leader of the company.

At this stage, is the question of succession in Succession wearing a little thin? Even the audience shares some of the Roy clan's frustration at Logan's dithering as we long to return to luxuriating in hyper-decanted wine and Tom sadly whizzing down that inflatable slide on the mega yacht. Remember those days?

Photo credit: Macall Polay
Photo credit: Macall Polay

Succession hinges on the shifting power dynamics within both the Roy family and Waystar Royco family of employees, as different figures drift in and out of Logan's favour. The question of who he will finally relinquish power to is one that looms over the series like the curmudgeonly man himself; an unsolvable problem that fuels the rivalry between the different contestants and keeps the drama heightened. But whereas in past seasons the question of a successor to Logan has swirled around in the ether and been dispersed by family jaunts to creaky mansions or load-swallowing bachelor parties, this time around Succession seems consumed by succession. We find ourselves with a ring-side seat to continual heavy discussions with little in the way of light relief.

After Kendall's mic-drop press conference there is an added pressure for Logan to step aside, but doing that in any meaningful way is like removing the dice from the game everyone has been playing and hoping it can continue. The moment Logan really steps aside is surely game over, so it's in the interest of the writers of the series to keep dangling and snatching away possible new power players again and again. Still, for balance there needs to be enough distractions that it doesn't feel as though each episode is a tense board meeting viewers are obliged to attend.

Photo credit: Macall Polay
Photo credit: Macall Polay

Team Kendall and Team Logan dividing into different factions means the show must engineer ways to get the cast together, some of which stretch the limits of credulity given the legal battles going on. Naturally these are stilted exchanges as animosity grows between the siblings in particular, all of which results in the strained atmosphere hanging around the show at the start of this season. We can't get the gang back together for mimosas and murderous glances at Marcia's without undermining the seriousness of the rift within the family, but the mushroom cloud produced by the War of the Roys risks engulfing the escapist elements that make the show so fun.

It's tempting to think that the writers have written themselves into a corner, but if there's comfort to be taken it's in the fact that Succession plots its big moments slowly. The grenade throw of last season's denouement was only made shocking by the careful groundwork that had been laid to show just how broken Kendall had been by his father. Similarly Shiv's “just tell them it's gonna be me” outburst during dinner with the Pierce family was made more powerful by how long we had seen her bite her tongue.

Photo credit: Macall Polay
Photo credit: Macall Polay

The question of succession in Succession is a dance that requires careful footing, and perhaps the chaos at Waystar we are witnessing unfold is the set up for another rat to jump ship as Logan refuses to relinquish power. Still, it's hard not to think, as the big man himself might say, fucking hurry up!

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