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‘Succession’ 3.01 Review: Secession

The Roys are back, and this time it is war!

Brian Cox and Sarah Snook in Succession
(Image: © Hunter Graeme/HBO)

Our Verdict

Despite a long two-year gap between seasons, it is like the quarreling Roys never left, but it is great to have them back.

For

  • - The quick-fire dialogue and onslaught of insults is music to our ears
  • - Hearing Nicholas Britell's score and theme
  • - The pacing and cutting between various locations are effective
  • - Roman and Gerri's chemistry

Against

  • - Likability is not the point, but Kendall does make it hard to be on his team thanks to comments about razors and other loathsome behavior

This post contains spoilers for Succession 3.01, "Secession." 

In the age of streamers encouraging viewers to skip the opening credits, it is refreshing to return to a series that fully embraces its theme music. Even if there was the option to hit “skip intro,” I doubt most viewers would want to miss a single note of Nicholas Britell’s atmosphere-setting Succession anthem. It has been two long years since the earworm title track last played on TV, and it is impossible to not feel giddy at the first dizzying beat. Britell’s score weaves its way through the ongoing battle between Logan Roy (Brian Cox) and his son Kendall (Jeremy Strong), and is an asset to the pacing and overall mood of the premiere. 

The opening shot of two helicopters dwarfed by the stunning mountain vista instantly throws the audience back into this world of bottomless wealth, while Logan’s pensive face reveals little. Whirring rotor blades are the extra wind instrument to Britell’s recognizable strings before cutting to Kendall doing calming exercises in a bathroom. He is wearing the same suit as his bombshell press conference, in which he implicated his father in the ongoing Waystar Royco scandal, and the gravity of this bold move is not lost on him. Jumping straight back into where we left off immediately blows the cobwebs away and it is as if no time has passed at all. Punchy dialogue, imaginative insults and Logan’s fondness for salty language are another reminder that this family will never change — and this is why we love to watch.   

Succession season 3

(Image credit: Sky/HBO)

Originally scheduled to start shooting last spring, Jesse Armstrong has not altered the story from what he originally intended to factor in real-world events — any changes are likely cosmetic and not plot-related. Unlike another show focused on a media empire in New York City, Succession is thankfully refraining from delivering a COVID-19 focused season, and while I would gladly watch one very special episode of the Roys in quarantine it would get pretty boring after that. They’re ultra-rich, so their version of lockdown is not going to involve toilet paper shortages and Zoom dance classes. Part of the Succession appeal is watching terrible rich people either try to grab or keep hold of power, and a pandemic backdrop cuts far too close to home. This series might be inspired by actual media moguls but it is a fantasy for most viewers. 

In the very first episode, the question of who would take over from Logan as the head of Waystar Royco was first asked (and rebuffed), and this is still the central conflict at the heart of this drama. Logan remains steadfast in his leadership role and even when he makes the decision to step back in the premiere, it is all for appearance’s sake. He will still be pulling the strings behind the scenes, but the CEO title will belong to another until this investigation into the company misdeeds dies down. The original plan was for Kendall to be the “blood sacrifice” and the face of the scandal, which he seemingly agreed to before delivering a press conference mic drop when he accused Logan of knowing about the cover-up. In the season 2 finale, Logan told his former “number one boy” that he lacks a killer instinct and this opinion pushed Kendall’s daring decision. 

Succession season 3

Jeremy Strong in 'Succession' (Image credit: Sky/HBO)

With most of the major players still in Croatia, Kendall has his run of Manhattan with Cousin Greg (Nicholas Braun) in tow. The battle lines have been drawn, but this doesn’t mean loyalty is a given, and Kendall quickly boots Karolina (Dagmara Dominczyk) from the car in the middle of the city when she cannot with certainty say she is on his team. The press immediately swarms her, which is how Shiv (Sarah Snook) and Roman (Kieran Culkin) see a headline announcing “Further divisions suggested as Waystar Royco Head of PR forced out of vehicle midtown.” 

For now, Greg is part of Kendall’s expanding squad — he also provided the damning papers — although his nervous energy vibrates through the car. Kendall has gone from a nervous guy lying fully clothed in an empty bathtub during the opening scene to somewhat manic. He even cracks jokes about being a killer, which is unsettling considering all we know about him. 

To ensure the press doesn’t snap who Kendall is receiving as a visitor, he avoids his apartment and goes to ex-wife Rava’s (Natalie Gold) instead. She is gracious in letting his entire operation set up shop, and while the pair are friendly there are a couple of moments where Rava’s frustration is warranted. His quips about men’s razors in her bathroom are his way of prying and then he gives her crap for choosing the cheaper option. Perhaps the highlight is when she mentions that she hasn’t seen the video from his press conference and this one cuts deep — for the record, I am Team Rava.

Of course, Kendall should have the moral high ground against his father and his machine, but there are so many moments in “Secession” that remind us how insufferable he can be. For example, he asks to hear a pitch from his new media team, and yet he cannot let them get a sentence out before he interrupts. The cringe count rises when he goes on about making his Twitter the spot to eschew the kind of earnest spin he will be doing elsewhere. He wants to hire the “Bojack guys” to write his social media content and he cannot help himself from doing the most. The whiff of desperation is strong and phrases like “that would be the straight leg chino way of putting it” do not help his cause. But he is riding the high of the press conference and for now, he is confident he has what it takes.  

Succession season 3

Brian Cox in 'Succession' (Image credit: Sky/HBO)

While he can’t get his siblings on board and his father initially laughs at his attempts to trash talk, he does win in a big way with his choice of lawyer. Lisa Arthur (Sanaa Lathan) has a reputation for representing those that have been wronged and a famous case involving sex workers is why both Kendall and Logan want to hire her. Shiv is an old friend of Lisa’s, or rather it seems like they are old acquaintances, and Logan’s plan to get his daughter to sweeten the pot fails. This is a common theme in the premiere as his tactics to gain the upper hand are unsuccessful at every turn. When Gerri’s (J. Smith-Cameron) call to the current administration doesn’t yield the assurance he expected, he takes most of the team to Sarajevo. This destination is not at random and the lack of an extradition treaty with the U.S. is its selling point. 

Logan sends Shiv, Roman and Gerri back to New York as his liaisons there while the rest of the brain trust stays with him. He doesn’t trust Frank (Peter Friedman) to go back to Manhattan, which is the smart choice as he is one of the only people to take Kendall’s call. The only people to not get an assignment are Connor (Alan Ruck) and Willa (Justine Lupe), who everyone forgets are even there. They don’t get to hitch a ride back to New York, nor do they end up in Sarajevo, so who knows how they will get home. It isn’t all bad news, as Connor has decided to market Willa’s badly received play as a “hate-watch.” She is unsurprisingly not thrilled by Connor’s decision to lean into the “irono-cycle,” but at least this way he won’t lose a stack of cash. Somehow they might be the strongest romantic couple of Succession

Alan Ruck and Justine Lupe in Succession

Alan Ruck and Justine Lupe in 'Succession' (Image credit: Graeme Hunter/HBO)

Separating Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) and Shiv is also a reminder that all is not well with their marriage after the open relationship rule change. Tom is clearly still hurting, and while Shiv tries to act like everything is normal, the tense goodbye on the tarmac suggests otherwise. One way to get them back on the same page is Logan talking about his replacement and the three candidates are the ones Logan sent back to New York. The smart play is either one of his kids or a woman and Tom immediately rings Shiv to let her know what the score is. Shiv fulfills both criteria, however, she lacks the experience of the other two. No other show does negotiation scenes better, whether they are discussing who should get the CEO title or if they think Logan is dead in the water. Another question is whether the person who takes the top job is essentially getting a poison chalice. Regardless, ambition ensures all three candidates are desperate for the gig. 

The first to make a mistake is Roman, and he talks himself out of the role by showing an element of doubt and suggesting Gerri as an alternative. Shiv might be his sister but he is loyal to Gerri and knows she has the experience — plus sibling rivalry. Sure, he will still give her grief and attempt to flirt it up a storm but they are aligned. Gerri can more than handle herself and bats him away like he is a needy pet looking for attention. This dynamic continues to be one of the most fascinating on a show filled with complex pairings. Shiv fails her task to secure Lisa Arthur and Roman gleefully sings a song to her about Gerri getting the job.   

In the early days of this new war, Kendall takes the first victory thanks to his lawyer acquisition that sends Logan into a full rage. But battles are not won in a day and while Logan looks deeply concerned as he heads out into the Sarajevo night — after telling his team to go “full beast” — it is only the first strike. Kendall might have changed the game, but he is likely to fall into old patterns. “Kendall will self-destruct because it’s his favorite,” Roman observed while they were still in Croatia, and this delicious party has only just begun.