What is Jesse Armstrong, the creator of Succession, want his monsters now? As Kenneth Tynan said of John Webster: “Ideally, you think all of his characters would have been drowned in a sea of cold sweats. If nothing is too good for these people – no job title, no hotel room, no private jet – nothing is too bad for them either, at least that is what it seems. . Succession is a ransom revenge tragedy with cashmere throws where there should be an arras and stolen data instead of stolen love letters. The stench that emanates from it! I’m four episodes of season three (Critic’s Privilege), and the smell of fear – think Tom Ford’s Black Orchid layered with light top notes of piss and ranch dressing at room temperature – don’t just won’t go away.
To recap: At the end of season two, Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong) betrayed his parent beast, publicly announcing that Logan (Brian Cox) was aware of Waystar Royco’s cruise line misconduct. That was not – to put it mildly – the plan. Kendall was believed to have accepted responsibility for the scandal: it should have been the family’s blood sacrifice. But whatever. Thank goodness the notion of ritual slaughter has not disappeared. Someone must get it. Will it be Tom (Matthew MacFadyen), Logan’s mudball son-in-law, or will it be his cowardly grandnephew, Greg (Nicholas Braun)? Then again, it’s still possible that Kendall, currently acting a bit like Tom Hanks in Fat, will simply implode. Even if he gets immunity from prosecution as a corporate whistleblower, no one in the world will ever be able to grant him asylum from his father’s frozen heart.
You’ll want to know if this series is as good as the last one. Well, the dialogue is as dirty and funny as ever – “You’re the number one trending topic behind Tater Tots and the Pope… uh, a Pope, ”says Greg, who Kendall has asked to monitor his media profile – and the performances are always perfect. Strong’s Kabuki Ritalin, his super-animated face one minute and lifeless the next, is the most fascinating thing on TV. Sarah Snook as Shiv hardens like ice under everything Max Mara, to the point where you can almost hear her crack. Kieran Culkin as Roman looks more and more like Chucky Child’s play, one hand to her soft bangs, the other hovering ominously over her fly, where something even more flabby can be found – except when the nanny, aka Gerri Kellman (J Smith-Cameron), is there.
I love, more than ever, the detail: the way, for example, the domestic staff can only be found at the edge of the screen, as easy to crush as flies in the eyes of their horrible employers ( in episode four, Kendall is oblivious to the humiliation of her assistant, who has to wave an iPad in front of a giant rabbit so her children can see it).
We are talking about the venality and cruelty of the Royals. But it is their recklessness to which SuccessionWriters of are the most alert: half-eaten salads, aimless travel, all the things never fully enjoyed. Their fleeting lives, like their precarious contingent emotions, warn us to be careful what we wish for. Although in a world that is becoming more and more terribly sententious, they also offer, I think, a stealth release for those who are weary of being “nice”.
However, it must be said: something is missing this time. It’s very talkative. Here are rooms without air, with people jostling in them, endlessly. There is a circularity in every episode – which is on the rise and which is down – and the more nasty things get, the more I feel diminishing returns. I yearn for the settings of yesteryear: Shiv’s wedding in an English castle; the horrific New Mexico rally organized by Connor (Alan Ruck); the hunting trip to Hungary. I regret the peculiar acidity of Caroline (Harriet Walter), Logan’s ex-wife, who pokes fun at Waystar Royco (although she will be back, I read).
It doesn’t mean that I won’t take Succession on any other show; I just have to hear that Dallas-meets-Scott Joplin musical theme to make everything else go gray. But I can’t wait. I want his greatness to last until the moment the stage finally fills with corpses – whether it’s people, a company, or both.
[see also: Jesse Armstrong on power, politics and the return of Succession]
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This article appeared in the October 13, 2021 issue of The New Statesman, Perfect thunderstorm