So much has been made of Succession finally coming back after its unexpectedly lengthy hiatus (two years!) that I was nervous these new episodes would simply never be able to live up to the hype the HBO dramedy's passionate fanbase has created around it. I'm happy to say I was wrong: In Season 3, Succession comes back swinging right from the start, letting the all-out family war it's put into motion roll out in deliciously vicious glory.
There's no Succession fan out there who's forgotten about the earth-shattering last scene of the Season 2 finale, when Kendall (Jeremy Strong) launched a televised attack on his father, Logan (Brian Cox), publicly accusing him of complicity in Waystar Royco's long history of sexual abuse and human rights violations. The first seven episodes made available to critics (the season will have nine in total) make it clear that the stakes are higher than ever, simmering with feverish, frenzied energy as the show picks up in the hours directly after that press conference.
Early on, Logan gives Kendall one last chance to take back his betrayal, but Kendall, feeling untethered and on top of the world, turns him down. "I'm going to run up off the f---ing beanstalk," he declares, which earns him nothing but laughter from his dad. When he does attempt to show concern about Logan going to prison, Logan pivots directly to rage: "That's f---ing sanctimonious bulls--t." Thus, the line in the sand is drawn, and the rest of the season unfolds as an unsteady tightrope walk as the rest of the Roy family and their associates scramble to decide whether joining Team Kendall or Team Logan will be more beneficial to them in the long run, all while the impending threat of a thorough Department of Justice investigation hangs over their heads.
Season 3 can be best described as a series of ferocious clashes between its characters, with many of the best scenes coming when the show forces them all to be in the same place and just lets the tension boil. One standout is an episode that takes place entirely at Waystar's annual shareholder meeting, where Kendall and the rest of the Roys are separately working on brokering a deal with Sandy (Larry Pine), his hilariously named daughter Sandi (Hope Davis), and Stewy (perennial scene-stealer Arian Moayed). The characters spend the hour so focused on coming out on top from their separate corners that they don't notice the dramatic escalation of Logan's ongoing health issues happening just under their noses.
It's fascinating to watch Shiv (Sarah Snook) and Roman (Kieran Culkin, exceptionally biting this season) flounder when their father's fitness to lead is called into question yet again, all while Kendall orbits them, still deeply concerned with Logan's well-being despite positing himself as the family black sheep. The season is frantic, yes, but there's an almost melancholy haze hanging over the episodes too, as the characters continue to tear each other — and themselves — apart in an effort to get ahead. There are moments when you want to take them by the shoulders and yell, "Make better decisions!" but you know they'd probably just tell you to f--- off if you did.
Any Succession fan also surely remembers Kendall's demeanor last season, the dead-eyed shell of a person he became in the wake of committing vehicular manslaughter and promising unwavering loyalty to his dad. In Season 3, that Kendall is still present, but staunchly repressed under his newfound pivot to grandiose social justice warrior, which Strong portrays with so much pathetic earnestness you can't help cringing away from the screen. (Some of the season's best insults come out of his siblings' disgust with his performative persona.) He's as lost as he's ever been and too consumed by his own hubris to acknowledge it. But that same well of emptiness continues to affect him, mostly in private moments when he's forced to contend with his own self-loathing.
Strong continues to be the series' MVP, magnetic and layered in his performance (his work in Episode 7, set at Kendall's truly absurd 40th birthday party, might just earn him his second Emmy). Many of his best moments come when he gets to act opposite Snook, who is excellent playing a version of Shiv wholly unravelling under pressure, and Cox, who continues to delight and terrify as he delivers his lines with Shakespearean gusto. In one episode, Strong and Cox share a couple of fraught scenes where neither talks, the camera lingering on them as Kendall and Logan ignore each other. In a show brimming with loud, audacious moments, it's rare to be riveted by silence, but the two make it work, letting the history between their characters speak for itself.
There's been a frustrating strain of Succession criticism that seems to assume the show doesn't know how bad its characters are. I'm not going to be so bold as to say creator Jesse Armstrong and his team of writers respond to that this season, but several self-aware moments do feel a little pointed: Roman calling out Shiv, long heralded as Roy family's resident liberal, on her own waffling political views; Cousin Greg (Nicholas Braun), whom many have deemed the most decent of the bunch and who once seemed like a lock for Team Kendall, continuing to play the long game as he straddles the fence between the two sides. No one is loyal, no one is "good." Succession, Season 3 says once and for all, isn't about whether you personally would want to hang out with the Roys, but about how trusting the exorbitantly wealthy is always a bad move, because they'll always be more concerned with their own self-interest than the interests of the greater good.
While this season is incredibly intense, it should be noted that the crown jewel of memeable TV is still very much that, delivering a host of uproariously funny moments. The writing remains poisonous and sharp, and guest turns from Adrien Brody as a Waystar shareholder, Alexander Skarsgård as a detached tech bro, and Sanaa Lathan as Kendall's lawyer help keep the material fresh. An honorable mention must also go to Matthew Macfadyen as Tom, who is wound almost as tightly as Kendall and is pitifully hilarious as he alternates between doomsday prepping for what he believes will be an inevitable stay in prison, allowing Logan to drag him around like an errand boy, and taunting Greg for his role in Kendall's duplicity. (The relationship between those two is as amorphous as ever this season; my sincerest congratulations to everyone really invested in that dynamic.)
For a lesser show, it would be hard to improve on the triumphant stretch of episodes in Season 2, but Succession gets pretty close in its latest go-around. The series is still the incisive satire it was when we last saw it in 2019, and it's just as impossible to look away from. Simply put, Succession Season 3 is, to borrow a line from Kendall in his birthday party episode, all bangers all the time, and TV is so much better for its return.
TV Guide rating: 4.5/5
Succession returns for Season 3 on Sunday, Oct. 17 at 9/8c on HBO.