Hit HBO series Succession concludes its third season tonight (13 December) with the penultimate episode certainly leaving us with a lot of questions (is Kendall Roy dead?!) and also a vaguely icky feeling because, my goodness, these people are just so awful. Which is, of course, exactly why we love them.
Despite its international accolades, including Emmy nominations for Outstanding Drama Series in 2019 and 2020, it seems that the show — about a squillonaire mogul who has to name a successor for his global media conglomerate — is a fairly divisive one. For every person you meet who waxes lyrical about Succession‘s brilliance and “must-watch” status, you’ll meet just as many who say they were unable to get into it and gave up after finding the first few episodes to be very slow.
“I think I gave up because I started during lockdown and just had too many shows on the go,” says Nicola Laing. “But what will get me back in is when people say ‘the character development is so good, you will love them eventually’. I think that is my favourite thing to see in TV shows.
“I also gave up to go and watch Yellowstone instead, which is basically the same thing except with cowboys and I loved that, so I will definitely return to Succession.”
The key to Succession‘s appeal is a strange one indeed because the characters in it are inherently terrible and the idea of a family treating each other with such gleeful cruelty is pretty depressing to think about. Yet, there is also something deeply alluring about the lives of the oppressively wealthy — and I say ‘oppressively’ because the Roy’s are so rich, they do not derive any joy from the luxury their lives afford them.
The camera work in the series is also a source of division, with some praising its use of the observational style, complete with snap zooms and handheld shots inspired by cinéma vérité, while others have criticised the deliberately shakey cinematography, saying it gives them motion sickness.
Then, there is the subject matter itself — the never reached decision about who should take over from Logan Roy and what direction they should steer Waystar RoyCo in when they do. At surface level, Succession is just a show about a lot of long and boring conversations about power, money and mergers, littered with legalese and corporate codewords that the majority of us wouldn’t understand. The series also serves as a further reminder — as if we needed another — that it doesn’t matter how bad you are as a person, if you are white and wealthy, you can get away with anything.
However, at its core, Succession is a story about relationships, and how damaging it can be if your earliest familial ones are not nurturing. One of the things that has kept me, personally, captivated from the beginning is trying to understand why Logan’s kids don’t just leave him to his own devices, use their powerful name to start their own enterprises and then just cash in when he finally does die. Brian Cox, as Logan, is so artful in the way he portrays the patriarch — delivering compliments and approval one minute and dishing out his trademark “fuck off” the next. It’s a rollercoaster of manipulation and I am one hundred percent here for it.
The stunning locations are another reason the series is so addictive. The Roys may not appreciate their superyacht in Croatia, sprawling Hamptons estates or majestic Italian villas, but we sure as hell do, even though it’s a lifestyle the majority of us will never experience.
“I know most people find Succession to be a bit slow, but I was actually hooked from the very beginning,” says Entertainment Producer Basmah Qazi. “There was something about seeing how the top 1% of the world live that was so fascinating to me.
“The fact that they could just jump in a helicopter and travel to the other side of New York was so farfetched for an average person like me. Also, working in media and being familiar with Rupert Murdoch, I found a lot of similarities between Logan Roy and the Aussie media tycoon.”
The ensemble cast makes another compelling reason to keep watching, even if you fear it feels slow, with standouts such as Australia’s own Sarah Snook as Shiv, Keiran Culkin as Roman and Nicholas Braun as Cousin Greg. And, of course, there’s Jeremy Strong, who plays the main protagonist Kendall Roy and who won the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series in 2020 for the role. The actor recently revealed the extent of his acting process in an interview with The New Yorker, prompting readers (such as myself) to think that he is a tad pretentious and takes himself way too seriously. We are, apparently, wrong, as several celebrities then rushed to Strong’s defence saying that he is a joy to work with and that his passion is inspiring, not psychotic.
Regardless of who is right, I thought the New Yorker article was interesting as I genuinely couldn’t tell if his co-stars like him and take his methods with a grain of salt or find him to be an insufferable joke, just as Kendall’s siblings find him to be at times.
Many have posed the question “when does it get good?” and while it would be easy to say it’s good from the jump, it would also be lazy. Succession, as a whole, is an empirically brilliant show, but some of the individual episodes definitely lag.
This, I think, is a genius stroke of television production, and seems to embody Succession‘s mission statement: to ensure that the viewers feel as “in” the action as possible. It’s a series that does not want you to watch objectively yet knows that most of us cannot begin to resonate with the type of wealth and family dynamics on display. It’s also the reason the aforementioned camera work typically pans between the points of action in a scene which not only allows the actors the freedom of movement but gives the viewer a true feeling of being a fly-on-the-wall.
Pacing the individual episodes within each season so that some are almost weighed down with inertia is not a fault of the series but a deliberate and clever mechanism to allow us to feel what the Roys are feeling — bored by their surroundings and wondering when their cantankerous father will finally kick the bucket so they might never have to sit in a discussion about who should take over again.
This apathy is as close to being obscenely rich and dangerously powerful as most of us will ever get and it serves as not only a cautionary tale of the perils of extreme privilege, but the perfect reason to keep coming back week after week.
All three seasons of Succession are now streaming on BINGE.