Success hasn’t spoiled “Succession,” as the Emmy-winning drama returns with all its Shakespearean and Murdochian overtones intact, with a bruising father-son battle over its fictional media empire. Stripped of that, the HBO series remains enormously fun, filled with cringe-inducing moments and the kind of vicious insults that would make the writers of “Veep” blush.
Having become HBO’s version of “Game of Thrones” in sportscoats and loafers, the events of season two have left the company’s future very much in doubt. That includes the real possibility that some of its executives could be going to jail – a prospect that particularly obsesses Tom (Matthew Macfadyen, creating one meme-worthy scene after another), who laments, among other things, about the absence of “fine wines” in prison.
The main event, however, again boils down to family patriarch Logan Roy (Brian Cox) and his son Kendall (Jeremy Strong), who wages a one-man war for control of Waystar, while seeking to pick off support from other members of his immediate and extended corporate family, testing the transactional nature of their loyalties.
Amid all the twisted family dynamics, Kendall remains the awkward heart of the show, a guy desperate to prove that he can take a joke who looks profoundly uncomfortable when he hears one. His father, he notes rightly, isn’t the indestructible figure he represented in the past, yet he’s still plenty formidable, prompting Kendall to ask, “Can I do this? Can I win?”
Series creator Jesse Armstrong essentially turns that question into a season-long proposition based on the seven episodes previewed, which again demonstrate an extraordinarily savvy ear for corporate deal-making but also politics, with Logan relishing his ability to influence the latter and eldest son Connor (Alan Ruck) still harboring vaguely delusional political ambitions.
While Armstrong has stressed that Rupert Murdoch and his progeny only serve as one of the inspirations for the series (there are plenty of eccentric media moguls and family dynasties), certain elements of this third season – particularly in the later episodes previewed – certainly evoke images of the News Corp. chairman, including influencing editorial matters to advance the company’s interests.
Perhaps most impressively, the new episodes set up plenty of tests for all of the Roys (and thus splendid showcases for the cast), including daughter Shiv (Sarah Snook) and son Roman (Kieran Culkin). Indeed, just the promise of being named a figurehead CEO – as Logan contemplates stepping more into the shadows – sets off a dizzying whirlwind of shifting alliances even by “Succession” brutal standards.
Adrien Brody, Hope Davis and Alexander Skarsgard are among those who appear as major financial players in later episodes, as the Roys explore various options in their efforts to save the company.
As with “Veep,” much of the dialogue is gleefully vulgar, and the episodes get better and better as the season progresses, from the backstage maneuvering at a shareholders meeting to an insanely over-the-top birthday party.
“Succession” has no shortage of company in pulling back the curtain on the outwardly glamorous lives of the super-rich, exposing the insecurities and family grievances that lurk underneath.
As for that “Game of Thrones” comparison, the battles on “Succession” don’t leave a trail of bodies in their wake. But as meticulously constructed, the collateral damage associated with losing this game might be the next worst thing.
“Succession” begins its third season Oct. 17 at 9 p.m. ET on HBO, which, like CNN, is a unit of WarnerMedia.