Season 3, Episode 1: ‘Secession’
The “Succession” Season 3 premiere opens with a shot of two helicopters speeding across the sky, with a stunning mountain landscape in the distance. It’s an immediate reminder of what this show is about: ridiculously rich people, rushing from one ritzy location to another, doing endless damage control while living the highest lives imaginable.
For the rest of this episode, the Roy family and their inner circle of associates spend time in private jets, lavish apartments, luxury hotels, limousines and high-end offices, as they hustle to secure allies in the coming fight between the media conglomerate Waystar Royco’s CEO Logan Roy (Brian Cox) and his rogue son Kendall (Jeremy Strong). Both factions know they have to project strength to win over the press, the public and the politicians. It matters what they wear, where they’re seen, and who they’re seen with. That’s why when the veteran Waystar fixer Hugo Baker (Fisher Stevens) meets the Roys at a private airport and tells them he’s secured “a nice room” to wait in, he immediately lowers their expectations and admits it’s not as nice as it probably should be.
Given that the cleverly titled “Secession” is the first new “Succession” episode in nearly two years, it has a lot of work to do, getting viewers back up to speed on where we are in the story — all while reminding us why it’s such a treat to spend an hour each week with some of the most selfish, meanspirited characters in TV history. The show’s creator and head writer Jesse Armstrong, working alongside the most frequent “Succession” director Mark Mylod, doesn’t waste much time. This episode barrels forward, generating much of its tension and humor from the people who are on the periphery of Logan and Kendall’s feud and are scrambling to keep up.
Kendall, for the most part, seems to have the upper hand at the moment. In the Season 2 finale, he dropped a bomb on Logan, revealing to the press that he had evidence — secured by his cousin Greg (Nicholas Braun) — that the Waystar higher-ups had covered up sex-crimes committed by a longtime employee of their Brightstar cruise line. Relishing his moment in the spotlight, Ken has dozens of plans he wants to roll out immediately, to rebrand himself as the courageous whistle-blower putting an end to corporate sexism.
With an increasingly befuddled Greg by his side, Kendall makes a flurry of phone calls and takes meeting after meeting, speaking a mile a minute while firing off long sentences filled with nigh-incomprehensible biz-speak. (One of Ken’s funniest character traits is how fluent he is in meaningless jargon like, “I need a clean jar,” and, “Just feed me metadata on anything that’s going to move the market on me, reputationally.”) He wants to write an “alternative corporate manifesto” in an op-ed for The New York Times. He wants to bring in “some BoJack guys” to make his Twitter feed a must-follow. And he wants to hire Lisa Arthur (Sanaa Lathan), a noted feminist attorney who makes old billionaires quake.
But there are already signs that Kendall is overconfident and in over his head — besides his overreliance on Greg, who is supposed to be tracking his cousin’s media presence but so far can only figure out that Ken is out-trending “tater tots” on Twitter. Kendall’s most questionable decision this week sees him holing up at the home of his ex-wife Rava (Natalie Gold), insisting he needs the emotional grounding of seeing her and their kids, but also inviting his occasional girlfriend and drug buddy Naomi Pierce (Annabelle Dexter-Jones) to drop by.
As for Logan, he drags his son-in-law Tom Wambsgans (Matthew Macfadyen) and Waystar veterans Frank Vernon (Peter Friedman) and Karl Muller (David Rasche) to a Sarajevo airport hotel, where he plots his own next moves while ducking any potential extradition. He refuses to be bled dry by this Brightstar scandal, which he sees as an opportunity for “chancers” who’ve suffered no real harm to siphon off his billions. Logan sounds the alarm with the pundits in Waystar’s pocket, warning them they’ll end up looking stupid if they turn on him now. And he surprises everyone — and gives this episode its title — by saying that he’s ready to take a step back and name someone else CEO.
The problem? He has no good candidates. Karl volunteers and gets ridiculed. Frank sounds a meek “ahem” and Logan quickly says (correctly, given that Frank is in constant contact with Ken) that he’s untrustworthy, and that he’s as unimpressive as “mashed potatoes.” That leaves Logan’s sneakily ambitious daughter Siobhan (Sarah Snook), his anarchic jokester son Roman (Kieran Culkin), and his faithful counsel Gerri Kellman (J. Smith-Cameron). Whoever gets the job will be the face of Waystar during what looks to be a bloody skirmish over Brightstar; and they’ll only be a figurehead while Logan retains the real power. (“It’s nameplates,” he shrugs, as he asks his team to make his decision for him.)
Shiv is probably the best choice, but she loses out after failing at the one assignment her father gives her: to sign her old friend Lisa Arthur as Waystar’s attorney before Kendall can. In one of the most genuinely emotional scenes in this episode, Shiv lays out her dilemma with Lisa, telling her honestly that she has no idea what anyone involved with Brightstar actually did, and that she needs an ally before she gets crushed between two men’s egos. Alas, Shiv has arrived at Lisa’s office a few hours late. Ken is moving too fast.
Roman, meanwhile, is an early front-runner because he doesn’t mind hurting people or making them mad. (Asked what they should do about Kendall, Roman says, “This is not a nice thing to say about your son but maybe you chop him into a million pieces and toss him in the Hudson?”) But when he finds out Logan is considering him for CEO, he makes a disastrous — and hilarious — phone call, where he first asserts himself and then retreats, mentioning Gerri and saying he would understand if Logan thinks, “Maybe a couple of years under the wing of an older hen could see me crack out of the ol’ egg.” As soon as the call ends, Logan snaps, “Roman’s out.”
So Gerri it is: competent, loyal, unremarkable Gerri. She has her own memorable phone call this week, ringing up the White House to remind the President’s people that an election is coming up and that they’ll need the support of Waystar’s right-wing cable news network ATN. Just as Kendall is a master of MBA bluster, so Gerri is good at sounding pleasant and conversational — “Do we want to get the old guys on the blower so they can just chat for five?” she cheerily asks her D.C. contact — while subtly delivering threats and digs.
Gerri understands — as Logan does — that much of what’s happening here is a game. In fact, Logan gets offended by Kendall’s turn toward saintliness, because he thinks what his son did was “a play,” not a moment of righteous clarity. It’s telling that both these men tell their people to head to their “action stations” as the episode begins. But the ultimate victor may be the commander who thrives on all-out battle. Right now, Ken seems manic. And Logan? He hasn’t looked this alive in years.