Finally, a masterful episode in season 3 of 'Succession'

‘Succession’ took its second season’s momentum and squandered it.

Photograph by Graeme Hunter/HBO

Acceptance is the first step of growth, and we all need to accept that this season of Succession has been, at best, an inconsistent follow-up to one of the best seasons of television HBO has ever delivered. That’s why this season’s sensational penultimate episode begs the question: what took so long?

Last night’s episode was jam-packed with everything that made the second season of Succession an instant classic. Logan and Kendall turned an exquisite dinner into a cerebral chess match, with Logan using his own grandson to unknowingly test the food Kendall prepared for poison. Caroline, the mother of the Roy children, reveals teenage Shiv chose living with her media magnate father over her mother before giving her only daughter an existential slap in the face by claiming she should’ve never had kids, a fate she informs Shiv is appropriate for women like them. Roman’s dick pic almost gets Gerri fired, and Tom receives the most emasculating dirty talk from Shiv. And that’s not even factoring in the vague cliffhanger at the end of the episode that could completely change Succession as we know it.

While the Roys were turning Caroline’s wedding party into the mind game Olympics, I wondered: why did it take so long for this season to get this good? Sure, there were highlights: Kendall’s manchild wonderland of a birthday party yielded the first physical confrontation of the Roy children, Shiv’s truth bomb full of Kendall’s dirty secrets drastically shifted familial character dynamics, and Logan temporarily losing his mind due to an untreated urinary tract infection was a delightful curveball. But most of this season felt like an aimless jaunt through the first-world problems of the rich and famous. After Kendall’s epic mic drop speech at the end of Season 2 set the stage for a Season 3 battle between him and Logan for Waystar, the resulting feud was disappointing and could’ve been condensed to two or three episodes.

Did we really need to wait more than a third of a nine-episode season before Kendall and Logan had their first in-person confrontation? Did we really need to spend the vast majority of the season on a Kendall legal strategy to take down his father, only for it to result in Kendall coming up empty-handed and eventually trying to cower out of the company before the end of the season? Did we really need to see Kendall’s siblings use his birthday party as a forum for a business negotiation to understand how the Roys commodify familial connections? Also, why waste the talents of Sanaa Lathan on a handful of scenes before cutting her character completely?

What separated Season 3 from Season 2 was the lack of a solitary goal for the season. Season 2’s drama centered around the show’s namesake, as the Roy children jockeyed for the CEO title (and their father’s approval and love). The Waystar controversy in the middle of the season only proved to provide an arena for the Roy children to battle it out. This meant more scenes of the family together trading expertly written riffs at one another, the true appeal of the show. With Season 3, the fractured family unit also splintered the pace of the show, resulting in many episodes where the Roy family seldom having scenes together, a Department of Justice investigation that felt more like a plot device than an actual threat, and the fight for control of Waystar becoming an afterthought after Gerri is named interim CEO in the season premiere. Succession wanted to show how frayed a family unit can become after two seasons and dozens of unseen years of valuing business dominance over familial preservation.

The season finale will surely use the momentum of the penultimate episode to leave us salivating for a new season of Succession 10 seconds after the episode ends. But, no one episode can make up for the missteps of a Succession season primed to be the one that elevated it to the rarified pantheon of great HBO dramas like The Wire, Game of Thrones, and Six Feet Under. Then again, if there’s any family that can surprise you, it’s the Roys.