‘Succession’ Season 3 Premiere Recap: Kendall Channels O.J. and Logan Wants Blood

·9 min read
David M. Russell/HBO
David M. Russell/HBO

Succession is back, and the insult of the day is “disingenuous little fuck doll.” Any guesses on which of Logan Roy’s children this refers to—and which of them yelled it at the top of their lungs when a meeting didn’t go their way?

This season opens right where we left off. Kendall—Logan’s second son and, now, Waystar Royco Public Enemy No. 1—shocked everyone last season by refusing to play the sacrificial lamb for his father, instead throwing Logan to the wolves at a press conference. This season’s premiere finds Ken locked in a bathroom as a nervous Greg asks him to make even just a sound to confirm he’s alive.

It doesn’t take long , however, for Kendall to emerge—and as soon as he does, we observe father and son scheming in parallel, a prelude to the Machiavellian dance that threatens to knock the droopiest Roy child off his moralistic pedestal.

Kendall makes his escape in a black SUV with a stunned Greg and a frustrated Waystar attorney—whom he promptly kicks to the curb once she points out that he’s usurped a company vehicle that he might not actually be authorized to use, given the stunt he pulled just minutes ago.

“This is the righteous vehicle,” Kendall says with the unbelievable self-seriousness that Jeremy Strong has made the character’s bread and butter. “Are you in for this fuckin’ revolution?”

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Logan, who has weathered more than a few storms during his tyrannical tenure as CEO, is better than his son at projecting order amidst undeniable chaos. While his corporate grunts search for the perfect place for their boss to hide out and call a few lawyers—read: anywhere without an extradition treaty—the Roy patriarch barks out orders and delegates with unshaken authority.

Shiv and Roman, meanwhile, sound one another out: “What are you actually thinking?” they ask one another.

“Is he toast?”

That would be the million-dollar question. Not long after Waystar’s top brass deliberate whether to cooperate with the government probe into misdeeds of the company’s cruise division, Tom listens in as former COO Frank and CFO Karl list the many career-ending controversies Logan survived before. Still, the men wonder aloud whether he can really overcome “the full Baskin-Robbins 31 flavors of fuck.”

We first met Logan Roy in a state of deterioration back in Season 1—demented and pissing on the carpet in his own office building while his second-oldest son tried to organize his removal as CEO. Kendall’s vote of no confidence crashing and burning after his ostensible allies flaked seemed like confirmation that he might be the only Roy—or high-ranking official at Waystar, for that matter—with even the hint of a soul.

Season 3 might just undo that goodwill.

Succession creator Jesse Armstrong has encouraged us to identify with Kendall from the beginning. A prodigal son with a substance-use disorder and a deep-seated desperation to secure that kiss from daddy, Kendall’s fuck-ups and embarrassing displays invite something between pity and empathy—a strange blend of emotions to feel toward someone who literally killed a man. (That said: “L to the O.G.” forever, baby!)

Jeremy Strong has centered his character’s vulnerability from the beginning, playing Kendall as almost childlike in his tenderness and eagerness to please. Kendall’s inexperience and lack of confidence relative to his father (an undeniable villain) allows both him and viewers to believe they’re nothing alike—that the apple must have rolled very far away from the proverbial tree.

This premiere, however, undermines that idea as Kendall’s strategizing morphs into an impression of his father. Both yell out “action stations!” to their respective troops as they prepare for battle. Both treat women as pawns in their egotistical game of chess. And both are utterly addicted to the game—even if one of them is a machine and the other a mess.

During a heated call, in which another Waystar lackey is forced to play mediator in an expletive-laden game of telephone, Logan calls his son’s actions out for what they really are. He responds to his son’s moralizing with rage: “That’s fucking sanctimonious bullshit!... It was a fucking move, so don’t act like a cunt to me.”

So yes, Kendall is the aforementioned “disingenuous fuck doll.” Coming from Shiv, who lies constantly and poorly—and hurls the insult during an outburst at her “friend” after platitudes fail to achieve her desired outcome—the insult reeks of hypocrisy. But that doesn’t mean she’s wrong.

Of all the things one could accuse Logan Roy of being, disingenuous is not one of them. Brian Cox plays his overbearing patriarch with booming conviction that prizes fury over equivocation. If given the choice between issuing a mealy-mouthed apology statement or going, as he delights in calling it, “full fucking beast,” Logan will choose the latter every time.

Kendall is too invested in his own righteousness to embrace his inner beast. But as his Shakespearean betrayal last season proved, that doesn’t mean he lacks killer instinct. At the very least, this premiere proves Kendall relishes manipulation and power plays.

When he realizes that Waystar Royco has rescinded his key card access to the building, Kendall immediately sets up camp at (of all places) his ex-wife Rava’s home. He shows up unannounced with an entourage to “make a few calls”—“it’ll just be four, five hours”—and invites his girlfriend, Naomi, to witness him at work. The moment she arrives, he proudly announces that he’s busy and asks Greg to help her settle in.

It’s in these moments that Kendall’s true nature appears to peek out from under the “sanctimonious bullshit.” He relishes asking Rava if it’s “OK” for him to invite Naomi to her home and struggles to mask a shit-eating grin as he says, “She’s kind of good for me.” He then immediately grills her about the men’s razors in her bathroom—perhaps a hint at the insecurities that sparked his priggish request in the first place. Never mind that this would-be CEO of the People only discovered the razors because he still refuses to take a dump “where the staff go.”

Kendall’s inability to see women as anything more than ego boosters and grunts also extends to his professional relations. He greets a PR team run by women by proudly proclaiming, “Welcome to my ex-wife’s living room” and talks over their pitch with inspired directives like “I think the headline needs to be, ‘Fuck the weather, we’re changing the fucking climate,’” and “hitting up some BoJack guys” to run his Twitter account.

“All these brilliant fucking women, Greg,” Kendall says as top attorney Lisa Arthur arrives. “I must be doing something right.”

But even Lisa Arthur can’t escape the token role all women play in the World of Roy; as Kendall and Logan fight to win her over as their attorney, one gets the sense that she’s merely a flag on a rope in their ongoing tug-of-war.

Shiv, who calls Lisa a “friend,” is tasked with bringing her over to Logan’s side. When the two meet, however, Shiv is less interested in recruiting Lisa for her father than she is in securing her as a “consigliere” for herself. As unfazed as she seems by Lisa’s rejection of her father, Shiv explodes when she realizes that Lisa plans to take a meeting with Kendall rather than work with her. Failing to win Lisa over eventually costs Shiv the coveted role of nominal CEO as Logan vows to step back in title only.

Roman, meanwhile, shoots himself in the foot when he calls Logan to ask for the job outright—and to suggest that if his father doesn’t believe he’s ready, perhaps “a couple years under the wing of an older hen could, you know, see me crack out of the old egg.”

<div class="inline-image__credit">Graeme Hunter/HBO</div>
Graeme Hunter/HBO

That “older hen” would be Gerri, who wins the job after both Roman and Shiv prove inadequate. (Poor Connor, who only receives his bullshit job of “holding down” the Balkans after Willa reminds Logan that he’s there and in need of a task, was never in the running.) One assumes this development will only intensify the sexual tension that emerged last season between Waystar’s no-nonsense general counsel and everyone’s favorite “slime puppy.” (Fun fact: J. Smith Cameron, a true legend if there ever was one, apparently improved that term.)

Upon hearing that she’s lost out on her chance to become the boss, Shiv orders her driver to change course. Her destination remains a nominal cliffhanger, but it’s pretty easy to guess where she’s headed.

Greg and Tom, meanwhile, are still pure comic relief. Tom, whose relationship with Shiv remains painfully awkward, pitches his wife to Logan as CEO with all the enthusiasm of a bored cashier—and only after saying he “liked” Roman and Gerri for the role. Over at Camp Kendall, Greg busies himself by monitoring the “good meme-age” surrounding the press conference and canceling a credit card he’d secured for his mother. (The presser apparently spooked her into liquifying assets and buying up NutriBullets.)

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As both Kendall and Logan assemble their teams and plot their next moves, it appears we’re in for a repeat of that old vote of no confidence gambit. This time, however, it’s becoming clear that Kendall’s siblings might have had their reasons for believing Kendall would be no better as a boss than their father.

Rava seems to recognize Kendall’s fatal flaw best of all. She refuses to indulge his condescending suggestion that he staged this coup “for” her and their children—responding instead with a “Yeah, well...” for the ages. Her verbal eye-roll feels doubly appropriate given that Kendall told her this minutes after telling Frank he’d made his move “for us... for the soul of the company.” Whether or not Kendall himself really has the “soul” the rest of his family lacks could become the heart of the season to come.

The most chilling moment in the premiere is actually a joke: When Kendall and crew flee Waystar, the reliably oafish Greg remarks that their SUV escape feels “like OJ—except if OJ never killed anyone.” Kendall’s guilt over the night he left a valet to drown after getting into a car accident while high has humanized him for almost two seasons. Now, however, he doesn’t miss a beat before turning it into a joke.

“Who said I never killed anyone?” he replies with a grin. “The Juice is loose, baby!”

What was that saying about absolute power, again?

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