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'Succession' season 3 premiere recap: The Roys are racing to hell. Who's leading?

Logan Roy (Brian Cox) doesn't seem all that happy to have discovered that he underestimated his son.
Graeme Hunter
Logan Roy (Brian Cox) doesn't seem all that happy to have discovered that he underestimated his son.

What happened this week

In the aftermath of Kendall's press conference, Logan scrambled to stabilize Waystar and undertook a chaotic search for a temporary CEO as his children and loyal-ish helpers tried to figure out whether he was still the horse to bet on. Logan felt the pressure of both public scrutiny and a possibly cooling relationship with the regulatory powers who might be in charge of investigating the fresh and very public allegations against him. A re-energized Kendall set up a war room in his ex-wife's apartment, invited his girlfriend over, and started putting together a crackerjack team of gifted women he refuses to listen to.

The road to hell: speed rankings

If by "moral ruin" we mean "ethical nihilism," or, say, "hell," then it's safe to say that all the Roys and many of their associates are well on the way. But how quickly are they traveling? Let's look at the major players in order.

90 MPH: Logan

A question: Is Logan actually trying to pick the new CEO when he comes up with "it's Roman or Shiv, but it's also Shiv or Gerri, and it's also Roman or Gerri," or does he just enjoy tying everybody into knots and watching what happens? One of the things they leave the most opaque on Succession is what Logan is actually feeling, since he's naturally deceitful and there's almost nobody to whom he tells the truth. (This is why people speculated at the end of last season that maybe he wanted Kendall to hold that press conference. You can project onto Logan pretty much endlessly.)

There are only isolated moments when you really get the sense you know for sure how Logan feels, including his rage when he yells, "WE'LL GO FULL [FLIPPING] BEAST!" Safe to say Logan did not want Kendall to hold that press conference.

To say Kendall (Jeremy Strong) is enjoying the attention seems pretty safe.
David M. Russell / HBO
To say Kendall (Jeremy Strong) is enjoying the attention seems pretty safe.

80 MPH: Kendall

I love the way they use the suspense that's built up for the last two years about what's going to follow the events of the Season 2 finale, because when you see Kendall slide down into the bathtub and you see that Karolina is still with him, it's like, "Hmm, is Kendall falling apart? Is Karolina going to steer this back to normalcy?" NOPE! Because what you get when Kendall emerges from the bathroom is the return of Season 1 Kendall, before the whole ugly Schmappaquiddick situation. Back when he was trying to unseat his father the first time, back when he was trying to throw his weight around with Lawrence about Vaulter, back when he was trying to plot with Sandy and Stewy.

But now, it's like it's worse. The way Kendall goes to Rava's and takes over is bad enough, and then he talks over the women he hires to work on crisis PR, refusing to listen to anything they have to say, refusing to let them do their jobs. This is around the time when I thought: oh, among other things, Kendall is extremely high. He is Less Than Zero high. He is Ellis-in-Die-Hard high. Basically all the time.

At this point, he's little more than a bundle of weird phrases: "I need a sealed unit. I need a clean jar." "This is a righteous vehicle." Greg should "slide a sociopolitical thermometer up the nation's ass." They also really lean into the comedy of Jess on the phone with Logan passing messages and editing them for profanity, much as — and I enjoy this coincidence — Alan Ruck (who now plays Connor) passed messages to and from Keanu Reeves in Speed, memorably replacing a "f--- me" with "oh darn."

And the weirdest phrase of all, given Kendall's past, given Kendall's overwhelming guilt as recently as ... well, very recently: the almost giddy "Who said I never killed anyone?"

60 MPH: Gerri

Sure, Gerri has sometimes seemed less bad than most of the people on this show, but there is no ethical assumption of power under Waystar Royco.

45 MPH: Roman

Roman and Shiv are so morally unmoored by the lives they've led that they're afraid to talk to each other. Because if Roman admits to Shiv that he doubts Logan, she might tell Logan that — and vice-versa. I don't know whether it was a conscious choice on Logan's part to make sure his kids would trust each other much less than they trust complete strangers, but Roman and Shiv in particular exist in this perfect state of terrified neutrality, where they don't actually want to drive what's happening; all they care about is figuring out which way the boulder is rolling, because they don't want to be under it. They seem to both want to be CEO more because it will stave off disaster than because they have some notion of what they would do as CEO.

Roman, however, inadvertently removes himself from the running by trying to hedge his bets: If it's not him, he thinks it should be Gerri. Logan doesn't permit anyone to have doubts about their own entitlement to power, so he instantly disqualifies Roman. Perhaps Roman is the one who, as Logan put it to Kendall in the Season 2 finale, is not a killer.

Shiv (Sarah Snook) has been overlooked by her father (Brian Cox) quite a lot. Is she ever going to get tired of it?
Graeme Hunter / HBO
Shiv (Sarah Snook) has been overlooked by her father (Brian Cox) quite a lot. Is she ever going to get tired of it?

35 MPH: Shiv

Shiv has not forgotten that her father made a promise to her a while back that she would be the next CEO, and even though it seemed like that kind of blew up eventually, she's still racing for it. Unfortunately, by the time she gets to Lisa the lawyer, Lisa has already committed to Kendall, for which Logan apparently blames Shiv. And that's how Gerri winds up the next CEO. Ceremonially, of course — at least for the time being.

There's something very distasteful about how Shiv keeps mentioning being a woman in her discussion with Lisa, as if Lisa is going to be impressed with the idea of their teaming up to be girlbosses together. I think not, Shiv. But one of the curious things about this scene, too, is that Shiv isn't really there to do what her father sent her to do, which is to get Lisa for him. Shiv is there to get Lisa for herself, potentially in opposition to her father and family if necessary. Note that Shiv tells Lisa she can't really even talk to her husband about everything that's going on, because her husband is "a player" in the situation, meaning Shiv believes that at some point, her interests and Tom's may diverge.

34 MPH: Tom

Tom is mostly just running interference for Shiv, although when Shiv suggests maybe Tom himself would be a good pick, you can tell that Tom has given that quite a bit of thought, just from the tone of voice in which he insists it would never occur to him. In his later discussions, I read Tom as doing exactly what Logan accused him of doing: advocating for Gerri and Roman as a way of nixing them (and thus showing an interesting level of self-awareness regarding how he's seen by Logan, and a willingness to try to use that to his advantage). It seems like he was doing this for the benefit of Shiv, but was he?

The gang's all here: Roman (Kieran Culkin), Karl (David Rasche), Connor (Alan Ruck), Gerri (J. Smith-Cameron), Tom (Matthew Macfadyen), Shiv (Sarah Snook) and Logan (Brian Cox).
David M. Russell / HBO
The gang's all here: Roman (Kieran Culkin), Karl (David Rasche), Connor (Alan Ruck), Gerri (J. Smith-Cameron), Tom (Matthew Macfadyen), Shiv (Sarah Snook) and Logan (Brian Cox).

20 MPH: The suits

Karl, Hugo and Frank would like to believe that they are not really of the Roy family; they are merely working for a company. But every time, the veil slips a little and Karl and Frank, in particular, end up tussling over scraps that Logan will never, never give them, as if they are locked in an eternal round of Boar on the Floor with a never-ending supply of sausages. (The reference to the long plane ride in which Logan hired and fired and promoted and demoted various members of the team brings to mind a vision of pandemonium and groveling it's hard not to enjoy.)

15 MPH: Naomi

Apparently, Naomi is now back in Kendall's life full-time after being scooted off the yacht by Logan. And while she's not going to hell for anything directly related to Logan's power struggle, going into your boyfriend's ex-wife's place and helping yourself to an expensive bottle of wine is one of those things that can elicit a gasp even alongside much more significant wrongs. Looking around Rava's apartment and saying "poor Rava" might seem counterintuitive, but ... yikes, poor Rava.

5 MPH: Greg

Greg is the only person from the family who's on Team Kendall at this point. He doesn't have much to do once Kendall gets an actual damage control team going, though, and he mostly needs to deal with his mother's frantic purchasing in light of her fear that Kendall is about to take down the whole company — the golden goose that fills her wallet with cash. Greg, who was once Kendall's only source of support, quickly becomes just another hanger-on chilling in Rava's apartment, inadvertently being pulled into The Whole Wine Thing.

TBD: Connor

It's very much by Logan's design that Connor has little to do in this episode. Logan treats him as an afterthought, much like his siblings do, so we'll have to wait to see what direction Connor is going this season.

Idling: Lisa Arthur

The great Sanaa Lathan shows up as Lisa, the sought-after lawyer that both Logan and Kendall think will put an appropriate sheen of virtue on their efforts. Interestingly, they don't talk about the fact that she's Black, but there is no way they wouldn't both be expecting that to help insulate them from criticism, which is very, very gross. Lisa surely knows they want to hire her partly for the optics, but she also knows she's a good lawyer and it will be good exposure, and their money is good, so she goes to work for Kendall. Lisa is not really headed in any particularly bad direction quite yet, but she does seem like a very powerful person who is getting herself tied up with this bonkers family and specifically with Kendall, who currently is, one might say, difficult to work for. Lisa, he's not going to do what you say! Ask the PR team in the apartment! I suppose Lisa will have to learn for herself.

Attempting not to race: Rava

Rava's sympathy for Kendall, and her desire that her children's father might one day get himself together, has always been very poignant to me, and you can see the last bits of it withering here. Kendall's insistence that he did the whole press conference for her and their kids, and his desire for her to watch the whole thing and be in awe of him, clearly make her want to throw up. And then Naomi drinks her prized wine, which is the final insult. But there's no point in arguing with your very high ex's very high girlfriend, so it's fine: "It's like when someone breaks something beautiful and it reminds you that nothing lasts," she says. HA HA HA HA. Oh, Rava.

In other news: The United States government

Logan makes Gerri try to run interference with the DOJ by appealing directly to the White House, and it seems like the White House, while it hasn't quite reached the dismissive level of the "I don't know her" meme, has perhaps gotten to the meaningfully neutral tone of the "great gowns, beautiful gowns" meme when it comes to the Roy family.

Extra fun, just for fun

  • The ATN news ticker is updated this season in the opening credits to include this headline: "GENDER FLUID ILLEGALS MAY BE ENTERING THE COUNTRY 'TWICE.'" If you ever doubt that this show is, above all else, a dark comedy, just check out its opinion of ATN. 
  • Poor Karolina! First to get chewed up in the teeth of the family squabble when Kendall throws her out of his SUV. 
  • Is Gerri's refusal to engage with the very horny Roman just a part of their whole ... thing? Is she engaging by refusing to engage? I wouldn't put it past her. 
  • Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Linda Holmes
    Linda Holmes is a pop culture correspondent for NPR and the host of Pop Culture Happy Hour. She began her professional life as an attorney. In time, however, her affection for writing, popular culture, and the online universe eclipsed her legal ambitions. She shoved her law degree in the back of the closet, gave its living room space to DVD sets of The Wire, and never looked back.