Pop Culturing: It's All Out War in 'Succession' Season 2

by Jason St. Amand

National News Editor

Monday August 12, 2019

Jeremy Strong, left, and Sarah Snook, right in a scene from "Succession."
Jeremy Strong, left, and Sarah Snook, right in a scene from "Succession."  (Source:Peter Kramer/HBO)

HBO's drama "Succession" returns for a second season Sunday, just about a year after the Jessie Armstrong show debuted to rapturous reviews. In its first season, the show walked a tightrope of satire, balancing a high stakes family drama with deeply obscene comedy. In its second season, "Succession" amps up the tension by positioning the Roy family's Waystar Royco conglomerate in a new phase after the fallout of Season 1.

"Succession" Season 2 burrows deeper into the black hole that extraordinary wealth can create within a family. The incident that went down in England during Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) and Shiv's (Sarah Snook) wedding at the end of Season 1, has placed Kendall (Jeremy Strong) right in his father Logan's (Brian Cox) palm. Kendall is now a shell of who he once was; gone is his tenacity and drive to overthrow his father — and his agency, in general, has evaporated. He is a zombie with a brain slug that is controlled by Logan. Though he's still struggling with substance abuse, he's now a direct extension of his father, carrying Logan's dirty work and at his whim. When Logan says jump, Kendall asks, "How high?" This yields wild results in the second episode when Logan sits down with Kendall and brother Roman (Kieran Culkin) to discuss Vaulter — the hip media website Kendall was so pressed to acquire at the start of Season 1. But Kendall's full-fledged loyally bothers his siblings, namely Shiv and Roman) who cannot fathom why Kendall has gone from a staunch anti-Loganer to his father's lapdog.

Brian Cox, left, and Jeremy Strong, right, in a scene from "Succession." Photo credit: Peter Kramer/HBO

As shown in the trailer, Logan, founder of Waystar and patriarch of the Roy family, wants to become the No. 1 media conglomerate in the world. This means a reshuffling of the deck and setting up the game board so it is most advantageous to him. He's got Kendall in his pocket but Logan still needs to deal with the annoyances that come with Kendall's failed bearhug from Season 1 — namely, now-board members Stewy (Arian Moayed) and Sandy (Larry Pine). Despite financial advisers telling him no for years, Logan feels it is the right time to try to acquire another huge media conglomerate called PGN in order to oust them. (This move just so happens to be personal for Logan on some levels as well.) This also sparks seismic shifts within the Roy family itself. Now that Kendall is seemingly out of the running to take over for Logan, the "King Lear" of it all comes into play and the crude businessman has to determine another successor — or does he?

At the core of "Succession" is how extreme wealth can corrode people. There's not much to like about the Roy family, which also includes Logan's third wife Marcy (Hiam Abbass), oldest son Connor (Alan Ruck), and Cousin Greg (Nicholas Braun). They're terrible people and the first episode of the series, "Celebration," still has the perfect moment that crystalizes the Roys: During a friendly game of baseball, Roman promises a young boy, the son of parents who appeared to be groundskeepers for a Roy estate, that if he can hit a home run, he will write him a $1 million check. The results are stomach-turning and that sickening feeling is echoed throughout both seasons of "Succession."

Sarah Snook, left, and Kieran Culkin in a scene from "Succession." Photo credit: Peter Kramer/HBO

What "Succession" really nails in its sophomore run is when members of the Roy family turn on each other. That's when the show becomes its most vicious and its most hilarious. "Succession" is incredibly savvy when it comes to getting the Roy family and their supporters (like general counsel Gerri, played by J. Smith Cameron, and off-and-on Waystar exec Frank, played by Peter Friedman) together in one room. Time flies by seamlessly and episodes skip to major events that require all the Roys to face each other — whether that be an important meeting or a family event or holiday. Logan's cloud of toxicity hangs over everyone in his orbit and there are a few absolutely wild scenes in Season 2 that will likely become some of the most-talked moments of the show; saying anything further would spoil the fun.

In its second season, "Succession" puts Logan at the center of things. Season 1 began with Logan off-kilter, suffering a stroke at the end of the first episode and the rest of the season found him struggling to fully regain control of his empire. Now that he's back calling the shots, true chaos reigns as he manipulates his children — even Connor (Alan Ruck), Logan's oldest son who moved back to New York City to support his girlfriend Willa (Justine Lupe) with her Broadway career. Oh, and he's running for president. Even hippie well-meaning Connor has been mutated by the wealth and power from his family. Likely the most good-natured of the Roy children, he is just as clueless about the world around him and extremely unqualified to run for the highest office in the nation.

Like the Oscar-winning 2018 film "The Favourite," "Succession" is about people and how their actions — from their toughest decisions to their most careless ones — impact hundreds if not thousands of people on a daily basis. "Succession" is an extremely 2019 show but it still bristles with the excitement and viciousness of an 18th-century drama. It also features some of the best performances of the year, including Strong's Kendall and guest spots from Holly Hunter, Cherry Jones, and Jeannie Berlin.

Pop Culturing

This story is part of our special report titled Pop Culturing. Want to read more? Here's the full list.

Comments on Facebook