Don’t expect a happy ending, Succession is sliding towards a bloodbath
If you’re looking for clues as to how HBO’s dynastic comedy-drama Succession is going to end, you need look no further than William Shakespeare’s 400-year-old masterworks Romeo and Juliet, Titus Andronicus and Henry VI, Part Two.
They are among the Bard’s bloodiest works and as Succession enters its third season and an uncivil war is declared within the ranks of the wealthy Roy family, few things are more certain than the fact the hit show is now sliding toward a very unhappy ending.
Logan Roy (Brian Cox) and Shiv Roy (Sarah Snook) in Succession season three.Credit:Foxtel/HBO
“It doesn’t feel very like Succession to end with a nice little bow, so I imagine more of a bloodbath is probably on-brand,” says Australian actor Sarah Snook, who plays ambitious Siobhan “Shiv” Roy.
“But that’s the interesting thing right? How the family relates to each other and whether their dynamic will actually prove beneficial for them in terms of their growth spiritually or otherwise. Or whether it will inevitably tear them apart because they can’t face each other in the ways that they need to as a family.”
When it launched in 2018, Succession was a modest cable hit. It does not command the audience of either its stablemate Game of Thrones or its rival The Crown, though thematically the three shows are remarkably similar, with Succession using boardrooms instead of battlefields and throne rooms.
And yet, it has emerged as an equal on – ironically or appropriately, depending on your perspective – the strength of media noise. “As glorious and furious as ever,” said The Guardian of its third season return. “An acidly observant, ferociously acted study of the ruthless world [of the] privileged,” declared Vulture.
Its ruling family, the Roys, are more-or-less analogous to the Murdochs – the series originated as a Murdoch-focused piece but evolved significantly during development – though there are also shades of other great business dynasties: the Maxwells, the Trumps, the Packers and the Redstones.
The show’s second season concluded with a nail-biting season finale that was easily the rival of the iconic “cliffhangers” which defined the 1980s “supersoap” genre of Dallas and Dynasty, but with elevated production values, sharper writing and magnificently satirical touches.
As it’s third season opens, the family is at war. Waystar RoyCo’s founder Logan Roy (Brian Cox) is on the brink of being edged out by his eldest son Kendall (Jeremy Strong), testing the loyalties of his other three children Shiv, Roman (Kieran Culkin) and Connor (Alan Ruck).
As absurd as the quasi-fictional ripped-from-the-headlines world of the Roys is, Snook says the series reaches its audience through the connective tissue of family. “Whether it’s a group of friends that’s your family or your actual birth family, the concept of family is universal,” she says.
Succession creator Jesse Armstrong (right) with actor Sarah Snook.Credit:HBO
“And no matter what demographic or what amount of money is in your bank account, I think you still find yourself wrestling with your siblings and exchanging barbs and insults,” Snook says. “I love running into people who say, that’s my dad, we didn’t grow up with money, but that is totally my dad.”
The twists and turns in the second season finale seem to have set Shiv up for a meteoric rise to the centre of the political and financial mosaic that makes up the Roy dynasty. But her bumpy track record exposes her to the accusation that she could emerge as her father’s choice because of the optics of being a woman.
“I think she’s been aware that she gets that quite a lot in her life,” Snook says. “She is the only female in the group of siblings, and so that happens a lot. Finding herself in that position yet again, though boring, is not unusual. But I think she’s a person who’s determined to take advantage of any situation she finds herself in. She’s certainly going to do her best to turn it around.”
The cast of Succession (from left) Jeremy Strong, Kieran Culkin, Brian Cox, Sarah Snook and Alan Ruck. Credit:HBO
Her rising mixed fortune is also emblematic of the dilemma faced by all four of the Roy siblings: that despite their access to wealth and connections, none have parlayed that into a sustained career outside the safety net of the family company, WaystarRoyCo. (Connor’s brief political career notwithstanding.)
“I think part of being in the Roy family is having a decent amount of hubris, of confidence and determination and will and belief that you can do something, even if you don’t necessarily have the latent skills to do that,” Snook says. “Shiv is a person who talks a big game, but can at least back that up. And I think she probably thinks that she can do that better than her brothers.
“When you’re in a position of privilege of wealth and race and position in [this] economic powerhouse, there is a presumption that you can do anything and that you don’t have to go back to square one, to management training to do it like the regular folk do because you are in this position of privilege,” she says.
As for that highly anticipated, inevitable bloodbath ending, it may be at least a few seasons away. The series is one of HBO’s most valuable assets, in terms of quality, awards season traction and media noise. At the same time, the third season opens at a flashpoint in the family’s reign.
“Maybe not with hatchets and swords, but at the same time Kendall did kill somebody, or, well, somebody has died and many people will have lost jobs and will have had their livelihoods changed with the effects that the decisions this one family makes,” Snook says.
“I love the scale at which this family operates, and the macro/micro of that. It’s extraordinary to be able to go, it’s a sibling/family relationship here, but then all our decisions are affecting thousands of workers on a company level. But then cultural, social ripples in the world of Succession, they move on forever.”
Sarah Snook on Shiv Roy
“I think that for the most part, Shiv is often sincere. What I have liked to play with is that when she is tactical or seemingly conniving, what she’s saying, she stands behind. She’s quite truthful in the moment. She is, I think, in a lawyer-ish kind of way, skillful about exposing only the side of the story to get what she wants in the way that she wants. She’s powerful, but she doesn’t reduce her femininity. She’s still wearing heels even though she’s wearing pants. We all build up certain protections and layers. Shiv has had to do that with an extra dose. Getting to play those two versions, the armoured, and also the inability to deal with vulnerability, is really fun.”
Shiv Roy (played by Sarah Snook) in season two of Succession.
Jeremy Strong on Kendall Roy
“Kendall is a boy-man. And his father is a sort of centaur, a primitive man. But it’s not diagrammatic. [Creator Jesse Armstrong] does not give us any answers. But I think Kendall is trying to become an authentic person and also learn to speak the language of strength and power. What is it that Tolstoy says, that all unhappy families are alike? This family is at once universal and it is also quite particular [in its] circumstances. The currency that this family trades in is not the currency of emotion or nurture or sensitivity or compassion, the currency is power, influence, the virtue of success and I think it shows the corrosive effect of trading in those currencies.”
Jeremy Strong as Kendal Royl in Succession. Credit:HBO
Kieran Culkin on Roman Roy
“When Roman is in the room and [his father] Logan is there, Roman sort of becomes a kid. The moment Logan is gone, I think Roman feels pretty comfortable in his skin and actually seems like an actual, full person. What makes it interesting for me is that sense of family and for Roman in particular, in his mind, we’re still a group and a family that loves each other. I think the goal is to crush the siblings, but you don’t really want to see them get crushed. And when Roman gets promoted, that should be a great moment for him, but it’s not, it should be a dream come true, but he can’t enjoy it because his brother is out of the picture.”
Roman Roy (Kieran Culkin) in Succession.Credit:HBO
Alan Ruck on Connor Roy
“I don’t think that Connor has a prayer [at beating his rival siblings] and I am not convinced that the other kids do either. In terms of his awareness, he’s always throwing things out there, trying to keep himself current and in the family dynamic. The truth is he has no aptitude for business. He can’t keep two thoughts in his brain for very long. He’s not stupid, he’s damaged. And he’s delusional. He absolutely thinks he can be president, but I don’t think he actually wants to WaystarRoyCo. We will see him get his nerve up and sort of play his hand a little more strongly. It’s everything that all kids do to win their father’s approval. It’s all about looking for daddy’s love.”
Connor (Alan Ruck) has grand plans for the presidency.
Succession season three is available to watch On Demand on Foxtel and on Binge.
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