‘Succession’ Season 3 Ends With Trembling Confessions and a Riveting Showdown

The season three finale of “Succession” begins fittingly enough with the Roy “kids” playing a round of Monopoly. HBO’s best current drama series has worked as a mental board game where we breathlessly watch as siblings and outsiders play for keeps under the shadow of patriarch Logan Roy (Brian Cox). As a show this has been quite the game of thrones, propelled by a stark realism. By the midpoint of season three, the narrative also stumbled by trying to outdo itself with grand twists, as if every episode needed a bigger shocker. The Roys dived into influencing presidential politics and tangoing with various tech CEOs but still found time to get into trouble for sending dick pics to the wrong number. The finale makes up for the manic storytelling with a worthy cliffhanger.

 As “All the Bells Say” opens, the Roys are still in Italy celebrating the wedding of Logan’s former wife Caroline (Harriet Walter) to her longtime beau. Previously audiences had been left wondering about the fate of once insurgent brother Kendall (Jeremy Strong), who we last saw face down on a floaty in a pool, a beer bottle dropping from his hand. Kendall is still relapsing into a near-catatonic state, but he remains alive when the finale opens. His family’s attention is being taken over by the ongoing negotiations to try and strike a deal between Waystar and social media giant GoJo. Logan has gotten past Roman (Kieran Culkin) sending those dick pics to Gerri (J. Smith-Cameron) and takes him along to meet GoJo head Lukas Mattson (Alexander Skarsgård). In front of the elder and younger Roy, Mattson puts all his cards on the table. He believes Waystar represents a dying, yet respectable communications giant that lacks the technological angles and know-how for an equalized merger with GoJo. What he can offer is to buy Waystar, let Logan retain prominence while he restructures the board and figures out what to do with the Roy siblings. The big question now is if Logan will go for it.

It is the meeting with Mattson that sets off the slow-burning fuse that reaches a great crescendo at the end of the episode. As we wait to see what choice the ruthless patriarch can make, the finale continues the various expansions and developments with these characters we morbidly like to watch. Connor (Alan Ruck), still swimming in his political dreams, eventually gets a “yes” from girlfriend Willa after his bizarre proposal in the last episode. He also finally demonstrates some backbone when it dawns on him that his siblings never include him in the inside information on current Waystar developments, so he drops the nice guy act and reminds them he is the eldest child. Of course, it doesn’t amount to much, except Shiv (Sarah Snook) and Roman just shrugging. Greg (Nicholas Braun) firmly evolves from a once clueless soul to an absolutely corrupted one, by the influence of the Roy clan. He notices his girlfriend Comfrey is too distracted with her responsibilities and decides to get close to a countess at the party, in an effort to trade up. By the end of the episode he’s convinced he could have a shot at becoming part of a dynasty dating back to the Congress of Vienna. Greg deserves some credit for keeping his composure despite Roman openly insulting him or Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) still treating him like his acolyte. 

“Succession” has always been great at setting forth clues or suggestions we need to then follow. The Roys panic when Logan’s particular snacking suggests he might be trying to get his assistant pregnant, which would mean another threat in the form of yet a new pretender to the throne. What an irony considering earlier this season, Shiv was pushing Tom with the idea they should have a kid. Kendall’s continuing emotional downslide is no longer about just wanting to take down his father. All season the show has been dominated by the stretched out rebellion by Kendall which split the family into factions. And while Jeremy Strong has been getting lots of press over a strange New Yorker profile, there’s no denying the impact in his best scene in the finale. Kendall breaks down in front of Roman and Shiv, confessing to having driven drunk and helped cause the death of a waiter the night of Shiv’s wedding. The outpouring seems to confirm it’s been a guilty, brutal conscience all along that has been debilitating Kendall’s capacity to be as cutthroat as the others. This moment, as well as Greg’s own slide into greedy ambition, goes to the heart of how “Succession” addresses power. In a time where we worship corporate images, this show at its best explores power and wealth as conditions or situations that have a particular impact on human behavior. We laugh at the Roys’ cruel jokes and boldness, but they can get away with it precisely because of their status. No one can tell them to behave.

And then the expensive cell phones start ringing and Shiv and Roman catch wind that something serious is going down. Suddenly the prospect of Logan agreeing to sell to Mattson is very real. The final minutes of the finale are a riveting bit of mental stress and chess moves as Shiv and Roman recruit Kendall into the idea of stopping the sell by carrying out a virtual coup against Logan. With references to Mussolini, they start making moves, with Shiv giving Tom an alert about what is going to happen so the company news channel will broadcast the appropriate story. It all climaxes with one of the show’s best showdowns. Shiv, Roman and Kendall walk into a room where Logan is directing his army of operators. In terms of acting the cast also reach new places here. Roman, the debauched libertine, is suddenly shaking under the glare of a ferocious father, while Shiv’s lip quivers when Logan delivers a final blow. Someone has tipped him off, so he has called Caroline to rearrange their post-marriage agreements regarding the company. Suddenly her offspring, Shiv, Roman and Kendall, have no power to stop Logan. The more experienced player has won. Brian Cox again confirms this is one of his greatest roles, playing a man who is a combination of monster and experienced parent. There is some logic to his reasoning, in that now the Roy spawns will have to learn how to make their own names in this merciless world, even if they will undoubtedly still have much wealth. Who betrayed them? When the likely suspect walks in through the door, it’s another wrenching lesson in maneuvering around a shark tank.

“Succession” finds its stride once more with this finale and does what many great shows do, which is leave us eagerly anticipating what will follow. Here is a drama done in a classic style, where all of its suspense is generated from people. There’s no need for special effects or shoot outs. Enough violence is contained in the language and furious energies that go into seeking power, revenge, prestige, or just the sense that you’re somebody in this world. When the final curtain drops on season three, Roman practically gets on his knees in front of Gerri, wondering if there’s anything that can be done to remove Logan. She rebuffs him wondering what the benefit would even be for her. It’s not that fun to be rich in “Succession,” because in the world of this series, they’re not just doing it for the money.

Succession” season three finale airs Dec. 12 at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.