Succession season 3 review: Kieran Culkin’s best work yet as the comedy-drama finds new depths

The third season of Succession came to a dramatic conclusion, with Kieran Culkin delivering his finest work yet as Roman Roy

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This review contains spoilers for Succession Series 3.

For the most part, Succession is not a show where things change for its characters.

It’s not that Succession isn’t invested in its characters, of course – it’s deeply invested in them, maybe the most character-led piece on television at the moment.

But it rarely entertains any threats to its status quo: the endless struggle for control of the company is exactly that, endless.

Going into the third series, the big question was what exactly the fallout to Kendall’s press conference would be, and whether his public accusations would be enough to oust his father.

They weren’t, in the end, and in hindsight that shouldn’t be a surprise: Succession is a show where the super-rich will never have to suffer the consequences, and it’s certainly not a show where Logan Roy will ever lose.

Of course the Department of Justice Investigation quickly fizzled out; of course Logan Roy handpicked the next President of the United States. That’s the world they live in.

What Succession is good at, though, is exploring new depths within that status quo. Take Roman, for instance, because this third series is Kieran Culkin’s series in the same way the first was Jeremy Strong’s or the second was Sarah Snook’s.

Which is to say, it’s not that the show focused on Culkin at the expense of the rest of the cast this year – you only have to look at the career-best work Matthew Macfadyen has been doing week on week to see that it’s not – but rather that they’ve pushed that character further than before.

That desperate, strangled appeal to his father – “Love?” – is Culkin’s best performance on the series so far, but it’s not one that’s come from a fundamental change to the character. Instead, Succession (much like its characters) takes things to their absolute extreme, and indulges in the possibilities that represents.

The Roy children confront Logan in the season 3 finale of Succession (Photo: HBO / Sky Atlantic)The Roy children confront Logan in the season 3 finale of Succession (Photo: HBO / Sky Atlantic)
The Roy children confront Logan in the season 3 finale of Succession (Photo: HBO / Sky Atlantic)

What’s striking about the season finale ‘All the Bells Say’, though, is that it feels like for the first time Succession might be entertaining the possibility of change. On an immediate level it feels like a much lower key affair than previous season finales: it doesn’t offer the bleak trauma of the first series, nor the grand betrayal of the second.

But for the Italian setting, it’s essentially the same scene we’ve seen play out over and over on Succession – it’s just another business meeting: sales and takeovers and competing companies forever caught in the churn. It’s different this time, though, because it’s the first time we’ve seen the siblings really united against their father.

Whether that’ll mean anything in the long run remains to be seen; they acknowledge themselves that, even if they’d succeeded in pushing out Logan, they quickly would’ve descended back into the same struggle amongst themselves.

Equally, maybe this is something deeper – look at Mark Mylod’s direction, the way he parallels the immediate aftermath of Kendall’s confession with Roman’s reaction to the Waystar-Royco sale. There’s a sense the siblings are close now in a way they’ve never been before, and in turn that season 4 (possibly the last, as creator Jesse Armstrong has suggested) will be something fundamentally different.

Earlier in the episode, rival investor Lukas Mattson (Alexander Skarsgård) explained that, in Ancient Rome, there was once a plan to make all the slaves wear cloaks to identify themselves. It never happened, he continues, “because they realised if all the slaves dressed the same, they would see how many of them there were, and they’d rise up and kill their masters.”

Kendall, Roman, and Shiv lost again – but you get the sense they’ve finally realised there are more of them than there is of Logan.

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