In Succession Season 3, the Sharks Circle. And Circle. And Circle

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Succession’s third season, premiering on HBOMax October 17, contends with the fallout of Kendall (Jeremy Strong), the treacherous son, having sold out his evil daddy Logan Roy (Brian Cox) to regulators for all kinds of abuses, systemic and personal. After the explosive press conference that ended season two, everyone jets off, whether literally to a far-off country, or psychically in a Mercedes SUV. The slogan Waystar Royco’s head honchos eventually come up with to reassure wary employees and appease shareholders in the face of allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct? “We get it.”

Prodigal daughter Shiv (Sarah Snook) rightly thinks the phrase is dismissive. But she glibly repeats it anyway at a company town hall at which all genuine employee questions have been replaced with ones written by the Royco comms team. As the show’s third season wears on, the smug slogan may begin to live not only in the world of the Roy family’s corrupt corporation, but perhaps in the minds of even Succession’s most admiring viewers.

By now, the premise is well-established: These kids will stop at nothing to please or get back at their terrifying and powerful father. They’re all shitty people, but maybe Kendall’s shitty behavior is the most honest. Maybe. There’s scheming, jockeying, puppet successors, emotional breakdowns, reluctant PR strategy, exasperated lawyers, and casual cruelty.

Sanaa Lathan plays one such lawyer, Lisa Arthur, who’s trying to position Kendall for success when taking his claims to the DOJ. It would’ve been nice to see more of her in the season’s first seven episodes—she’s doing something strange and compelling with a thick pair of reading glasses, yet we seem doomed to never know exactly what. Adrian Brody also appears as a billionaire investor decked in variations of technical gear that he doesn’t actually need in his servant-attended seaside mansion. And nice-guy character actor Justin Kirk (Weeds) makes a startling turn as a contrarian conservative YouTube sensation, a la Jordan Peterson.

Succession is often very funny, and always extremely bleak. But the show’s window-dressing doesn’t deliver the same vicarious thrill anymore. In seasons one and two, it was still fun to see how the uber-wealthy live—donning impeccable threads, surrounded by the finest amenities, and situated in enviable locales. The show’s vicious familial discord struck a fruitful contrast with its almost ruthlessly tasteful aesthetics. By season three, the banality of luxury has sufficiently sunk in. These people want for nothing materially, and yet so desperately want more of what they have. It’s not impressive; it’s sad. The show knows this; we know it; even Roman (Kieran Culkin, playing the youngest Roy with as odious a sneer as ever) knows it. So, yeah, you could say we get it.

Showrunner Jesse Armstrong and writer-producer Georgia Pritchett have told journalists that Succession wasn’t designed to go on endlessly. Yet even here, in season 3, the showrunners have slowed the pace. This season stalls in the same storylines that the series began with, relying on a top-tier cast—from Matthew Macfadyen as Shiv’s husband to Strong as Logan Roy’s bitch—to make it work. J. Smith Cameron has fun as Gerri, a delusionally game henchwoman who may yet get her chance; even Hiam Abbass all-too-briefly reappears as the icy and unpredictable Marcia. Still, these flashes of brilliance aren’t enough to sustain interest in the show’s ideas, which now feel rehashed and not renewed.

Some of the problem is inherent to the TV form itself, of course. With the exception of limited series, the medium often pushes stories well beyond their viability. Still, it’s not hard to imagine the curveballs the show could have thrown to an audience already primed to accept anything that came under the title Succession.

Season 3 doesn’t feel safe as much as it feels conservative—a bit fearful, lacking guts. In this way, the show mirrors the relative ambivalence of the Roy children, who can’t decide who to be except in high-octane, impulsive moments. Like a host of other television shows, Succession has come to provide perfectly decent background activity. Hopefully, a fourth and potentially final season will risk standing out.

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