Succession Season 2 Review (Spoiler Free)

HBO's Succession Season 2 gets a lot more serious with its satire of the super rich.

This review contains no spoilers.

Halfway through the first season of Succession, Ewan Roy (James Cromwell), the estranged brother of Waystar Royco founder Logan Roy (Brian Cox), declares, “This whole family is a nest of vipers. They’ll wrap themselves around you and they’ll suffocate you.” It’s a clear indication of the two siblings’ animosity for one another, but it’s also a remarkably concise summary of the Roy family specifically and the story of Succession at large.

Unsurprisingly, Ewan’s “family of vipers” descriptor continues unabated throughout the first five episodes Succession season 2, which premieres this weekend.

At the end of season 1, practically every member of the family had shown its poisonous fangs at their respective preys and struck — or, at least attempted to strike. Most of these moves resulted in self-flagellations, especially for the Roy children. Kendall (Jeremy Strong), who had spent most of the season orchestrating a coup behind his villainous father’s back, watched as it all came crashing down. Literally. A car accident the night of his sister’s wedding results in the death of a waiter and the need for Logan’s intervention.

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Speaking of Kendall’s sister, Shiv (Sarah Snook) seems to be the only child who came out on top in the season 1 finale. She’s married to Tom (Matthew Macfayden) now, whom she has complete and unchallenged control of, and her business and political machinations outside the realm of Logan’s knowledge seem to be the only plans that haven’t exploded. And, yes, that’s a direct reference to Roman’s (Kieran Culkin) bad investment in a Japanese rocket mishap that at least didn’t result in any deaths.

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That’s where Succession’s sophomore season stars. Logan, now firmly in control of his wayward son Kendall, is cleaning up his and his other kids’ messes. And he’s doing it all while trying to lay plans for the company’s continued independence — despite the many, many sharks that are still circling it for a potential hostile takeover. Of course, in order for any of this to become a reality, Logan must name a successor. Doing so could better prepare the way for Waystar Royco’s future independence and, at least for a moment, calm the increasingly bitter ties between his contemptuous children.

But this is Succession we’re talking about. Jesse Armstrong’s black comedy about the world of mega-corporations, mega-wealthy families and extreme nepotism has expertly portrayed, vilified and satirized the comings and goings of modern and past figures like the Murdochs and the Hearsts from day one. It’s done this by never lying to the audience, but laying out everything that’s painfully awful and cringe-worthy about these characters in excruciating detail. From Roman’s evident inability to interact with anyone without resorting to insults to cousin Greg’s (Nicholas Braun) rampant drug use, these people are vipers — but vipers who almost always end up striking their own tails.

In other words, there is no way in hell that most or all of Logan’s plans for retaining independence and massing even more wealth and power are going to work. Nor, for that matter, are his children’s continued attempts to woo him going to amount to anything other than an unending series of attacks, double-crossings and revenge ploys. None of these people are salvageable as human beings, and that’s the point.

As celebrated as the first season was, this was actually a concern that some reviewers had about Succession’s early days. It was argued that the show’s attempted balance of comedy and bleak drama (if not realism) was ultimately impossible, for as much as you wanted to laugh at whatever next befell the Roys (and, mostly, cousin Greg), you just couldn’t reconcile this urge with how plainly horrible these people were to each other and pretty much everyone else around them. Be it their staff members or, in Kendall’s case, the waiter from Shiv’s wedding, everyone else is pretty much expendable in their eyes.

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Succession season 2 is still trading in these warring tones but, thankfully, Armstrong and company have managed to make something of these concerns. More time is dedicated to exploring these conflicting feelings and their sources, especially when it comes to Kendall’s hollowed-out existence now that he’s literally responsible for the death of another human being and back under his father’s wings. (Simply for the protection they afford, of course.) In a way, we’re almost made to feel sorry for his plight, though the show quickly and adeptly finds new ways to shock viewers out of such complacency within a matter of scenes — if not minutes.

Succession season 2 premieres Sunday, August 11th, 2019 at 9 p.m. ET/PT.

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4 out of 5