Viewed in a certain light, Succession’s terrific second season was a tale of two media appearances. The premiere opened with Kendall Roy under his tyrannical father’s thumb for fear of being outed for committing involuntary manslaughter, and he conducts a television interview in which he delivers spoon-fed talking points about why he’s no longer supporting the Waystar Royco takeover attempt by his once-allies Stewy Hosseini and Sandy Furness. “I saw their plan. Dad’s plan was better,” he said, quite unconvincingly, his pathetic display of fealty serving as a warning to anyone trying to come at Logan’s throne.
But the season ended with a press conference with a much different tone. While Logan expected his number one boy to become the company’s “blood sacrifice” in its ongoing cruise lines scandal, Kendall turned the tables on his dad with a helpful assist from Cousin Greg and Chekhov’s Cruise Lines Documents. (Turns out, Greg really is a little Machiavellian fuck.) He might’ve spent the entire season playing Logan’s punching bag, but when it really counted, Kendall delivered the knockout blow. “This is the day his reign ends,” he said, this time with conviction.
It was a hell of a mic drop for Succession to end on. Now, two years and a Best Drama Series win later, we finally get to see the fallout from Kendall’s latest power play. From the trailers—and a general understanding of how this wonderfully twisted show operates—one should expect Season 3 to include another few rounds of familial and corporate backstabbing. (And, who knows, maybe another Connor Roy presidential bid, since he was interested in politics from a very young age.) But even though he dropped such a massive bombshell on his family and their media empire, it’s still not easy to predict what we might get out of Kendall, a character who can pivot from being completely owned to disastrously preening in a moment’s notice.
What makes Kendall such a compelling and tragic figure is the same thing that can make him so frustrating to root for. He is, like the rest of his family, a witting cog in an evil corporate machine—last season, he laid off almost the entire staff of a media company because “my dad told me to.” But between these moments of cruelty or indifference, Kendall exhibited traces of humanity—and the kind of self-awareness that is more of a curse than a blessing in a family like his. As fucked up as it is, not being able to brush off accidentally killing an innocent person or wanting to respond to decades of corporate-sanctioned cruelty with repentance is considered a liability in the world of 1 percenters.
But for Kendall to ever reckon with the moral implications of his actions, he has to hit rock bottom. (Granted, he’s hit rock bottom so many times there may not be a bottom.) When he isn’t at his lowest, when he has a semblance of mojo or leverage, Kendall tends to turn into a quintessential business bro—which is to say, totally insufferable. This side of Kendall will earnestly refer to himself as “Techno Gatsby” at a party or try to impress a hip start-up by dressing like a hypebeast and breaking the ice by saying, “I thought you’d all be dressed like fucking Björk.” These douchey displays of bravado—none more memorable or haunting than his “L to the OG” rap—might be a coping mechanism for his inner demons, but they can still have a profound effect on people under his socioeconomic strata.
At the start of Season 3, it’s reasonable to assume that Kendall is in the Techno Gatsby zone, riding the high of screwing his father over while trying to take over the same soul-crushing corporate enterprise responsible for his insecurities. And therein lies the problem: Is Kendall gaining the upper hand over Logan actually an improvement? If one of the Roys will succeed their father, perhaps it should be the one with some semblance of a conscience. But whenever Kendall has gotten a taste for power, his humanity has been jettisoned to the farthest reaches of his subconscious so that he can return to being a smug asshole with a twisted sense of self-worth. Until it all implodes in his face once again, of course.
If Succession’s third season follows the same trajectory as the first two, Kendall will struggle under the enormous weight of trying to take over Waystar Royco. He won’t just be the wounded number one boy or the swaggering Techno Gatsby—he’ll inhabit a bit of both. (In the trailers, Kendall says “You are fucking Kendall Roy” to himself in the mirror several times, he emotionally embraces his children on the floor of his penthouse, and he has a tantrum in a hideous but obviously wildly expensive jacket.) But Jeremy Strong delivers in this space of perpetual turmoil. Strong’s devastating, insular performance in Season 2 netted him a thoroughly deserved Emmy—one that, fittingly, saw him win over the actor and noted McDonald’s spokesman who plays his domineering on-screen dad.
Unfortunately, the more conflicted Kendall becomes, the more captivating the character tends to be, while at the same time providing an impressive acting showcase for Strong. This is also the appeal of Succession: The series is never better than when it underlines the inherent misery of the super rich trying to amass even more unnecessary wealth and power. In its third season, it’s hard to imagine that Succession will change the most fundamental nature of its being—or that Kendall can keep his humanity at bay long enough to ascend the corporate ladder. As Logan coldly surmised: He may have committed involuntary manslaughter, but Kendall isn’t a killer.