In the Year of Our Lord 2019, one wouldn’t necessarily think a TV show about a rich, white, dynastic family navigating the trials and tribulations of corporate takeovers would be necessarily appealing. But that’s the trick of Succession. You shouldn’t really care about the show’s central family. Not only are they entitled, but they’re also largely morally bankrupt. And yet, creator/showrunner Jesse Armstrong manages to make the despicable delicious. We’re not only invested in the conglomerate rat race at the center of the series, we’re tickled by it. Sure, it helps that the show gives even Veep a run for its money in the “profane zingers” department, but the secret is the characters. We shouldn’t care about these bratty, backstabbing human beings, but we do, thanks in no small part to the show’s unparalleled ensemble. And in Succession Season 2, the characters deepen, the relationships become more intimate, and the result is that one of the best shows on TV gets even better.
For those unfamiliar, Succession revolves around the fictional Roy family, which broadly speaking resembles the Murdoch or Trump family. Logan Roy (Brian Cox) is the family patriarch, spearheading his global media empire Waystar Royco while his four children—heir apparent Kendall (Jeremy Strong), juvenile playboy Roman (Kieran Culkin), liberal-leaning daughter Siobhan (Sarah Snook), and Silicon Valley dummy Connor (Alan Ruck)—vie for the title of successor to the throne.
Following the dark, tragic events of the Season 1 finale, Season 2 picks up almost immediately where we left off. But the first scene is indicative of the road ahead. We see Kendall attempting to relax and detox at a secluded spa, only to have his stay interrupted almost immediately by an urgent matter regarding the family business. There is no time for self-care, introspection, or even guilt in the Roy family. The business is everything, and Kendall is forced to, as one character describes it, defuse the bomb he himself planted.
In the wake of Kendall’s, um, mistake in the Season 1 finale, I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say he doesn’t exactly come out and reveal why he suddenly changed his mind about stabbing his father in the back. Indeed, the first few episodes find Kendall tending to Roy’s every beck and call, and Strong does remarkable work channeling the spirit of an abused puppy dog. Obviously, Kendall’s change of heart strikes suspicion in his brothers and sisters, and Succession’s game of thrones is indeed still very much front and center in this second season.
Those who found the show’s first season a little slow to get going (which includes myself) will be happy to know there’s no buildup in Season 2. This thing hums from the opening scene and never lets up. It took a few episodes for the first season to discover that the show is at its best when a large number of the characters are together in a room, talking, fighting, and trading jabs, and these scenes are heavily prevalent throughout Season 2.
What really made Season 1 click, however, was Roy’s sudden recovery. The patriarch was on the brink of death, triggering a struggle to succeed the Waystar founder, but when he wasn’t incapacitated, the fight to take over the throne became far more complicated. Not only were the Roy children (and son-in-law and Cousin Greg) still vying to land in the Captain’s chair, but now they were forced to also placate the patriarch, trying to figure out the best way to make him choose them as his heir.
That game gets even darker and more twisted in Season 2, as Roy becomes fixated on purchasing another major media conglomerate—the NBC to his FOX, with the clashing political ideologies presenting unique challenges to the takeover. Indeed, while character is still king in Season 2, Succession deftly manages to tackle themes of the changing media landscape. In the first episode of the season, Roy is forced to consider the fact that the digital revolution is killing traditional media, and it’s only a matter of time before his news and entertainment empire is overtaken by some snazzy, forward-thinking company. The words “Amazon” and “Netflix” and “Apple” are never spoken, but the parallels are impossible to ignore.
The real-world implications of what a corporate takeover looks like in the year 2019—especially in the wake of the Disney-Fox acquisition—provide a strong and compelling narrative backbone to Season 2, in addition to the evergreen question of who will actually succeed Logan Roy. But the heart and soul of the show is still its characters, and it’s not a stretch to say this is the best ensemble currently on television. Every single performer is at the top of his or her game, and all come to play. Sarah Snook is once again a revelation as Shiv, who gets an incredibly interesting and challenging arc in the new season, and Nicholas Braun and Matthew Macfadyen continue to deepen one of the most irresistible (and hilarious) bromances in the history of TV.
But what makes Succession stand apart from other ensemble shows is this cast’s eagerness to set each other up. It’s a show full of alley oops, as you can see Braun impeccably teeing up Macfadyen’s Tom for a slam dunk, and vice versa. The interplay amongst this cast is gloriously harmonious. Everyone is in sync and no one is greedy. They know the series is at its best when scenes play out like a tennis match, with characters trading jabs, zingers, and emotional hand grenades like an epic, bombastic tête-à-tête.
And while the characters in Succession oftentimes get truly, deeply ugly, Armstrong never fails to highlight the humanity in each. They’re filthy rich, ungrateful, and possibly maybe even a little sociopathic, but the minute you’ve decided that Kendall is the devil incarnate, the show surprises with a strikingly human moment between brother and sister that reminds you just how traumatic growing up as the child of Logan Roy must have been. You don’t have to like these characters, but what makes Succession so watchable (aside from the deliciously wicked dialogue) is the fact that you can still recognize humanity in these characters, even when they’re being complete and utter dickheads.
Everything Succession did in its fantastic first season, the show does even better in Season 2. This is the opposite of the sophomore slump, as the series digs even deeper into its characters to phenomenal results. New characters are used sparingly but well (Holly Hunter is a fantastic addition in the middle of the season), and the narrative never feels like it’s treading water or backsliding. Succession keeps moving forward in ways both surprising and hilarious, and Season 2 solidifies the series as one of the best shows in HBO history.