There’s a lot to say about Succession, HBO’s drama about the cutthroat business dealings of a wealthy family, and which focuses on the spoils and perils of power. And there’s plenty to like: It’s shrewd and darkly funny, it has an amazing cast, and its production value is high. Its dialogue is sharp, with the type of perpetually biting cynicism that makes you wonder if you could ever be that smart, or cunning, or diabolical.
Succession feels like the final bow for Richard Plepler, one of the “original architects of prestige TV,” the show meant to carry the baton from Game of Thrones and usher HBO into its future. And in many ways, that idea holds true: Succession began with a slow burn, then racked up a slew of awards for its second season, including a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series. It’s grown to be the TV drama of the moment, the ending to the question people ask when we’re making small talk and looking for a culturally ubiquitous story: “Did you see the latest episode of Succession?”
And there are only two possible answers: yes or no, the latter inevitably coupled with the type of apology afforded to a TV show that has grown influential enough to become beyond reproach, the emperor who claimed the zeitgeist.
Succession is, by measure of prestige and influence, successful. But in its third season, the cracks in its dark, cynical world are beginning to show what the series lacks—something that, I would argue, a drama needs if it’s ever going to be satisfying in the end. And as anyone who watched Seasons 6 through 8 of Game of Thrones might know, being “successful” for the network doesn’t mean satisfaction for viewers.
If you’re a Succession fan, you probably hate to hear it as much as I hate to say it, but this isn’t going to end well for us. Succession is TV’s emperor, but that emperor has no clothes. (Send your hate mail to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “fuck off,” in honor of the show.)
Which isn’t to say you shouldn’t watch Succession, or that you shouldn’t love it. If you’ve been following Humans Being, you know that I believe there’s value in accessible stories, even if only for our shared cultural dialogue. But for current viewers of the show, I wouldn’t blame you if you were starting to wonder where the series is going, and for people considering starting it, I wouldn’t blame you if you’re now wondering if you should bother. And if you struggle with Succession, well, consider this an extended hand. You’re not alone.