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TV Critic’s Corner

The strengths of ‘Succession’

Jeremy Strong on HBO’s “Succession.” Craig Blankenhorn/HBO

This contains spoilers from the “Succession” finale.

I’ve been full of praise for the performances on “Succession,” which can be both satirical and deadly dramatic at the same time. I’ve noted Brian Cox’s powerfully wolfish turn as patriarch Logan Roy and Matthew Macfadyen’s brilliantly odd work as Tom — both British actors easily passing as American.

But I don’t want to forget to mention Jeremy Strong, who plays Kendall Roy, before memories of the “Succession” first season finale fade. Strong is from Boston, but this isn’t a strictly local-angle piece. He has been excellent on the show, as the son who was going to inherit the family media empire until he wasn’t, the son who was going to be part of a hostile takeover until he wound up back under his father’s control, in his father’s arms.


All season long, Strong has brought a lot of carefully modulated pathos to his characterization. All Kendall wants is to get out from under his father, but that’s the one thing he just can’t seem to buy, beg, borrow, or steal. The middle son is a self-destructive guy, not only because of his addiction issues, but because his desperation for what he doesn’t have often leads him to make bad choices. His fierce need undoes him. He gets in way over his head — a metaphor that becomes literal in the last act of the finale, as Kendall deals with his own Chappaquiddick incident.

Sure, Kendall can be a total ass; on the fateful car ride, before they wind up under water, he says to the waiter from his sister’s wedding, “I don’t drive that much because I’m incredibly rich, and I mostly get driven everywhere.” Like an unfeeling corporate entity, he carefully covers up his role after the fatal accident.


But all along we understand his pain, and sympathize with him as an abused son. Logan hates his children for the very advantages he provided them with, and he needs Kendall to fail in order to feel more powerful. His manhood is at stake. It’s Freudian, and it’s Shakespearean, and Strong has brought all those notes and more to the show.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.