Jeremy Strong is the heartfelt star of the HBO drama ‘Succession.’
As Season Three of HBO’s Emmy award-winning drama Succession nears its finale, there are evident truths. Elderly Logan Roy (Brian Cox) tightly controls the reins of the Fox-like entertainment and media corporation WayStar RoyCo. Siblings Roman (Kieran Culkin) and Shiv (Sarah Snook) continue battling for their father’s favors and opportunities to lead the company.
On the outside, after exposing company scandal to the U.S. Department of Justice, one-time heir apparent Kendall (Jeremy Strong) sees his chance at a corporate takeover fade to nothingness.
Sadly, nothingness sums up Kendall’s standing. More than kicking him out of the company, Logan stomps on his son’s requests to cash out of the family-run business. Kendall’s substance abuse habits grow while his self-esteem fades.
With one episode left in Season Three, the camera lingers on Kendall dangling from a pool float with his head caressing the water. The sun-drenched image leads to dark questions for Succession fans and TV pundits. Is Kendall Roy, the true tragic hero of Succession, the most complex and dynamic character in an impressive ensemble, really, most sincerely dead? Can Succession thrive in Season Four without its Hamlet-like protagonist?
Succession creator and showrunner Jesse Armstrong and his writers grant dramatic triumph to Brian Cox’s patriarchal media boss Logan. He’s the clear winner in the plot sweepstakes.
At the same time, Armstrong hands off the choice dialogue, the best scenes, and the most surprising twists to Jeremy Strong’s Kendall.
It’s worth noting that Strong, previously known for supporting roles on the series Masters of Sex and The Good Wife, hits the dramatic bullseye in every episode.
Other Succession characters make one gag with repulsion. Roman and Shiv, Shiv’s husband Tom (Mathew Macfadyen), and Cousin Greg (Nicholas Braun) are consistently dysfunctional and self-serving.
By contrast, Jeremy Strong emphasizes the emotional back-and-forth beating inside Kendall Roy. Is Kendall a do-good whistleblower or a greedy takeover artist? Is he high or sober? Is he a business amateur or a tech futurist?
Jeremy Strong pivots. He shows flashes of both entitlement and empathy. Parts of Strong’s performance are physical via a husky voice and lingering stare. Most of the acting is emotional. You see his confidence for victory steadily dissolve into resignation. It’s heartbreaking to watch, thanks to Strong’s work. Strong’s performance gives Succession a soul and lifts the story above corporate meanness.
Strong has interesting work ahead like new dramas with filmmaker James Gray and actor/director Bradley Cooper? Will his next chapter include Season Four of Succession? We’ll find out soon enough. One thing is clear. Succession Season Four owes a lot to Jeremy Strong’s work in Succession Seasons One to Three.
Behind the Column Name:
One of my favorite books is James Agee’s 1941 collaboration with photographer Walker Evans, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. Agee’s book is about Alabama sharecroppers, a community of hardworking but forgotten people. Agee’s sharecroppers remind me of the supporting actors and emerging artists working outside the spotlight. That’s why I call this column Let Us Now Praise.