Family strife ensues for the Roys on a new season of high-stakes drama

successionHBO CanadaFor fans of HBO’s darkly comedic, vaguely Shakespearean family drama Succession, it’s been a very long two years. Last we saw the Roy family (who many believe are loosely modelled after Rupert Murdoch and his kin), patriarch Logan (Brian Cox) had chosen his eldest son Kendall (Jeremy Strong) to take the fall for the coverup of the history of gross sexual misconduct at media conglomerate Waystar Royco. But in a shocking turn of events, Kendall instead pointed the finger at his father, announcing at a press conference that the mogul was well aware of the crimes, overseeing the ensuing settlements himself.

The upcoming season, as viewers had hoped for, deals with the aftermath of the loyalty shakeup. “We had that narrative bomb dropped at the end of the season, so it felt like, ‘Let’s just pick up the pieces,’” says series creator and showrunner Jesse Armstrong. “I think we were just interested to see what would happen after that, so we followed those strands.”

successionHBO CanadaWhile securing alliances remains the overarching theme of the show where the focus has always been picking the right team to leverage your position, the big question is whether Kendall’s bold move will cause any real shifts in the family dynamic. “We see an airborne Kendall at the beginning of the season, someone who feels like he’s finally wrested himself free from the chains that have been binding him,” says Strong. “I’ve done the thing, but if I don’t have support in a coalition, what is the value of it?”

How Kendall’s siblings Roman (Kieran Culkin), Connor (Alan Ruck) and Siobhan (Sarah Snook) decide to align themselves will be determined by how they feel about their chances of becoming their father’s successor. And they are not the only ones picking sides. “The whole thing is all of us having a struggle for survival in the company,” says J. Smith-Cameron, who plays Waystar Royco’s general counsel Gerri Kellman, a character that is still very much in the race to succeed Logan Roy. “There’s always this drive for every character to kind of scramble and stay in the pecking order.”

SuccessionHBO CanadaWhile the heirs to the proverbial throne are all very fond of privilege and power, their motivations stem not just from greed, thinks Ruck. “Something that hobbles all the children is that bottom line: we all want our father’s approval,” he says. “It’s always a quest to seek papa’s love and sometimes that works for us and sometimes it really doesn’t.” In fact, most actors portraying Roys give little thought to the family’s riches. “The wealth feels incidental and sort of window dressing in a way,” says Strong. “[Carl] Jung said that where love is absent, power fills the vacuum. There’s something that compensates for lack of love that drives us in different directions, which feels quite Shakespearean to me.”

If it seems like the Roys have been running in circles since season one, rest assured that it is by Armstrong’s design. “Jesse once said he doesn’t really believe in this idea of people changing and progressing,” recalls Strong. “I thought that was amazing, because it is a conceit of drama and he doesn’t really subscribe to the myth of that. We are always taking one step forward and two steps back.”

successionHBO CanadaArmstrong may be quite confident in his approach of offering viewers more of the same, but after receiving such critical acclaim and the Emmy for Outstanding Drama in 2020, the creator started to feel the weight of their success. “If you think about other people’s reactions to the show, you could go a bit crazy because you haven’t got any clue, really, what makes people like it,” he admits. “What we would try to do is keep on doing the same thing, but then you start wondering, are we doing the same thing? Being in the writers’ room and talking to my super-smart fellow writers clarifies all that. And once I’m working with the cast, I think it all comes naturally.”

What Armstrong has no desire to do is intentionally broaden the scope of the show. “Do we have to amp it up? No, I don’t think there’s [need for] ‘We’ve blown up this, can we blow up something bigger?’ ” he explains. “The good thing for us is that the longer people are with us, these relationships become like a family you’ve known. The longer you’ve known them, the more terrible and fascinating it is when they get divorced or you’re happy when they have a child. I think there’s pressure to not repeat ourselves, but the feeling of, ‘How do we top that?’ I don’t feel so much, because I feel like people will be so interested to see what happens in this room.”

Succession airs Sundays at 8 p.m. & 10:50 p.m. on HBO Canada