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‘Succession’ Review: Episode 3 Has No Right to Be This Funny — Spoilers

Filled with agonizing betrayals and vicious acts, "The Disruption" illustrates the careful balance that keeps "Succession" afloat.

Succession Season 3 Tom Shiv Matthew Macfadyen Sarah Snook HBO

Matthew Madfadyen and Sarah Snook in “Succession”

Macall Polay / HBO

[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “Succession” Season 3, Episode 3, “The Disruption.”]

Well, that didn’t take long.

After last week’s failed attempt to unite the Roy siblings ended with name-calling and maybe-poisoned-donuts, Episode 3, “The Disruption,” sees Kendall (Jeremy Strong) and Shiv (Sarah Snook) pull out their knives. Kendall’s come in the form of strategically placed wireless loudspeakers, set to blast Nirvana’s “Rape Me” as a disruption to Waystar Royco’s company-wide town hall, where his sister is trying to calm employee fears about the company’s cruise line scandal. Enraged by her brother’s act of sabotage (and embarrassed to be made the face of it), Shiv responds in not-so-kind, publishing a “greeting card from hell” that lays bare Kendall’s struggles with drug addiction, his failures as a father, and “his own problematic relations with women.” That her “Times New Roman firing squad” goes live right before Kendall guests on “The Disruption with Sophie Iwobi” (featuring guest star Ziwe) may or may not be coincidental, but Shiv literally disrupting “The Disruption” makes this week’s episode title all the more pointed.

Stripped to its core, Episode 3 is overrun with piercing, painful betrayals. The opening sequence initially plays like an ominous bit of foreshadowing, yet still turns out darker than anyone could expect; Kendall’s “essentially” close relationship with his sister (as he halfheartedly tells the reporter over lunch) is brutally severed beyond any rational hope for repair. Meanwhile, Roman (Kieran Culkin) gets stuck in the middle of the sibling warfare and has to suffer through a puff piece interview meant to bolster his dad’s humanity, only to then be derided with a gay slur by his hateful papa. Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) had to suffer through the same false reassurances twice, when Logan (Brian Cox) and Shiv promised no one would have to go to prison, before encouraging him to volunteer for the stockade. It’s one thing for Logan to accept such an offer, but his own wife? You could see what’s left of Tom’s heart shatter as soon as Shiv twists from, “No, you can’t” to “…but it is smart.”

And Greg (Nicholas Braun). Poor Greg. Not only does he have to pay $40,000 for a watch he thought was a gift, but that watch doesn’t even work! Now he’s just a janitor again, like the rest of us!

Succession Season 3 Kendall Greg Dasha Nekrasova Jeremy Strong Nicholas Braun

Dasha Nekrasova, Jeremy Strong, and Nicholas Braun in “Succession”

Macall Polay / HBO

Rationally speaking, all of this is for the best. Logan deserves to be “betrayed” by the White House and succumb to a DoJ raid. Kendall is a deluded narcissist who needs to be taken down a peg or two, and whether it’s by his sister or Sophie Iwobi shouldn’t really matter. The Town Hall was an absolute sham and needed to be shut down before any of those worried employees bought into Shiv’s “we’re all family” B.S. And Tom may not be the guy who needs to go to prison, but many Waystar Royco executives do, and he is complicit in the cover-up.

But there’s an instinctual and learned emotional response at play, as well. When you spend this much time with people, as television allows us to do, you can’t help but invest in the characters to some degree. Maybe you know Tom is a piece of shit, but it still stings to see him manipulated by his own family. “Succession” has always been incredibly savvy about balancing these often-contradictory reactions, luring you into a state of sorrow or even pity before slapping you upside the head with a reminder that all these characters are awful. But Episode 3 exemplifies another level of self-awareness on behalf of the writers, in that all the evidence of the Roys’ rot has been well-established; the audience doesn’t need a reminder. We need relief. If “The Disruption” only bounced back and forth between twisted backstabbing and reminders that all the would-be victims absolutely deserved it, then these 59 minutes would be excruciating. So instead, credited writers Ted Cohen and Georgia Pritchett (but really, the full team) layer in an onslaught of incredible jokes. “The Disruption” is far funnier than it has any right to be, and yet it’s exactly as funny as it needs to be.

Just look at this verifiable treasure-trove of black comedy:

– Tom and Greg get their first in-person scene together, and it does not disappoint! From Greg’s new descriptor as the “leggy princeling of ATN” to the way Tom flatly condemns him with, “That’s rude. Rude boy,” the dynamic remains pitch-perfect. (Shout-out to Macfadyen for nailing those lines and “DoJ is going to be like a combine harvester in a wheat field of dicks.”) But what’s also worth savoring is Tom’s genuine desire for friendship. I don’t think Tom knows how to be a friend— check that; Tom doesn’t know how to be a friend, but it’s more than good business being expressed when he says, “You sold your ass for a watch, Greg? I’ll buy you a watch, dickwad, just fucking come over.” (It’s also worth noting that Tom and Greg both sport suspenders this episode.)

– Speaking of exquisite acting, everything Kieran Culkin does in this episode is amazing. I love the way Roman won’t stop mocking Kendall for forgetting his kids’ names, and the glint in his eye is only topped by the smirk in his voice when he responds to Hugo’s new apology slogan with, “‘We get it?’ A bit like those ladies on the cruise ships got it?” His interview “prep” scene is immaculate physical comedy, which is a talent exemplified again when Roman refuses to sign Shiv’s letter. “Take me to reason court and fucking sue me,” he says, hitting a line that should be a gif sensation before you’re done reading this sentence. And then there’s that last scene with Logan. That’s just sad, really. But Culkin is still excellent, showing just enough pain for the audience to recognize how much his father’s words hurt, without going so far as to court more mockery from Logan himself.

– “You know, PGN pulls up that photo of me with a ponytail anytime they want to make me look untrustworthy.” Honestly, this line from Connor (Alan Ruck) comes out of nowhere. He drops it after Roman emphasizes the permanence of Shiv’s accusations against Kendall, so you could argue it’s tied to the topic of “forever embarrassments,” but it still feels forced, given how serious the three of them are being at the moment. That’s fine. Connor lives in his own little world, but also, it’s just a great line. It conjures a hilarious mental image and punctures the tension with a quirky twist. I love it.

Succession Season 3 Shiv Sarah Snook Waystar Royco

Sarah Snook in “Succession”

Macall Polay / HBO

Still, perhaps the best scene that exemplifies why “The Disruption” works so well is Good Tweet / Bad Tweet, the woefully misbegotten game Kendall forces his posse to play on the way to the Committee for the Protection and Welfare of Journalists gala. After a few ego-boosting tweets and a couple tame duds, they land on one that connects: “He clearly has mental health issues and crazy guilt, coupled with addiction. That’s all this is, and it’s sad.” It is sad, just like the episode is sad, and yet as soon as Kendall recovers from recognizing the pain that will fully hit him later on in the server room at “The Disruption,” the mechanical “booooo” he lets out is so, so, so funny. And “Succession” has done it again.

Grade: A-

The Roy-al Rumble

After Logan took the first two rounds of Season 3’s ongoing title match with his son, Kendall gets on the board in Episode III — because you simply can’t lose when your rival gets raided by the FBI.

A Moment of Appreciation for Director Cathy Yan and D.P. Patrick Capone

“Succession” is filled with many a striking shot, but let’s all applaud the use of the Manhattan skyline in Episode 3, specifically as it informs Kendall’s surprise visit to the office. First, I love how Kendall wakes up bathed in light from the sky he’s basically sleeping in, before pulling himself back down into the chaos he’s creating. Who, in their right mind, would want to leave that apartment? So clean, so comfy, so elevated from the messy reality beneath it. Kendall literally pisses with a better view than 99 percent of the world will ever get to see without a tourist surcharge, and Patrick Capone’s camera slowly creeps in from the doorway to emphasize the luxuries he’s ignoring in favor of petty gamesmanship. (Great touch to have a shirt thrown casually over the unused tub, and that he’s calling Greg, who’s regularly treated like shit all episode, while using the bathroom.)

Succession Season 3 Brian Cox Sarah Snook New York City

Brian Cox and Sarah Snook in “Succession”

Macall Polay / HBO

But my favorite framing of the season so far arrives after the disastrous town hall, as a furious Shiv storms back to Kendall’s office looking for her brother (or anything to use against him). As she strides up the hallway toward the camera, the screen is divided in half: On the right, there’s Shiv and a row of cubicles. On the left, there’s the bridge and the city beyond it. When Shiv turns right to walk into the office, there’s a moment when she disappears, as if she’s literally walked out of the building, off of the bridge, and into the sea. Then the camera glides over to reveal that she’s out of danger, on dry land — or is she? It seems then and there is where Shiv forms her revenge plot, upping the ante against Kendall by topping his company-wide humiliation of her and putting his sins out for the world to see. Her ultimate reaction — spitting into his journal — is priceless, but the elegant, thoughtful set-up from Cathy Yan is… one for the books.

[Author’s Note: An earlier version of this review mistakenly stated that Shiv entered her own office after the disastrous town hall. Upon closer examination, she clearly enters Kendall’s office — and while I still prefer the idea that Kendall would’ve left the speaker boxes in his sister’s workspace to taunt her, keeping them in his own, laying out in the open for all to see, is certainly in harmony with Kendall’s highly publicized betrayal (and booming ego).]

Greg Sprinkles

“I don’t have any patina! I shower!” Love you, Greg. Return that watch.

The A+ F-Bomb

“Bring him up in the dumbwaiter, like a fucking hamburger.” – Logan

There were a lot of great “fucks” dropped in Episode 3, but there’s something about an irate father equating his visiting son to a hamburger that takes the cake. (The runner-up is probably Kendall yelling at the “Disruption” writers to “hurt me — fucking hurt me,” only to immediately read Shiv’s note and collapse from the pain.)

Best Line that Could Still Air on ATN

Honestly, it’s Connor’s line about the ponytail picture. I’m still thinking about it, and likely will be in the weeks to come.

“Succession” debuts new episodes Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.

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