Toward the end of an interview with Variety, during which “Succession” creator Jesse Armstrong had said in many different ways that he doesn’t like telling the audience how to think about the show, he expanded on exactly why he feels that way.
“You’re asking me into the therapy room, and I’m not going to go in there with you!” he said with a laugh.
The question that prompted this response from Armstrong was about whether Marcia (Hiam Abbass) actually loves Logan (Brian Cox).
“I think people have to decide what they think,” he continued. “I’m sorry! It is not because I don’t — I’m fascinated by these questions. And we do talk about them in the room, and I do have feelings about them. But I just feel like if I give a binary answer, it’s not so fun for people. So if you’ll excuse me, I won’t dive in on that one. I feel like I’m being evasive when I don’t want to be.”
Armstrong did offer a further explanation for his hesitation. “I feel like the actors are so open,” he said. “The craft of the show is giving you so much information that it just feels a bit unsubtle for me to give my take on that stuff, when I hope it’s all in the show for people to enjoy and decide.”
It is, and we do. Yet there actually were a few questions about the show’s season premiere Sunday that Armstrong felt comfortable giving insight into. So may we present…
Kendall (Jeremy Strong) is all over the place in the premiere — how’s he doing?
The episode begins with Kendall in a hotel bathroom, deep breathing, trying to come to terms with what he’s done to his father, Logan, and their company, Waystar Royco. But once he gets through that, he’s mostly armed and ready (to use the words of Eminem, whom Kendall probably listens to). With Greg (Nicholas Braun) and his assistant Jess (Juliana Canfield) in tow, he’s driven around Manhattan in an SUV for the first part of the episode, as they search for a headquarters for Kendall’s insurrection (which turns out to be the apartment of Rava, his ex-wife, played by Natalie Gold).
Kendall is hyped up, to be sure. After Jess learns that he wouldn’t be able to get into the Waystar Royco building and they drive away, Greg says, “This is like O.J.! Except if O.J. never killed anyone” — and Kendall’s response is: “Who said I never killed anyone?” as his face settles into a feral, gleeful look. That’s in case any “Succession” viewers need to be reminded that in the finale of Season 1, Kendall was responsible for the death of a caterer, whom he left to drown after a car wreck. It was that criminal act that caused Kendall to fold his efforts to oust Logan the first time, after his father covered up the crime.
So where is Kendall putting those feelings these days? Armstrong, naturally, would rather not nail down for viewers what Kendall’s “joke” means. But, he continued: “Obviously, in terms of the broader point, I hope people feel he’s a three-dimensional human being. And that event that happened to him, I think, is a heavy weight for him to carry.”
As Gerri (J. Smith Cameron) and Roman (Kieran Culkin) await news, they’re alone — and Roman explicitly propositions Gerri.
Her response is Bill Clinton-esque: “Can I remind you, Roman, that nothing has happened between us other than of a professional nature.” She then squashes it again. “I am quite a successful person, Roman, and I remain so by avoiding mess,” she says.
The Gerri-Roman dynamic has delighted viewers, of course. And according to Armstrong, he and the writers have leaned into it. “We’ve always believed in there being this feeling between them — well, certainly on Roman’s side,” he said. “And we’ve just tried to follow the threads.”
There had been a similar scene between the two characters toward the end of Season 2, in which “Roman made a proposition,” Armstrong said. “And we loved that scene, but there just wasn’t enough time, and it didn’t rhythmically fit into the episode.”
So instead “when we realized they were going to be together waiting for news,” Armstrong said, they wrote it into the premiere.
“That was something that I’d wanted to do,” he said. “So it was fun to get that in.”
What’s the status of the marriage of Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) and Shiv (Sarah Snook) in the season premiere?
In the Season 2 finale, in a devastatingly sad conversation between them, Tom said to Shiv: “I wonder if the sad I’d be without you would be less than the sad I get from being with you.”
It seemed clear then they were headed for divorce. But in the premiere, because of the company crisis, that appears to be off — at least for now. So where are Shiv and Tom in Season 3?
“I think their relationship has been built on a number of different accommodations,” Armstrong said. “It’s very contingent. And has a bunch of different levels to it. In the finale, I guess they were talking about a quite a traditional, true romantic version of a partnership. And what was or wasn’t working for Tom.”
What Kendall has done, though, has changed that downward trajectory for the couple.
“There are other ways in which that relationship works,” Armstrong said. “And they’re activated by different business and familial dynamics. So even though things might be quite wonky in one regard, it doesn’t mean that they’re not able to cooperate in other ways. And I always find that interesting that all relationships, including romantic ones, have different ways of operating.”
During a plane ride to Sarajevo, where Logan is heading, Waystar veteran execs Frank (Peter Friedman) and Karl (David Rasche) discuss whether this crisis is the worst ever to hit the company.
Frank isn’t sure, and ticks off a number of past disasters, like they’re right there in his head: “There were the tabloid suicides. When we nearly went kablooey because of Argentina. The Tiananmen accommodations. The black cloud after Sally Ann.”
Are there backstories for all of these past scandals?
“Yeah!” Armstrong said. “We have a good bible, not that we don’t sometimes create new bits from the past.”
As for “the black cloud after Sally Ann,” she’s been mentioned in the past — as a past mistress of Logan’s. In the show’s second season, she was mentioned twice off-handedly as “Sally Ann with the horses,” and “Sally Ann with the harp.”
“Sally Ann was a relationship, or an infatuation,” Armstrong said. “I think he gets them, but it’s sometimes romantic. Like, there seemed to be some romantic feelings with Rhea, with Holly Hunter’s character.”
“And so I think that was just after things went wrong,” he continued. “However they went wrong.”