The second season of Netflix’s brilliant animated comedy Big Mouth pulled a sad trick on the audience, distracting us with the male characters’ crude comedy antics before revealing in its final episode that female lead Jessie was in fact deep in depression, having been neglected by both her friends and the show for some time.
Succession has pulled a similar trick, albeit it with more signposts, with Jeremy Strong’s Kendall Roy, a once-brash and ballsy Wolf of Wall Street who — several episodes after he was responsible for the death of a young waiter — comes emotionally clean to sister Shiv in this week’s episode “Panic Room”: revealing his deep, almost lobotomised emptiness. “If dad didn’t need me right now, I don’t exactly know what I would be for”: it’s an honest response to the flippant, bullying behaviour of Brian Cox’s Logan, the patriarch who’s capitalistic fathering is generally a source of comedy on the show, but — the writers aren’t avoiding — is taking an actual psychological tole on his children.
Strong’s performance this season is exceptional, it feels lived-in, it’s totally transformative yet not inconsistent with Season 1 Kendall. Roman (Kieran Culkin), although the source of one of this episode’s most hilarious subplots as he attends theme park management training with the bearded guy from Netflix’s You, is demonstrating how own damage, failing to engage in phone sex with his girlfriends (“like the normos do”) and opting to have one of his father’s female executives insult him aggressively while he masturbates. It’s absolutely tragic.
Meanwhile, for an episode that features both a funeral and an off-screen suicide, it’s almost bizarre how hilarious “Panic Room” is. Tom (Matthew Macfayden) has to sheepishly grill a new news anchor about potential Nazi sympathies. Then a gunshot causes he and Cousin Greg (Nicholas Braun) to be locked in a makeshift panic room — which definitely isn’t sufficiently secure. “Someone could fit through that window. A small person. An attack child” screams a neurotic Greg. Then he tries to suggest a “professional open relationship” with Tom, and gets plastic bottles lobbed at him in response. Connor attends the funeral for a man called Lester who was nicknamed Mo-Lester and makes a eulogy that the show almost sets up too easily, and could have been about 20% funnier. Oh, and Holly Hunter shows up. The real Holly Hunter. And she’s vicious.
This current era of Succession episodes are hitting the highest highs imaginable narratively, performatively and comedically. This is West Wing-level brilliant television. I don’t know how long it’ll last but I’m in love.