Roush Review: 'Succession' Returns on Fire With Cunning Performances in Season 2

Matt Roush
Review HBO

Somewhere in TV heaven — or possibly hell — Dallas scoundrel J.R. Ewing is watching the savage infighting among the Roy family and smirking, "Well, at least we never took it that far!"

After a slow-burning first season that built to a harrowing crescendo, the Emmy-nominated Succession returns on fire for a second round of vicious sibling rivalries and high-stakes power plays that leave no pawn unscathed. As the ailing King Lear in this high drama of low behavior, irascible media potentate Logan Roy (the magnificent Brian Cox) roars in paranoid fury, "I am surrounded by snakes and f---ing morons!"

He's not wrong, but pity would be wasted on a ruthless, manipulative tyrant who delights in turning his business associates and adult children into squabbling minions. Weasels and toadies and vultures, oh, my.

The jockeying for favor can be devastating in its degradation, but also horribly amusing, with pungent writing and cunning performances that elevate familial blood sport to a profane art form.

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Roush Review: 'The Terror: Infamy' Is as Fresh & Original as It Is Frightening

The second season of the provocative anthology series adds a creepy layer of supernatural shock to its re-creation of historical events.

Logan's latest reckless gambit has everyone scrambling when he fends off a hostile takeover bid by proposing to spend tens of billions to acquire a rival — and much more respected — media company. "Dad's gone woo-woo," worries daughter Shiv (Sarah Snook), who's now favored to be his successor after the failure of brother Kendall's (Jeremy Strong) palace coup — an ill-advised move that has left him a broken, shell-shocked puppet. (Or is he faking?)

Seemingly out of the running: vapid firstborn Connor (Alan Ruck), with delusions of presidential grandeur, and Logan's youngest son, pervy slacker Roman (Kieran Culkin), who's forced into management training among the despised "normals."

(Peter Kramer/HBO)

The tension explodes shockingly in the outrageous August 25 episode after Shiv enlists her obsequious husband, Tom (the hilarious Matthew Macfadyen), to talk sense into the old man at a corporate retreat. What happens next isn't pretty, unless you long to witness grown men literally groveling for forgiveness.

While it's fair to wonder if this is a crown even worth inheriting, frequent Shakespearean allusions remind us how timeless is the appeal of these sagas of wealth, raw ambition, power, and influence. To watch or not to watch? At this point, that's not even a question.

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Matt Roush also talks new seasons of 'Succession' and 'Mindhunter,' as well as new CBS All Access drama 'Why Women Kill'.

Succession, Season 2 Premiere, Sunday, August 11, 9/8c HBO