Jeremy Strong in <i>Succession</i>
Jeremy Strong (center) in Succession (Photo: David M. Russell/HBO)

Succession, the black diamond in HBO’s prestige crown returns this weekend for its long-awaited third season. What have the power-hungry members of the absurdly wealthy Roy family been up to since heir-apparent Kendall (Jeremy Strong) went on live TV to accuse patriarch Logan (Brian Cox) of knowingly presiding over a media empire that was rife with corruption and sexual misconduct? Well, not much. The new season opens pretty much where Season 2 ended almost exactly two years ago, with the Roys — all of them — scrambling in the aftermath of Kendall’s bombshell.

And I do mean all of them. For all his icy poise and seeming self-control as he threw his own father under the bus in the second season finale, Kendall is back to preening and flailing in the Season 3 opener. It becomes clear pretty quickly that he doesn’t really have a plan; his big betrayal wasn’t so much a carefully orchestrated coup as an impulse, the acting-out of a spoiled child.

Strong, who won an Emmy for playing Kendall’s more subtle, wounded shades in the Season 2 finale, is back in “self-important popinjay” mode, as one character describes him in a later episode. Kendall is convinced of his own heroism in exposing his father’s misdeeds, and Strong’s performance of the character’s delusions of grandeur is the highlight of the first couple episodes provided to critics. High on adrenaline and self-regard, he can’t seem to see the mess he’s in, the herculean task ahead of him in attempting to bring down Logan without implicating himself in the company’s culture of corruption and irrevocably damaging Waystar Royco. Having been banished from the company’s headquarters — something he never anticipated — he sets up shop in his ex-wife Rava’s (Natalie Gold) apartment, taking meetings and inviting his new girlfriend over for dinner. During a meeting with a potential media team, he can’t stop himself from talking over the two female execs, pitching his own ideas, like hiring some Bojack Horseman writers to run his Twitter account. He disregards the very real concerns of his powerful new lawyer Lisa Arthur (Sanaa Lathan), and when Rava finally reaches her breaking point with his team’s use of her home, an oblivious Kendall turns to Cousin Greg (Nicholas Braun) and smiles. “All these brilliant f*cking women,” he says, genuinely impressed with himself. “I must be doing something right!”

Brian Cox and Sarah Snook in <i>Succession</i>
Brian Cox and Sarah Snook in Succession (Photo: Hunter Graeme/HBO)

Meanwhile, Logan and the rest of the Roy siblings along with their inner circle, are in transit, stuck at a Croatian airport on their way back from their yacht in the Mediterranean and uncertain where to go next. Several countries without extradition treaties with the US are floated, as Shiv (Sarah Snook) and Roman (Kieran Culkin) weigh their own options: join Kendall or stick with pops? Sure, the jockeying for the top job — not to mention Logan’s favor — is familiar territory. But Succession’s appeal has always been the show’s razor-sharp dialog, vicious wit and world class performances more than the specifics of the Roys’ dynastic tussle. We care about who may end up in the role of interim CEO if and when Logan steps back insofar as it shifts the dynamics between characters and creates opportunities for verbal sparring amongst them. We care more about the sparring itself, the rhetorical electricity that happens when Shiv and Roman and Gerri (J. Smith-Cameron) find themselves in competition once again. As always, Culkin is the MVP in this arena, but this stellar ensemble continues to thrive off one another.

Still, though Cox continues to seethe and storm majestically, Strong is the undisputed champ in this early round. But it’s early days. Alexander Skarsgård and Adrien Brody are still waiting in the wings — not to mention Lathan. The battle has only just begun.