A few words about Jeremy Strong and Kendall Roy: The vital glue at the heart of HBO’s ‘Succession’

Here’s the thing about HBO’s white hot series, “Succession:” It wouldn’t be near as good without Jeremy Strong.

The New York published a profile of the very talented actor, one that painted him as a tortured artist putting himself through intense methods on set. The piece made him out to be Daniel Day Lewis Jr., but only this time we didn’t think it was cool. It was odd and too eccentric… right?

Wrong.

***MILD SPOILERS FOLLOW***

Strong is the glue at the heart of HBO’s big stick. Take Kendall Roy out of the equation and the conflict shrinks down considerably. Brian Cox does give a bloody steak performance as the elder Logan Roy, daddy bitterest who refuses to fall or at least name a successor. Kendall tried to stage a coup in the first season, but he couldn’t bring it home. The second season saw him fractured and wounded, glued to Logan in deadly ways that don’t go unpunished.

While the Season Two finale was a fist bump moment for Strong’s often-ridiculed sibling, it didn’t amount to much in the wake of a Department of Justice investigation. When you can buy your way out of prison time with money, nothing much was found. Kendall loses again. The scorecards now read: Older yet still wiser Logan 45, smart yet emotionally-insecure Kendall 5. Or something like that.

The truth is Kendall is incredibly smart. He knows the business better than Roman and Siobhan (“Shiv”) double over, but his sales pitches can underwhelm. He thinks too much and too often. His mind undercuts his delivery, and his bloodhound brothers and sisters come running for the vulnerable one. Much of what makes “Succession” easy to ingest happily and exhale thankfully is the disdain the Roys have for one another.

Their love is tainted, bitten by a poisonous snake at birth and wrangled to death. Kieran Culkin deserves all the Emmys because he really does make you want to put a fist through Roman’s head–and then get a drink with him. Shiv (Sarah Snook is equally marvelous) dresses like a woman of power but lacks a genuine understanding of the business to sell it to all the men in the room who don’t want her to be boss. The lion’s den doesn’t belong to anyone in this modern day wild west take on Wall Street global warfare.

Gordon Gekko wouldn’t even bother with the Roys. They have an extra set of thorns for you to get stabbed with. To me, Kendall is the most fascinating personality. The only thing he lacks is what his siblings were given extra of at birth: confidence. Like, a real-deal confident layer underneath one’s skin. Nothing pretentious, completely authentic. Kendall needs that to succeed in this world. If he had more of that vital quality, he would have already won. Strong’s eyes may give off that puppy-dog who can bit demeanor, but he’s not threatening.

But he doesn’t have it. Kendall was walking wounded before he played a big part in a waiter’s death. Shiv’s wedding may have been an easy laughing stock (she doesn’t love poor Tom, bullyish yet sweet), but Kendall’s inner demons took the cake.

For my money, the moment in Season 3 where Kendall became undone was when Logan’s assistant/part-time henchman got up in his grill and simply said, “I know you.” It was as if the big, bad wolf came up and blew the fragile house to the ground. That was when Strong’s creation went weak.

Just don’t go after Strong’s method of getting into character. If you think this shit is easy, join the circus and find out. I did ONE acting gig and found it tortuous. Fact: I was in ONE scene. Strong is vital to every element that makes “Succession” tick like a walking timebomb. He is the only Roy sibling daring enough to go for the crown, yet constantly comes up weak after getting his hands on it. Something in him is permanently broken, and Strong acts the shit out of that.

I privately wanted Kendall to become a full-time nomad after the Season One finale despair. Leave the spa, grow a beard, and disappear. Go anti-Roy family and just live off the grid, instead of dry-humping it constantly. Go a different way, buddy. But Kendall didn’t make that decision. He went back to the races–and lost even worse than he had before.

The end of the 40th birthday party, swaddled like a toddler by his girlfriend, was the first punch that landed on the jawline. But being rejected-his escape plea denied-during a face-to-face meeting with his dad the following episode was the hook that turned off the switch.

Upside down in a pool is the last place we saw him. I hope Kendall gets freedom somehow. In a sea of hungry, beguiled sharks, he is the one that seems to retain my rooting interest. A bad husband and father yet still the overall most-redeemable mind in the family, I want to see him get out. All the while, he stands for more of the Roy hated values than he thinks. He’s full of shit.

Jeremy Strong makes you believe all of that.

If he wants to be intense on set before producing this sort of performance, so be it. Get out of his damn way!


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