After a longer wait than we deserved, Succession is finally back this week with a third season that promises to see the Roy family at their most volatile. Season two ended with Kendall (Jeremy Strong) finally turning on his father, Logan (Brian Cox), and declaring open war on the family business, capping two seasons of exquisitely scripted, flawlessly performed moral corruption among the show's multimedia barons, children of privilege, and corporate stooges. In the process, just about every character has had at least a few opportunities to fling verbal barbs at another. In the world of Succession, a "barb" is rarely just an insult. More often, it's a vicious, delectably worded personal assault that strikes at the heart of its intended target, especially when said target is a blood relative or an acolyte by marriage or business (same difference).
To celebrate the return of TV's most vitally toxic show, we've ranked the twelve best, cruellest, most splendidly delivered insults that have been hurled from one Succession character to another over the course of show's first two seasons.
12. "You know how you're so efficient and good at your job but also sort of like invisible, like wallpaper, like a boring old sort of nothing, like a competent kind of clever filing cabinet that everyone seems content to have around."
— Roman to Gerri, Season 2, Episode 6: "Agrestes"
Roman and Gerri were already on the road towards a twisted, corporate-Oedipal dom-sub relationship by the time the Roy family attended the international business conference at Agrestes. This is where Roman pitched Gerri on his idea of shared power between them, with him as the "rock star" and her as the "mole woman." In context, it's actually very sweet, which is why it only ranks at #12, but it's worth taking a step back and realizing that this is what counts as sweet in this diseased family.
11. "You lack killer instinct, you're wet, you're green, you're intellectually insecure, you're not emotionally strong enough, you have addiction issues."
— Shiv to Kendall, Season 1, Episode 2: "Shit Show at the Fuck Factory"
After Logan experienced his stroke, and with his family gathered at the hospital not knowing whether he was going to survive it, Kendall broached the topic of the titular succession with his siblings. Shiv (Sarah Snook) took particular exception to both Kendall's ghoulishness and his presumption that he could lead the company, leading to this devastatingly frank laundry list of his shortcomings. That she followed it up with the assurance that "I don't think all that, I'm just trying to be Dad's voice" didn't exactly do much to soften the blow.
10. "I look at your face and, no offense, but I see dead babies."
— Connor to Gil, Season 1, Episode 10: "Nobody Is Ever Missing"
Shiv's wedding to Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) at the end of the first season was enough of a shitshow to require two episodes, and in the season finale, Shiv's boss, the Bernie Sanders-esque Senator Gil Eavis (Eric Bogosian), met her half-brother Connor (Alan Ruck), whose hyper-libertarianist desire to not pay taxes and delusions of running for President pitted the two as arch-enemies, at least in Connor's mind. Connor came out guns blazing with this shot at Gil's socialist agenda, and truly, it's the "no offense" that sells it.
9. "Greg, don't be an asshole, you don't have principles."
— Tom to Greg, Season 2, Episode 2, "Vaulter"
It's harder than you might think to levy a good insult at cousin Greg (Nicholas Braun), in part because he's such an easy, gummy-limbed target that you almost can't inflict harm on him. You end up reduced to delivering weird quasi compliments, like when Logan called him a "beautiful Ichabod Crane fuck." This moment, when Greg expressed the most mealy-mouthed of moral objections to working in the cable news division of Waystar Royco, where the discourse of American politics gets poisoned hourly, is where Tom fired back with the most direct hit at Greg to date. At the end of the day, no, Greg doesn't have principles, he only thinks he should.
8. "He's like a sex robot for Dad to fuck."
— Roman to Shiv, about Kendall, Season 2, Episode 1: "The Summer Palace"
After Kendall's failed coup against Logan in season one, which ended in a disgraced and negligently homicidal Kendall (RIP that poor cater waiter) cowering at Logan's heel like a beaten puppy, his siblings made sure to note his newly subservient demeanor to his face. With all the empathy having been thoroughly trained out of the Roy children since birth, neither Shiv nor Roman were in any mood for compassion when Kendall now appeared like a shellshocked orphan after the Blitz. Just armed to the teeth with insults instead.
7. "Tom, it's tough to have to tell you like this, but I'm in a sexual relationship with your mother. She talks in her sleep."
— Gerri to Tom, Season 1, Episode 4, "Sad Sack Wasp Trap"
Due to her position in the Waystar Royco family, Gerri doesn't get to stick it to too many people. Thank god for Tom, then, who offered himself up for ridicule when someone (it turns out it was Greg) spilled to Gerri that Tom was planning on holding a press conference in order to get ahead of the cruise line sex scandal by coming clean. That would be bad for business, so Gerri heads him off at the pass, and when he asks how she found out, Gerri slow-plays this perfectly juvenile jab.
6. Nice vest, Wambsgans, it's so puffy; what's it stuffed with, your hopes and dreams?"
— Roman to Tom, Season 2, Episode 6: "Agrestes"
Another shot at Tom, which makes sense. He's pretty much the opposite of Greg: the best target for insults because he tries so very hard to puff himself up that every dart thrown at him bursts a whole series of bubbles. This one stands out because it's so casually tossed off by Roman, revealing not only how little Tom's feelings matter but also giving the impression that the feebleness of Tom's ambitions are a joke that everybody else is in on but him.
5. "You disgusting little pig. You're pathetic. You are a revolting little worm, aren't you?"
— Gerri to Roman, season 2, episode 4: "Safe Room"
You knew this one was coming. Gerri and Roman's cruel-mommy sex play began here, after Roman embarrassingly struck out trying to have phone sex with his actual girlfriend (Caitlin FitzGerald). Humiliated, Roman got on the phone with Gerri, ostensibly to talk business, but after Gerri's rather commonplace insults end up turning him on, Gerri finds herself amused with how far she can push this. It's a tremendous little game, and just because the above insult got Roman off doesn't mean it wasn't sharply accurate.
4. "What I think he meant to say was that he wished Mom gave birth to a can opener because at least then it would be useful."
— Roman to Kendall, Season 1, Episode 2: "Shit Show at the Fuck Factory"
Back to the hospital, where Kendall, Roman, and Shiv were bickering their way through waiting to see if their dad would survive his stroke. With Kendall pressing hard to be named CEO, his siblings reminded him that he'd just gotten fired. When Kendall equivocated that Logan hadn't fired him, he'd only said his ascendence would take more time, Roman noted that this was Logan trying to be polite and that his real thoughts were closer to the harsh (and hilarious) insult above.
3. "I know when I see a spoiled slut."
— Marcia to Shiv, Season 1, Episode 9: "Pre-Nuptial"
Short and brutally to the point. Marcia Roy (Hiam Abbass) is never one to mince words. Just ask Rhea Jarrell (Holly Hunter) after Marcia asker her if she'd been tested for STDs as a sideways warning not to fuck her husband. Here, Marcia and Logan had arrived at Shiv's wedding where they were decidedly unwelcome (despite having paid for the event). When Shiv's greeting to her father was overtly hostile, Marcia objected, and when Shiv told her to stay out of business she didn't understand, Marcia unsheathed this dagger, revealing just what she thought of Logan's kids who had eyed her with such suspicion all season.
2. "I wonder if the sad I'd be without you would be less than the sad I get from being with you."
— Tom to Shiv, Season 2, Episode 10: "This Is Not for Tears"
This one stands out for its delivery, which doesn't come from the usual Succession place of defensiveness, snide derision, or vicious one-upsmanship. This one comes from deep within Tom's sincere woundedness at how Shiv's treated him. Their scene on the beach sees Tom surprisingly open and vulnerable about how much it hurts him that Shiv asked for an open marriage on their wedding day and allowed him to be led out to slaughter in front of the Congressional committee. Shiv didn't hold up her end of the bargain when she let Tom get harmed in public, but this was Tom letting her know that she'd treated him poorly as a human being. The rareness with which these characters leave themselves open to being wounded to their actual core is what made this moment hit so hard. He's saying being with her makes him sad. In the grand scope of Succession, that might seem like a soft blow, but it hits Shiv where she lives.
1. "You … are … a … fucking … idiot."
— Logan to Kendall, Season 1, Episode 3: "Lifeboats"
Another one that, without context, seems rather pedestrian. It doesn't have the kind of verbal panache or twisted metaphors that can characterize so many Succession insults. But the context hits hard. After Logan survives his stroke, all Kendall wants to do is help the business pull through in a way that would make his dad proud, to show him that he could be a good CEO after all. After making some tough business decisions, Kendall comes back to his ailing dad, hoping for at least a nod of approval, and instead, Logan musters up all of the strength and verbal ability he has to slowly croak out five words to his son. And those are the five. That's the Logan/Kendall relationship in a nutshell: blunt and cruel, even after a near-death experience.
Succession kicks off its third season on HBO and HBO Max Sunday Oct 17th at 9:00 PM ET.
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Joe Reid is the Managing Editor at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.