"Binges are fun, and often therapeutic, allowing viewers to catch past seasons or entire shows they missed, or to immerse themselves completely in another world," says Mary McNamara. "But the omnipotence of the binge model has been greatly exaggerated, in part because it, by definition, is a private event rather than a collective experience. Full season drops should never replace serial television because they do not serve the same purpose. Which is why, when HBO announced its own streaming service, HBOMax, Chief Content Officer Casey Bloys made it clear that the two platforms would have distinct programming. Though HBO series would be available on HBOMax, they would continue to roll out one episode at a time." McNamara adds: "Still, there is a beautiful irony to HBO’s commitment to saving serial television. The network that sought for so many years to distance itself from its own genre ('It’s not TV. It’s HBO') was, in certain disruptive ways, a precursor to streaming. Unbound by demands from advertisers, HBO did all the things broadcast networks couldn’t or wouldn’t — such as running episodes on multiple days of the week and making whole seasons available on DVDs. Over the years, the creators of HBO series inevitably (and tediously) described what they did as an elongated form of filmmaking. But the network knew better. The network stayed very much in the serial television business because its executives understood that anticipation is half the fun of just about anything, and the other half was deconstruction. The Sopranos was a breakthrough show in many ways, not the least of which was prodding a male audience to talk about television the way women, generally speaking, talked about soaps. To analyze, and theorize, to gossip about the characters — what they would do next and why...You can play along with a show while binging, but it’s a game of solitaire. How can you compare theories, display your expertise or crow about having guessed some big revelation if you’re watching a show alone and at your own pace? The kind of feints and foreshadowing required to produce a time bomb like Tom’s betrayal of Shiv is something only serial television can do; breaking any narrative into pieces offers viewers time to speculate but also forget. Narrative misdirection works best when your audience is fully invested in following the wrong thing — and full investment takes time."
Succession may have elements of a soap opera, but it avoids the constant reversals that define the genre: "On a scene-to-scene basis, Succession is frenetic and fast-paced, driven by rapid-fire insults and roving, ever-shifting cameras," says Alison Herman. "But when it comes to long-term plots, the show is practically glacial. The hostile takeover Kendall unwittingly starts by bringing his college friend Stewy into Waystar Royco is still an ongoing concern two dozen episodes later; the cruise scandal Tom Wambsgans inherits early on plagues the company well into Season 3. On a show where business is family and vice versa, its characters’ relationships are similarly stuck in a loop. Logan dominates his children and employees, who in turn dominate their partners (Shiv condescending to Tom) and subordinates (Tom ritually abusing Greg). Succession may have elements of a soap opera, but it avoids the constant reversals that define the genre. For a while, Succession’s frantic style belied, or at least complemented, its unmoving status quo. But in the show’s third season, which concluded on Sunday night, viewers began to take notice. Multiple critics penned essays positing Succession as a sitcom—a testament not just to its humor, but its constant reversion to a baseline for episodic adventures. Meanwhile, there were grumblings on social media that the nine-episode season was treading water, leaving fans, to quote my colleague Aric Jenkins, 'a little bored.' Critics still raved, and ratings continued to climb. But for the first time, there were hints of discontent among the fan base, even if they fell short of a full-blown backlash...Such inertia serves a dual purpose. On the one hand, Logan’s endless winning streak underscores a primary theme of Succession, and in fact many character-driven shows: that change is all but impossible, and the patterns encoded in us at an early age are monstrously difficult to break. (Think of Don Draper, repeatedly latching on to a new relationship only to be left with his lonely, alcoholic self.) Kendall may have mustered the courage to break with his father, but only for selfish reasons, and only because Logan yanked away the carrot first. When he summons his siblings to his ex-wife’s apartment in an attempt to get them on his side, the effort is doomed to fail. Their fear of their father is too deeply ingrained, their trust too eroded by a lifetime of conditional love. On the other, there’s a self-serving aspect to TV shows that avoid major shake-ups—which is to say, most TV shows. The longer a series sticks to its initial setup, the longer it can draw out its story and conserve what made the show work in the first place. There’s less pressure to stay in place on a prestige cable drama than, say, a broadcast series angling for syndication, but that doesn’t mean it’s nonexistent. The trick is to make sure the material concerns of a show don’t contradict the needs of its narrative, or exhaust the patience of its audience."
The Roys have all slowly, one at a time, been coming to terms with the fact they were raised by an abuser: "It’s telling that during his siblings’ attempt at an intervention, Kendall called himself Logan’s eldest son," says Laura Bradley. "Connor’s used to being dismissed by his family, and his isolation even among his siblings speaks to his father’s success in alienating them from one another to bolster his own influence over them. With Con out of the way, Kendall and Roman have battled for the crown for most of their lives—because as a woman, Logan never treated Shiv as a potential heir until she’d been properly starved to suit his agenda. As much as Succession explores questions of legacy, intergenerational wealth, and family as an institution, its real concern appears to be abuses of power, both personal and systemic. Its setting—the upper echelons of the media elite—invites the viewer to consider how the two might intertwine. The Roys’ story makes clear the latter can’t exist without the former; abusive institutions only exist because abusive people do, as well."
Nobody was more "carefully costumed" in Season 3 than Shiv: "It would be simplistic to think that Succession’s costume designer, Michelle Matland, didn’t have a specific and thought-out plan for Shiv’s wardrobe this season. (After all, nothing on TV happens by accident.)," says Emma Specter. "But even allowing for the possibility that Shiv was supposed to look uncomfortable as she grasped for control of her family empire—and finally ascended to a position of real power at Waystar Royco, despite being constantly diminished by her father, her brothers, and pretty much everyone else around her—the shift in her wardrobe still felt jarring."