We’re jumping right into a discussion of Succession’s Season 3 episode “Chiantishire,” so if you haven’t caught up do so before proceeding!
The moment when Roman Roy sent his father a dick pic was excruciating, hilarious, and, because of a terrific physical performance by Kieran Culkin, has serious legendary meme potential. It was also extremely sad.
There’s nothing the Succession writers hate more than a character who feels good about themselves. They’ll pour misery on misery—see the entire arc of Tom—but if your fortunes seem to be on the rise, you’re screwed. So it was television’s safest bet that after proving himself as the one Roy sibling with the charisma and amorality to exist on his father’s wavelength, and spiking the football on Kendall and Shiv in brutally insulting fashion at the end of the birthday episode, that Roman was going to fall… uhh… hard.
The vehicle of his comeuppance was perfect, too, because Roman’s sexuality, from his inability to have normal intercourse to his weird BDSM thing with Gerri—now complete with unwanted dick pics—to the increasingly uncomfortable way he sexualizes Shiv, have all pointed in the direction of a sexual meltdown of public proportion. The fact that it involved sexting his terrifying father is pure chef’s kiss from a show that never misses.
So why, after watching the excruciating scene several times, do I feel this nagging sense of melancholy?
I think it comes to the fact that Roman and Logan actually love each other, which is an outrageously rare sentiment on Succession. And because they love each other, they can hurt each other.
I’m not entirely sure this works both ways with any other dual dynamic in their universe. Kendall loves and hates his father, and Logan has the ability to hurt him, but Kendall has always been a little too pathetic, a little too needy, to earn the love of someone as cutthroat as Logan. Ditto for Shiv—every little bit of dialogue Logan had in the last episode alone shows that he’s a raging misogynist, and he’s not the kind of man who could ever love a daughter like he loves a son. You see it elsewhere, too; Shiv doesn’t love Tom, not the same way he loves her, which is why he walks around like a beaten dog. Among the siblings, whatever slight affection existed at the start of the series has been thoroughly blown to pieces by the competition for the top seat, to the point that Shiv has made it her mission to make Roman pay a massive price for his indiscretion.
But Roman and Logan are something else. It’s complicated, of course, but even in the really dark father-son moments—Logan slapping a tooth out of his mouth—there’s the sense that only Roman can inspire that kind of rage in his father, and that (this is toxic, I know) the rage comes from love. Even when Roman made up a story for TV about his father taking him on a camping trip, when it was actually his brother Connor, Logan seemed to be affected by the fact that his son couldn’t come up with even one genuine memory. Of course, the way this emotion manifested was by mockingly calling Roman a slur, but again, that’s how a bad person responds when guilt and love are provoked. As for Roman, while he actively courts a presidential candidate who promises to send Logan to jail, he also seems visibly annoyed when GoJo’s Mattson ponders the imminent death of his father, and it’s clear throughout the entire series that despite his disaffected demeanor, he craves his father’s approval just as much as Kendall and Shiv. (“I’m the only child you need. You can kill all the others.”)
In fact, he pursues this approval by mirroring his dad’s public posture, which has a deleterious psychological effect on him since he’s not nearly the heartless monster Logan Roy has always been. Like Logan, though, he responds to his guilt by becoming vicious, which was never clearer than his insult tirade against Shiv and Kendall, which became worse when he had to reckon with the fact that he was implicated in spying on Kendall’s kids.
Logan sees himself in Roman, or at least wants to see himself, but he also knows that Roman is kind of a fuck-up. What kind of fuck-up? That’s the crucial question. If you’re George H.W. Bush, you can live with a GWB style fuck-up, who drinks too much, parties too much, and eventually reforms and becomes president. But what you can’t tolerate, and what breaks your heart, is weakness. Roman isn’t weak like Kendall, or constantly on the defensive like Shiv, but someone who can’t control his impulses—i.e. he can’t stop firing off dick pics—is weak, is a liability, and is potentially embarrassing.
What makes the whole thing worse is that Logan is genuinely proud of him after his GoJo pitch, and despite everything else, Roman seems to have become a Serious Business Person who Logan respects. This, of course, is a massive red flag in Succession, and the devastating blunder that follows just proves we can’t have even the mildest of nice things.
The love continues into the next scene, painful as it is. Logan asks if it’s just “Roman being Roman,” and becomes at least mildly annoyed when Shiv—now in the right, but still very much on the make—refuses to let him minimize it. Logan’s first instinct is to fire Gerri, and even when he comes to the full realization of what’s happening, he sounds more soul-weary than angry when he calls Roman a “laughingstock” and tells him to “fuck off.”
Logan Roy isn’t the kind of person who deserves anything good, and neither is Roman, and neither is anybody on this show beyond the poor kid who tried to hit a home run for a million dollars in the pilot episode. And yet, in the absence of morality or good faith or even the barest hint of scruples, the appearance of real love, even the tainted and problematic kind whose expression is more often violent than loving, has a way of sticking out. The brilliance of this show is that they know how to dangle it, to make us grasp for this sliver of humanity, and when our fingers are just on the threshold, they know just how to slam the door. Of all the toxic relationships on Succession, I’m starting to think the one between viewers and creators might be the most vicious of all. And just like Roman and Logan, we love it in spite of ourselves.
Shane Ryan is a writer and editor. You can find more of his writing and podcasting at Apocalypse Sports, and follow him on Twitter here .
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