close reads

That Succession Moment Is About a Lot More Than Roman’s ‘Item’

This is not surprising behavior for Roman, somehow. Photo: Graeme Hunter/Graeme Hunter

Roman Roy has never had big dick energy. Big prick energy, maybe. BDE? Not quite.

But in this week’s episode of Succession, Roman’s dick manages to dominate the conversation in multiple scenes, suck all the energy out of the conference room at a crucial moment for Waystar Royco, and possibly freeze any potential he had to succeed his father as head of the company someday. All he has to do is hit send in response to the wrong text message.

In one of the cringiest moments in a series that is masterful at making viewers cringe, Roman accidentally sends his own father a dick pic, one he meant to text to Gerri after she congratulated him on persuading Logan to move forward with a merger with GoJo. The chain of events is horrifying and hilarious in equal measure, and also enables Kieran Culkin to make some facial expressions that should be given their own Emmy Award category. It’s also not surprising behavior from Roman.

The fact that Roman is distracted by his dad’s text message while attempting to digitally expose himself to Gerri is very much in keeping with his fixation on being the favored Roy child, as well as his unusual relationship with sex. Since season one, Succession has made it clear that Roman’s sexuality, which does not involve actually having sex, coincides with his desire for approval and control. The things that he gets off on seem to involve some combination of masturbation; relishing his pseudo-power (remember when he jerked off against the glass windows of his office and also when he maybe hooked up with his trainer?); being acknowledged by those in positions of authority, positively or negatively (see season two’s “slime puppy” convo with Gerri, as well as Gerri’s “Well done, Roman” text that sparked the dick pic); and flirting with Gerri without acting upon it. (See again the dick pic, which was accompanied by a text that read, “Dinner to celebrate, Gerri? Eat this.”) In fact, what makes Roman so persistent in his flirtation with Gerri is his belief that nothing will ever come of his immature, inappropriate advances. The knowledge that she is currently seeing Laurie — which now feels almost strategic on Gerri’s part — makes Roman more eager to get her attention and also completely confident about sending her a Weiner shot (capitalization intentional), because there is no risk of actual sex happening.

Trying to unpack the psychology behind Roman’s relationship with his willy is frankly too much for one essay and also, at this juncture in Succession, not all that important right now. What’s more relevant about Roman’s dick pic is the way that Logan and Shiv respond to it, and what it might portend about the family business’s future.

It is extremely notable that after his company seemingly evaded punishment for a sexual-harassment scandal, the first thing that Logan worries about is not the optics or significance of Roman sending jpegs of his privates to the acting CEO of the company, who happens to be a woman. Instead, his primary concerns are about whether Roman is a normal man with normal urges: “Are you a sicko?” is his first question. Also: “What happened to that nice piece of tail?” That query refers to Tabitha, a beautiful woman with whom Roman could not bring himself to have actual or phone sex. Logan concludes that what Roman has done is “fucking disgusting” — again, not because of reasons related to consent, but because “Gerri is a million years old.” (First of all, Gerri is younger than Logan. Second: I’m sorry, Logan Roy, but are you familiar with your own work? This man is currently sleeping with Kerry, his aide, who is 50 years his junior. To Logan, May-December flings — actually, in Logan’s case it’s May-May five decades later — are only appalling when the woman is the older party.) Are these the questions of a man who learned his lesson after several female employees were abused on his watch? Absolutely not. But they are reminders from Succession creator Jesse Armstrong, who wrote this episode, that we are supposed to despise a man who talks, acts, and thinks like this.

More important, perhaps, from a business perspective is the degree to which this conversation between Logan and Roman confirms that Logan is a dinosaur who has no place running a company that is trying to lock arms with a tech powerhouse that represents the future of media. A key thing that Logan can’t seem to understand about Roman’s text debacle is the idea that dick pics are a thing that people send to each other. He is not confused because he’s prudish or thinks that men should keep their penises in their pants, especially among co-workers, which would be a valid take to have on dick pics. He just seems baffled by the concept: “People send each other pictures of their dicks?” he asks his youngest son. It doesn’t make sense to him. What’s worse is that when he tries to make himself seem aware of the practice, he notes that, “We do publish a number of popular newspapers, so yes, son. We probably invented the fucking words.” No media visionary in 2021 would ever defend his cultural awareness by starting a sentence with, “We do publish a number of popular newspapers …”

It seems pretty clear that Logan is beginning to wonder whether Roman, whose credibility has been rising in his father’s eyes this season, actually has the proper judgment to be a leader at Waystar Royco. Just before all the dick-pic chaos goes down, Logan asks whether Mattson is a “Twitter panty flasher,” and Roman assures his dad that Mattson is a serious person, even though Mattson actually seems more like a red flag with arms, legs, and a short attention span. Surely Logan is now wondering whether a guy who flashes his dick via text message is capable of assessing whether someone is a panty flasher on social media. And whatever doubts he may have about Roman are stoked by Shiv, who immediately gets in daddy’s ear and assures him that Roman’s behavior is an ongoing issue that needs to be addressed. Then, just as swiftly, she pulls aside Gerri to pressure her to report Roman to HR.

This is not the first time Shiv has acted like an ally when she’s actually working against the best interests of another woman. In season two, she talked Kira, a victim of the ongoing sexual harassment in the company’s cruises division, into not testifying before Congress about her abuse, arguing that nothing would really come of it other than Kira becoming a public pariah. With Gerri, she’s engaging in the reverse version of the same thing: She’s telling her she has to speak up about Roman, but not out of any sense of sisterly support or some MeToo-inspired belief that women must say something when men engage in inappropriate behavior. Shiv just wants to get Roman, and maybe Geri, out of the way.

Shiv is keenly aware that Roman’s stock has been going up. She witnessed firsthand when Logan gave Roman the coveted “You did good this weekend, son” after Roman persuaded Logan to support fascist potential Republican candidate Jeryd Mencken in the upcoming presidential election. She was miffed when she realized Roman and Logan had offered Kendall a buyout without including her. Certainly Roman’s comment early in this episode — “I can’t quite fire you yet, Shiv, because I’m still a little bit scared of you, but my thinking is, when I take over, I’m going to put you in the office next to mine and you’re going to be my sex secretary” — may have pushed Shiv further over the edge.

So her strategy is to threaten a fellow woman in power who, and I must say this at the top of my lungs and in all caps, DOES NOT DESERVE THIS. “I just think you should report him to HR, because if you don’t, it could be argued that you welcomed these photos,” Ivanka — I mean Shiv — tells Gerri. Of course, Gerri actually did tell Roman to stop sending “the items,” a term Shiv echoes. And earlier in the season, when she had recently taken the acting-CEO position and Roman made a masturbation joke in front of her, she warned him, “That — that will kill us.” (She may not be wrong!) But because she may have gotten a small amount of pleasure out of Roman’s attention — again, she did voluntarily insult the slime puppy until he climaxed — she could have reservations about bringing any attention to their weird dynamic.

The problem is that if Shiv’s plan to ice out Roman works, the company will likely suffer. Neither Logan nor Shiv is thinking big picture right now about how pushing Roman aside will affect the organization’s goals and bottom line. Remember: Roman promised Mattson that all future communication re: Gojo could go through him so that Mattson would not have to interface with Logan. Roman also has more of a relationship with Jeryd Mencken than any of the Roys. This season, Roman has been responsible for laying the groundwork on almost every key business partnership, and he’s the only one of the Roy children who seems capable of developing alliances with the douchebags in business and politics that Waystar and ATN seem to need in their corner. Roman is terrible in a lot of ways, but he can be charming, and he knows how to speak other people’s language in a way that Shiv, Connor, and Kendall do not. At a company built on a foundation of doing awful things, Roman’s the kind of awful they need.

But Shiv is so focused on her own ambition, and Logan is so blinded by his own ego, that they either can’t or don’t want to see that. If everyone agrees, for example, that this Gojo merger is maybe the only way left to keep Waystar Royco a relevant media organization, then everyone should agree that Roman, the point person in this thing, needs to remain in the mix. If he doesn’t, what they’ve been trying to build could implode.

That won’t be entirely because Roman decided to send a dick pic, although obviously that was super-gross and stupid. It will be for the same reasons that things often go sideways on Succession: because everyone is so self-involved that they can’t make decisions based on the best interests of the whole enterprise, the family, or (God forbid) society. Personally, I kind of hope things do take a more dire turn for these wealthy sickos. After watching nearly three seasons of this series, I am ready to finally see what it looks like when the Roys really, truly get the shaft.

More From This Series

See All
That Succession Moment Is About More Than Roman’s ‘Item’