On Succession, the Roy family lives by the credo that all’s fair in love and war—something that’s abundantly clear when you take stock of their messy love affairs. Though it’s their hostile takeovers and power plays in the business world that provide ample drama, it’s their intimate interactions that hold the real emotional weight in the show, with enough betrayals and casual cruelties between the characters to make a soap opera seem tame.
In the world of Succession, when it comes to relationships, love is fleeting and toxicity reigns supreme. A dalliance is less a romantic sojourn than another way to gain power, while a marriage can be a way to flex control when the rest of your world is crumbling beneath your feet. For the Roy family, a relationship is less about building a future than it is brokering a deal or maintaining—or gaining—status. One need look no further than the big bad patriarch himself, Logan Roy, a man whose level of toxicity makes Future look like a saint and whose three marriages and myriad affairs are as telling of his need for complete power and dominance as his controversial and power-hungry leadership of his media conglomerate, Waystar Royco.
The show, which returns to HBO for its fourth and final season on March 26, sees the return of some of the series’ most notorious and dysfunctional relationships, chief among them the swiftly deteriorating marriage of Tom and Shiv, a would-be power couple whose relationship has been a constant imbalance of power, that takes a major shift in season four. Ahead of the return of television’s most cold-blooded and power-hungry family to our screens, we’re taken on the task of reviewing the Succession couples who’ve made it to the final season and ranking them according to their toxicity.
7. Connor and Willa
The seemingly mismatched union between Connor, the hapless, oft-forgotten firstborn Roy and his fiancée Willa, a former escort-turned aspiring playwright may be the healthiest partnership on the show. While their relationship has always been transactional (Connor was a longtime client of Willa’s, who was introduced to him by Roman, before she reluctantly agreed to be in a paid exclusive relationship with him), the terms of it have always been clearly outlined and consensual. Connor genuinely adores Willa, so much so that he sinks part of his inheritance into her very bad Broadway play, and is willing to put his presidential hopes on the line by having her by his side as a potential first lady. Willa, for her part, is often annoyed by Connor’s capricious antics and deeply unserious nature, but cares enough about him to occasionally defend him against the cruelties of his cold-hearted family and to gamely agree to his marriage proposal after she sees how dejected he is. In a family ruled by outsize ego and ambition, Connor and Willa may be the dynasty’s most complacent couple, but they’re arguably the most content.
6. Kendall and Naomi
For Kendall and Naomi, shared interests and life experiences have led to a romantic relationship of convenience. Both pairs have grown up in moneyed, powerful families, though all the resources and privilege in the world have done little to find them happiness or insulate them from bouts of darkness. As the two black sheep of their respective families, Kendall and Naomi are drawn together by their vices (namely, their struggles with substance abuse and a predilection for partying as an avoidance tactic) and a desire to stick it to their rival media families’ expectations. But the heart of their relationship is darker, rooted in trauma bonding around the deaths in their pasts and their survivor’s guilt (Kendall’s drug-induced car crash resulted in the death of a waiter at Shiv’s wedding in season one, while Naomi survived a car crash that took the life of her mother). While this couple is hardly a pair of star-crossed lovers, there’s a touching intimacy shared between the two that comes from a mutual and innate understanding of the struggles and situations of their lives.
5. Roman and Gerri
Roman and Gerri’s taboo flirtation is the unlikeliest pairing on Succession, but it’s become one of the show’s most delicious storylines, thanks to some dirty phone calls and truly off-the-charts chemistry. The May-December pseudo-romance between the brash but impotent youngest Roy son and the family’s stoic general counsel was sparked when Roman’s characteristic need to push the envelope during a late-night business phone call lead to some sexually charged chastising from Gerri, birthing the forever-iconic insult, “slime puppy.” While the pairing, which Roman has dubbed “the rock star and the mole woman” is definitely an instance of so wrong, it feels right, their relationship, which consists just of sadomasochistic phone sex, acts as a mirror for showing just how deeply the problematic family dynamics of the Roys have affected Roman, down to his sex life. Ahead of his dalliance with Gerri, Roman’s love life was often defined by the absence of sex—he couldn’t or wouldn’t sleep with his many girlfriends and often relied on fetishes like necrophilia to try and get in the mood. His flirtation with Gerri, whose dominatrix-esque rebukes allow him to tap into both his humiliation fetish and his ever-present mommy issues and finally enables Roman to get off—that is, until a work victory makes Roman so over-confident that he accidentally sends a dick pic to Logan, instead of Gerri, bringing about a swift pause to their interlude. Here’s hoping that we’ll see the rock star and the mole woman reunited for more slime puppy dirty talk in season four.
4. Logan and Kerry
Of all of Logan’s extramarital affairs, his one with Kerry, his blunt-banged personal assistant (and potential baby mama), may be the most troubling. While Kerry has been present for the past three seasons of the show, she began playing an outsize role in the last season, overtly becoming his confidant and trusted right hand and acting as his emissary and mouthpiece, especially as tensions flare with his children in the midst of a health scare and business conflicts. It’s become increasingly clear over the past three seasons that Kerry and Logan are intimately involved beyond their professional relationship—in one scene, they exchange a flirtatious glance during a business deal, while in another, she follows him into his bedroom following a business meeting. The season three finale, however, dropped a major clue that Kerry may be strategizing for a much bigger role in Waystar Royco and the Roy family; at their mother’s wedding, Connor tells Shiv and Roman that Kerry’s been putting maca, a natural supplement purported to aid in fertility, in the green juices and smoothies she’s been feeding Logan daily.
3. Logan and Marcia
Logan and Marcia’s relationship highlights just how much the Roys view marriage as a business deal. While they were introduced as truly affectionate and loving couple in the early days of the show, with Marcia appearing as a fierce defender of Logan in both his professional and personal lives, it all changed once Logan betrayed Marcia’s trust, appearing to pursue a flirtation with Rhea Jarrell, the one-time CEO of Waystar Royco—and perhaps more hurtfully to Marcia, not keeping her abreast of the business aspect. Following this indiscretion, Marcia proves herself to be as cool and calculating a businessperson as Logan with just as much capability to inflict emotional hurt. After confronting Logan about his misstep during a formal event where he’s receiving an award, she dismisses him by telling him that he is boring her, then leaves the event ahead of his honor. It’s later revealed that her exit was long-term—while the couple is still technically married, Marcia now lives alone abroad—but not before she uses Logan’s betrayal as leverage for re-negotiating the terms of their union and securing larger financial provisions for herself and her two children from her first marriage.
2. Tom and Greg
Of all the partnerships on Succession, Tom and Greg’s hilariously ridiculous and endlessly shippable bromance may be the most endearing, though its foundation is built on a web of manipulation and power grabs. As the odd couple and self-proclaimed “Disgusting Brothers” of Waystar Royco, Tom and Greg are drawn to each other as ambitious, if not always savvy social climbers, united by their outsider statuses, general thirstiness and an overwhelming amount of unhealthy codependency. For much of season one, Tom uses Greg as his personal punching bag, maligning him as often as his brown-nosing, power-worshipping self is maligned by the other members of the Roy family, perhaps most notably, his wife Shiv. As the show progresses, however, Tom and Greg develop a twisted sense of connection that goes beyond camradarie and veers into the homoerotic and psychosexual, with Tom even likening himself to the Roman Emperor Nero and Greg to his castrated lover Sporus, in a metaphorical tale that mirrors the betrayal of Shiv that takes place at the end of season three. Though their relationship is dysfunctional, it’s absolutely telling that when Tom makes his daring power play to stop the Roy siblings’ coup (thus ingratiating himself with Logan) it’s not Shiv he turns to, but Greg—showing exactly which power couple Tom is willing to throw his weight behind.
1. Tom and Shiv
No other couple embodies the toxic nature of a bad romance more than Shiv and Tom, a couple whose entire beleaguered relationship hinges on an imbalance of power. For the majority of their relationship, the power differential is clear—Shiv, truly her father’s daughter, uses Tom as a way to assert and maintain control. In their partnership and later, their marriage, she calls the shots and inflicts cutting slights with nonchalance: she proposes an open relationship on their wedding night, pursues an affair with an ex-boyfriend, and shows indifference to Tom’s very real concerns about being sent to prison.
Shiv may not be able to stand up to her bully of a father or exact control over the business dealings at Waystar Royco, but she can certainly cut Tom down to size, whenever she wants, seeming to find safety, security, and comfort in keeping him humble. Tom, for his part, mostly willingly engages in this dynamic—as a class outsider with a social climbing agenda, he’s so hungry for power, that he’s a willing cuck, eager to sublimate himself to Shiv’s demands and to be humiliated constantly by her family’s cruelties just to be adjacent to Logan and increase his chances of success. While both Tom and Shiv are using each other to achieve what they want, they are by no means happy—throughout the course of the show, their tumultuous relationship, one of the few consistent couples during its entirety, has been a slow-burning swan song, hinting at an inevitable bitter demise by a thousand tiny cuts. Who can forget the bedroom talk a drunk Shiv initiates with Tom, when she tells him: “You’re not good enough for me. I’m way out of your fu-king league. That’s why you want me. That’s why you love me, even though I don’t love you. But you want me anyway” or the time she casually tells him, “I may not love you, but I do love you,” as a deluded way of reassuring him about their relationship.
However, the moment that may best sum up just why Shiv and Tom are the most toxic relationship on a show filled with megalomaniacs comes in season 2, when Tom says the quiet part out loud in a rare moment of true vulnerability on their honeymoon.
“A lot of the time, I’m pretty unhappy,” he says. “I love you, I do, but I wonder if the sad I’d be without you is less than the sad I get from being with you.”
More Must-Reads From TIME
- Inside the White House Program to Share America's Secrets
- Meet the 2024 Women of the Year
- East Palestine, One Year After Train Derailment
- The Closers: 18 People Working to End the Racial Wealth Gap
- Long COVID Doesn’t Always Look Like You Think It Does
- Column: The New Antisemitism
- The 13 Best New Books to Read in March
- Want Weekly Recs on What to Watch, Read, and More? Sign Up for Worth Your Time
Write to Cady Lang at email@example.com