Roman Roy Has Always Been Succession‘s Most Empathetic Character

10 minute read

In Sunday night’s episode of Succession, Roman, the “slime puppy” of the Roy family, performed an act of kindness, and it left many viewers aghast.

Let’s set the scene: In the fourth episode of the show’s fourth season, the Roy family mourns their patriarch, Logan, simultaneously using his wake as an opportunity to scheme about who would take his place. Logan’s estranged wife Marcia returns from her allegedly never-ending shopping trip in Milan to play the grieving widow and claim her inheritance. Logan’s “friend, assistant, and advisor” Kerry comes too, hoping to enter Logan’s room and collect her belongings, say a final goodbye, and perhaps dig up some papers that may have suggested Logan intended to leave her something.

Marcia’s response to her late husband’s mistress is swift and cruel. She demands that security escort a crying Kerry out of her homethrough the back entrance, no less. Kerry drops her bag in the process, her makeup and pills flying everywhere. Greg, who recently made an enemy of Kerry by delivering the news that she would not become an anchor at ATN, twists the knife as Kerry scrambles. “Here come the waterworks,” he says in a sycophantic aside to Marcia.

Roman sweeps into the room and asks if Kerry is OK. He helps her pick up the contents of her bag and asks for her personal number so he can check on her. He addresses Marcia’s callousness. “‘Take her out the back, Billy,’ that’s always nice to hear,” says Roman, sarcastically. He turns to his step-mother. “Marcia, that was unnecessary, right?”

Marcia replies with her already iconic but deeply cruel line: “We’re calling her a taxi to the subway so that she can go home to her little apartment.” But what’s most telling is Roman’s reaction to Marcia: He sighs in disgust.

For some, the exchange signaled an interesting role reversal: it was a rare moment of humanity for Roman, the most cynical Roy sibling, and one of monstrosity for Greg, who was once the poorest and most relatable Roy. Has the worst Roy sibling grown a conscience? I would argue it’s been on display all along. His caustic exterior has been a distraction, concealing the reality just beneath the surface that Roman has always been the most empathetic Roy.

Read more: Who Has the Most to Gain From That Death on Succession? A Ranking

The sensitive sibling, from the outset

Early episodes of Succession inspire very little sympathy for Roman. He is introduced as the family f-ck-up, the coarsest of the Roy children and seemingly the most amoral. In the very first episode, he offers to pay a young kid whose parents work for the Roys $1 million if he can hit a home run in a softball game. When the kid gets tagged out at home plate, Roman doesn’t even offer him a consolation prize.

When Roman does land the COO gig at Waystar Royco, his first act in his new office is to masturbate at his office window while overlooking the ant-like normies below. The message? He literally gets off on power. It was a repulsive image. Here were all of Logan’s worst qualities manifested in one spoiled brat.

As the episodes wore on, the show began to untangle the many knots of Roman’s trauma. It begins to emerge that Roman is the most sensitive sibling, and arguably the most pained. During the Thanksgiving episode in Season 1, Shiv reveals that Logan once beat Roman for ordering lobster: apparently he considered it rude for his child to order the most expensive thing on the menu.

The abuse did not end in childhood: Logan knocks out Roman’s tooth in the Season 2 episode “Argestes,” and Kendall’s enraged reaction implies that this isn’t a first. Roman immediately tries to minimize the hurt, saying, “It’s just a tooth, I’ll get another one.”

We also learn in the Season 1 episode “Prague” that Roman used to ask to be put into a dog kennel by Ken as a child. According to Connor, Logan thought Roman was weak and shipped him off to military school as a punishment to “establish the hierarchy.” Logan taught his children at a very young age that any display of emotion or fragility would be punished.

Read more: The Succession Timeline Is Much Tighter Than You Think

Roman’s persona reveals itself to be a defense mechanism. His immaturity is his armor. His vulgar jokes deflect serious emotional issues he isn’t equipped to discuss. All his asides about “drowning in p-ssy” are a coverup for his actual sexual hangups. And he exhibits many behaviors typical of victims of abuse. As his mother might say, Roman is the dog who is most likely to run back to Logan after being kicked.

Season 1 shows a uniquely attuned brother

Rewatch the show and you’ll begin to see signs from early on that Roman recognizes his family members’ pain and tries to offer them comfort when no one else will. In Season 1, when Kendall falls off the wagon and holes up in a drug house, Roman is the one who finds him. Nobody else could be bothered: Logan started the smear campaign against Kendall that made his oldest son relapse in the first place; Shiv is busy trying to land a spot on Gil’s presidential campaign.

When Roman locates his drugged-out brother, he’s due to be on a business call but takes it from the car—risking his father’s wrath—to ensure his brother’s safety. That’s no small sacrifice for someone who craves nothing more than Logan’s approval.

Even his screwups are born from a place of care. In the Season 1 finale “Nobody Is Ever Missing,” Roman moves up a shuttle launch because he wants to give the launch to Shiv as a gift on her wedding day. It’s boneheaded—and the rocket explodes—but the sentiment is strangely sweet.

Season 2 sees him let his guard down further

In Season 2, Roman’s near-death experience while being held captive in a hotel in Turkey changes him. He lets his guard down a little bit. When he returns from the trip, Shiv and Kendall mock him on their father’s yacht when he asks if they can talk more about their feelings. That same day, when Logan announces that Kendall will be taking responsibility for the cruises’ sexual assault scandal, Roman is the first to react. “You OK?” he asks his brother. He’s the only one to ask.

Roman’s siblings and father often call him conflict-averse, implying that he is too weak to do what’s necessary in their ruthless industry. That may be true. He wants nothing more than to patch up family feuds, no doubt because of his own trauma. But his unwillingness to hurt others may also come from genuine concern.

In Season 3, he worries over Logan and Ken

In Season 3, Roman refuses to sign the letter that Shiv writes in “The Disruption” denouncing their brother as a drug addict and absentee father. He says it makes him feel “unwell” to publicly lambast the brother who helped raise him. When Logan gets a urinary tract infection in “Retired Janitors of Idaho,” Shiv and the old guard plot over what this means for the deal with Sandy and Stewie. Roman seems to be the only person genuinely worried about their father’s health.

At the end of Season 3, when Kendall admits that he killed someone, Roman tries to comfort his brother in the only way he knows how: with a sick joke. He complains the absence of the unfortunate bartender made it take forever to get a drink at the reception. “I’m just saying, who’s the real victim here? I waited three-quarters of an hour for a gin and tonic.” Roman is lowering himself to Ken’s level on the ground in the dirt as he says this. And he actually makes Kendall laugh at his lowest moment.

Season 4 confirms Roman as the heart of this series

Now in this final season, Roman’s capacity for empathy has come to the fore. In the first episode, “The Munsters,” when Shiv is clearly upset about Tom going out with Naomi Pierce, he’s the one who decides to delay the meeting with investors so she can process her feelings. He’s the only sibling who wants to take Connor out when he’s sad at his rehearsal dinner, the only sibling who hugs Connor when they give him the news of their father’s death, and the only sibling who feels guilty about kicking Connor out of the room when the rest of the siblings want to strategize at the wake.

Roman is also the most resistant to the idea of taking on their father, first by buying Pierce and then by asking more money from the GoJo deal. Roman seems happiest when he and his siblings are getting along. When they have finally escaped their father’s influence and come up with a plan of their own—however absurd The Hundred may be—he knows he can minimize family conflict. When Kendall and Shiv start jonesing for revenge against their father, Roman has to be convinced. Not only is he reluctant to get into a knife fight with their father, but he probably knows that if Logan comes calling, he’ll slink back to Waystar Royco, sowing more family discord.

Is Roman a good person? No. None of the Roy siblings are. His relationship with Gerri is complicated: He defends her and arguably lands her the interim CEO job with Logan, but he also gets her fired over the sexts he sent her. He uses the union info from the Vaulter folks to help his father gut the media company. He pushes his brother at his own birthday party. He maims people in that satellite blowup. Like his siblings, he has a tendency to consider anyone outside his orbit “not real” and dismiss their feelings.

But his behavior, even if it’s inexcusable, stems from his status as a victim of abuse and resulting desperation to smooth over conflict. When Roman helped Kerry with her bag, some on Reddit and Twitter theorized he was trying to sleep with Kerry (unlikely given his sexual history) or glean information from her. But maybe Roman was just being nice. It has been known to happen before, admittedly with few people outside his immediate family. But now that he’s out from under his father’s thumb, perhaps he knows a simple act of kindness no longer bears the threat it once did: excommunication from Logan’s inner circle. He is free of the specter of Logan’s conditional love.

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