HBO’s Succession is not the kind of television show that’s generally too concerned with things like love or romance. As the story of a dysfunctional family of elite one-percenters and the media empire they’re all squabbling over, any type of love we see on this show tends to be of the transactional variety, whether it’s between spouses, family members, business partners, or complete strangers.
Patriarch Logan Roy (Brian Cox) is on his third wife at this point, a woman he cheats on with disturbing regularity and doesn’t seem to like all that much. The Roy children generally treat each other as rivals more than siblings. Marriage is a business arrangement as much as it is a romantic attachment, involving lawyers and contracts as detailed as any corporate takeover. Infidelity seems to be accepted as a natural part of any relationship, and the healthiest partnership on the show may just be between eldest Roy child, Connor (Alan Ruck), and the woman he’s literally paying to date him.
Succession is most definitely not a love story, and almost every relationship it depicts is toxic to some degree or other. This probably explains why viewers have been so eager to embrace the bizarre connection between Roman (Kieran Culkin), youngest son of the Roy clan, and Waystar Royco general counsel Gerri Kellman (J. Smith Cameron), because at least the pair are honest with each other. This budding relationship, if you can even call it that, between the two breaks every rule we as viewers have come to expect from prestige television, which is probably why they’re so much fun to watch.
A May-December pairing that’s wrong in all the right ways, Gerri and Roman are the definition of unconventional. She’s older than he is. Technically, he outranks her at the company they both work for (at least until his father names her his of-the-moment successor as CEO). She’s his younger sister’s godmother, and pretty much the only person in the world of the show—or at least at Waystar Royco—who doesn’t take any of his crap. Plus, Roman literally gets off on Gerri humiliating him, which is pretty much exactly the sort of twisted fairytale relationship take that a show like Succession would embrace.
But the thing is, as fun and transgressive as Roman and Gerri’s connection is, it also just kind of works.
Sure, the sexual tension between them is permanently set to eleven. And, yes, Gerri satisfies Roman’s more offbeat urges in a way that he can’t seem to manage with his actual girlfriend Tabitha (Caitlin Fitzgerald). But she also takes him seriously in a way that almost no one else on the show bothers to do, recognizing his potential to be something more than the family court jester. Gerri actually listens to Roman and treats his ideas—no matter how outlandish they might be—as something other than a running gag to sneer at over dinner. True, she efficiently shoots down the worst of his plans (such as publishing photos of that time Jeremy Strong’s Kendall paid a homeless man to tattoo his name on his face) when they are objectively terrible, but she does so without making him feel terrible for having them or as though he’s the butt of a joke he’s not in on.
Roman, for his part, not only seems strangely sweet on Gerri, but he’s loyal to her in a way that he isn’t to anyone other than (sometimes) his father, fighting to keep her safe when she’s suggested as a potential scapegoat for decades of Waystar sins, and pushing for her to become CEO when Logan is forced to step back. At this point, it’s not entirely clear which of them Roman would pick if he had to choose, but his father’s odds certainly don’t look that great at this precise moment.
Somehow, despite its generally unorthodox status and unexpected nature, Gerri and Roman have managed to forge an almost wholly uncynical connection on the most cynical show on television, one whose primary animating forces are lies and betrayal. Their relationship, in whatever way you choose to define it, feels sincere in a world where almost everything else isn’t. On a show that’s predominantly comprised of back-stabbers, liars, and 31 other flavors of genuinely horrible people, that actually counts for a lot.
We television viewers are largely simple creatures; we’re trained to root for characters on the shows we watch and are always looking for someone to champion or believe in. A big part of the reason Succession is simultaneously so fascinating and frustrating is that it repeatedly confronts us with reminders that none of its characters are particularly good or admirable people. Gerri may be a corporate badass, but there’s little chance she hasn’t had a hand in covering up at least some of Logan’s seemingly legion crimes. Roman lives to push boundaries, but doesn’t usually care who he hurts along the way. Kendall’s a tragic mess who’s also a murderer, Shiv (Sarah Snook) lives to play all sides against the middle at once, and Connor is… well, whatever Connor is. So much of this show is about not knowing who to trust or believe in that it feels like a huge relief whenever any relationship—often any singular interaction—comes off as even the slightest bit genuine.
Perhaps it’s simply a miracle of chemistry (which, let’s be clear, Culkin and Smith Cameron possess in spades), but one of the reasons it’s so easy to fall under the spell of Rock Star and the Mole Woman is simply because Gerri and Roman are two of the only people on Succession who actually seem to enjoy one another’s company, and who have a relationship that’s capable of existing as a thing separate and apart from what they’re able to do for one another, professionally speaking. Sure, they’re both aware that they can help each other in increasingly unstable world of Waystar—and both are clearly more than willing to take advantage of that fact.
But, they’re also easy together in a way neither is with anyone else, so when they say they’re a team, as a viewer you kind of really want to believe it’s true. Whether these two crazy kids will manage to make this relationship—whatever it is—work or not, remains to be seen. But it’s sure going to be fun to watch them try.
Succession airs Sunday nights on HBO and streams on HBO Max.
Lacy Baugher Milas is a digital producer by day, but a television enthusiast pretty much all the time. Her writing has been featured in Collider, IGN, Screenrant, The Baltimore Sun and others. Literally always looking for someone to yell about Doctor Who and/or CW superhero properties with, you can find her on Twitter @LacyMB.
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