'I’m not saying I’d make a better CEO. That's unsaid': How Connor Roy is a vital ingredient in Succession

October 20, 2021

has a killer lineup of characters who grab the imagination. Logan, the profane Lear. Kendall, the Don Jr.-esque cringe factory. Shiv, the appropriately-nicknamed emotional terrorist. Roman, the frightened clown. Gerri, who plays all sides all the time. Tom, the suckup. Greg, the underestimated interloper. And many more.

But there’s one I appreciate more than any other, because he inverts the central question of the show and heightens the dark comedy: Connor Roy, the eldest son. The show, so far, might feel like it doesn’t need Connor, but as played by Alan Ruck, Connor is the bay leaf in the Succession stew that brings everything together.

(Mild spoilers to come, if you aren’t caught up to the Season 3 premiere.)

There are all sorts of think pieces out there about how Succession addresses power, wealth, and class, satirizing the manners and politics of the ultra-wealthy in a way similar to several concurrently-airing prestige dramas. I like watching Succession because, particularly starting in the second season, it’s leaned in to being a comedy with prestige drama window dressing, while at the same time artfully making its central question explicit: Why do any of these people stay in Logan's thrall when they could fuck off and be serenely wealthy?

From the outside it's an incredibly easy choice, but they keep making the wrong one. At one point, Stewy asks Kendall to his face, why keep working for Logan? Why not go be a part of the tech world in California or something? Kendall demurs. Shiv quits her job working for Gil rather than simply staying in that job and holding Logan’s offer in her back pocket. Frank gets fired, then invited back for convoluted reasons and wonders aloud why he’s there. Uncle Ewan tells Greg he’ll disown him — a $250 million decision — if he doesn’t quit Waystar Royco, but Greg decides to throw in his lot with Logan even after Connor asks him why he trusts the old man.

Nobody ever has a good answer to the question. The implicit answer is that they all want a piece of the power that comes from being in Waystar’s inner circle, and more explicitly the Roy children, in particular, believe this is what they have to do to take the top spot from the old man some day. Except Connor.

We don’t (yet?) know who Connor’s mother is or was, or why he fucked off to New Mexico to live on a luxurious ranch with millions upon millions of dollars in disposable income. We do know that his only responsibilities to his father are to plan an annual benefit gala in New York and to not embarrass the family in public. That’s a fantastic deal!

Connor makes halfhearted attempts to make his way into the Waystar executive ranks, and it’s played for laughs when the others humor his requests and shoot them down with prejudice. However, they’re doing him a favor. He may be obviously unfit to run anything of major consequence for the company, but he’s also the least miserable person in Logan’s immediate orbit, precisely because so little is expected of him. True, he has some existential angst because he financed Willa’s terrible play, and he has to grovel to his father about covering the losses — that was a profoundly bad error in judgment — but Logan doesn’t really care about the $100 million Connor asks for. It’s just another point of leverage for Logan to pressure Connor about ending his presidential campaign, which was embarrassing but ultimately wasn’t harming anyone.

There are some obvious picks if you were to compare the Roys to real-life families – the Trumps and Murdochs come to mind, for their venality and sociopathy — but I’m also drawn to the Windsors. Prince Harry hasn’t completely removed himself from the royals-celebrity vortex, but it seems Meghan Markle helped him achieve a key insight: He’s rich, so being “a royal” isn’t worth the hassle. Again, he’s rich, so he can go live in Los Angeles with his wife and children, dabble in podcasting, advocate for causes he might care about, and after enough time passes, he will become boring enough to the celebrity gossip press that he can live a semblance of a relaxed, enjoyable life instead of having everything he and his family do governed by his grandmother’s anachronistic notions of statecraft and manners.

Kendall, Shiv, and Roman want to be the CEO of Waystar Royco because it’s what their father expects them to want. If Connor wasn’t there, the inadvertent Prince Harry, seventh in line for the throne, yet sneered at for largely opting out of his family’s bullshit, Succession wouldn’t be nearly as funny or as cutting. At this point, even though they’re getting paid by Waystar, Kendall, Shiv, and Roman should be independently wealthy enough to go do whatever they want and let Waystar be just another company. They could each go off into any number of directions in search of fulfillment, or they could recognize they have Connor right there as an example of how they might choose to live out their days in leisure.

Either way, they’d be less miserable than they are now and far less miserable than old man Logan, with the bonus of making him enraged that none of his children think his life’s work is worth carrying on. Let Connor show the way.

(Photo: "Prince Harry at Canterbury University" by KoenbrNZ. Used under CC BY 2.0 license.)