Succession: The Ripple Effect of Poverty, Abuse, Wealth, and Power
SPOILER ALERTS FOR SUCCESSION Seasons 1–4.
SPOILER ALERTS FOR SUCCESSION Seasons 1–4.
After experiencing Succession S4. E3. Connor’s Wedding I had to rewatch the episode. What struck me was how each child reacted represented a trauma response.
It dawned on me that throughout the series, how each of the Roy children navigate their way through the world is connected to a trauma response.
I had to return to season one and rewatch the series from a different perspective. As I watched, I started thinking about why Logan Roy (Brian Cox) is the way he is. Logan was born into poverty, and when he and his brother Ewan (James Cromwell) and sister Rose were orphaned at very young ages (5 and 6 years old), his Uncle Noah raised them and brutally beat Logan. Ewan never says that Uncle Noah beat him, but he never denies that Logan was beaten as a child, and in Season 1 E 7 Austerlitz, we see several prominent scars on Logan’s upper back from the beatings he received growing up. Imagine how badly he was beaten to have scars on his back in his late seventies from the beatings he received as a young person. Do we see how Uncle Noah spoke to young Logan reflected in the ways Logan speaks to his children, his wives, and his staff?
The brothers had a sister Rose who died, and Logan blames himself for that death, but we don’t know what happened to Rose. Did Uncle Noah abuse her as well? I wonder what would have happened if Logan’s parents had lived and had been able to have raised Logan and his siblings. Would the brutal Logan who became the narcissistic Billionaire monster we all know and love? I wonder what would have happened if Logan wasn’t lucky and in the right place and time to have manifested wealth and power. If Logan Roy had ended up middle class, would he have ended up estranged from his family from all of the abuse he inflicted upon them?
What makes Succession so compelling is that it brilliantly reflects the complex ripple effect of parental abuse, how that generational trauma warps us, and how toxic family dynamics bleed out into the workplace and beyond. We celebrate formerly abused poor people who claw their way up from poverty and give them power because they have found ways of getting people to invest money into their ideas. In Succession, once the abused person with the idea gets power and access to resources, they hoard all the money and power and treat the people who serve them, love them, invest in them, and support them like shit.
The way the Roy children interact as adult children who grew up in an abusive household is strikingly authentic. When a parent is abusive and has multiple children, they don’t necessarily use the same method of abuse for each child. Connor, the eldest son of the first wife, was ignored. The shame of Connor’s mother’s mental health issues, which could have been triggered by Logan, (who was probably abusive to the first wife), made Connor needy in ways that could have repelled Logan, making Connor the weak eldest son who could never live up to his father’s expectations.
Kendall, the first son from the second wife, is a kind of “golden child” of a new beginning in which Logan invested time and effort in. Yet, when Kendall showed promise, Logan felt competitive and was jealous of Kendall and cut him down verbally just to put him in his place. The extreme verbal abuse and high expectations could have driven Kendall to disassociate from reality by using drugs and alcohol. Interestingly, Kendall was able to attract a woman like Rava, get married, and have two children. Everything in the show tells us that Kendall has evolved to the point that he is not physically or verbally abusive to his kids and wants a loving romantic relationship. Still, he continues the cycle of abuse by being self-absorbed, driven by his addictions, and absent.
So many folks think that Roman was sexually abused, but I disagree. I think Shiv was the one who Logan abused sexually and that Roman witnessed it and was abused physically. In Season 1 E3 Lifeboats, Shiv fights to see Logan when his third wife, Marcia, prevents the children from seeing Logan after his brain hemorrhage. When Shiv is at her father’s bedside, he’s out of it and says he loves her. She holds his hand with a smile then he starts guiding her hand towards his crotch; she snatches her hand away and bolts from the house, mortified. When I first saw this episode, I thought Logan was mistaking Shiv for any one of his younger assistants. But seeing how Shiv’s dysfunctional relationships with men, choosing weak men she can control, and how she interacts with men, I think Logan was sexually abusing Shiv. Some victims of parental sexual abuse cope by continuing relationships with abusers in the way that Shiv does. Logan is a billionaire, and I think some part of Shiv believes that she could not survive without the Roy name and money. Also her need to prove herself to her father is even stronger because she’s the only girl child. The way Shiv attaches herself to men who she can control I think is also an imprint from her relationship with her father. When Shiv is hurt by the men in her family she takes the anger out on the men who are in love with or obsessed with her. To the outside world Shiv Roy thinks she has the perception being a strong woman in a family of men but it’s a facade.
That leaves us with Roman, the youngest son of the Roy family, who is hands down the biggest asshole of the bunch of Roy children. He’s entitled, spoiled rotten, smart enough to know he’s stupid but cunning, and able to bend the will of others to do his bidding so he comes out on top. Logan also has a history of pitting Kendall and Roman against each other in a fight to earn Logan’s respect. Season 1 E8 Prague Roman tells Sandy about being put in “The Dog Pound” when he was a kid. Roman recounts Kendall forcing him into a large dog cage, locking him in, and making him eat dog food. Kendall simply calls bullshit and says that Roman liked it. When Roman goes to Connor for confirmation, Connor says that Roman did like it and the dog food was actually chocolate cake. He also says their dad would make Kendall and Roman compete to see who would come out on top. Roman argues that the whole dog pound thing was why their father thought he was weak and sent him away to military school. It’s all just so fucked up. I see Roman as the talkative, precocious child Logan had when he was older. Roman was amusing but would never shut up, so Logan would smack him to get him to shut up. Perhaps Logan perceived Roman as “soft,” so he’d beat him to make him man up.
In Season 2 E6 Argestes, Logan backhand slaps Roman so hard that Roman spits out a tooth. Both Shiv and Kendall come to Roman’s defense to protect him. Even though each child was abused in a different way and all the kids are competitive with one another, I believe Ken, Shiv, and Roman share a deep trauma bond. The elder siblings come to Roman’s defense when their dad gets violent. Perhaps they tried to protect Roman when they were kids too.
Succession is one of the best shows on TV because it is an undeniable reflection of American culture. This show proves that rugged individualism is a myth and the lunacy of a system ruled by traumatized old men who were never compelled to recognize the negative effects of trauma. Throughout history, domination has never been sustainable. Those who have survived the most violent trauma find ways of amassing insane amounts of power and inflicting their venom on people lucky to have had parents who loved and treated them well. Like Cousin Greg.
Greg is Ewan’s Grandson, who was raised by a single mom who, as an adult, is introduced to and is navigating his way through this insane world of abuse. Greg’s relationship with Grandpa Ewan isn’t perfect, but it is far from Logan’s blatant abuse of his offspring. It’s also through Greg, the person closest to those of us regular folk who watch the show, in this family. Greg looks up to these people and sees them as who he someday wants to be. The question I have is, as Greg gets deeper and deeper involved, will he become the next generation of dysfunction, or will he be able to get in, get his and change the culture? We’ve got seven more episodes to find out.
I give Succession 5 out of 5 Stars
Thanks for reading. I’m a Film & TV Critic, Entertainment Journalist, VisAbleBlackwoman The Podcast host, and Contributor to Black Girl Nerds.
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