Is This Succession Character Harboring a Painful Secret?

All of Logan Roy's children are traumatized in one way or another on Succession. But one might be truly in crisis.

Jeremy Strong, Sarah Snook, and Kieran Culkin in Succession season 4
Photo: Claudette Barius | HBO

HBO announced last week that its multi-time Emmy-winning drama Succession is finally returning for its fourth season starting on March 26, and the full trailer for the new set of episodes has us hyped to learn about all of the new developments in the lives of the highly-dysfunctional Roy family. 

The last time we were in the presence of these wealthy, yet miserable people, patriarch Logan Roy (Brian Cox) had just brought down the proverbial hammer on his children yet again, taking full control of WayStar Royco for the foreseeable future. This leaves a lot of questions we need answering, from how Shiv (Sarah Snook) and Tom (Michael Macfadyen) are going to iron out their marriage, to whether anything will ever go right for Kendall (Jeremy Strong). 

Out of all of the characters who need resolutions to take place as the show rounds the back-nine, youngest son Roman (Kieran Culkin) has the most ominous backstory that is yet to be fully revealed. The entire Roy clan is traumatized by their neglected upbringings, but Roman is the one who most consistently seems to be calling out for help to anyone who will listen. Fans of the show know Roman as the loud, brash, and confident manchild who puts on a facade for the outside world, yet his twisted jokes about sex and his inability to foster a healthy romantic relationship with another person paint him in a very clouded light. 

Roman’s Masochistic Sexual Desires

All of the Roy children have been in dysfunctional romances in Succession. Look no further than the way Tom stabbed Shiv in the back in the third season finale, or Connor’s (Alan Ruck) awkward relationship with sex worker Willa (Justine Lupe). But the writers of this show like to really focus on Roman as the child who has the most trouble finding love. In fact, Roman seems to have a complete inability to have sexual relations of any kind with anybody else. When he does engage in a sexual act, it’s done solo or through unconventional means. 

Ad – content continues below

One of the show’s iconic duos has become Roman with Waystar Royco’s legal counsel, Gerri Kellman (J. Smith Cameron). Roman is clearly attracted to Gerri, but he can only get excited by the thought of sex with her if she is out of sight and leading him on a masochistic path to arousal. A scene from season 2 in which Roman masturbates to Gerri insulting him over the phone has become one of the HBO drama’s most cringe-worthy moments, and it also gives some insight to Roman’s humiliation fetish. 

It’s left somewhat ambiguous whether Gerri is actually enjoying becoming the catalyst of Roman’s sexual desires or whether her insults are meant to be taken as traditional degradation. No matter what is running through Gerri’s mind, Roman enjoys being on the receiving end of abuse in this scene. This runs parallel to the ways he’s been treated as a menial member of the Roy family by both his siblings and his parents for the entirety of his upbringing and adulthood. 

Is Roman’s affiliation with erotic humiliation simply a means to capitalize and even enjoy the ways he’s been abused throughout his life, or is there a deeper trauma lying beneath the surface? Are the jokes about sex and the ways Roman enjoys arousing himself actually a hint by the writers about deeper, more disgusting abuse in Roman’s past? 

Was Roman Sexually Assaulted?

Some Succession fans have started to wonder whether the abuse Roman received in his backstory is more sexual in nature than the abuse the other Roy children received. Medium writer Kieran Rose Pilon wrote back in 2021 about how Roman’s collection of sexual assault jokes throughout the show always focus on himself rather than someone else. Self-deprecation is sometimes a way to cope with trauma that has happened in life, and Roman’s incessant need to poke fun of very serious subjects such as sexual assault is not only disturbing, but also curious. 

Reddit also has plenty of discourse on the potential of Roman being a sexual abuse victim. The linked post talks about how Roman’s jokes about molestation and incest could be signs of PTSD being manifested in unhealthy ways. There’s clearly a reason why Roman makes these uncomfortable statements about these topics and Shiv, Kendall, and Connor never do. Roman also makes a lot of remarks about abuse coming from a family member, often in reference to bullying that Kendall and Connor would inflict on him. Studies show around 30% of molested children are victimized by a family member, so the statistics make the possibility look more realistic. 

History of Abuse in the Roy Family

We know that there has been a long history of abuse in the Roy family. Logan was physically abused by his father, which was hinted at when scars on his back are revealed pool side during a late first season episode. Logan hit Roman in the face on-screen one time, which is the only instance where we get to actually see tangible proof of the physical abuse Logan inflicts on his children. And we also know about a man named Lester McClintock, nicknamed “Mo Lester” because he is one of the most prominent culprits of sexual abuse on the Waystar Royco cruise lines back in season 2. There are bread crumbs hinting at the ways that sexual assault is simply accepted as a normal thing around the Roy family. 

Ad – content continues below

When you combine the way Roman has an inability to engage in traditional intimacy with someone else and with his constant joking about sexual assault, there are many points to suggest that Roman may have been sexually assaulted as a child. Now that Roman is clearly on the side of his siblings heading into the fourth season, this is a perfect opportunity for the writers to create a more loving scenario between these three adult children. Maybe Roman can share more about his life with the audience vicariously through Kendall and Shiv, who are also dealing with the aftermath of a toxic family upbringing. 

Knowing the twisted energy of Succession, we’ll never actually know anything more about what causes Roman’s behavior. The ominous undertone of the Roy family keeps the audience starving for information they’ll never receive, and we can’t say we’re about to complain. But where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire. Something is very wrong with Roman Roy, we just don’t know exactly what. 

Succession season 4 premieres Sunday, March 26 at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.