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The Sextual Interception

With a series of mistaken finger taps, Roman showed himself to his dad—and changed ‘Succession’ forever

HBO/Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Look, we’ve all done it. Or at least we’ve all done something like it. Maybe we’ve sent a text message to the wrong person—an errant “love u moreeeeee” to the delivery guy, a curt “need diapers” to a coworker, that sort of thing. Maybe we’ve done something more unforgivable, like mocked a friend behind their back while accidentally directing the supporting screenshots right to their face; or done something more personal, like, ah, you know. It can happen to the best of us, as well as to the worst.

In a matter of instants and of instance, anyone among us can go from feeling comfortably dialed-in to realizing that they’ve just pressed Yes on an all-time ding-a-ling moment forever! Take Roman Roy, the youngest in a brood of fictional media-conglomerate failchildren on the HBO series Succession, as a cautionary tale. In the past two episodes of the series, Roman has gone from a guy empowered and uncaring enough to be tossing his phone into an actual urinal to impress the plaintive, hot-shit Swedish CEO of tech-co “GoJo” to—ehh, well, to a sad dude who accidentally texts his own doddering-yet-still-domineering dad, Logan, a dick pic that was actually intended for Roman’s boss/employee/god-aunt/mommy-domme/mentor/elder/legal counsel Gerri Kellman’s eyes only.

The result is the Red Wedding of unsolicited wang: With one swipe of the wrist, Roman goes from feeling virile as hell to slumping with his eyes bugged out and the color draining from his face. With a series of finger taps, he changes potentially everything. In a season of Succession that has spent a fair amount of time staying relatively still, Roman’s misclick lobs an explosive directly into the proceedings, not just with respect to his own future but in a way that positions some of his loved ones inside the blast radius, too. Including and especially Gerri, who has been his primary ally, but who may not be able to remain that way for much longer.

The tenor of a typical exchange between Gerri and Roman in Succession was established early; it was during the show’s second episode that he first tried and failed to get a rise out of the company’s legal eagle by noting that he needed lubricant to comfortably talk shop with her. Then, twice in the second season, the two of them had more illicit and experimental encounters, ones that captivated audiences but, with growing hindsight, appear to have left Roman wanting more while leaving Gerri curious and unsure.

During the Season 3 premiere, Roman loiters in a foreign hotel room and makes an offer to Gerri that is quite easy for her to refuse: “I’d lay you badly,” he propositions merrily, “but I’d lay you gladly.” Gerri strives to maintain a straight face in the presence of such dapper chivalry. “I am quite a successful person, Roman,” she reminds him coolly but not cruelly, “and I remain so by avoiding mess.”

This is true. It also isn’t. In her longtime capacity as Waystar Royco consigliere, Gerri has built her indispensable reputation in part on a willingness to get dirty, but historically that tended to involve being tasked with cleaning up corporate spills, not being the cause of more corporeal ones. It was a distinction that shifted midway through Succession’s second season, when a bored phone call between her and Roman, combined with an intriguing IRL chemistry between the two actors that was noticed by the Succession showrunners and writers, warped beautifully into the “slime puppy” session that redefined TV’s best—and, by now, its messiest—business-or-pleasure relationship.

Throughout the series, Gerri and Roman have collaborated from either side of a bathroom door and from across boardroom tables. They have shared secrets and strategic nods. They have made (and she has rejected) personal advances; they have advanced each others’ professional careers. Roman has developed a huge crush and a quasi-realized vision of the two of them forming an all-powerful duo he once conceptualized as “Rockstar and the Mole Woman.” Gerri, meanwhile, has decades of deep corporate expertise, a dead husband and multiple expensive daughters, and a seemingly growing desire to lay down some boundaries with Roman.

Back in Season 2 of Succession, Gerri had seemed a little bit surprised, and pretty tickled, to explore the metaphysical possibilities of a psychosexual relationship with one of her boss’s weirdo kids. In Season 3, though, with her public shareholders and her own ass constantly front of mind, she has often come across as mostly focused on the art of hitting the brakes without sending anyone flying into the windshield.

“You have good instincts,” Gerri tells Roman in the second episode of this season, explaining why, as acting CEO of the firm, she wants and needs a family member like him in her corner while also letting him down easy: “You also have horrible instincts,” she adds. In Episode 4, after unsuccessfully asking Roman to please quit fondling his own bare feet as he sits in her office, she breaks it to him that she’s dating other men, including a former DOJ dude named Laurie. She pivots to giving Roman business advice, telling him to ask himself the following, 24/7, in everything he does: “How does this advance my personal position?”

In that same conversation, and to that same point, she also convinces him not to go public with a set of images that would implicate his brother Kendall—but also himself—in a rather inhumane decade-plus-old bachelor-party prank that involved a tattoo artist and an unhoused man from New Orleans. “Keep the photos,” Gerri counsels Roman. “Our little secret.” A few episodes later, in Italy, she tells him something similar, this time in the form of a more intimate request. “I need you to stop sending me the items,” Gerri hisses at Roman in a hallway, with poor Laurie practically within earshot. “You don’t want pictures of my dick?!” Roman says, unable to believe it.

It’s difficult to revisit those particular bits of good advice after having endured the, er, climax of this weekend’s episode. While an unsuspecting Gerri sits primly among “the banker fucks,” paging studiously through her notes in advance of a possible chat about the “merger of equals” with GoJo that she hopes may boost the shape and scope of her career, Roman (and the viewer)’s stomachs are busy dropping as soon as it becomes apparent what he’s done. All that careful scheming, compromised with one dumb click! And to make matters worse, not only is Gerri among the last to know what happened, it’s her old pal Logan who is the very first, having pecked out a jolly “Good work kid” text to his youngest son and then getting a pecker pic in response.

“Are you a sicko?” Logan asks Roman with über-boomer thunder when he gets him alone. “You got a problem?” (It sounds a lot like what he snarls in an earlier scene to another son, Kendall, when he taunts him about that night in Season 1 that resulted in a young cater-waiter’s car-crash death that was subsequently covered up.) Knowing Logan, he is less upset about the indecent photo itself than he is about the shadow it casts across the decisions he has already made. It was partially Roman’s influence, after all, that led him to appoint Gerri as the acting CEO earlier this season, a choice that Logan now perceives differently in light of this new information.

“I don’t want her hanging around like frozen fucking piss,” Logan roars at Roman, on the topic of Gerri’s future with the firm. “I’m not a radical feminist, dad,” Roman counters, “but I think perhaps we should not fire her for receiving pictures of my dick?”

If only it were so straightforward! Instead, Gerri’s experience is weaponized against her, and by her own god-daughter, too. For the third time in Succession’s three installments, a very-late-season episode features Siobhan Roy cruelly concern-trolling another woman—in Season 1, it was also Gerri; in Season 2, it was the Waystar Royco whistleblower that Shiv bullied on a playground—as a way to grasp toward her own sense of power. Seizing an opportunity, Shiv has said the magic words to her father—that everyone was aware that her brother was “weird about Gerri.” Everyone except him.

Adrift on her own insecurities, a vicious Shiv uses Gerri to find her footing. “This must be so hard for you,” she begins flatly, but it doesn’t take long for her to say the quiet part out loud: “If you can’t deal with your own sexual harassment, that’s not a good look,” Shiv warns. “Thank you for giving it so much thought,” a shaken Gerri replies, suddenly set into strategy mode.

Gerri tends to be correct about most things, but is she actually right that Roman has good instincts and not just horrible ones? Up until this point in the show, Roman’s threadbare empathy has mostly been a positive in the eyes of his father, even when it involves cozying up to far-right dudes like Jeryd Mencken. He has been unafraid to take big swings, another plus. But it’s hard to shake the sense that Roman’s inability to truly connect with (or to be vulnerable in the presence of) anyone except Gerri might be poised to come back to blind and/or bite him even more than it already has. He may have gone out of his way to helicopter over to Matsson on the stunning shores of Lake Como, but it was jarring how thoroughly Roman built a wall immediately upon his arrival, ridiculing his would-be business partner’s overt (and probably material!) “feelies-feelings” about the deteriorating state of his spirit. Roman sounded a lot like his father—and his mother, and his sister—as he shut Matsson down; it’s not a resemblance that flatters anyone.

There are any number of ways that Roman’s botched communique could shake everything up heading into the show’s Season 3 finale. Gerri could be demoted; Roman could be iced out; Kendall could rise again, ascending straight up from that quite ominous pool float. (Connor was pretty on the money all along with his “Roman’s a knucklehead, Shiv’s a fake, Kenny’s screwy” sibling assessment: It certainly takes a knucklehead to fat-finger a dick pic.) Gerri could, and probably ought to, rustle up some damaging receipts. Shiv could throw Tom, once again, under the next passing bus; Tom could reveal himself as an op. (Imagine him and Gerri teaming up!) Stewy or Matsson or someone else could smell blood in the water and strike. Perhaps Roman might butt heads with the new grifter dad that just dropped—the “slime badger,” as he puts it in true Oedipal-E-I-E-I-O manner.

It could all also just be one more “Oh shit!” obstacle to be overcome, or to be at least covered up. One of the louder criticisms of Succession this season has been that it increasingly resembles a posher version of Entourage, in which nothing much takes place because everything always works out. (Vince gets another role; Logan wriggles out of another jam; Greg is Lloyd, etc.) But just because Succession tumbles in circles doesn’t necessarily mean it’s grinding its gears. With nearly three full seasons out in the world, the overarching and repeating rhythms of the series have started to resemble the structure and coherence of certain poetic forms, or even the sound of the show’s theme song itself—all those notes climbing upward like ivy, only to be pruned way back. It is through all this repetition that some of the character’s strangest behaviors make sick sense.

On the one hand, it’s truly antisocial and weird when Roman visits Matsson, is offered a routine helping hand as he disembarks from boat to dock, and literally slaps—slaps!!!—it away. And yet, it tracks: In the first episode of this season, when Logan Roy is at one of his lowest moments following a betrayal by Kendall, Roman asks his father: “Dad, want me to ride with you?” The response from Logan to his child, as the van doors close around him, is: “Wanna suck my dick?” It’s no wonder, really, that Roman has grown up to run to safe harbors like Gerri, to recoil in the face of good faith, and to get off on sending out pics of his junk. Unfortunately, one man’s text would be another man’s displeasure.