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It’s Time to Take Connor Roy Seriously

After three seasons of being relegated to comic relief, the eldest Roy child is finally being portrayed as a real human being—and a somewhat rational one at that. Somewhat.

HBO/Getty Images/Ringer illustration

If the first season of Succession was the “Kendall season,” the second the “Shiv season,” and the third the “Roman season,” then Season 4 has quietly shaped up to be the “Connor season,” giving the eldest Roy child more screen time to examine his anxieties. Before now, Connor’s presence on the show had as much narrative heft as one of Cousin Greg’s doomed girlfriends or a Waystar crony, popping up every now and then to say something vaguely off-putting. If Greg was the kingdom’s court jester, Connor was its exiled prince, odder yet wiser for all his time spent touring foreign lands.

Season 4’s third episode, already considered one of the great episodes of modern television mere days after its release, is titled simply “Connor’s Wedding.” On the surface, that title turns out to be yet another cruel jab to the ribs of the show’s weirdest character; the story devolves what was supposed to be Connor’s big day into another Roy family shit show. But as the episode runs its course, Connor becomes a standout, solemnly gathering his small raft of support while his siblings writhe between grief and business strategy at the urging of Waystar’s longtime executives.

The beginning of the episode telegraphs none of this, cruising through the first 15 minutes preoccupied with rich people’s side quests. As the siblings gather aboard the matrimonial superyacht, Logan boards a plane to Sweden to close out the Waystar sale to Lukas Matsson. First, though, he instructs Roman to fire his beloved Gerri on Logan’s behalf. Connor, meanwhile, is in fine form, firing off a charming, self-deprecating joke about Ebenezer Scrooge’s business savvy to Willa’s mother before deeming the “loony” wedding cake to be “inadequate.”

Connor is left puttering around the boat while Roman, Kendall, and Shiv discover that their father is about to die, or is already actually dead. The episode is almost halfway over by the time the siblings think of telling their brother, and his knee-jerk response is a quiet, “Oh, man. He never even liked me.” It’s inappropriate in the way that everyone’s response to a shock like this is inappropriate, but it’s honest, and probably true.

Maybe we didn’t notice until now, but the show has been paying more attention to Connor this season. With his wedding on the horizon, the first two episodes naturally spend a little time observing Connor’s bizarre relationship with the flighty Willa, who comes dangerously close to calling the whole thing off in the middle of the rehearsal dinner in Episode 2. You cringe more than you normally would when Connor’s subsequent night on the town with his siblings turns into yet another dad-vs.-kids shouting match. It’s after Logan leaves that we start to hear more about Connor’s emotional state—for the first time in the entire series, really. “The good thing about having a family that doesn’t love you is that you learn to live without it,” Connor says. “You’re all chasing after Dad, saying, ‘Love me, please love me. I need love. I need attention.’ You’re needy love sponges. And I’m a plant that grows on rocks and lives off insects that die inside of me. If Willa doesn’t come back, that’s fine. Because I don’t need love. It’s like a superpower.”

It’s a stunning admission, and an impressive display of self-awareness from a character who has always been the butt of the joke that is the Roy “family.” We’ve watched his father and siblings call him an idiot to his face, stare nonplussed as he bragged about his sourdough starter and his meager political gains, and greet his desperate attempts to remind them that he is the eldest—that he shares their blood—with a casual “fuck off!” Turns out, Connor had feelings all along.

“Connor’s Wedding” shows the Roy children at their most wrecked: Shiv is a blubbering mess; Roman actually means it when he says, “I’m sad”; Kendall, with snot glistening on his upper lip, hasn’t been this low since he was practically a sleepwalking robot in Season 2. It’s frightening to see these characters acting this way, as it’s frightening to see anyone express grief and shock and rage all at the same time. It’s surprising when Connor comes out of it looking like the rational one.

Later in the episode, we witness Connor and Willa having maybe the most sincere heart-to-heart that any two characters have had in this show. Methodically working through his feelings as he tries to let Willa off the hook, Connor makes another bold statement: “My father’s dead, and I feel old.” He apologizes for “stealing” Willa from the world and asks her frankly whether she wanted to marry him only for his money. It’s to Willa’s credit that she answers with absolute honesty and clarity. His money and influence are definitely part of the motivation, she says. “But I’m happy,” she adds, before making a dark joke about not abandoning Connor—at least not on the day his father died.

They touch each other and laugh in the way you do when everything is so completely, utterly bad, but at least there’s someone there to share it with. Afterward, amid chaotic, claustrophobic close-ups on the other siblings shouting into phones and delivering statements to the press, the camera pulls back to a vast panorama: Connor and Willa embracing under their nuptial arbor as four or five straggler guests cheer them on, with comically dark storm clouds gathering over the gleaming cityscape behind them. He doesn’t have to wait for his father anymore. It’s an answer to Connor’s earlier plea to Willa: “Could something good come out of something bad?” It’s about as swooningly romantic as a show like this could ever get.

It’s a pleasant surprise that fits with Connor’s overall presentation in the show as a pseudo-Roy. He’s uninterested in the Waystar dynasty in the way that Aesop’s fox was uninterested in the sour grapes. Instead, he spends all his energy finding some newer, shinier way of impressing a father who had all but cut him off from the promise of true power and prestige. Connor’s loyalties lie nowhere and his interests are indistinct; he fits the role of the slimy politician almost perfectly, if it weren’t for his personality.

But who is Connor Roy, now that his father is dead? Despite Connor’s isolation, he is just as defined by Logan’s influence as the rest of his family. (The “inadequate” cake, for example, is the first hint in this episode that time has slipped out of joint, as Kendall explains to Willa that Connor’s aversion to Victoria sponge stems from memories of the day his father had his mother institutionalized.) Only three episodes in, it’s already possible that Connor could fade back into the background now that his wedding drama has unfolded. But it’s unlikely that he’ll go back to the slapstick side character he has been. It’s clear from the “coming soon” stinger that Connor’s presidential dreams have not abated.

Where do he and Willa go from here? They come out of Episode 3 as perhaps the only couple in this show’s history to ever have had an honest, affectionate conversation about the realities of their relationship, and have chosen, because of that, to stick together. The scene of their wedding was a tiny spot of relief in the turmoil: At least something is going right, even if it’s the two airheads whom no one really likes.

As is typical in this show, it’s likely that Succession will swing back around: Now that we’ve gotten a taste of the turbulence within Connor, it’s worth a reminder that he’s still an evil little shit, just like the rest of them. It’s the thing this show pulls off so well, offering the audience a glimpse into the tragedy of these people’s lives before hammering home that they’re all still pretty despicable. (Connor is obviously joking when he tells Willa’s mother that Scrooge ought to be lauded for creating jobs, but you can tell that he also kinda believes it.) This episode proves, though, that Connor is a real human being, and not a caricature, and that he may still have a couple of surprises up his sleeve. While the rest of his family fights for control of a fading empire, Connor swims against the tide, holding on to that precious 1 percent.

Emma Stefansky is a writer based in New York City who covers television, film, and books. Her work can be found in Vanity Fair, GQ, IndieWire, and Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @stefabsky.