Although you are unlikely to forget their most recent encounter, you probably don’t remember the first scene Roman Roy and Gerri Killman had together on Succession. It was all the way back in the second episode of Season 1, while Logan Roy was still unconscious in the hospital, and Roman had volunteered to see how Gerri, Waystar Royco’s unflappable general counsel, would react to an offer to become interim CEO. Let’s just say there might be more … foreshadowing in this scene than you recall. “You do a good job, Gerri. You’re a real good … job-doer,” Roman stammers, before shifting into his normal register—“Oh, I suck at the whole corporate flirt thing. I like to lube up and fuck, you know?” Gerri responds with her signature wince. “Gerri,” says Roman (who also just insulted her by admitting he forgot that her husband, Baird, had recently died: “Baird? Who’s Baird?”), “I’ve always thought of you, and I mean this in the best possible way, as a stone-cold, killer bitch.” She peers at him wryly from behind her glasses and proves she can dish it out as well as she can take it: “Who says you don’t know how to flirt?”
Gerri and Roman’s banter has always been a vaguely nauseating swirl of mommy issues and semi-ironic flirtation. But as their characters have deepened, something odd has happened: They have come to seem like two of the only characters in the bankrupt moral universe of Succession who genuinely care about each other. Of course, they express this to one another in the poisonous tongue of Succession-ese (“you are a piece of shit”), but their bond was undeniable by the end of this season’s third episode, when Gerri visited Roman’s room to give him a pep talk and button his shirt after a rousing evening of Boar on the Floor. “Do the management training, from the ground floor,” Gerri advised a hungover Roman, when he asked how she thought he could win his father’s respect. He listened. Moments earlier, he had also told her, “You know, if I were capable of any sudden movement I would totally pounce on you right now.” It was getting more and more difficult to know whether this was Roman’s twisted way of expressing platonic affection or if it was the most honest thing he’d ever said on the show.
At the end of “Panic Room,” though, their long, psychosexual game of chicken came to a (sort of?) logical conclusion. Away at management training in “real America,” and after his girlfriend’s attempt at phone sex failed to sustain his interest, Roman dialed up the gal whose number is never far from the top of his Recent Calls list. “You’re acting like an overexcited little boy,” Gerri told him between sips of martini. “Go to bed, Roman. Go to bed and masturbate all your ideas out, and let’s see how excited you feel tomorrow.” And then Roman proceeded to take that order very literally.
“Well, I was totally shocked,” J. Smith-Cameron, who plays Gerri, recently told Vulture of her reaction when she first read the scene. “Kieran and I have known each other a long time. We have a good rapport on set. Gerri and Roman also have, somehow, a good rapport because [she] can just tell him to shut up all the time, you know? He maybe respects that or enjoys that in some roundabout way. But it’s still very, very weird.”
Cameron and Kieran Culkin first worked together in 2005 while filming Margaret, the brilliant, theatrically doomed film directed by Cameron’s husband Kenneth Lonergan. Culkin has since acted in several of Lonergan’s plays, frequently in productions of his coming-of-age tale This Is Our Youth. Their casual friendship translated into great chemistry on the Succession set, and eventually the writers took notice. Roman and Gerri’s dynamic certainly wasn’t preordained from the beginning of the show; in fact, as Cameron told The Ringer’s Katie Baker earlier this month, Gerri was initially written to be “Gerry,” a male character who only appeared in a few first-season episodes. Said Cameron, “There wasn’t any sign that it was going to be such a rich, ongoing role.” It’s now impossible to imagine the show without her and her withering eye rolls. Might I remind you that Gerri’s last name is literally Killman.
As she described it in a recent Thrillist interview, Cameron brought quite a bit of her own ideas to Gerri’s character. “Both Kendall and Roman say really gross stuff all the time,” she said. “I thought it would be funny if Gerri was someone who could tolerate it, but was disgusted. I thought they were idiots and revolting. That amused me so therefore I assumed it would be amusing.” She continued, capturing her peculiar dynamic with Roman, “I think that’s Gerri’s thing: She’s just repulsed, but she is pleased she’s the kind of person that can take it. So it’s the tension between that.”
For all his dirty jokes, Roman hasn’t had a particularly active sex life across either season of Succession. In fact, both of the girlfriends we’ve seen him with on the show have ribbed him for how infrequently he wants to sleep with them. “This isn’t a normal relationship,” his current love interest Tabitha tells him the night before Shiv’s wedding, when he haphazardly kind-of proposes to her. “For one thing, we never fuck. You kind of jerked off near me more than once.” Sounds about right. Maybe the only things that can get Roman off are the types of caustic barbs he clearly relishes dishing out to others. “You are a revolting little worm, aren’t you?” Gerri tells him over the phone, as he unbuckles his pants. “You little slime puppy.” (Cameron is pretty sure she improvised that last one. If so, God bless her.)
It remains to be seen whether Roman and Gerri will ever truly consummate their thing, or if it will just be fodder for a few supremely awkward weeks of avoiding eye contact around the office. Maybe Gerri is destined to be just another woman Roman Roy “kind of jerked off near more than once.” Still, I think there’s something (almost) authentically sweet about their May/December, beta-male/alpha-female pairing, and it makes about as much sense as anything else in the Roys’ topsy-turvy capitalist dystopia. So you know what? I ship it.
Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.