Sex has always been a little fun Succession. The HBO drama, now in its third season, treats sex almost exclusively as a byproduct of the characters’ gnarled neuroticism, rather than an expression of love or even purely libidinal desire. The Roys save their most ardent passion for fighting over who should succeed the aging patriarch Logan (Brian Cox) as CEO of the family business, Waystar Royco. As a result, sex often slips along with all that white-collar yelling. A newly anointed COO moves into his office overlooking Lower Manhattan. A test drive is suggested in a parked car after an interview. A phone call shifts almost imperceptibly from pep talk to dirty talk.
Yes, Successions characters seem to enjoy talking about sex more than having it. While other prestige series like Game of Thrones have used their home on cable to stage explicit, often unmotivated sex scenes, links on Succession is more often hinted at or wondered about instead of depicted on the screen.
In the first season, Tom Wambsgans (Matthew Macfadyen), husband of Siobhan Roy (Sarah Snook), self-consciously explains a black eye to two of his brothers by saying, “I was in bed with Shiv.” “Fucking our sister? It’s fat, man,” replies the youngest brother Roman (Kieran Culkin) and his eyes shine. At times, the Roy children wonder if their father is having an affair. Last season, Logan’s supposed mistress was arch- outsider Rhea Jarrell (Holly Hunter), who briefly whistled about the media conglomerate before she left, now it’s a slick and strangely influential young assistant named Kerry (Zoe Winters).
Almost all other intimate intricacies have cooled this season – even Roman’s hidden relationship with Gerri Kellman (J. Smith-Cameron), Waystar’s Consul General, who is two decades older than him. Too much is happening, she suggests, including Gerri being appointed interim CEO, to risk one of their “special telephone meetings” – Roman euphemism for their somewhat unconventional meetings. (In short, you do not always have to use your hands to get someone away.) With Kendall (Jeremy Strong) having revealed at the end of last season that his father had full knowledge of systemic sexual abuse within Waystar’s cruise divisions, Logan is now trying to get the Department of Justice to withdraw its investigation. Meanwhile, Tom, who was instrumental in destroying evidence for the scandal, is researching functional facilities with the same coercion that a porn addict can open a private browser; he jokes nervously about prison rape.
This season, sex is held almost exclusively for the series’ piquant, disgusting dialogue, with the characters using explicit images to bring life to an insult. “Is it true that you let the track team beat you for lunch money?” Shiv asks Roman during a meeting in episode three. (A more precise context does not matter.) As with the authors behind Veep-if wild, graphic dialogue often reinforced the series’ plot twists and character arcs – the creators of Succession understand that there is no point in one character degrading another unless they become very creative and decently ugly with it.
None of this is new to Succession, but this season has increased, and quite markedly, all the oedipal allusions. What was once a more generalized and slightly worn-out subtitle has steadily risen to the surface to give viewers a slap in the face. Early on, such gibes are not registered as out of the ordinary, as when Roman asks if his father wants him to drive in the same car as him to a hotel, and Logan replies, “Will you suck my cock?” Or when Logan falls in love with Kendall and an investor, prompting Roman to chastise his brother with “Do you have a fetish for almost killing Dad? Like” just tipping “but for killing Dad?” Earlier, Kendall insisted he was not bothered by a late night host naming him “Oedipus”.
But it’s not just business as usual between Shiv and Roman, whose verbal sparring has risen to a whole new harsh level in season three. With Kendall out on his waking crusade against his father, the two have been left to fight for the power Logan may relinquish. Their insults become more and more personal as the season progresses. In the second episode, Roman tells his siblings that he likes Gerri as CEO, which makes Shiv trigger this treacherous retort: ”You can not hide under the duvet with mom … You love to show your pee to everyone, “But one day you know it. You’ll actually have to fuck something.” A biting mix of literally and figuratively, the remark stands out even among characters who address each other honestly and often bitterly.
While the increased tension between siblings is largely linked to their battle for the top spot on Waystar, Shiv and Roman might not hit each other as often if their own sex lives seemed less deviant. As it is, a pattern has quickly emerged: Roman labels Shiv as a slut for hanging out with her husband, and Shiv calls Roman a mother’s boy who cannot have intercourse with a woman. Their reasoning, if they are pressured to verbalize it, might look like this: If you can not be CEO, you can at least make competitors feel like shit.
A kind of climax arrived in this Sunday’s episode as Shiv and Roman attend Kendall’s screaming and touched 40th birthday party to try to save an acquisition that has stalled. After much prelude, including being “born” into the party through a giant pink entrance tunnel, Roman is able to smooth things out with that company’s CEO, in part through some youth ties in the men’s bathroom. Later, in a heated exchange with Shiv, who is again upset to have been excluded from Waystar’s main deal, Roman toots her drunk over not being able to sleep with as many guys as she would like, now that Tom may no longer be in prison; she, in turn, calls the novel “COO that can not fuck.” What at first seems like a memorized saliva then immerses itself in something foreign. Her brother insists that their father no longer needs Shiv, and tells her: “It turns out he loves it when I do the father dance … He love fucks me and he just does not want to fuck you anymore. “
Shiv is shaken, but she should not be surprised. Roy’s siblings, not mistakenly, have long confused their respective positions at Waystar with their father’s devotion. Logan capriciously and abolishes the status of the company, and commands the dance as a dull lover who knows exactly how wanted he is; he is off when admiration appears openly, yet shabby when it is not. The first half of this season has been largely content with playing hits – the issue of succession and family control of the company still dictates the biggest moves – and it has allowed for undertones like this to build up and become steady, sometimes ridiculous more obvious. But while Roman’s commentary is a piece with the couple’s usual tossed jokes and aside, the dynamics now feel toned down to a darker hue, colored in a tub of increasing cruelty and psychosexual anxiety.
The most erotically charged scene this season so far exhibits a similar sense of unrest. It arrives at a closed political conference where Roman riffs with politician Jeryd Mencken (Justin Kirk), a Jordan Peterson-like, neo-fascist enfant terrible. “I do not have many boundaries,” says Mencken, approaching Roman in the gilded bathroom of the family’s hotel suite. The men are alone and the sleeves of their white collar shirts are rolled up, their top buttons buttoned up. The presidential hope then puts Franco and Hitler in name (“H,” he calls him), tête-à-tête creeps into dangerous territory. The hint of something sexual is pushed back below the surface, but the insinuation is still there, now with a few dictators. Although there is also this: Earlier in the crowded hotel bar that one opens, Mencken tells his potential benefactor: “Most people here want to fuck me or kill me.” In the world of Succession, these things are one and the same.