There is a running joke you must have heard that no matter how hard they try, parents tend to mess up their kids in some way or the other. Some develop “daddy issues” (pop culture’s favourite pet pony to play around with) and some get “mommy issues”, a lesser explored but interesting kink nonetheless, especially if we go by Vice India’s latest expose into India’s adult breastfeeding community.
The trauma bonds children can form with their parents often spill over into adulthood and threaten to take over aspects of us that seek love, affection, and validation from others. We are talking about a repeated cycle of abuse, devaluation, and sudden smatterings of positive reinforcement. Throw in obscene amounts of generational wealth and corporate power struggles and things are bound to get saucier!
HBO’s Succession gives us a thorough glimpse into this very phenomenon through the four Roy siblings who are fighting to get the reins of the media empire built by their father Logan. A harsh and rather cantankerous old man with a traumatic childhood he pointedly refuses to speak about, Logan Roy loves throwing breadcrumbs of approval and affection at his children to keep them on their toes. Now isn’t that something most of us are a tad too familiar with? It may have been a parent, caretaker, or a toxic boss who overwhelmed us with the whiplash of emotions they brought out in us, but we kept going back till we realised we needed to break the cycle! But what happens when you cannot walk away?
As messy as the four siblings, Connor, Kendall, Shiobhan, and Roman’s lives seem to be, their individual love lives are messier. While Connor, the eldest, would literally rather pay someone to be with him; the youngest, Roman, deserves an entire article dedicated to him and his sexuality. Kendall and Shiobhan, aka Shiv, fall somewhere in between. Kendall can seemingly only be into women his dad approves of, Shiv chooses someone she can control even though he is not exactly favoured by her father. Neither Kendall nor Shiv however can truly commit to their partners in healthy ways.
Children who were taught to love a certain way often stick to these patterns as they grow up. Yes therapy could help, but who has time for that? Especially when you have a multi-billion dollar company to take over.
Interestingly enough for an HBO show that delves into the sexuality of these characters so intriguingly, there are actually no sordid sex scenes in Succession. Literally no one has to drop their clothes. That is the brilliance of a show that embodies what Irish poet and playright Oscar Wilde said, “Everything in the world is about sex, except sex. Sex is about power.”
Roman’s sexuality seems to have captured the fascination of viewers the most because he cannot be pegged down into a neat little box. In a world full of heteronormative white characters, Roman’s adventures are fascinating. While initially some thought he could be gay or bi, it has been speculated that he could also be asexual as the show has progressed. It has been hinted time and again that he was possibly abused as a child by various people.
With a physically absent mother and an emotionally abusive father, all the four siblings have intimacy issues. But in Roman it manifests in more twisted ways. From asking one of his partners to “play dead” to seeking humiliating sexual encounters from a motherly figure and longtime associate – Roman goes the distance seeking encounters where he can put physical and emotional barriers between himself and his partners. As someone who has to associate sexual intimacy with pain and humiliation, Roman could even have ‘sexual anorexia’.
Succession feels like a modern day epic of Shakespearean proportions that is propelled to thrilling levels episode by episode by the marvelous cast. The more they reveal, you stay hooked for more just like the Roy children do with their father’s affection!
The show with the crazy trifecta of (no) sex, childhood trauma, and power will be back with a third season this fall and frankly, I cannot wait.