Throughout the final season of “Succession,” IndieWire will take an extended look at the various power players in HBO’s drama to determine not only if they can win control of the Roy family business, but what they would actually gain in doing so — and what they may lose, simply by playing. After Episode 2, “Rehearsal,” it’s time to vet: Connor Roy.
Imagine it’s the day before your wedding. Your only siblings are hours late to the rehearsal dinner. Your father doesn’t show up at all, and your bride, after spending 40 minutes in the bathroom debating whether she can go through with the wedding, bails before the actual rehearsal takes place. (In her defense, she claims she’s “not vital” to the proceedings.) When your family does show up, they’re distracted with work, with squabbles, with just about anything but you and your wishes. They agree to take you out to a bar, but their attention remains elsewhere, and you have to bully them into doing what you really want.
So there you are: in New York City, the night before you get married, microphone in hand. The tracking device you’ve been using to keep tabs on your runaway bride has lost her signal. Your mind races. Did her phone die? Is she fleeing the country? Is she already in the arms of another man? Your half-brothers and -sister offer perfunctory reassurances, but they don’t matter. Not to you. You’re used to this. Being ignored, being abandoned, being unloved — you’ve been practicing for this moment your whole life. So you may as well live out those big-screen dreams hours. Pick the song. Sing it loud. Leonard Cohen, eat your heart out.
In the moment, I’m not sure Connor Roy (Alan Ruck) realizes how overtly desperate his song choice comes across. After all, once he, Kendall (Jeremy Strong), Shiv (Sarah Snook), and Roman (Kieran Culkin) arrive in their private karaoke room, the first thing Con says is, “So what happens now?” Absent any guidance, he follows his heart, and despite his later claims to the contrary, his heart is crying out for love, even if his mind knows he’ll never get it — not from any of these people, anyway.
Therin lies the crux of Connor: absence. Episode 2, “Rehearsal,” emphasizes his exclusion without excluding him. He’s on the outs with Willa (Justine Lupe), his siblings, and his father. He’s even on the outside of his own career, as he fights to maintain one full percentage of the vote. Being on the outside can hurt, and we feel Connor’s pain throughout “Rehearsal” — as Roman does when he labels his brother’s Leonard Cohen cover “Guantanamo-level shit.” But being separated from the Roys and all their toxic bullshit also can’t be all bad. As “Succession” approaches its ending, Connor having a little distance may even be to his benefit.
Connor, like every other member of the Roy family, isn’t a good person. Among three seasons of supporting evidence, we needn’t look back any further than last week, when he pitched Willa on a wedding filled with jet packs, rappers, confetti guns, and bum fights. Why? He wanted to save a few bucks on a presidential campaign — not because he could still win, not even because he might still help someone else win, but just because he’s worried dropping below 1 percent would be embarrassing. Nevermind the embarrassment of a bride hosting a reception where two penniless drifters beat each other unconscious. That’s fine. N.R.P.I.
What “Succession” does so well with Connor, though, is magnified in Episode 2’s construction. Connor is the routinely forgotten sibling. He’s the only son from Logan’s (Brian Cox) first marriage, which just about everyone pretends never happened. Typically, he’s not involved in Waystar-Royco, leaving his family to fight over who’s in charge, and that often puts him on the outside of “Succession’s” most heated drama. Connor can step in as comic relief, or a wild card, or — as he is in “Rehearsal” — an empathetic figure. In Episode 2, he’s a looming reminder of the Roy’s abusive upbringing, which left them all scarred and, ultimately, alone.
As I asserted last week, with Tom: the inevitable tragedy of “Succession” is that everyone will lose. Most will not get what they want (i.e. the money and power Logan now controls), and even those that somehow “win” won’t be entirely happy with what they get. Creator Jesse Armstrong has shown, time and again, that each Roy family member is too flawed to achieve serenity — not by succession, anyway. Whether it’s tied to individualized foibles, societal circumstance, abuse inflicted by their family member, or all of the above, the Sisyphean task of scaling Mount Royco is destined to crush every climber’s ambition, soul, or both.
But the agony of Connor’s story isn’t that he’s being crushed by his own ambition (or, to be more precise, the ambition his father engineered in the rest of his kids). He’s alone, on an adjacent mountain, watching those that are supposed to love him hurt each other instead. To use the language of Connor’s chosen song, he’s cold in New York while his family builds a house deep in the desert. Leonard Cohen’s “Famous Blue Raincoat” is written as a letter, and the disconnection comes through in the point-of-view as strongly as the melody’s longing.
“The good thing about having a family that doesn’t love you is you learn to live without it,” Connor says, as he puts on his jacket and prepares to face his fate. “If Willa doesn’t come back, that’s fine,” he says. “Because I don’t need love. It’s like a superpower. And if she comes back and doesn’t love me, that’s fine too. Because I don’t need it.”
Speaking on HBO’s “Succession” podcast, executive producer and writer Lucy Prebble described Connor as the “archetypal” example of someone who’s lost all faith in loving relationships. “We talked a lot in the room at the time about attachment theory and the idea of who’s dysfunctionally attached and who’s avoidantly attached. Basically, we know that children who don’t get a certain amount of love and care do give up on hoping to receive it, which is why your relationships become harder when you get older and you’re avoidant by nature because you simply don’t really believe that it’s possible or that you’re deserving of it.”
Sound familiar? While Kendall, Shiv, and Roman all hope against hope that one day they’ll receive a kiss from daddy, Connor knows, on some level, it’s never going to happen. Taken on its own, that way of life is devastating to imagine; that there are people out there who simply cannot believe they’ll receive an appropriate level of love from those who claim to love them. Episode 2 was aptly devastating to watch from Connor’s perspective. Absent most of his character facets that make him repugnant, he can be seen as the regularly ignored Roy he’s become.
But Connor does call his isolation a “superpower,” and while there’s inherent tragedy to his acknowledgement and acceptance of such a lonely fate, there is power in it, as well. Connor isn’t playing the game Logan has trapped the rest of his kids within. He’s ahead of them simply by refusing to engage. Sure, it likely means Connor can’t “win” “Succession.” I don’t foresee a Bran Stark-like rise to the throne in Connor’s future, just like I don’t see an unprecedented comeback in his race for the White House. The heart wants what it wants, and it will continue to pull Connor in various directions — toward Willa and companionship, toward his siblings and family, toward Logan and his money. But Connor is the one child who learned the cold truth about their father long ago: He doesn’t need his love, because Logan has no love to give.
“Succession” Season 4 releases new episodes Sundays at 9 p.m. on HBO and HBO Max.