If you’ve seen even one episode of HBO’s Succession, you’ll know that Roman Roy (played by Kieran Culkin) does just about everything in his power to be a prick. Trigger warning jokes? Been there, done that. Harassing a child with a million-dollar check that he tears up for him to watch because he doesn’t hit a home run? Very first episode. So it stands to reason that he’d make pedophilia jokes — what self-respecting anti-SJW wouldn’t? But there’s something unique about the way Roman jokes about the subject that’s a different type of red flag.
The thing about Roman’s pedophilia jokes is that, aside from one made in S2E2 that doesn’t mention any victims, they’re always about himself. They’re not about some unnamed victim or a case that’s been highly publicized like most pedophilia jokes are — instead, he’s the one who was molested by Connor as a child (S1E7); he’s the one who was sodomized by a camp counselor (S2E8); he’s the one who would sleep with his babysitter if he could (S1E4)(still a pedophilia joke, technically speaking).
The jokes are uncomfortable on their own, but when you consider that Roman can and will say a complete truth — that he jerked off in Gerri’s bathroom in S2E5, for example — and have it be taken as just another one of his offensive little jokes, it becomes even more concerning.
My theory is, then, that these jokes aren’t just jokes, and that Roman is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse (CSA). He’s coping with a massively traumatic event (or series of events) the same way he so often does: through humor. In addition to his less-than-sensitive jokes, when you observe Roman with this theory in mind, some other things he says and does can also be read in a much more chilling way, regardless of whether or not you want to consider them evidence.
The amount of truth in Roman’s recollection of the dog pound game in S1E8 is debatable, both in canon and out, but it’s never explicitly stated that he never had a problem with enuresis (bedwetting) like he thought. While enuresis can occur for a variety of physical and psychological reasons, and thus isn’t necessarily a sign of CSA on its own, it absolutely can be. If we let this part of Roman’s distorted memory of his childhood be the actual truth — after all, nobody ever contests it like with the rest of the dog pound story — it can work as another piece of evidence.
Also worth noting in that whole mess are the parallels to the common But they liked it! narrative sexual abusers push. Of course, this isn’t to say that Kendall and Connor abused Roman, but the similarities are undeniable.
Another thing that becomes much more worrisome is a line of dialogue in S2E3 during the scene where Kendall attempts to wrestle Roman’s phone away from him. Although it’s nerve-wracking, there’s nothing sexual about the encounter, but Roman implies that there is when he goads Kendall into sexually assaulting him/accusing him of wanting to — “You’re gonna grab my tit? You like touching me? Grab my fucking balls, I will drop you, cocksucker!” In a high-stress situation, he immediately refers not to physical violence, which he’s experienced both onscreen and anecdotally, and is — to a degree — what’s going on in the present situation, but sexual violence.
Roman’s dialogue here is reminiscent of a line Logan has in S1E1 — “Do you want to hit me, is that it? Huh? Go on. Go on. Give it your best shot.” It’s not a reach to say that that’s where Roman learned it — goading people into violence during conflicts. When considering that Logan is a victim of physical abuse, which his children knew, there’s a possibility that this hints toward Roman being a victim of sexual abuse — same tactic, different type of violence.
Of course, as a possible counterargument, there is the question of why Roman’s response in S2E6 to the cruise line sex scandal is to brush it off and say it wasn’t that bad. However, it’s far from unheard of for abuse survivors to have an “If I could get through it, so could you; stop complaining so much” attitude rather than extending sympathy to other victims. While it’s an unintuitive response, it does happen, and it’s not as if Roman is a particularly good person in the first place — low standards are necessary for being a Succession fan.
In general, the tragedy of Roman’s life has much to do with his body. An emphasis has been put on his struggle with sexual intimacy; he’s the only one (as of 10.1.2021) that we know has been physically harmed by Logan; he has a bad body image to the point of doing body checks (seen in S1E4) (UPDATE: Kieran Culkin has suggested that Roman has anorexia); depending on how loosely you consider the theme, the list goes on. For him to be a survivor of CSA would continue this ongoing pattern, along with connecting and explaining several of Roman’s various concerning qualities — the perfect way to make his already painful story pack an even more vicious punch.
Joseph A. Cornacchia