The following contains spoilers for Episode 407 of Succession
Most people seem to see the relationship between Roman Roy (Kieran Culkin) and Gerri Kellman (J Smith-Cameron) as one of romance. Their dynamic is seen as the ultimate will they / won’t they, the pinnacle of lust on a TV show where “fucking” more often means winning a deal than actually having sex. RomanGerri timelines exist on the internet, culminating in the ultimate question “will love prevail”. Because Gerri is older than Roman (a member of the Old Guard, quite literally his sibling’s godmother), and because she has been at the company longer, we would traditionally think that she has more power in the relationship. However, because Roman is the CEO’s son, he regains this power back, tenfold.
While the internet romanticized RomanGerri, often claiming that she is just as hot for him as he is for her, what they are ignoring is the fact that Gerri—even before Logan died—was forced to put up with his advances in order to secure her position at the company. When Logan found out that his son sent her dick pics, his first thought was to fire her, not the person responsible for the actions. Gerri may be 25 years older than Roman, but she is a victim of the patriarchy first and foremost, which would punish her for speaking up and for not playing nice with the frankly predatory grown man’s whims. The only person to ever even consider this is Shiv, when she suggests Gerri file an HR report. But even then, she is not looking out for Gerri but for herself, understanding that it would take both Roman and Gerri down and leave the path open for herself.
Logan’s own at-work affair, with his secretary Kerry Castellabate, has received no such romantic treatment. We easily accepted that Kerry was sleeping with Logan for his money and to better achieve her career aspirations. This is relatively uncontroversial despite the fact that Kerry was never seen refusing Logan’s advances (in fact, she likely did not, given how disparate the power dynamic truly was there, and just because she didn’t argue does not mean there wasn’t abuse of power). When Gerri tells Roman that his actions are inappropriate, we assume that she is trying to hide her true feelings of lust just because she is an older woman. Gerri is hot, by the way! She isn’t “dating up” with Roman, and it’s society’s sexism that allows us to think Gerri is getting a good deal by being harassed by someone younger than her.
In the era of post-Me Too, you would think that when we see an at work relationship where one side clearly pushes for sexual contact despite the other side repeatedly shutting it down, we would understand that this relationship was an example of sexual harassment. I fully believe that this is what the creators of Succession intended. Yet, due to Culkin’s incredible charm and the ageism perpetrated against women, #RomanGerri trends, and there’s entire fan edits of the way Gerri “wants” Roman.
Did Gerri want to have a relationship with Roman? Yes of course. Was this relationship ever sexual for her? No. The fact that Roman lusted after her was simply an unfortunate consequence of her position as a high powered woman in a world run by men. It was beneficial for her to ally herself closely with a Roy. Alienating Roman Roy would mean getting herself fired in a Logan world and a post-Logan world. Once it became clear that even accepting his harassment wouldn’t save her, Gerri used the little leverage she had left, and negotiated herself a large exit package.
Gerri is smart, and Succession is built around manipulating the grey area. That’s why it’s such a good show. She never comes right out and looks at the camera and tells us that she is putting up with Roman because she has no choice; it is up to us as viewers to interpret that. Maybe some people look at Smith-Cameron’s performance and believe that she is truly in love with Roman. That is a choice you can make as a viewer. However, romanticizing Roman’s interest in Gerri as boundary breaking is a problem.
The fact that Gerri is older than Roman does not erase the problematic power dynamics, and praising Roman for being transgressive enough to hit on someone older than him is not the radical politics that fans seem to think it is. This is still the same man who told Kendall in season 1 to sleep with his employees because he “deserved” it. He still has the same sense of entitlement towards Gerri, but is pursuing it because it is both safer—he won’t have to confront his discomfort with sex— and more taboo in the eyes of the people around him. Think what you want, but do your best to critically confront your perceptions of age, gender, and power politics.