Connor Roy is the true heart of Succession

The key for Succession has been staring you in the face for four seasons and has been played as comic relief. He’s neglected son Connor Roy, played impeccably by Alan Ruck.

Connor is often ignored by the rest of the family. His half-siblings and father seem to view him as hopelessly clumsy. But the main theme of Succession is enhanced by his character: he is the eldest son, and he is irrelevant. He even has to remind his half-siblings that he – not Kendall – is the eldest son in the Season 3 finale.

Spoiler for Succession season 4 below

However, Connor is not in the race to replace his father, Logan Roy. It’s not even loaded with anything important. His mother was sent to “the funny farm” and Logan remarried. In season one, when the siblings gather at the boathouse before Shiv’s wedding, he is not invited. In the most recent episode – her wedding – her father skips the celebration, only to die on a plane. His half-siblings don’t think to make him say goodbye to his father until Logan is probably already dead.

They don’t think of him at all for 15 minutes. At his wedding.

“Oh man,” Connor said. “He never even liked me.”

When Connor hears the news, Ruck’s portrait is heartbreaking. He’s collapsing about his wedding cake because it’s made from the same kind of sponge cake he ate for a week after his mother was institutionalized. In season one’s “Sad Sack Wasp Trap”, Connor freaks out about Butter getting it wrong at the charity gala for the Roy Endowment Creative New York. Connor’s recollection of micromanaging an event suggests something about his past, something awful. He learned that management style from someone, and it wasn’t Logan.

When Shiv and Kendall ask Connor to forget about the cake for a few minutes, Shiv says, “They think he’s dead.” And Connor looks her straight in the eye, seemingly emotionless, “Well, is he?”

Kendall says they don’t know, but Logan has heart compressions. “Oh man,” Connor said. “He never even liked me.”

Then he immediately begins to comfort his distraught younger siblings, swallowing his own feelings. “You know what, I’m sorry,” he told Kendall. “He did. He did.”

Of all the children, Connor seems to be the most aware that staying in his father’s orbit is a trap. But Connor is also what all the other Roys fear becoming. He’s a warning sign for his younger half-siblings: if they slip out of Logan’s orbit, they’ll be equally irrelevant and unloved. After all, if Connor hadn’t been cast aside, they wouldn’t be competing for Logan’s attention at all.

“The good thing about having a family that doesn’t love you is that you learn to live without them.”

In the first season, Connor’s ranch in New Mexico, Austerlitz, is as part of an attempt at family therapy. The attempt is more of a public relations stunt than a real cure, much to Connor’s disappointment because, unlike his siblings and father, he do want a real family. The family business, in which Shiv, Kendall and Roman are trying to tear each other apart to succeed their father, has warped relationships beyond repair.

Previous seasons have focused on the other siblings. The first season is mostly about Kendall. The second, Shiv. The third, Roman. It’s safe to say Connor is due – and his rehearsal dinner and wedding provide the backdrop for two of the show’s most dramatic episodes to date.

Earlier this season, Connor’s siblings skip his rehearsal dinner to plot against their father. They catch bride-to-be Willa running and belatedly try to console Connor by taking him to karaoke. And though Connor, after singing Leonard Cohen’s “Famous Blue Raincoat,” says his superpower doesn’t need love – “The good thing about having a family that doesn’t love you is that you learn to live without it” — he also took his younger siblings fly fishing when Logan wasn’t going. Maybe Connor tells himself he doesn’t need love because he doesn’t believe he’ll ever get it.

Granted, the sibling karaoke moment is immediately overshadowed by Logan’s arrival.

All along Succession, Ruck’s portrayal of the rejected elder was phenomenal. Sure, Connor is mostly there for the punchlines — his presidential campaign provides most of those — but even through the jokes, Ruck manages to convey the pathos. The shift from his honest reaction to Logan’s death to comforting his younger siblings tells you precisely who Connor is: more absurd than the other three but also more human. Nicer.

It took a brilliant actor to pull this off. I would like to see what else Ruck can do.

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