Succession is many things: corporate drama, family saga, tragi-comic expose of the 1%. Jesse Armstrong’s take on the Murdoch-esque Roy family features some of the sharpest writing and emotionally resonant acting of anything on television right now.
No character embodies the show’s sociopathic charisma more effectively than Kendall Roy, played with asshole-tinged pathos by Jeremy Strong. He’s a swaggering douchebag executive, but his demons are bursting at the seams of his custom Brioni suit. He opens the series as the heir apparent to the family empire, but his hubris, addictions, and blind loyalty send him into a spiral that has fans clamoring to rescue him.
And now Kendall Roy is tearing the Refinery29 office apart.
Just moments after sending an innocent company-wide Slack seeking confirmation that our Number-One Boy was, indeed, the hottest character on Succession, this writer found herself at the epicenter of an imbroglio more chaotic than Waystar Royco’s attempted takeover of PGN.
“Kendall Roy is that delicious mix of self-destructive garbage loser meets baby lamb. He’s hot because he’s both the victim and perpetrator of his own demise,” Director of Development Sam Schlaifer slacked back.
“Rich sad guys are hot!” confirmed Deputy Editor Justin Ravitz.
“A vulnerable and anxious boy,” declared Snapchat Editor Abbey Maxbauer.
Then Product Manager Julia Raue threw a landmine into the conversation: “The pooping the bed was a bit of a turn off… BUT not a deal breaker”
Wow, Julia. Also: Same.
Kendall Roy exists in the same tradition of “damaged white man who just needs the love of a good woman” that’s brought us everyone from Edward Rochester in Jane Eyre to Logan Echolls in Veronica Mars. This is a man who lies, connives, steals, and unironically refers to a website as a “portfolio of online brands and digital video content.” And we haven’t even gotten to the vehicular homicide. So why are we all, against our better judgement, animallistally attracted to this character?
Paste Magazine Television Editor Allison Keene, publicly copped to her Kendall crush early on this season, explaining his “confusing attractiveness” thusly: “Kendall is begging to not just be helped but to be rescued by the healing power of your love. That siren song is so terribly potent...He’s damaged, but he’s not rotten. There is hope for him, and that glittering feeling of seeing his potential is both toxic and intoxicating.”
Kendall’s duality seems to be at the heart of his allure for many viewers. “I feel like he’s the epitome of ‘get you a man who can do both’” says Gina, a student in Philadelphia. “My heart breaks watching all the factors of his struggle, and I just want to save him. But when he’s 'the man’ (his words not mine), his power and confidence is so sexy. I have never found mergers and acquisitions to be more of a turn on.”
“Why do I love Kendall’s deep little voice?” Allison, a tenant advocate in Washington DC has found herself questioning. “I want him to say something mean to me.”
Some of us have been begging Kendall to run us over with his dumb motorcycle since day one, but for others, the attraction developed over time. Writer Emily Gaudette identified a pivotal moment from the first season featuring Kendall’s estranged wife, Rava (Natalie Gold), as a turning point: “The scene where he and Rava are shedding clothes and kissing through their house, having angry sex (‘you're not leaving’ ‘yes i am’ ‘no you're not’ ‘yes...yes, yes, yes’).”
Others noted Kendall’s recent rendezvous with Pierce heiress and fellow sad rich person, Naomi (Annabelle Dexter-Jones), as the moment they got hot for Kendall. Drawn to each other by their shared demons, Kendall and Naomi — who both proclaim to be in recovery — get drunk and high and nearly hijack a helicopter. Kendall implores her to escape her life with the money from the Waystar Royco/PGN deal. Naomi looks deep into Kendall’s soul and diagnoses his entire condition. “You're such a little nothing,” she tells him, before they begin to desperately make out.
“As soon as that happened I was like oMG keNdALLL,” Refinery29 Features Writer Amelia Harnish wrote in the company Slack, “I was on the fence before, but now I’m obsessed.”
Kathleen Gannon, a mental health counselor specializing in expressive arts therapy, told Refinery29 that these kinds of attachments to a television character are normal, even therapeutic. Defined as “parasocial relationships,” they are a “one-sided connection to a figure that does not exist (as in a character in a comic book, movie, or TV series), or does not know the other party exists (as in a celebrity).”
Audiences tend to form these relationships because we often have an omniscient view of the character’s life. Exploring the reasoning behind a parasocial relationship in therapy can give insight into a patient’s real-life romantic patterns and missteps. The attachment can feel quite profound, says Gannon, but as long as it’s not interfering with everyday life, it shouldn’t be a problem.
As for the process of embodying the character, the Yale-educated and effortlessly-chic-peacoat-wearing Jeremy Strong, is conflicted about fan’s reaction to Kendall’s behavior.
“It feels slightly awful that people are rooting for awfulness, but maybe it sounds like they're rooting for Kendall to get his mojo back, which is not so awful,” he told The Hollywood Reporter. “ I think [the characters on Succession] are very fallible, but I do think they are trying to be some version of their best selves. I know Kendall is trying to do that, what that version looks like is different from what most people’s versions looks like. But he is trying to do that, so I hope that's something to root for.”
If my own unscientific data sourcing is correct, that’s not the only thing fans are rooting for.
“I think Kendall and Stewy should kiss,” slacked Abbey Maxbauer, a sentiment that received several emoji reactions including a siren, a heart, a skull, and praise hands.
Maybe if his Dad tells him to?