succession in session

Surprise, Surprise. Everyone on Succession Has Mommy Issues.

Photo: HBO

Everyone on Succession needs therapy, and nobody’s getting it.
Each week, we sit down with one member of the extended Roy clan and try to give them a little professional nudge in the right direction.

Succession is a show about daddy issues. But as we saw last night, the Roy kids hardly have their relationship with their mother figured out. Last spotted asking guests at Shiv’s wedding “how long they give it,” prickly matriarch Caroline Collingwood is back in the picture, and she’s as acerbic and unpleasant as ever.

If food is a metaphor for nurture, the lunch she serves Shiv and Roman — pigeon with shot and feathers in it — paints a clear picture of the kind of maternal nourishment the Roy kids can expect to get on a visit to mom’s house. While she has no problem using them as a bargaining chip in her twisted poker-game with Logan, when she’s actually given the opportunity to bond with them — like when Kenny shows up in a time of need and Roman shows up looking for “eggy-peggs” — she’s nowhere to be found. We spoke to Dr. Tammy Nelson, a sex therapist, psychologist, and Succession fan, about the Roy matriarch, and the effect she has on the kids’ attachment styles as adults.

Logan is a narcissist, absolutely, but suddenly you wonder, wait a minute, is their mom really the narcissist? Or does she have some borderline personality traits? This is an over-generalization, but it’s very common in a relationship for one person to have narcissistic personality disorder, while the other has borderline personality disorder. So they’re polar opposites, which can be very chaotic.

My first impression of Caroline was her incredible passive aggressiveness. For example, that deal: She says she’ll take either the $150 million Hamptons house, or $20 million plus every Christmas with the children, though it’s clear she doesn’t care at all about spending time with them. She then manipulates the situation and says, your dad would rather have a big house than spend the holidays with you. This is how the kids have grown up, embroiled in endlessly bitter disputes between their parents. The mother has turned them against their father, and their father has turned them against each other. They’ve been unable to attach to a parent. They’re essentially completely on their own, which is why they have these weird, aggressive relationships with each other. I loved how in the episode before this one, for example, we see the kids waiting backstage before the panel and they’re like little kids just jabbing at each other. In that moment, it’s easy to see that their relationships have been this way since they were little kids. They don’t know how to attach, so they can’t even turn to each other for comfort. And so all their adult relationships are attached, either through sex or through manipulation.

In this episode we really see where that comes from. Let’s take the meal Caroline prepares for them: pigeon riddled with shot. She’s serving her children food that’s literally dangerous, that could break their teeth. It is the embodiment of that lack of nurture. Later, she tells them she’s going to make them breakfast in the morning. Instead, she abandons them, making it clear that she can’t be there for Kendall. Rather than listen to something he needs to tell her, she flees. I think she probably actually did him a favor, because who knows how she would have used that against him. You can’t imagine her hugging him or comforting him. And yet no matter how old we are, kids will always go back to the empty well over and over, expecting there to be something there.

Then there’s the scene where Kendall goes to visit the parents of the young man he killed. That was so traumatic to watch; the way he goes from this giant life of wealth and spaciousness into the cramped, claustrophobic home of a family who is not wealthy, and who have been destroyed by his actions. He goes back into the memory and the emotions of that night, that until now he had been working hard try and contain. And he didn’t have any place to put them. He was trying to go back to that, to that memory, of grief and guilt and shame, and process it without the support of his father. Logan is sort of torturing him: forcing him back there, to linger in the hallway, to confront the incident but also not allowing him to make amends for what he did. Kendall is forced to stand in the outer hallway, where all he could do was really sit in the pain of what he did. This was another way for his father to control him and remind him that he’s in charge. It was a way to re-traumatize him.

This is followed by intense neglect from his mother, which really exemplifies how emotionally neglected they’ve all been. They have endured abuse and trauma throughout their lives. They lack attachment to a parental figure, which means they’ve never had any emotional caretaking. This continues to get worse as they’re emotionally manipulated by their parents.

Shiv’s relationship with her mom is interesting. She’s able to stand up to her more than Kendall and Roman. She’s a bit more direct, even a bit snarky. That directness indicates some independence. I still don’t quite understand Shiv’s relationship with Tom, but it might have something to do with her need to be in charge, and her refusal to be manipulated. She needs someone who’s not quite as smart as she is, so that she can always know no one will ever manipulate her emotions or be in charge of her emotions and her attachment.

And then there’s Roman. In the morning, Roman comes bounding into the kitchen, and there’s this moment where the camera focuses on his bare feet. This gave the impression of him as a young child, all eager and enthusiastic, like is mom gonna make us eggs like when we were kids? And once again, he’s disappointed. He continues to get smacked down just like his father smacked him last week.

Does Everyone on Succession Have Mommy Issues Too?