Roman's Heart Has Grown Three Sizes In Succession Season 4, And The Show Is Better For It

This article contains spoilers for "Succession" season 4.

Not much can be said about the Roy family's benevolence. For all their lovable foibles, the right-wing media clan is rotten to the core. The second generation of billionaires is a particularly selfish bunch, and the worst among them might be the formidable patriarch's youngest son, Roman — at least, at first. Roman emerges as an impish sprite that tortures lesser people for sport, but by the fourth and final season, he has grown more compassionate than anyone else on the Roy family tree. He hasn't lost his cutting wit, but season 4's big twist reveals a sweet side to Romulus that imbues one of the sharpest edges of "Succession" with a welcome softness.

In the series premiere, the youngest son of the Murdoch-like mogul Logan Roy offers a working-class kid one million dollars if he hits a home run, then tauntingly tears up the check when he fails. When Roman is appointed as COO, he masturbates overlooking the city, drunk on power. He gets into a sexual relationship with his personal trainer, then threatens to sue him over text. He pushes up a rocket launch to align with his sister's wedding and, consequently, the rocket explodes, costing a man his thumbs. At family therapy, he jokes that he is going to tell the therapist that his oldest brother Connor sexually assaulted him. He and his older brother Kendall even paid a homeless man to get Kendall's initials tattooed on his forehead, and Roman pays him again to exploit his story in the press and make Kendall look bad.

"This guy grew up never having to suffer consequences, and so he doesn't really know what that means to suffer consequences," Kieran Culkin, whose portrayal of Roman has earned him two Primetime Emmy nominations, explained to NPR in 2021.

The sibs have a newfound bond

By season 4, Roman is singing a very different tune. His dad's betrayal and Kendall's confession of vehicular manslaughter left him newly bonded with his siblings while still reaching out for his father's endearment. They still affectionately volley insults back and forth but they are finally working in unity — even if it is to snub their father, which Roman has mixed feelings about. He might just be cowardly and conflict-averse, but this could be another example of Roman's growing compassion: maybe he doesn't want to hurt his dad's feelings.

His oldest brother's rehearsal dinner is one of the first glimmers of Roman's hidden heart of gold. Connor's flighty bride-to-be and her friends leave him alone at the table and Shiv wants to sneak away and talk business, but Roman insists that they stay to comfort their brother. He might have been facilitating the meeting with their dad later in the evening, considering they were in contact, or maybe he just wanted to avoid discussing the Gojo deal, but he seems to have genuine sympathy for Connor.

Young Romulus is already showing early signs of compassion-itis when Logan unexpectedly dies in episode 3. Their relationship never had much trust, but this abrupt loss leaves them so vulnerable that they compulsively act as a unit. They are forced to lean on each other in grief and, ultimately, the tragedy brings the Roy siblings closer together.

Rome's willingness to split power over Waystar with Kendall and Shiv suggests that his more selfish and power-hungry impulses are waning. But it isn't just members of his own family that Roman has warmed up to, and that's where his secret soft side really shows its face.

Roman comes to the rescue of an unlikely foe

Logan's "friend, assistant, and advisor" Kerry is an uninvited guest at her lover's wake. Roman has never been very kind to Kerry and was always the first to make jokes about her sexual relationship with his father, but in episode 4, he is the only one that shows her any remorse. Logan's estranged widow has returned to finally claim what is hers, and there is no room for Kerry at the funeral she's thrown. She fetches her late husband's weeping mistress a bag of her things and ushers her out the door, but Roman comes to her defense.

Kerry was closest to Logan when he died, and Roman is struck with a sudden wave of compassion for her. He has nothing to gain from Kerry, so his assistance exhibits nothing but genuine concern. This is a moment of pure kindness, not otherwise motivated by selfish desires or fear. Roman, who has enjoyed tormenting Kerry so much, is being sweet to her for the first time. He even offers to ask Logan's lawyers if he'd made a note of their impending engagement. Roman knows Kerry's personal and professional dreams died along with Logan, and he is clearly sympathetic to her suffering from another unfulfilled promise from his father. He seems to be unable to stop himself from stepping in when he sees her being bullied by Marcia, despite the social politics of it all.

Roman hasn't totally departed from brandishing his razor-sharp wit as a weapon — he still manages to sneak a few barbs in for Hugo and Greg at his father's wake — but he's definitely evolving. Season 4 has made him into a thoroughly sympathetic character, but Roman had actually been growing for quite some time — it just took us a while to see it.

Is Ro-Ro really all grown up?

Roman has slowly but surely become a more competent businessman and human being throughout all four seasons of "Succession." His first brush with humanity began with his participation in Waystar's management training program. Later, he's handed the opportunity to close a deal that could potentially save the company, but he admits to his father that he doesn't trust the buyers rather than playing the hero. There are also many references to Roman's troubled childhood that add depth and vulnerability to the spoiled prince.

Shiv and Kendall both claim that Logan hit his youngest son as a child, and the American titan delivers a teeth-chattering blow to Roman's cheek in season 2. At Tom's bachelor party, Roman reveals that his older siblings used to lock him in a cage and force him to eat dog food. He was even sent to military school so his father could establish a "hierarchy" among his siblings, instilling competition between them at an early age.

Culkin has always enjoyed playing up Roman's less endearing qualities and has been consistently drawn to roles with a bit of a problematic edge, like Wallace in "Scott Pilgrim vs. The World." "Some characters are supposed to be a piece of s***," he explained in a 2021 interview with The Guardian. "Just be unlikable, it's fun."

Still, the actor has always rooted for his character's good side to prevail over his darkness. "Roman might be the most acerbic of the Roy siblings but I still root for him and am willing him to step up," he admitted.

Over the course of the series, Roman has grown from an egomaniacal pervert that revels in torture into a compassionate man that helps others before himself. He might not be Mother Theresa — or anywhere close — but his evolution is a glimmer of hope in a family full of bleak alienation.