The cast of HBO’s Succession.
The cast of HBO’s Succession.

Was HBO’s SUCCESSION trying to expose Jeff Epstein?

Zach Schauffler
Jul 14 · 4 min read

After a week of vague recollection, it clicked: Jeffrey Epstein, the wealthy US businessman charged with sex trafficking minors, looked familiar. Earlier this summer, I watched HBO’s Succession, a satirical comedy-drama about a dysfunctional family behind a global media conglomerate. Among the patriarch’s four children, three vie for the chance to take over the company, leaving Connor Roy (Alan Ruck) as the odd one out. Connor’s the eldest, from his father’s first marriage, and shows no interest in anything besides pursuing his libertarian fantasy in the American south-west. He’s played by Alan Ruck, whose similarity to Epstein is striking. The high forehead radiating silver hair, the deep-set eyes staring past sun-tanned skin… the resemblance is undeniable.

Connor Roy (as played by Alan Ruck) on the left; Jeffrey Epstein on the right

For a while, it was just an odd coincidence. But then I read this article in The New York Times. The reporters detail how Epstein was able to avoid registering as a sex offender by living on a secluded ranch in New Mexico, a state whose sex offender registration laws are lax. The more I considered it, the clearer it became: Connor Roy is analogous to Jeffrey Epstein, and Succession was parodying his tactics.

Granted, Connor Roy is a generally comedic character whose behaviour doesn't come close to Epstein’s crimes. Yet the two seem inextricably linked. Connor also lives on a secluded ranch in New Mexico. This isn’t a throw-away detail because the entire seventh episode of the first season takes place in and around this property. By way of explaining his decision to live there, Connor refers to the “freedom” the ranch offers him without ever diving too much into specifics. Connor is also repeatedly shown to be a predatory — in episode eight, the show makes a joke of his tactless and ineffective methods of determining young women’s legal status, and Connor is eventually threatened with removal from a club after making many female patrons uncomfortable.

Logan Roy (as played by Brian Cox) on the left; Rupert Murdoch on the right

It’s no secret that Succession’s patriarch Logan Roy (Brian Cox) is a riff on media mogul Rupert Murdoch, and this only adds to the parallels. Connor’s living arrangements and evasion of consequences are possible because of his father’s money and influence, and Epstein’s secured the same benefits by surrounding himself with rich, influential people such as Murdoch himself.

Succession uses an actor who resembles Epstein to triangulate predatory behaviour, property in New Mexico, and proximity to wealth. I doubt the writers knew the full extent of Epstein’s crimes — perhaps they heard whispers, or even just played on archetypes of wealthy predators covering their abuse by moving to poorly regulated jurisdictions. But for a show that has no qualms twisting the exploits of real people into a dark comedy, Succession is a likely candidate to have quietly satirised the tactics of a known predator.

If this is true, the show doesn’t deserve credit as a force for justice. Rather than challenge Epstein through Connor, Succession merely plays with him. Rewatching some scenes with Connor, I’m uneasy. His behaviour is a punchline, not a red flag. Other characters roll their eyes, chide him, and move on. The audience is meant to laugh, especially as Connor’s delusions of grandeur escalate to presidential ambitions. Succession isn’t interested in interrogating the archetype. It depends on it for humour.

It’s a bad sign that Epstein was so familiar to me. Nothing about him or his story surprised me, in part because media like Succession have normalised the narrative. Perhaps Succession has a long character arc planned wherein Connor has indeed committed past sex crimes that come to light. Otherwise, the show reinforces the idea that creepy, powerful men can live in peace in the desert and that this shouldn’t bother anyone. If stories like these cease to surprise us—if television leads us to laugh at injustice without thinking about it—will we care as much when new allegations arise?

Perhaps it’s all coincidental. But as the connections converge into what seems a cheeky reference to a sex offender, I hope that Succession will take responsibility to give this archetype a tougher treatment.

Frame Rated

‘Your Entertainment, Our Reviews’. A publication focused on Film & Television reviews, features, essays, retrospectives, and think-pieces.

Zach Schauffler

Written by

aspiring word person | UVA '19 | https://twitter.com/zschauff

Frame Rated

‘Your Entertainment, Our Reviews’. A publication focused on Film & Television reviews, features, essays, retrospectives, and think-pieces.

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