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OPINION | PHILIP MARTIN: Watching 'Succession'

by Philip Martin | November 21, 2021 at 2:09 a.m.


I'm thinking about what Roman Roy's new watch might mean.

Roman is a character on HBO's "Succession," a soapy series about the miserable lives of a family of billionaires who, like the Murdochs or the Redstones, own a global media and entertainment conglomerate.

The fictional WayStar/Royco concern is a lot like Disney and the Fox Corporation; it has broadcast news and entertainment divisions as well as theme parks and a cruise line.

Portrayed by Kieran Culkin, Roman (whose real name is Romulus) is the youngest son of 80-year-old family patriarch and company founder Logan Roy (Brian Cox). Roman is callow and hilariously profane in order to compensate for his bone-deep insecurity and legitimate lack of talent for anything other than the acerbic putdown.

At first blush, he'd seem the least likely of the Roy clan to succeed his father as the leader of the company, but--because this is episodic television--he'll have his turn as the favorite to win this particular game of thrones.

Right now his star seems ascendant, thanks to his alliance with acting CEO Gerri Kellman (J. Smith Cameron), who seems bent on making the youngest son--once referred to by his siblings as the weakest dog in their pack--into a viable human being who might be able to handle some adult responsibility.

The Gerri-Roman relationship is a fascinating subplot in "Succession," which is like "King Lear" transposed into a modern black comedy mode. There's a sexual component to the relationship, which from Roman's point of view is a genuine romance.

But Gerri is a couple of decades older and a lot wiser than Roman, and while she obviously feels something for him, she' not about to compromise her position by actually having an affair with Logan's baby boy (even if Logan is the sort of parent who can blithely allow his kids to go to prison if it benefits the bottom line).

Maybe she sees in Roman a potential ally. With her expertise and his, uh, name, perhaps they could rule the empire together.

Anyway, on last week's episode, Roman was wearing a new watch.

I couldn't catch what make and model it was, but a gold watch on a leather strap replaced the 41mm Rolex Datejust on an oyster bracelet.

Any reasonable person might shrug at this information. But "Succession" is a show where much is made of wristwatches and what they might or might not mean. One major point of the pilot episode was the $160,000 Patek Philippe that Logan's future son-in-law Tom Wambsgans (Matthew Macfadyen) gives Logan as a birthday gift. Tom is obviously trying to ingratiate himself with Logan, who barely looks at the watch. ("It's incredibly accurate," Tom tells Logan as he hands it over. "Every time you look at it, it tells you exactly how rich you are.")

The Patek Philippe ends up at the end of the episode being given to a family of poor Latinos to induce them to sign a non-disclosure agreement after Roman has humiliated their child during a softball game. At the end of the episode, the expensive watch sits on a table in their working-class house.

The watch meant next to nothing to billionaire Roy; just another thing, and he can have all the things he wants. The character isn't a flashy dresser; he often wears a baseball cap and understated (but expensive) cardigans and jackets. He's worn a pilot's watch with a diamond-shaped crown from Swiss manufacturer IWC Schaffhausen, which would probably cost at least $20,000 while looking like an ordinary white dial watch.

It's worth thinking about what the Patek Philippe could mean to the family that received it too. Did the NDA specify they couldn't say who gave them the watch? Certainly they could sell it, but only for a fraction of what it's worth, and the off-loading of such a luxury item could raise the suspicions of law enforcement and the IRS.

And in an episode earlier this year, the bumpkinish poor relation "Cousin" Greg Hirsch (Nicholas Braun) found himself in an awkward situation when he realized that having family black sheep Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong) "hook him up" with a watch did not mean that Kendall was actually buying him the watch. Instead, Kendall was putting Greg in contact with a seller who had what appeared to be a Rolex Deepsea on offer.

This makes sense if you know how hard it is to obtain a stainless steel tool watch from Rolex these days. Authorized dealers' waiting lists are years long, and a lot of buyers resort to paying far more than retail on the so-called gray market to obtain the models they want. (Even so, the $40,000 Greg paid was a heck of a premium; the Rolex Deepsea has a suggested retail price of $12,600.)

Kendall, by the way, wears the show's most expensive watches -- the Patek Philippe Nautilus and Vacheron Constantin chronographs he wears go for between $100,000 and $700,000. Tom has been known to wear a Cartier Santos (in the $3,000-$7,000 range), a Panerai Luminor Marina (around $7,000) and, most intriguingly, a Cartier Ballon Bleu that some watch bloggers insist was fake. (Tom seems to have given up the Ballon this season, which is mildly disappointing because some of us expected a scene where he'd be outed for wearing a counterfeit.)

Tellingly, the show's most grounded character, Shiv, the youngest of the Roy children and Tom's wife, wears a practical quartz-movement Cartier Panthere. Nice watch, but hardly exotic. She has one in gold and one in steel, depending on her outfit.

It seems obvious that care goes into selecting the characters' watches, and makes it reasonable to wonder what Roman's new timepiece might signify. While his old Rolex was, by the standards of his family, relatively inexpensive (on the secondary market, you can get a platinum Datejust for around $15,000; Rolex seems not to be offering the watch in platinum at the moment, but the MSRP is $7,650 for the steel model and $9,650 for white gold).

Yet it's still flashy by some lights--a salesman's watch, a politician's watch. Everyone recognizes it as an expensive watch. It's the antithesis of the old money shibboleth that a gentleman's watch is "thin and gold," and that second hands are for people who have to worry about time. (Cue the dowager from "Downton Abbey": "What is this 'weekend'?")

My theory is Gerri is remaking Roman as a more serious, less obnoxious version of himself. She's making a man of him, because that's what women do for us. Something watches never can.

pmartin@adgnewsroom.com


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