Don’t hang me but I’m glad we’re nearing the end of Succession. I started this season as rabid with excitement as the next person but within 20 minutes of the opening credits had found my interest waning. Quelle horreur — what if I was entering my post-Succession era? The problem, I realised, is that the action amounts to little more than the same odious people moving between indistinguishable, blank spaces and arguing over the finer details of legal contracts.
Thank God, then, for Siobhan Roy. Shiv. The most horrid, most human of the warring Roy siblings — the only daughter of Logan and the character who, as far as I’m concerned, has become the show’s saviour. Shiv is the only one for whom there seems to be either jeopardy or consequence. She strives and fails, and continues to strive — and continues to fail (and to fall — that fall! Is there anything more humiliating than hitting the deck in an Armani suit?)
Her narrative arc is a masterclass in the slow degradation of a woman who dared to strive for power. As cultural commentator and author of We Need to Talk About Money, Otegha Uwagba, points out: “The Succession writers seem to have doubled down on reminding us, and Shiv, that she’s a woman operating (largely) in a man’s world. There’d been hints at the challenges her gender poses — for example, at the outset of Season 3 where Kendall heckles her on account of her ‘teats’ —but in the latest episode, in which her pregnancy comes to light, she’s sidelined by her two older brothers and then she trips and falls in front of everyone. It tracks with how those stale, pale, male spaces operate. I’m glad the writers have chosen to go there.”
No other character is brought so close to success, only to have it snatched away so many times. Even Kendall, whose failures and humiliations are many and varied. From his cack-handed takeover attempts of Waystar Royco to the time he accidentally killed someone, to the rap he performed at a ceremony honouring the 50th anniversary of his father’s company which included the line “Yo, b*****s be catty, but the king’s my daddy”. He seems to bounce back each time, suffering only minor bruises to his ego, and certainly nothing painful enough to derail his powerlust. Shiv, on the other hand, seems deeply affected by the position she finds herself in.
Take, for instance, the quietly moving scene between her and Tom at the end of the fourth season’s first episode, where she suggests divorce. I was sliced in half by Shiv’s tightly controlled suffering partly because, just a few scenes before, we had a glimpse of what could have created this stunted person, who finds vulnerability so impossible: locked in a negotiation room together, and with the purchase of Pierce under threat, Logan barks at Tom to “call your f****** wife… And tell her she’s never had a single idea in her entire f****** life.” Why berate only Shiv when all three siblings are working together?
It’s one of many humiliations Logan metes out to Shiv, most of which she suffers silently, knowing that any show of emotion would be a mark against her. When the show started in 2018 I was still operating under the twee assumption that all drama needs a moral lodestar — at least one flawed but decent human being to root for. In the first instance that seemed to be Shiv.
Yes, she treated Tom with the same level of affection you might show an unidentifiable substance you found smeared on your coat, but in terms of her politics at least she seemed to have a conscience (and let’s not forget that Tom is incredibly annoying). She was a Serious Person, a political strategist, a power broker in her own right.
All of that went out of the window when Logan dangled the carrot of CEO-ship of Waystar Royco. Since then her odiousness has shone through. “What I love about Shiv is that she is as rapacious and ruthless as any of the men,” says Farrah Storr who writes the newsletter Things Worth Knowing. “She is not afforded the cliche ‘bad ass, girl boss’ treatment, which so many shows seem intent on delivering. Shiv is as much of an asshole as every man on the show — she just wears better clothing.”
Indeed, by this last season she has become as greedy and power-crazed as her brothers. Unlike them, though, she isn’t allowed to capitalise on her greed. When Kendall and Roman agree to take the company for themselves, she issues a warning: “Because you guys f*** me on this and it’s a…” she trails off. You get the sense that she has no way to finish the threat. You see the crushing truth of it all over her face — and it makes you care about what’s going to happen in a way that a million one-liners from Roman never could. You also feel the deep unfairness of it.
“Like many nepotists, Shiv is both nasty and thick,” says Rhiannon Lucy-Cosslett, columnist and author of The Year of the Cat. “Anyone who can make viewers sympathise with Tom Wambsgans is obviously unpleasant.”
Of course, not everyone is a fan: “Like many nepotists, Shiv is both nasty and thick,” says Rhiannon Lucy-Cosslett, columnist and author of The Year of the Cat. “Anyone who can make viewers sympathise with Tom Wambsgans is obviously unpleasant, but when you meet her mother you see why. The cigarette she shares with her in Italy at the end of season three is a rare moment when you glimpse the neglected child she was, not to mention the only girl in a family headed by a fearsome patriarch.”
Ultimately she’s as awful as them all but Shiv tells us something about how this world treats women. And I love her for it.