Yes, Succession’s Shiv Roy Really Does Love Tom – Here’s The Evidence

Of the three main Roy children, Shiv (Sarah Snook) has always been the hardest to pin down. They're all terrible people, sure, but Shiv is terrible in a slightly more intangible way than the others. With Roman (Kieran Culkin), it's easy: the guy mockingly ripped up a million-dollar check in front of a working-class kid in the first episode, so no one needs to strain any muscles explaining why he's a bad guy.

Meanwhile, Shiv has a decent understanding of how to at least appear as a respectable person, which means most of her worst moments have an asterisk next to them. Yes, she intimidates a sexual harassment witness into dropping her case, but she does so with -- what looks like, at least -- a surprising amount of empathy and honesty.

When Shiv's telling the witness about all the ways going public would disrupt her life, none of that's a lie, and technically speaking it's not an actual threat. And whether you believe Shiv or not when she says she wants to clean up Waystar from the inside (probably not), it's the fact that she does seem to understand the root of the problem that helps her get through to the woman.

What muddles things further is that a lot of Shiv's misdeeds can be attributed to her father's lifelong emotional abuse and the way he's constantly pitting his kids against each other. So much of it is done for her father's approval, which is not an excuse exactly, but a compelling explanation. But there is one very clear example viewers can point to when calling Shiv a bad person, and that is of course her marriage with Tom Wambsgans (Matthew Macfadyen).

A Marriage That Hasn't Even Lasted A Year

Back in season 1, Logan (Brian Cox) tells Shiv, "You're marrying a man fathoms beneath you because you don't want to risk being betrayed," and it's one of the few times Shiv doesn't have any comeback. As mean as it is, there is a lot of truth to it, made even more painful by the fact that Tom is right there to hear it, and he can see that Shiv isn't capable of refuting the claim.

Sure enough, throughout the first three seasons, Shiv constantly walks over Tom without any expectation that he'll ever fight back. She pushes him into an open marriage — one he's clearly not into — on their wedding night, with the extra insult that she's already slept with someone. She then spends season 2 constantly changing up her and Tom's plans without consulting him, giving him flak for taking up his end of the open marriage agreement, and, perhaps most damningly, not properly defending Tom from being the company's fall guy in the season 2 finale.

Things escalate even further in season 3 when Shiv tries to engage in some foreplay dirty talk by telling Tom straight-up, "I don't love you." The next morning, when he sheepishly raises the idea that her words hurt him, Shiv gaslights him by acting like the insults were his idea. "You can't ask someone to say terrible things and then get all... That's a bit manipulative."

Admittedly, that last scene makes things a little difficult for me. How do I prove that Shiv loves Tom when she literally says "I don't love you" to his face? Well, first we need to ask ourselves: what even is love, anyway?

A Quick Diversion

Back in 2018, Marvel caused a bit of controversy with its handling of Thanos and Gamora's father-daughter relationship. Thanos was an extremely abusive father (and a genocidal maniac), so when he's told he needs to kill someone he genuinely loves to acquire one of the Infinity Stones, Gamora thinks he's finally been beaten. That is until Thanos reveals that she is the person he loves who he'll need to sacrifice. "This is not love," she says, but Thanos kills her anyway, and it works.

It's a moment that drew some backlash, and it's easy to see why: the idea that an abuser could genuinely love their victim is upsetting, especially for victims who've struggled hard to cut themselves off from their abuser. The easy answer is that it's not possible to love someone you abuse and that any affection an abuser might show is simply coldhearted manipulation, nothing more.

As much as Marvel gets flak for its movies often being substance-less popcorn entertainment, this sequence in "Avengers: Infinity War" sticks out because of how much it dives head-first into heavy, complicated waters. It takes the stance that an abuser can love their victim, at least to a degree, but that doesn't mean that their love is worth saving or honoring.

This is relevant to Shiv and Tom because, well, the show is all about love and abuse. Logan abuses Shiv, who abuses Tom, who abuses Greg, who will probably find his own Greg any day now. It would be easy to say that Logan doesn't truly love Shiv, for instance, but four seasons have given us plenty of time to wrestle with the uncomfortable fact that there is a glimmer of genuine love between them. It's just that there's nowhere near enough to salvage that relationship.

But Is There Enough For Shiv And Tom?

Shiv is not as bad as Thanos, nor is she as bad as Logan. Most of her mistreatment of Tom doesn't come from sadism or a need to exert control, but because just like the rest of her siblings, she doesn't actually know how to communicate love. Or at least, her ways of communicating love are very different from Tom's more conventional approach.

The obvious example of this is back in season 2's "Dundee," where she and Logan manage to have one of their only wholesome, still-untarnished moments together. It's during his party when all the other kids have recorded phoned-in videos where they tell Logan how much they love him. Except for Shiv, who's the only one who doesn't get sappy.

"Look, I know how you hate all this bulls***, so I'll just say... f*** you, Dad, and I wish we were having wine instead of being here with all these people who are scared of you," she says, and Logan seems genuinely moved. This is the Roy family's love language, after all. The cursing and the insults are how they show each other they still care.

The other big display of love from Shiv we get is in the season 3 finale when Kendall confesses to her and Roman that he accidentally killed a waiter. They both console their brother not through normal means, but by making jokes and playfully insulting him. "Man, you f***ed my wedding in so many ways," she tells him at one point. This sounds like a callous thing to say, but it's exactly what Kendall needs. She's insulting him the way she always insults him, which lets Kendall know that things aren't ruined between them.

Defending Tom, But Never To His Face

This brings us to the first major fumble in Shiv and Tom's marriage, which is in the season 2 finale. There's that scene where everyone's talking about setting up Tom as the fall guy — right in front of him, no less — and instead of coming to his rescue, Shiv chimes in with a diplomatic, "Yeah, Tom makes sense."

Fans tend to point to this as one of Shiv's worst moments, the crowning example of how much Shiv doesn't care about him. But considering how much we know about Shiv, is it that hard to believe that she is hiding her emotional investment in the conversation? We've seen her do this constantly, most notably in the season 3 finale where she swallows her rage in the face of Tom's betrayal.

As the only girl in a family full of (uniquely terrible) guys, Shiv has always considered genuine displays of emotion to be a weakness. There was never going to be any version of this scene where she openly says what Tom wants to hear: "No, I love my husband and would be heartbroken if we sent him off to jail." True or not, she'd never admit it.

What's often ignored by fans is the later moment where Logan privately asks her to pick the fall guy and she says, "Just... not Tom. Please." Knowing that the two main options are Kendall and Tom, she condemns Kendall. What's perhaps more impressive is that, as far as we know, Shiv never mentions this moment to Tom, even though it would almost certainly improve his opinion of her. To admit that she needs Tom would be a weakness, as far as Shiv's concerned, so she can only really do this when Tom's not in the room.

Recontextualizing Shiv's Other Behavior

Throughout "Succession," Shiv has always gotten a disproportionate amount of hate from the fanbase, which tends to be the case for prestige shows' most prominent female characters. Admittedly it's a little more complicated here because, unlike characters like Skyler White, Shiv actually is a terrible person by most measurements. Still, one can't help but notice that the character's many facets tend to be flattened in fan discussions. People often have no trouble finding the hidden good sides of Roman and Kendall but are incapable of doing the same for Shiv.

This has led to one fairly major misunderstanding about Shiv, which is her smirk. Yes, if you scroll through the "Succession" subreddit, you'll find endless rants about how much people hate this quirk of hers. "It's annoying to see her walking around with her lips pooched out and the I-know-something-you-don't-know smirk on her face," is how a typical Shiv-bashing comment reads, and they're not difficult to find.

It's a strange interpretation because, well, Shiv's smirks are clearly a defense mechanism. She makes the face when someone says something unexpectedly harsh. Shiv can't show she's hurt because that would seem weak, which to her is the worst thing in the world to be, so she smirks instead as she figures out her response.

To Shiv, it's better to come across as an arrogant jerk than as someone to be pitied, even if the latter would help her marriage. That's why when Tom bluntly tells Shiv to "f*** off" in an early season 2 episode, without any of the usual ass-kissing, Shiv smirks as if Tom's overreacting and she didn't do anything wrong. Meanwhile, Sarah Snook totally sells Shiv's pain and guilt that's hidden just barely under the surface.

Will They Get Divorced?

Throughout season 4, Shiv has certainly claimed to have no love left for her husband, and no desire whatsoever to keep the marriage going. But since when have we ever taken any of these characters at their word? Tom claims he just wants to avoid a painful divorce with his lawyer conflict power move, but it seems more likely he's just hoping to delay Shiv's plans, giving her more time to change her mind. Shiv also acts as if the five lawyers Tom canceled out are the only good lawyers in the world, another sign that she's not as upset about the delay as she claims to be.

But the biggest sign that things might be looking up for the Roy-Wambsgans family is that they're actually fighting again. In the premiere, Shiv wasn't that interested in hashing out the past. She was so upset with Tom that even insults had largely lost their fun. Flashforward one week, and now she's calling Tom a "b***h boy" over the phone. In any other marriage, this would be terrible, but here? This is a step up. Insults are Shiv's love language, after all, even if it might not be Tom's.

At the very least, it's an improvement from the cold, tired indifference she displayed toward him in the season premiere. It's also a step up from Tom and Shiv's marriage pre-separation, where instead of trading insults, they largely talked to each other with empty, corporate politeness. Shiv still isn't talking to Tom openly or honestly, but she might be closer to doing so now than we've ever seen her.

What Sarah Snook Has To Say

In a recent interview with TV Insider, Sarah Snook gave her own take on where Shiv is at the start of season 4: "I think there's probably a little bit of frustration in Shiv at her own inability to sort of express what she means and wants and what she needs from Tom without feeling like she's giving him all the power." It's an interpretation that's definitely reflected in Snook's performance in that premiere scene, where it looks like Shiv wants to have an honest, non-aggressive heart-to-heart, but she's afraid to really get into it.

"I think in her family, she's grown up to feel that love is transactional and so how do you navigate having an honest conversation with your husband without that lens?" Snook explained. "It is difficult. I think that she doesn't know how to move forward from that with Tom."

In the end, "Succession" is a story about how people's upbringings can affect the rest of their lives, and Shiv's certainly no exception. A Roy child would understand the impulse to act uninvested in a public discussion about whether to let your husband go to prison and when season 3 Tom floats the idea to her of offering himself up as the fall guy, it's easy to see how a Roy child would see this as a conversation about strategy, not a clear-cut call for help. Tom just wants her to confirm that she'd care if he got sent to prison, but genuine emotional support is not something Shiv's been raised to provide.

Why There's Hope For The Two

Although the seeds of Shiv and Tom's marital woes were sown long before season 2, the number one cause of their current state of existence -- besides Shiv herself -- is Logan. We didn't appreciate it at the time, but it's surprising on rewatch just how independent Shiv is in season 1, right up until Logan promises her the possibility of being his successor.

Shiv is someone who's sorta kinda escaped her dad's cycle of abuse that drove Kendall insane, only to get roped back in and thrown through the wringer. The Shiv we get in seasons 2 and 3 is the worst version of her because that's what happens to people when they work closely with Logan.

Luckily for Shiv, it's only a matter of time until Tom gets the same treatment from Logan. As fellow /Film writer Danielle Ryan put it last week, "If there comes a point where it's more advantageous for Logan to throw Tom to the wolves (again), he will, and Tom realizes that he bet on the wrong Roy."

This is bad for Tom but great for Tom's marriage, provided of course that Tom's falling out with Logan happens prior to the divorce getting finalized. As the current alliance between Kendall and Shiv makes clear, nothing unites people more than a common enemy. Logan may have been the catalyst for the destruction of Shiv and Tom's marriage, but a shared hatred of Logan might be the very thing that saves it. Things might not look good for their relationship right now, but I wouldn't count out a reconciliation just yet.

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The post Yes, Succession's Shiv Roy Really Does Love Tom – Here's the Evidence appeared first on /Film.