Shiv’s “Succession” Arc Has Always Been About the Insidiousness of White Feminism
When “Succession” ended on Sunday, May 28, with the final episode of season four, some fans wondered about the choices made by the only daughter of the Roy family: Shiv. Brought to life by Sarah Snook, Shiv has been something of an outsider compared to her brothers and dad throughout the series. Kendall (Jeremy Strong) was picked from an early age to be his dad’s successor. Roman (Kieran Culkin) also worked for Waystar Royco, though he was always a bit of a mess. The eldest brother, Connor (Alan Ruck), was always on the outside, but by choice. Even Shiv’s husband, Tom (Matthew Macfadyen), is part of the company. Shiv is supposed to be the conservative family’s liberal daughter, and in another story, she’d be the voice of reason who manages to move the family to the left. A hero. That’s what some fans thought would happen leading into the final episodes – that Shiv would break the cycle her family is stuck in. But Shiv has always been a perfect portrait of a white, privileged feminist, using so-called feminism when it helps her and crushing everyone else in the process.
Her eulogy for her father, Logan (Brian Cox), in episode nine is a perfect example of this. “It was hard to be his daughter,” she says. “He was hard on women. . . . He couldn’t fit a whole woman in his head.” That’s a brash understatement for a man who was flat out abusive to women he was professionally and/or sexually involved with. But Shiv makes excuses for him anyway, saying, “But he did OK. You did OK, Dad.” Even in death, she covers for him because it’s what serves her best – to be the mourning daughter who can criticize her old man, but never too much.
But perhaps Shiv’s most devious moment reaches all the way back to season two. The group head down to Washington DC, where Congress is investigating sexual harassment and abuse in the company’s cruises division. In the episode, Shiv meets Kira (Sally Murphy), who’s going to testify about the abuse she experienced, and Shiv intimidates her so she doesn’t speak a word. When Rhea (Holly Hunter) tries to tell Shiv she doesn’t have to do it, Shiv tells her, “If she speaks and she’s compelling, then that’s it for my family’s company. So, yeah, I do have to.” Ultimately, the only thing that matters for Shiv is where she personally ends up in all of this. Her efforts work; Logan congratulates Shiv, who never suffers any consequences for what she did.
Throughout the final season, Shiv calls out her brothers for being racist and sexist – when she thinks it’ll give her the upper hand. On election night, she’s upset when the company calls the election for fascist Jeryd Mencken (Justin Kirk), but not angry enough to actually do anything about it. She could call the other networks, rat out her brothers and husband and the company’s ties to Mencken. But that would hurt her family’s company (and her bottom line), so she won’t. Plus, this season, she gets very close to Lukas Matsson (Alexander Skarsgård), even knowing he’s sexually harassing one of his employees. She doesn’t care. It has nothing to do with her. She also feels incredibly entitled to a high position in the company even though she has basically no relevant skills and has never worked in the business.
So why does Shiv flip sides at the end, siding with her husband and Lukas over her brothers? Shiv has always looked out for herself, and this move puts her closer to the top. She gets the payout from the sale, and her husband is CEO. He still needs her, seeing as she has all the cash and the Roy name. It’s better than handing off the company to her brother, who will cut her out immediately. What would be better for the company? Who knows. What would be better for American society? Probably for the whole company to crumble. But Shiv doesn’t care about that, of course.
Sometimes, I feel bad for Shiv. She’s often treated like crap by the men around her – men who would place themselves across the political spectrum – because she’s a woman. Shiv is cruel to Tom, and he’s cruel right back, and she’s undoubtedly faced abuse by the people who’ve claimed to love her, most of all from her father. Did the uber-rich world she grew up in keep her so boxed in she never thought outside it? That’s probably part of it. The show’s creator, Jesse Armstrong, told The New Yorker in 2021 about the famous, dynastic families he researched for inspiration. “When you get that combination of money, power, and family relations, things get so complicated that you can justify actions to yourself that are pretty unhealthy to your well-being as a human being,” he said. “Or you don’t even need to justify them, because the actions are baked into your being.”
That attitude is certainly reflected in Shiv and the way she makes sure she stays close to power no matter what, even when it brutalizes her. She makes the cowardly choice at every chance she gets because she cannot let any of her privilege and entitlement go. Family over everything, even when the members of the family itself are falling apart.
So Shiv makes her choices. If there is another way to live, she’s not interested in it. This is her life, and it’s never going to change.