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Succession's Shiv Roy Did Love Tom, Actually

Taking the temperature of Succession's most intimate relationship in the Season 4 premiere

Allison Picurro
Matthew Macfadyen and Sarah Snook, Succession

Matthew Macfadyen and Sarah Snook, Succession

Macall B. Polay/HBO

[Warning: The following contains spoilers for the Season 4 premiere of Succession, "The Munsters." Read at your own risk!]

We knew going into Succession Season 4 that Shiv Roy (Sarah Snook)  and Tom Wambsgans' (Matthew Macfadyen) marriage was over. Or did we? I would never claim to know anything for certain about Succession, as I always find myself surprised by it. There was a question mark at the end of Season 3, after Tom's betrayal allowed Logan (Brian Cox) to strip Shiv, Kendall (Jeremy Strong), and Roman (Kieran Culkin) of their super majority privileges: Did Tom know that Shiv knew what he'd done? Succession, never the type of show to draw things out, answers that question very quickly. 

When "The Munsters" begins, some time has passed; Shiv is in Los Angeles making half-hearted business moves with her brothers, while Tom's back in New York, attending her father's birthday party and having "social" drinks with Kendall's ex-girlfriend, Naomi Pierce (Annabelle Dexter-Jones) — he calls Shiv about it, he says, in the hope of doing his due diligence by giving her a heads up. He's being vague enough that it feels like another betrayal, and a confused and furious Shiv can't let it go. "The kid from St. Paul has really made it," she sneers. This, it seems, is the definitive end.

But, well, not yet. Shiv and Tom are at what I would call the "end of Gone Girl" phase of their decaying marriage, not legally split but trapped in an amorphous, mutually toxic limbo. Their relationship has never been easy: Hints sprinkled throughout the series have implied that they initially got together during a rough period in Shiv's life, and may we never forget when Shiv asked for an open marriage on their wedding night. The stage was set for Season 4 by their spikiness in Season 3, which delivered blows like Shiv dismissing Tom's concerns of serving prison time and Tom's attempts at exacting control by trying to get a reluctant Shiv pregnant. In retrospect, his move in the finale makes sense: Logan has a knack for capturing broken people in his fist, and Tom, as hurt as he was, was a perfect target.

Shiv, Kendall, and Roman are able to suss out that Logan is reviving those old talks with the Pierce family about acquiring PGM before he hands control of Waystar Royco over to GoJo's detached founder, Lukas Mattson (Alexander Skarsgård). The kids discuss the idea of disrupting their father's plans with the money they get from their cash-out after the GoJo deal is solidified, which Roman posits is less a strategic move than it is Kendall and Shiv seeking revenge on Logan and Tom. It's not, they insist, though Kendall can't help laughing about the potential: "Just think about how funny it would be if we screw Dad over his decades-long obsession." It's frustratingly easy for them to get sucked back into Logan's web, mostly because Kendall and Shiv can't help being enticed by the opportunity to strike back at the people who wounded them so deeply.

Tom's taunting of Shiv with Naomi was his version of what Shiv unwittingly did in "All the Bells Say" — he gave away Logan's position. "How did they pick up the scent?" Karl (David Rasche) wonders, to which Tom hastily replies, "A million ways. Everybody knows they're looking for suitors." It doesn't matter how deeply entrenched in Logan's favor he is: Tom, hobbled by his own hurt, has proven himself to be a smart operator but not a very smooth one. He might be walking like a Roy, but he's not thinking like one, at least not as often as he should be. (We all know that one can only remain Logan's favorite until he decides they're no longer of use to him, after all.)

A classic Succession story unfolds as the two sides volley back and forth to gain favor with Nan Pierce (Cherry Jones). On the surface, it's about business, and underneath it's about the machinations of each character: Logan misses no opportunity to badmouth Shiv to Tom, while Shiv is quick to assuage Nan's concerns about the connection to Tom by revealing that she's getting a divorce — you get the sense she's telling Nan before she's told herself. The kids jack up their offer to a cool $10 billion, with Roman being the only one to ask the valid question of whether a floundering newspaper is even worth such a hefty investment. Obviously it's not about that, especially not after Tom calls to tell the siblings that "it would be crazy to add an emotional premium." Just look at the way Shiv grins when she catches Tom off guard by informing him their ceiling is $12 billion — this was always a move drenched in emotion.

Sarah Snook, Succession

Sarah Snook, Succession

Claudette Barius/HBO

Since Succession began, the layers of Shiv and Tom's marriage have been analyzed by fans and, in some instances, actual psychologists. (As one so succinctly summed it up, "It's not a great relationship.") On a surface level, it's easy to understand why a social climber like Tom would be with Shiv, but I've never bought into the popular belief that Shiv never loved Tom. Two things can be true: Logan's accusation from Season 1 that she "married a man fathoms beneath [her]" and genuine care for her husband. How could her begging Logan to spare Tom from the cruises fiasco in Season 2 be seen as anything other than an act of love? Shiv was raised to see love as an act of negotiation; her relationship with Tom is warped by her upbringing, but her willingness to sacrifice Kendall for him was significant.

To say that there was never anything real between them would minimize the quiet devastation of their final scene in this episode, as they come face to face for the first time in their shadowy bedroom. Snook does something extraordinary by playing the already guarded Shiv as someone who, in moments of stress, reverts back to childhood, sounding not unlike a petty teenager as she lets fly a string of barbed comments about Tom's recent dating history. Alternatively, Macfadyen imbues Tom with a measured refusal to be baited: "Do you really want to get into a full accounting of all the pain in our marriage?" He wants to talk, but she can't bear it, sliding back into the comfortable arena of business speak: "I don't want to rake up a whole lot of bullsh-- for no profit, Tom." It's a devastating, circuitous scene: Will she talk to him, he asks? Does she really not want to talk, he asks again? She casts a surreptitious glance around their bathroom. Their dog doesn't recognize her scent anymore. Everything has already been ruined, and everything is adrift. Why make it harder with a conversation?

In my review of Succession Season 4, I wrote about the series facing itself in the mirror — the present staring at the past as it prepares to sign off for good. The promotional materials for Succession Season 4 back this up, toying with the idea of mirrored images: Behind the forward-facing Kendall and Roman are versions of themselves who look toward Logan. Shiv and Tom lurk in each other's reflections, but while she faces him straight on, he only sneaks a glimpse at her over his shoulder. Succession's marketing should be taken with a grain of salt; remember the posters for Season 3 that portended a war between Kendall and Logan. (Cleverly, HBO released alternate versions of the poster that shuffled the positioning of the characters, cautioning their fickle loyalty.) It was about that, sure, but the implication of a ruthless battle suggests more of a focus on plot than a show that is primarily a character study has any interest in. Still, the presence of mirrors for Season 4 seems to send an intriguing message, reminding us that this is a series about people in a constant state of trying to uncover the true motivations of those around them.

In this scene between Shiv and Tom, there's no fighting, just an inevitable conclusion as they lie in bed and grip each other's hands. This, a marriage consumed by the losing game that is the Roy family business, gets added to the pile of Succession's many small tragedies. "It's a sad, sad day when love dies," Roman sarcastically remarks earlier in the episode, but it's easy to forget that for three seasons Shiv and Tom were the show's only intimate partnership. In the Roy family, it helps to have an outsider on your side. Shiv's problem, ultimately, is that she counted on Tom as a sure thing, assuming her approximation of love would be enough for him. She was so absorbed by her own fruitless desire to get in good with her father that she didn't notice her husband becoming more ingratiated in Logan's inner circle than she could have ever hoped to be. At some point, she stopped caring enough to look for his true motivations.

"We gave it a go," Shiv tells Tom here, affecting strength. In their own way, they really did.

Succession Season 4 airs Sundays at 9/8c on HBO.