In the first season of Succession, political strategist and media heiress Siobhan “Shiv” Roy does everything in her power to prove that she’s nothing like the rest of her family. Unlike her oldest brother, Connor, she has a firm grasp on reality; unlike her addict brother, Kendall, she’s solidly in control of her life choices; and unlike her feckless brother, Roman, she actually knows how to make business decisions. But now, in the show’s third season, she’s revealed herself to be just as blinded by power as the rest of them.
When the show began, fans found all sorts of reasons to celebrate Shiv’s character. Her sharp wardrobe inspired us to wear tailored suits and sleek knitwear, and her working relationship with a Bernie Sanders–esque senator made her seem like she had solid, progressive values. Though she was never exactly likable, she was a rarity we could root for among a cast of terrible characters. But as the show has gone on, Shiv has gradually become exactly like the rest of them, but worse, creating a growing distance between her character and the audience. There’s a history of fans directing sexist hatred against female characters who stand in the way of male protagonists, like Breaking Bad’s Skyler White or Mad Men’s Betty Draper, but that’s not what’s going on here. Shiv is disliked because she’s simply a bad person.
Succession is a show about how power corrupts. Almost every character, with the possible exception of Kendall’s kids’ pet bunny, has been changed for the worst by proximity to power. And Shiv has changed the most because of it: She is the most seduced by the CEO seat, the most ruthless in her fight for it, and the most protective of her access to control over the company.
This is meant to make the audience uncomfortable: We should root for a powerful young woman who claims to be a feminist in a field dominated by old men, right? You’d expect her to be an inspiring figure, and on another show, she might be. But Succession is more complicated than that.
In the first season, Shiv doesn’t even want to work for the family business. Or at least that’s what she tells herself. Shiv works as an adviser to Senator Gil Eavis, a progressive anti-capitalist politician who explicitly says he wants to take her father, the CEO of the media conglomerate, Logan Roy, down. In Season 1, Shiv has—or, at least pretends to have—liberal values, empathy, and zero or very limited interest in Waystar Royco. But her true colors start to show at the end of the season, when she admits her desire to have an open marriage with her husband, Tom, on their wedding night. It’s not inherently wrong to want an open marriage, but she’s clearly manipulated him into it by waiting to break the news until he’s already committed to her.
Shiv’s involvement with Senator Eavis causes friction with her father, who almost doesn’t show up at her wedding. But Logan knows exactly how to rope his daughter back into his good graces. Her transformation gains momentum in Season 2, when Logan promises to make her his successor as CEO of Waystar. Shiv is completely seduced—and corrupted—by that promise. She quits her job for Senator Eavis after making an insensitive comment about poor people, and hardly even tries to protect Tom from going to prison on the company’s behalf.
Ultimately, Shiv’s turn to the dark side is sealed when she attempts to talk a former Waystar employee and victim of sexual assault out of testifying to Congress. A similar incident occurs in Season 3, when she gaslights interim-CEO Gerri into potentially reporting Roman for sending inappropriate (but not entirely unwelcome) explicit photos. In both instances, Shiv claims she’s protecting women, but she’s really just protecting herself—and, most importantly, the CEO seat she craves.
Come Season 3, Shiv is as unapologetically, irrefutably evil as Logan, but now she’s an amateur manipulator who thinks she’s a master. Her transformation is even evident in her wardrobe and styling. In the first season, Shiv’s hair is long and wavy, and she wears looser clothes, as well as silks and warm tones—a staggering difference from her now-iconic sharp haircut, and her tailored suits in cooler, muted colors.
Shiv will do anything to please her father, but she’s so drunk on power that she’s convinced herself that she’s better than him. In the beginning of Season 3, Shiv tries to convince her brothers to sign a letter that details Kendall’s addiction, arguing that he isn’t in his right mind. Not even Connor nor Roman would stoop so low. In the fourth episode, Shiv tells Mark Ravenhead, an anchor at ATN, to start airing rumors that the president of the United States is “losing his grip.” When Mark threatens to go public, Shiv says matter-of-factly, “We don’t get embarrassed.”
These actions are destroying her relationships with Tom and her family, particularly Kendall. In the first season, the siblings would stick up for each other against their abusive father. But now, Shiv is working against her siblings on her father’s behalf because she thinks that will get her what she wants. In Episode 5, Kendall approaches the Waystar crew during the shareholders meeting. Shiv screams at him that he’s not welcome and to “get the fuck out.” Actress Sarah Snook uses a terrifying, deep monotone that demonstrates how much hate Shiv has for her own brother.
She does have some shreds of humanity left, but it’s not enough. In Episodes 6 and 7, Shiv opposes her family’s selection of extremist Jeryd Mencken as a presidential candidate because she believes in democracy. While it is comforting that she still has enough of a moral compass to recognize fascism is bad, she’s contributed to the system that gave her family this power, and she has actively made moves against democracy, like her move in Season 2 to stop a witness from speaking to Congress. And although she hates fascism so much, Shiv is still on her father’s side in Episode 7.
But what makes Shiv so compelling is that her appeal is not synonymous with likability. The series doesn’t even allow any moments of empathy for her anymore—and maybe it never did in the same way it nudged viewers to empathize with Kendall, who is surrounded by people who don’t seem to care that he’s an addict. It allows Shiv to be rotten without a caveat. Even in modern storytelling, this is rare for a female character; it would be easier to make her a mother, to make Tom the asshole.
Shiv Roy is the ultimate girlboss; the kind of woman who thinks being a woman in power makes her good. And she is the weakest Roy, because she falls for her father’s tricks the hardest. That might be why it’s impossible to stop watching her.
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