Succession is a show that I keep returning to, not just for its captivating storytelling or complex characters, but for its uncanny ability to mirror the dynamics of a power and wealth obsessed world- infatuated with the idea of running a “successful business”. This HBO series, created by Jesse Armstrong, offers a brutally honest glimpse into the lives of the uber-rich, their insatiable thirst for control, and the ruthless battles waged within their own familial empires.
Though the show provides its audience with a plethora of complex characters, I repeatedly return for Shiv and Tom. Through the tumultuous journey of Shiv Roy and Tom Wambsgans, portrayed remarkably by Sarah Snook and Matthew Macfadyen, Succession offers a striking examination of the deeply personal and often morally ambiguous choices individuals make to ascend the ladder of success.
The only daughter (and in my eyes, the rightful successor of Logan) in what we can dub an ‘all-male household’ emerges as a character teeming with complexities and contradictions. Shiv’s ultra evident mommy and daddy issues do not make her special, as it is a characteristic trademarked amongst all the Roy siblings. Being the only woman, though, adds a perspective that we cannot access through Kendall, Roman, or Connor.
On par with art imitating life, I believe that the addition of this looking-glass makes the character ten times lonelier. The Roy siblings make it very clear they have love for each other, stemming right from their childhood where they helped raise each other (and themselves) in the absence of their parents.
However, that camaraderie crumbles easily in the face of family politics, often pushing Shiv to a wall and silencing her with misogynistic rants. The equally (if not more) cunning sister big-brothered out of her ‘business saving’ strategies, after being promised that she wouldn’t be. But being cut out of deals or left off propositions do not shake Shiv into facing her own self-entitled tendencies.
Her romantic entanglements are usually led by bouts of selfishness, leaving a trail of broken feelings behind that she noticed but didn’t acknowledge. Not Shiv’s feelings, not Shiv’s problems. Her manipulative inclinations and untrustworthy behaviour are evident in her interactions with her husband, Tom. Shiv very clearly (though not vocally) insists that Tom remain exclusively hers, whilst she exercises her right to not commit to a boring, monogamous relationship.
When Shiv makes the suggestion to Tom on their wedding night of possibly being in an open relationship, the duality of her character becomes evident. Is she the problem, or is it everyone around her? She is inherently a non-conformist who couldn’t possibly be happy in a hetro-normative “marriage”- a dynamic that’s never played out well in her family. On the other hand, Tom is the kindest man that she has ever been with.
What if her continual unsatisfaction towards life, the very unsatisfaction that makes her render Tom as ‘too boring’ or ‘not on her level’, makes her lose her once chance at a happy, healthy, and stable life with someone incredibly smart? Shiv is simultaneously captivating and infuriating.
Her Machiavellian susceptibilities come to the forefront as she navigates the cutthroat world of media conglomerates, often using her charm and wit to advance her interests while undermining those around her. I can criticize her for being 'bad at love', whilst acknowledging that she was never really taught how to love. I can also second Tom for when he said that she is “not a good person to have children”.
In the grand tapestry of Succession's characters, Shiv Roy stands out as a morally complex figure whose evolution continues to shape the show's narrative and provoke discussions on the blurred lines between ambition and integrity.
Portrayed with remarkable depth by Matthew Macfadyen, Tom is a character whose evolution serves as a fascinating case study in the power dynamics and moral compromises inherent in the world of corporate elites. Initially introduced as a seemingly naive and subservient figure, audiences are often surprised to discover that this character wasn't solely created for comedic relief.
Personally, when Tom first graced my screen, I thought he would just be Shiv’s ‘below the league’ husband whose purpose would be inappropriate innuendos and terrorising Greg. A small town boy with deep talents in social climbing, he clung on to Shiv (don’t ask me if it was out of love, or just in the name of it) and soon breached his way into the Roy clan.
The initial doubts about the validity of Tom’s feelings for Shiv become clear in the first season when Logan is hospitalised. So utterly stressed is Tom by the thought of the old man passing, and him never getting officially and publicly integrated into the family, that he proposes to Shiv in the hallway of the room while Logan lays unconscious on a bed, suffering from a brain haemorrhage.
Tom’s relationship with Shiv Roy, marked by a stark power imbalance, showcases his willingness to compromise his principles to maintain his social standing. Upon rewatching the show and assessing underlying expressions, it is easy to tell that Tom was aware of Shiv’s cheating way before she confessed.
In not voicing his concerns, he clearly indicates that his fancies lie in the Roy name before the Roy daughter. He also jokingly suggests to Shiv that he take on the name ‘Tom Roy’ after their marriage, and continually presses her to start a family with him when he is terrified of possible imprisonment and needs something to ensure a gateway into the family.
While he may appear subservient at times, Tom possesses a keen ability to adapt to the ever-shifting power dynamics within the family and the company. Tom's moral descent into unethical behaviour becomes increasingly evident, making him both a cautionary tale and a reflection of the moral compromises that often accompany corporate ambition.
In conclusion, Succession is a psychological sandbox for exploring the complicated web of power, dysfunction, and identity. Examining power dynamics discloses the psychological toll it exacts on individuals, while the depiction of family breakdown reveals the long-lasting wounds and defence mechanisms that emerge.
The individuals' search for identification and authenticity adds to the psychological narrative's complexity. Barring the ‘these are the tragic realities of our corrupt and doomed world’ angle, I found that for a show concerned with stocks and shareholder prices, Succession is an excellently executed dramedy by the very definition of the genre itself. It sits high atop my list of shows that I have thoroughly enjoyed and have psychologically intrigued me.
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