Succession: Inside Shiv and Tom’s Toxic, Twisted Relationship
Warning: Spoilers for Succession season four, episode six to follow.
It’s been less than a week since Logan Roy’s (Brian Cox) death, and his children are each on their own distinct grief journey. In Succession’s latest episode, “Living+,” Shiv (Sarah Snook) books the conference room for 20-minute cry sessions. Roman (Kieran Culkin) emotionally implodes, following his mountaintop breakdown with Matsson (Alexander Skarsgård) by spontaneously firing every Waystar higher-up who doesn’t show him the respect he thinks he deserves. And while riding a tsunami of ego and delusion, Kendall (Jeremy Strong) finds the time to custom order Top Gun-style pilot jackets for an investor presentation.
During last week’s episode, Shiv, feeling sidelined by her “C.E.Bro” brothers, tiptoed towards an alliance with Matsson (Alexander Skarsgård). And this week, Shiv’s familial isolation drives her in another unexpected direction—rekindling her complicated relationship with estranged husband Tom (Matthew Macfadyen).
“By this episode, loneliness has really kicked in for her,” says director Lorene Scafaria (The Meddler, Hustlers). “She’s scheduling her grief. She goes from furious upstairs with her brothers in the war room to crying these tears of frustration. Her brothers are not on her side, her dad’s gone.” When Tom arrives in the room unexpectedly, says the filmmaker, “there’s lot of creature comfort.”
The couple take their relationship up a notch at an investor party, where Shiv flirts, in her Shiv way, by suggesting the duo play “Bitey”—a childish hand-biting game designed to hurt the other player. “I think Shiv’s expression of love can’t help but have a little violence in it—who can hurt the other one more?” says Scafaria. She explains, “When you grow up in a house like hers, she learned to associate love with pain from her parents’ expressions of love for each other and for the kids.” So yeah, the feelings are toxic. “But for her, they’re familiar.”
The two retreat to a private bedroom in the party house, where each ups the ante of rekindling their relationship by baring a vulnerability. Shiv confesses that she doesn’t know what to do with Matsson. And Tom explains why he betrayed her in the season three finale, by going behind her back to tell Logan about her and her siblings’ takeover plans. Speaking about their marriage, Tom says Shiv always held him at a distance: “You never asked me in. You always kept me out. And I always agreed to all the compartments but it seemed to me that I was going to be caught between you and your dad, and I really, really love my career and my money.”
“It’s so honest,” Scafaria says of the monologue. “Money is the last taboo, even for rich people. It is incredibly vulnerable to talk about, and it brings them together. It shows they have something in common—that Tom kind of is the right man for her. There’s something so pure and honest about admitting something vaguely terrible. And seeing that the person actually steps closer to you rather than moves further away. . . I think they need each other. They know they need each other, and find themselves at the foot of the bed.”
Shiv has not yet told Tom about her pregnancy, though. Explains the director, “There’s still a lot for Shiv to unpack between losing a parent and having a child—the two biggest seismic shifts in someone’s life—plus whatever complications she’s feeling for Tom.”
By the end of the episode, the two share a chauffeured car ride—the ice between them having finally thawed. “These three or four scenes [of Tom and Shiv] put them right back where they started,” says Scafaria. The power dynamic is not equal, but it never was, points out the filmmaker, and “there’s comfort in it. By that final scene in the car, they’ve returned to the Shiv and Tom that we met. He seems quite at home being a bit of that lap dog again. She’s already smiling and rolling her eyes. They’re back.”
As for Roman and Kendall’s divergent paths as “C.E.Bros”? Scafaria points out that the youngest Roy child is almost certainly suffering from some kind of post-traumatic stress on top of his grief. She points out that Roman was the only sibling who elected to view his father’s dead body in “Connor’s Wedding,” a detail that Scafaria heard was unscripted and Culkin’s idea.
“It made so much sense to me—Roman being the person who wanted to be a witness and didn’t want to look away. His grief has been building day by day,” says Scafaria, noting that Roman was again confronted with the image of his dead father in “Kill List,” after Connor (Alan Ruck) texted him a photo of Logan in the funeral parlor.
“You can’t process grief when you’re also experiencing a bit of post-traumatic stress,” says Scafaria. “You see him explode on Matsson in episode five.” The explosions continue when Roman meets with Waystar’s movie studio head (Annabeth Gish). “I think Roman feels most at home talking creatively, and thinks this [studio lot] is where he can actually use his expertise. When she says, ‘I’m sure you are where you are for a very good reason,’ he’s already feeling so undermined by how dismissive she’s being that he feels triggered. He’s been ignored by his mother and father for years.”
“Then he brings all of that intensity into the knife fight with Gerri (J. Smith-Cameron),” adds Scafaria, speaking about the scene in which Roman fires Gerri after she calls him a “a weak monarch during a dangerous interregnum” and reminds him that he is only “minding the shop” until GoJo’s takeover. “By the time she says, ‘You’re not your dad’—which is such a testament to the brilliant writing that we’ve waited until halfway through season four for someone to say that phrase—that hits him so hard,” says the filmmaker. “I think that firing Gerri started in [episode] 403—when his dad told him to do it. But also in the scene where Roman told Gerri he was sad and she just walked out of the room. That rejection was so painful. Firing Gerri was hurting her the way she hurt him.”