After picking up an Emmy award in September, Succession has become one of the most fascinating and talked-about shows on television. This week, Shiv scuppered her morals in a single conversation. With the season finale around the corner, how will this impact her position on the show?
What are the mega-wealthy, totally appalling Roy family up to this week on Succession? Derailing an anti-corruption hearing into their company and convincing key witnesses not to go public with their stories.
It’s all in a day’s work for the Roys – patriarch Logan, sons Connor, Kendall and Roman and daughter Shiv – the family who run the fictional media conglomerate Waystar Royco on Succession. The series, which first premiered in 2018 but has really taken off this year after winning an Emmy and debuting its second season, can sometimes feel like a hard watch.
All that careless money, all those people behaving badly because they believe that nothing will ever stick to them. And yet we’re nearing the end of season two and everything is catching up to the Roys. As it turns out, they are sticky after all.
In episode nine, which aired in the US last night and the UK today, a major sexual harassment and corruption scandal threatens to derail the company on the eve of an important shareholder meeting. Key executives including Logan (Brian Cox), Kendall (Jeremy Strong) and Shiv (Sarah Snook), as well as Shiv’s hapless husband Tom (Matthew MacFadyen) and general counsel Gerri (J Smith Cameron) are called to Washington DC to testify in front of Congress about their company’s wrongdoing.
That’s when the family discovers Congress’ smoking gun – the politicians have found a victim willing to go on the record about her experiences working at Waystar Royco under a late executive called Lester, or Mo, as the family called him. (Mo Lester. Get it? Succession is a show marinated in the dark humour of writer/creator Jesse Armstrong, and nowhere is this more evident than on this week’s episode.)
This woman’s name is Kira. After much therapy and support from those in her life, she has moved on from her experiences two decades ago. She has a family. She is happy. And yet she wants to do the right thing and make sure that justice is served.
The Roys do not want this to happen, for reasons that are evident albeit completely despicable. And so, Shiv and short-lived Waystar Royco CEO Rhea (Holly Hunter) are dispatched to speak to Kira and convince her to withdraw from the hearings.
“This doesn’t feel right,” Rhea says, in the car.
“No,” Shiv agrees. “It’s lady duty, soft skills shit work.” Rhea doesn’t want to speak to Kira because she doesn’t want to talk her out of doing what’s right; Shiv doesn’t want to speak to her because she feels like there are more important jobs for her to be doing. If there was a point, Shiv just missed it entirely.
Shiv is Logan’s only daughter, and also the Roy who hasn’t worked her whole life in the family business. While brothers Roman and Kendall have toiled away in their dad’s company, Shiv worked in politics. In season two, however, Shiv has taken a more active role in Waystar Royco after being told by their father that she might be his choice to succeed him in the business. Whether or not Logan was being sincere when he offered Shiv the job remains to be seen.
But Shiv wants it. “He made me a fucking offer and I’m gonna redeem that coupon,” she told her husband Tom in episode eight. Just watch her.
Early on in season two, Shiv’s position as her father’s successor was framed as a boon for Waystar Royco. Outsiders including Rhea and Nan (Cherry Jones), the owner of a competing media company, viewed Shiv as the acceptable face of his dirty business. Her politics seemed less far-right demagogy, as peddled by Waystar Royco’s news channel ATN and more #girlboss feminism. She wears backless turtlenecks and has a power bob. Unlike her lumbering brothers, Shiv’s ambition is rooted in keen intelligence and competency rather than misplaced pride. You want to love Shiv because, out of all of them, she’s the best of the bunch.
Some people have been shocked, then, that Shiv completely scuppered her morals in episode nine to convince Kira not to testify against her family’s company. They were shocked that Shiv could so easily play Kira, slipping off her high heels to make her appear more relatable, telling Kira not to trust anyone, not even her, laying out all the reasons why Kira shouldn’t tell her story. Not for Shiv or her family or her father. But for Kira herself.
Shiv’s reasoning is sound. She tells Kira that, by testifying, she will be relitigating her assault – and herself – with the world. She explains, fairly, that everyone speaking to Kira has their own agenda. That includes Shiv but it also includes the politicians who have approached her to testify.
“The good thing is, you’re going to have a lot of people on your side. Who will sing your name and back you up and, yeah,” Shiv says. “But the other people, the other side. Normal people. They will doubt you. They will say terrible things. They’ll call you a slut and a whore and a money grabber. Your life is going to get ripped apart. Your home… You’ll wanna move out.”
The worst thing about it? Everything Shiv says is right. This whole exchange between her and Kira seems to draw on the experience of Christine Blasey Ford, who testified against Brett Kavanaugh last year and who, despite Blasey Ford’s testimony was inducted into the Supreme Court. Actually, he was inducted into the Supreme Court a year ago to the day this episode of Succession premiered.
Blasey Ford testified because she wanted to make sure that her story was heard. In the process, she was forced to hire round-the-clock security detail after receiving threatening phone calls and messages. Blasey Ford doesn’t regret testifying. But she also doesn’t deny that doing so “was terrifying and caused disruption to [me and my family’s] lives”.
Everything Shiv says is right. It’s just that she’s saying it for all the wrong reasons. She’s telling Kira not to testify not because she’s trying to save Kira from the fate that she predicts for her. She’s telling her because she doesn’t want Kira’s testimony – testimony that she knows will sink her family’s company – to see the light of day.
Well, she won. Kira pulled out thanks to Shiv’s words of misplaced wisdom and the Roy family slipped through by the skin of their teeth, once again. Shiv ends the episode having a cosy one-on-one conversation with her father, something that some have suggested indicates that, after a few episodes in the familial wilderness, Shiv might be back in her dad’s good graces and climbing the Roy power rankings.
I wouldn’t be so sure, though. By so entirely derailing her own personal ethics, Shiv has left herself completely at the mercy of her unscrupulous father, and that never ends well for a child of Roy. What will Logan make her do now that he knows just how far she will go for the family?
Shiv’s morals were what set her apart from her family. Without them, she’s just as dirty as the rest of them. Without them, she’s just like he brothers and her dad, careless people who think that nothing ever sticks to them.
The season finale of Succession is coming with the certainty of death and taxes next week. And, as this season of the show has proven, these people are sticky. Let’s see what sticks to Shiv.
Succession airs on HBO in the US on Sunday nights and in the UK on Sky Atlantic and Now TV on Monday mornings and again at 9PM.
Images: HBO, Getty