The Rise And Fall Of Shiv Roy In Succession Season 3 Is Mesmerising

Charismatic, clever and cruel, and with the kind of wardrobe you can only get away with if you have a chauffeur, there's a reason why we can't stop watching Succession's Shiv Roy in season 3.

Sucession's Shiv Roy

by Hattie Crisell |

Succession, TV’s bleakest drama-meets-comedy-meets-tragedy, has returned for its third season, and it's no exaggeration to say that one episode in, the show is better than ever. While it doesn’t feel right to say that we’ve missed its cast of selfish, spiteful snobs – we’ve definitely been looking forward to seeing Shiv Roy, and so far, her return hasn't disappointed.

If you’ve missed the show, now’s the time to catch up. Succession follows ruthless billionaire Logan Roy (Brian Cox), and his quartet of sad adult children, Connor (Alan Ruck), Kendall (Jeremy Strong), Roman (Kieran Culkin) and Shiv (played by Australian actress Sarah Snook). Neglected and bullied by their parents, and now scrapping over the future of the family empire, they are four overgrown kids as dysfunctional as their father is powerful. But as the only daughter, and arguably the smartest of the lot (she’s the only one who seems to have held a proper job outside the family, working as a political consultant), there’s something special about Shiv.

READ MORE: Is Succession Based On The Murdoch Family?

Her name’s short for Siobhan, but it’s probably no coincidence that ‘shiv’ also means a knife used to stab someone; after all, Shiv can be brutal. She’s the woman for the job when someone has to accost a sexual assault survivor at a children’s playground and persuade her not to testify in court. She’s the one who waits until her wedding night to mention to her new husband – Tom Wambsgans (Matthew Macfadyen) – that she wants an open marriage; actually, she’s already slept with one of their guests. And in a later episode, flirting with an actor she meets in a bar, she’s the kind of person who will casually deny that Tom is her partner: ‘No,’ she says with a smile. ‘Just a guy who works for me.’

Shiv can be just as childish and petty as her brother Roman; in an early episode while their father is unconscious following a stroke, the two youngest siblings start bickering in the hospital, and end up having a physical brawl. On the other hand, she’s charismatic, clever and almost always composed – even if that’s just a defence mechanism honed by a miserable childhood. She carries her damage with so much panache.

She has a wardrobe of expensive tailoring in the kinds of delicate fabrics and colours that you can only get away with if you have a chauffeur, and she can be deliciously superior, like an evil queen: she glides around in high-waisted trousers and cashmere polo-necks, delivering put-downs as sharp as an ice-pick. On getting a whiff of her brother’s cologne, she says charmingly, ‘What is that – Date Rape by Calvin Klein?’

Having worked for left-wing political candidates, Shiv also believes herself to be a better person than the other Roys – but when push comes to shove, she definitely isn’t. ‘She’s a very arrogant hypocrite,’ as Lucy Prebble, one of the show’s writers, put it in an interview with Grazia earlier this year. ‘Some of the other characters in the show are quite clown-like in their hypocrisy – she takes herself quite seriously. It’s really interesting her being the only daughter as well, and what that does to her psychology and her sense of specialness and contempt that she has for her brothers.’

Shiv is so cruel in her behaviour that she even manages to make us feel sorry for Tom – a man who likens being rich to being a superhero: ‘You get to do what you want, the authorities can’t really touch you, you get to wear a costume, but it’s designed by Armani, and it doesn’t make you look like a prick.’ He may be a bad person, but he loves Shiv, and she doesn’t love him back.

‘You see a lot of very, very successful, powerful women with men who are less successful and powerful than them, and it’s a really interesting dynamic,’ says Prebble. ‘I think there’s something about her marriage that is funny and dark.’ Shiv uses Tom, sometimes as a henchman to carry out her dirty work, sometimes as a bargaining chip with her father, and sometimes simply to flatter her own ego. In the finale of the second season, driven to breaking point, he tells her, ‘I wonder if the sad I’d be without you is more than the sad I am with you’ – and part of us wants him to run for the hills.

But just because she’s horrible doesn’t mean we don’t care about her. We see her vulnerability when her father plays with her feelings, offering her the top job at the company and then withdrawing it. And there’s also an alluring recklessness about her, and a sense that she might be the most fun of them all. ‘I would probably rather go for a drink with Shiv,’ says Prebble. ‘I think when Shiv actually lets her hair down, which is almost never because she’s so controlling, she absolutely loses her mind. So I suspect after six drinks, Shiv would be wild.’

As season three rumbles on, Shiv suffers her first abject failures in the show. Her inability to convince hotshot lawyer Lisa Arthur, an old friend, to represent her father leads to a fluffed attempt to get Arthur on board to advise her personally (the dawning realisation on her face when she realised Arthur was already representing brother Kendall, and for once she wasn't the Roy sibling who held all the cards was a picture). She storms away, only to discover that her screw up has cost her the interim CEO position her father had been waving under her nose. Instead, it went to Chief Counsel Gerri Kellman, who's form a compellingly weird, semi-sexual alliance her brother Roman.

Her father later makes her domestic President of Waystar Royco, apparently to be his trusted eyes and ears on the ground, but (knowing Logan) probably as a sop to prevent her from forming alliance with her brother Logan. This is enough for Shiv to briefly return to her self-satisfied best, before she finds herself once again outmanoeuvred by Kendall after he rejects entreats to step down his plans, and then hijacks a staff Town Hall in the Waystar Royco building, interrupting Shiv's speech to blast 'Rape Me' by Nirvana out of a series of huge speakers he inexplicably managed to sneak into the building and set up without no-one noticing.

As we end the episode, a furious and vengeful Shiv has released an open letter revealing Kendall's drug and womanising past to the world, calling him an 'absent father' among other things. It's so unkind that Connor and Roman refuse to co-sign it, and is almost enough to stop Kendall in his tracks. Until he sees footage of the FBI finally raiding the Waystar Royco building, while Shiv looks on in horror at home.

What that next move is remains to be seen, but at heart she’s still the complicated kid who grew up in the most brutal family on television – and like Tom, we can’t stop watching her.

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