Look, for readers who aren’t women, the following statement may fall flat, but it’s still true. Women are still a mystery in fiction, or at least for male writers. Ted Lasso and Succession managed to cast smart, real, and inspiring women in supporting actors lost and distracted by their love lives in the midst of professional chaos. Shiv Roy (Sarah Snook) is the perfect example of a victim of machismo in the corporate world, not even her brothers who love and support her even remember her for big decisions. Kendall (Jeremy Strong) arriving at the meeting, starting the conversation, and unceremoniously taking her seat – even with her cell phone ‘marking’ her position – is brilliant. It’s a second where the writers go for the drama jugular of the character, who is unconsciously and deliberately excluded – without needing a word. But they skid further ahead.
It’s no surprise that without their father alive, the Roys are banging their heads. Logan (Brian Cox) destroyed them inside and out and their strength together was in fighting him. Defeating a memory and a legacy is much more complicated for psychologically broken people. That said, neither Kendall nor Roman (Kieran Culkin) is a “villain” in relation to Shiv, or vice versa. They doubt themselves and each other, with the ghost of their father’s voice calling them “idiots”. Surprisingly, only Kendall takes the statement as a motivation to overcome, perhaps because he spent the last years of his life trying to put himself in life and in business. Shiv and Roman, especially Roman, want to “do what daddy would do”. Of course, it’s off-putting.
After two episodes of showing Shiv acting behind the scenes and seeming to be outmaneuvering the brothers, we’ve seen that yes, she doesn’t trust them both, that yes, she thinks Kendall wants to rule alone and is going to implode, and no, she doesn’t want to be “an insider” for Matsson. Her motivations belie what she might be wanting – control of everything herself – because she doesn’t understand to this day how her father lost trust in her to be the CEO of Waystar Royco. It’s because she thinks she is firm, but she is not when leading monstrous men. Like Iago, she easily pushes Roman’s buttons to undermine his partnership with their brother, but the consequences could be worse down the line.
Logan wanted to sell the company because he sees it as heavy and unable to outdo itself in digital times. That’s how he convinced everyone, but his children, used to his last-minute changes, to sell it. They see the sale as yet another attempt to be punished, and now that they’re in control, they want to prove they’ve got what it takes. The divergence of the three is not (only) who is in charge, but what the company stands for. Shiv wants to sell it, leave her father’s shadow behind, and start with another, within her parameters. Roman wants to keep the Waystar Royco as if it were his father’s spirit, selling it would be killing him a second time. Kendall wants to keep it because he was raised to lead it and without Logan, he can finally fulfill his destiny.
Kendall and Roman are on the same page, although the wording differs. Everyone talks about Kendall having a meltdown, but it’s Roman who is in pieces. Under pressure, finally, the two reveal to their sister that they no longer want to sell the company to Lukas, but as Shiv only knew the Swede’s version of the impasse, she is unsure of who to support. Selling, in fact, is easier for her.
She still thinks she has a connection to Lukas, even though he’s clearly using her as an informant (as he did with Roman, with Kendall before her). At least the three finally are talking, she puts the original deal on the table, and the brothers say they want to adapt the plan. They don’t come to an agreement because when she finally has both of them at her disposal and talking, she gets up for a mysterious meeting that is nothing more than finding a room to cry.
Okay, this situation is brilliant. Shiv needs to hide her vulnerability, hidden as grief, in order to stand up for herself. That’s where Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) comes in, the stalker, the manipulator who, with a soft-spoken game and a more aggressive attitude, ‘seduces’ Shiv. Shiv and Tom, Lukas, and Shiv. Mirrors of what Shiv and Logan were. Shiv only knows how to relate to psychological abusers. Her father was right that she chose Tom for weakness (even if apparent) and used him to deceive herself that she had power. After Tom realized she could run, he chose to cheat on her and be on Logan’s good side, which was short-lived with his death. But Tom knows Shiv, she wants him around and to mistreat him, but she only loves him if she is similarly humiliated. A cruel and dangerous game in which Tom is conscious and she is not.
That Shiv is confused is realistic. But her ‘falling in love’ with Tom at this point in the story is uncomfortable. She didn’t love him deeply and it’s ok that she wants to use the inversion of the game to put him back in his place, but it’s precisely being unsure of what it is that puts Shiv as the lost woman, hurt by her ex and using charm to make him jealous when there’s so much more at stake.
Surrounding Shiv in moments of weakness is a move that works well for Tom. The two resume the affair, and, just like she did with her brothers, they have an ultra-frank conversation. Shiv accuses him of marrying her for money, but Tom admits it and goes further. “I always wanted to earn and keep my money”, he explains, therefore, to maintain his standard of living, he would and did anything. He would be on her side if she didn’t threaten to dump him frequently. More so, he put her in her place by remembering that if she were different from him, she would have embraced him in a simple life. She claims she would, but they both know she’s lying. So they talk about Matsson, about the future and Shiv keeps him as an ally. All behind the brothers’ backs. Closing a plan B with two men who are unreliable may be a ghost of Logan acting on Shiv’s low self-esteem, but they are far from proving that she has the ability to lead alone. What SHE got, the billionaire deal, was also Lukas’ strategy. And what she ALMOST DID, destroying Kendall with the Living+ proposal was also to please the Swede, not for her. I want Shiv with keen, empathetic business power, not a woman used by men.
Returning to Kendall and Roman, the two go along with the plan to make the sale impossible. To Shiv, it seems like they want to take away her credit for getting more money (after all, they never admit they didn’t ask for more, and no one considered her role in it), but it’s a misunderstanding. First, they don’t know that she’s been going behind their back. Second, for them, it’s not about money. They do not want to sell and continue to act with that objective. So Shiv threw away a vital conversation to guide her decisions by going crying in the other room. She had put the brothers against the wall and they told her what they were doing. Without understanding each other, she leaves the room. Unforgiven.
Roman is as he warned Matsson: dead and gone. People think he’s firing left and right, but in both cases, he needed to assert his position and both women disrespected him. Joy, the studio president refuses to answer about the costs of the failed film to charge a political position of the group instead? I could be wrong, but it was necessary to do what Roman did. And Gerri, even in a position of power, confronts him for the way he fired Joy, which is correct but loses her grip on treating Roman like a child. He’s blunt: she can’t forget his position in the company and she can’t talk to her boss like that. He fires her. But go back. Because as everyone points out, Roman is emulating Logan and hoping his name commands the same respect, but he doesn’t make decisions for himself. Never did!
So we say goodbye to broken, jealous, and resentful Roman. He heard Shiv who gambled on Kendall’s defeat and got screwed. Kendall’s wins are always a prelude to disaster, but he supports Roman through everything, even impulsive firings. In his view, the two are aligned on the necessary changes and the opponents want to maintain the status quo. The parody of Living+’s presentation with technological phenomena like Theranos was cool. Kendall almost skids in her old style of losing focus with nonsense but manages to deliver a successful presentation. How do we know? Lukas fell for the trap and made a very public mistake as a result.
The next episode, from what we’ve seen, will bring a more offensive Lukas. Will it be the catalyst for family unity?