This article contains spoilers for the first episode of Succession Season 4.
Tom Wambsgans and Shiv Roy are a bad match. Their marriage reminds me of a blown-out, inverted umbrella—the kind anguished weatherpeople cling to while reporting live from a hurricane. While Tom and Shiv are still technically in a marriage, it clearly no longer serves the function of one.
In Succession’s Season 4 premiere, we’re given a clearer look at just how dysfunctional their relationship is. Sequestered from the judgmental gaze of society and her nosy family, Shiv and Tom attempt to reckon with their doomed legal union—and it becomes clear that Shiv has set herself up to be lonely forever.
Backing up for a moment: This premiere finds the entire Roy family, as expected, in turmoil. The kiddos (Roman, Shiv, and Kendall) have managed to outbid their father, Logan, and purchase PGM out of pure, irresponsible spite for $10 billion after having veered away from a half-baked plan to build a news outlet of their own—a “bespoke information hub” called The Hundred. (On a personal note, every line of dialogue about The Hundred increasingly made me fear for my own job security.)
Logan contemplates death at a diner—a scenario that feels plucked straight from early aughts emo lyrics. An election in which Connor Roy is polling at a “squeezable” one percent looms large. Both Karl and Frank bravely admit they don’t have a sense of humor. Cousin Greg sustains his reputation as the family doofus and has acquired the nickname, alongside Tom, “the disgusting brothers.” And Tom and Shiv are, at the beginning of the episode, separated but not divorced.
Now back to our embattled couple: In the penultimate scene of the premiere, Shiv shows up at their New York City home unannounced to pick up clothes. “I thought you took all your favorites,” an awoken Tom asks.
“I don’t want to be restricted to my favorites,” Shiv retorts, effectively snapping in half any olive branch her arrival might have suggested. She brutally plows ahead with collecting her things, while mocking Tom about possible dalliances.
Tom then short-circuits Shiv’s tirade with a doleful ask: Does she want to “get into a full accounting of the pain in [their] marriage?” Because he can and will. It’s one of the few times I can recall the show’s trademark acerbic banter being deflated rather than volleyed back with increasing wit. “I wonder if we might have run out of road,” Shiv says, suggesting a divorce. (It’s assumed she’s pushing forward with the divorce to quell Nan Pierce’s, head of PGN, fears about conflicts of interest in the PGN sale.)
The moment is quieter and more intimate than the tense boardroom and opulent banquet scenes we’re used to seeing on this show. It lays bare the fact that there’s no way Shiv could even begin to consider a full accounting of the pain in her marriage, because that would require her to reckon with the pain that’s underpinned and consumed her entire life.The back-and-forth that ensues between the couple is the emotional equivalent of putting a bunch of repelling magnets in a small pouch. We see an internal agitation in Shiv so strong that it’s like she physically cannot stomach the conversation. Sarah Snook manages to contort her character’s face into a series of expressions more pained and agonizing than anything I’ve ever seen on my television screen. Spoil her with Emmys!
“I don’t want to rake up a whole lot of bullshit for no profit,” she snaps at her husband, as if he’s trying to hang out after a board meeting and chit-chat rather than assess their marriage. “I don’t think it’s good for me to hear all that.”
Her emotional unavailability is palpable, and the episode draws a clear parallel to her father’s repression. In an earlier scene, Logan Roy couldn’t bring himself to express that he was upset his kids didn’t wish him a happy birthday, so instead, he takes his “best pal” Colin to a stuffy Upper East Side diner and declares he doesn’t think God exists. And it’s Shiv’s pained inability to be vulnerable—her instinctive course correction to just make decisions, and make them swiftly, at the expense of letting herself feel anything—that breaks my heart. She’d rather divorce a man who, I think, deeply loves her than ever let her walls down. (If you’re like “Tom doesn’t fucking love her!” I think you’re wrong and that Tom’s betrayal in the Season 3 finale was more of a desperate attempt to grab Shiv’s attention than to hurt her.)
The remarkable strength of this show is its ability to make me ache for emotionally moronic (and ethically reprehensible) people whose penthouses make up the Manhattan skyline. If this kick-off to the fourth and final season is any indication of what’s to come, we’re in for a hell of a heartbreaking ride.