Part of the unspoken appeal of HBO’s Succession is that it’s a show about horrible people. The saga of a dysfunctional media family that’s too rich for its own good, the story features constant infighting, complaining, lying, and backstabbing both hidden and overt. Infidelity is a given, waste is commonplace, and no one really cares about anyone else—not even those they claim to love. On some level, it’s exhausting. On another, exhilarating.
There are no good guys in the world of Succession, and even the most innocent figures will ultimately find themselves corrupted by the family’s excess and greed. The most any of us can hope for is that the Roy clan will somehow pick the best of a bunch of bad options to lead them. Heir apparent Kendall (Jeremy Strong) may be an (accidental) murderer, but at least he’s not his monstrous father, and all Roman (Kieran Culkin) wants is just for someone (anyone, really) to love him best. But, as Season 3 makes increasingly clear, it’s the family’s youngest daughter Siobhan (Sarah Snook) who offers the most intriguing path forward, both for the Roys and for Succession itself.
This isn’t because Shiv is an especially good person. She’s still as nasty as any of her siblings: Selfish and manipulative, she’s done her fair share of betraying others. But she’s also one of the only figures on Succession who still feels capable of real growth—despite her obvious flaws—and whose Season 3 journey appears to be setting her on a path toward something other than destruction.
Succession Season 3 has largely been framed as a battle between Logan (Brian Cox) and Kendall for the future of Waystar Royco, as the younger Roy attempts to force his father to step down via a Department of Justice investigation. And while this all provides some seriously entertaining intra-family drama—especially anything involving Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) or Greg (Nicholas Braun)—the heart of this season is firmly rooted in the slow evolution of Shiv, who seems poised to finally come into her own as a Roy and confront her own recent moral collapse in the process.
As the only daughter in the family, Shiv’s always had to walk a fine line, personally and professionally. Her gender leaves her in an uncomfortable position within the heavily masculine world of Waystar, and like so many women in corporate America before her, she must strike a careful balance when it comes to how she is perceived, even by and within her own family. She must be enough of a ballbuster to be taken seriously, but not so much that she comes off as shrill or overly ambitious. Her communications-based soft skills—a deft talent for deal making, an instinctive grasp of how decisions will resonate with both investors and the public—are in constant demand, yet she is mocked whenever she gets angry or emotional about her father or siblings’ untrustworthy behavior.
Shiv is frequently trotted out at panels and investor events where the company needs to highlight its feminist bona fides, yet Logan rarely appreciates this sort of work. And this season, it looks as though Shiv may be finally starting to realize that fact. Though she is initially loath to sign on to her brother’s coup attempt, it matters that Shiv is the person Kendall thought to call first, indicating that within her family itself she is still seen as not just a swing vote or referee, but a moral center, of sorts. (At least, as much as the Roys have ever had one.)
Part of that is by deliberate choice: After all, Shiv has spent most of her life carefully maintaining a certain amount of distance—professional, ideological, and emotional—from her family and its various corrupting webs. A big part of her personal brand involves all the ways she isn’t like her father, which is why the revelation that she secretly wanted to succeed Logan as CEO just as much as her brothers did was such a dramatic revelation. Even more so, perhaps, because she’s drawn into her father’s inner circle knowing exactly who he is and falls for it all anyway.
Over the course of Season 2, we see Shiv become increasingly complicit in her father’s world, even going so far as to convince a victim of the Waystar cruise line’s abuses to abandon her Congressional testimony, denying dozens of women a chance at justice. Her decision essentially erases any plausible deniability Shiv—or us, as viewers—might have had about what kind of person she is, morally speaking, or precisely how far she has fallen.
Season 3 has shown us even more fully just how much she’s willing to sacrifice in the name of seeking power and approval, from her professional reputation (that needle drop of Nirvana’s “Rape Me” during her speech at a Waystar townhall whew!!) to her relationship with Kendall (her release of a brutal open letter calling him misogynist and deeming him mentally unstable is a blow many siblings simply couldn’t come back from). But it has also shown us a Shiv who appears to be (finally) wrestling with whether these choices were not just morally right, but will ever actually give her something that’s worth sacrificing every recognizable part of herself for.
Despite Shiv’s willingness to publicly do her father’s dirty work, it doesn’t seem to have made Logan love or respect her the way she wants him to. She single-handedly holds the family together in the wake of her father’s medically induced meltdown at the company shareholder meeting and puts together the deal that keeps Waystar in Roy hands at the same time, yet her actions are still not good enough for Logan, who tells her he could (and would) have somehow, magically done better. It’s proof that nothing Shiv does will ever be good enough for her father, which begs the question: Why is she turning herself inside out and becoming a person she clearly doesn’t like or respect for him?
Interestingly enough, Season 3’s “Retired Janitors of Idaho” is also the first installment of Succession in which we see Shiv set out to grab something of her own, without her father’s approval or even knowledge. Whether she’ll be able to keep the board seat she wrangled for herself as part of the cost of saving the company, or if her team-up with Sandi—notably yet another corporate daughter everyone says only exists to do her father’s bidding—will last, but watching Shiv finally start to make decisions for herself and her own best interests is an incredible and welcome relief.
Does this mean that she’ll suddenly decide to take Kendall’s side in the Roy family war and help him bring their father down? Not necessarily. There’s every chance that Shiv will simply choose herself, deciding to take on Logan directly or form a pact with Roman and Gerri to further her own ends. But no matter where Shiv lands in this family dispute, Season 3 has proven that it’s time to take her seriously as a player in her own right—because she’s every inch the Roy her father is, and she seems to have finally realized that at last.
Lacy Baugher Milas is a digital producer by day, but a television enthusiast pretty much all the time. Her writing has been featured in Collider, IGN, Screenrant, The Baltimore Sun and others. Literally always looking for someone to yell about Doctor Who and/or CW superhero properties with, you can find her on Twitter @LacyMB.
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