‘Succession’: Shiv Roy’s Thirsty Fan Army Is Taking Over the Internet
There’s a lot to admire about Sarah Snook’s performance of Shiv Roy, the icy, relentlessly striving middle child of the Roy family on Succession. She’s poised and quick-witted, effortlessly eviscerating her doofus husband and brothers with an élan that only a multibillion-dollar trust fund and a top-tier Miss Porter’s education can buy. And she’s stylish, swanning around Tuscan villas and boardrooms in a series of immaculately tailored, curve-hugging écru sheaths.
But when it comes to Shiv herself, it’s hard to make the argument that there’s anything very admirable about her. She’s incredibly cold and detached, degrading her doofy yet devoted husband as part of their pillow talk. She’s craven and self-interested, eschewing any political ideology whatsoever in favor of trying to ascend in a corporate environment that platforms outright fascism. And, in one of the most chilling moments of the entire series, she shows she has a talent for manipulating vulnerable people to her own ends when she bullies a victim of corporate sexual assault — while her daughter is playing on the playground, no less — into staying silent.
And yet, on social media, Shiv has emerged as one of the most beloved, even relatable, characters on Succession. Often, this adoration is framed in gendered terms, a discourse that reached its apex with a thread that went viral on Twitter earlier this week. “Shiv Roy’s character is so womanhood/girlhood coded — y’all don’t understand,” the thread began. “Every arc, every scene, every dialogue: what you’re witnessing IS the complexity & paradox of us women, our nature of being so layered yet wanting to keep everything plain & simple.”
The thread garnered some opprobrium, with many pointing out the oddness of using the term “woman-coded” as a descriptor for a character who is, in fact, a woman. Yet it was far from the first time that Shiv has been characterized as a relatable girl’s girl by fans of the show. “Every person that isn’t a man has had this embarrassing ankle-twist fall moment right when they’re having the worst day ever,” one person tweeted after last week’s episode, in which a secretly pregnant Shiv, having been passed over as interim CEO of the company, twists her ankle in a humiliating moment at her father’s memorial. “Shiv Roy you will always be real.” “Ughh Shiv’s palpable feminine rage of being seen as the histrionic, hormonal woman… I support Shiv Roy being violent,” another wrote.
The perception of Shiv as a totem for the female experience is somewhat perplexing, given that, as an ultra-wealthy scion of a multimedia empire, her own trajectory could not be more removed from the average woman’s experience (unless the average woman regularly swans around in backless Monique Lhuillier draped gowns). Shiv’s appeal can likely be attributed to the popularization of the Toxic Girlboss, an archetype that ascended to popularity in the 2010s with the publication of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. That book was criticized for putting forth a heavily sanitized, white corporate view of feminism, and Sandberg was later taken to task for using her gender as a smokescreen for her own less-than-ethical business practices, allegations that would also be leveled against Nasty Gal CEO Sophia Amoruso and Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes.
The Girlboss would subsequently become a figure of some mockery, with TikTok zoomers coining the phrase “gaslight, gatekeep, Girlboss” as a way to skewer corporate backstabbing masquerading as feminism. Yet the idea that any transgressive behavior committed by a woman is automatically laudable or empowering — even when “sociopathic” likely serves as a better descriptor — clearly still holds some sway. Just as Holmes has cultivated her own devoted fan base obsessed with her black turtlenecks and lies about her dog’s provenance, Shiv Roy has a legion of devotees who, every time she lies to her siblings or ruins some poor Waystar Royco employee’s life, will go on Twitter begging Sarah Snook to run them over with a truck.
Part of the reason why Shiv engenders so much empathy is because, even though she occupies a rarefied space in society, she is still undoubtedly subject to much of the same treatment that others of her gender are. From the start of the series, for instance, it’s evident that she is not taken as seriously by her father as a potential successor to Waystar Royco because she is a woman, and with the revelation of her pregnancy in Season Four, the show is clearly setting up future tension between her role as possible CEO and her role as a mother.
But what makes Shiv such an interesting figure — and what makes Succession better than pretty much any other TV show airing today — is that, when it comes to circumstances that are holding her back, her gender is pretty much last on the list. Shiv is woefully ill-equipped for the CEO role, for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with her being a woman. As her brothers frequently point out, she has zero company experience, having spent most of her career in the realm of politics; and, as we see in her initial fumblings with misanthropic Gojo CEO Lukas Matsson, she’s wildly incompetent in the art of corporate intimidation. She’s not a victim of culturally sanctioned sexism so much as she’s a victim of her sense of entitlement; even though her failings are evident to others (as former Waystar CEO Rhea Jarrell puts it in season Two, Shiv is “not as smart as she thinks she is”), she still feels, for basically no reason, she is the best candidate for the role of Logan’s successor. When Logan surveys his family the night before his son’s wedding and declares them “not serious people,” there’s a reason why he includes Shiv in that categorization: she suffers from the same delusion that all rich people do, that money is the best and only qualification for any role. In movie actors, that delusion manifests in entering politics and taking flying lessons; in the Roy family, it manifests in corporate jockeying.
The tragedy of Shiv is not that she is given less respect or treated differently because she is a woman. If anything, it’s her belief that because of her immense privilege, she is able to avoid being perceived as such. For the first few seasons, she takes the dominant role in her marriage, refusing to adhere to traditional norms of domesticity and resisting showing any semblance of vulnerability once that marriage falls apart. The show frames this in part as borne from a desperate need for respect from her hyper-masculine father, a need all of the Roy siblings share, but it also reads as a reflection of the central themes of privilege and entitlement in the show: in a family where all problems can be solved by making a phone call or filling out a check, where Kendall chokingly begs his assistant to contact the best “airplane medicine expert” in the world to save his probably-already-dead father, Shiv clearly sees her gender as just one more inconvenience to throw money at.
Of course, now that Shiv is pregnant, she’ll have to confront the truth that all women, regardless of their background, have to confront at one point or another: that even though she does not view her body as a problem to be solved, the rest of the world does. And sadly, there’s very little that’s more relatable than that.
Return of the Roys: How to Stream Every 'Succession' Episode Online
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