“How long do you give it?”
Some marriages are doomed before they have even begun. Still, it’s a whole other thing when the bride’s mother gets into the divorce prediction game. In the first season of Succession, Lady Caroline Collingwood (Harriet Walter) claims it is a “cheeky” wedding eve icebreaker, but playfulness is not an attribute that Succession viewers would associate with the Roy siblings’ mother—particularly when it comes to her daughter.
It wouldn’t be long, though, until Tom Wambsgans (Matthew Macfadyen) himself bet against his wife Shiv (Sarah Snook), when he went behind her back in the Season 3 finale to warn father-in-law Logan Roy (Brian Cox) of the siblings’ plan to take control of Waystar Royco. He got to keep his plum spot at cable network ATN, but didn’t count on Logan’s poor health getting in the way. Yep, Tom’s decision to pick professional over personal is a strategic choice that backfired the moment Logan died on the flight to Sweden. Nevertheless, there is always another play, and his marriage is given a lifeline—and it’s up to us Succession fans to bet on their future.
I want nothing more than for this “failmarriage” to succeed. Yes, Tom and Shiv are my Succession OTP (one true pairing); a twisted play on an endgame pairing, an anti-ship. Let them grow old together even if they don’t want to be in the same room. A quick search on TikTok and Twitter (including many fancams) reveals I am definitely not riding the TomShiv train alone.
Okay, let’s get the obvious out of the way, as it is pretty clear the Wambsgans-Roy union was disastrous long before Tom picked daddy dearest over his wife. Confessions of infidelity before their nuptials, a request for an open marriage on their wedding night, countless cruel words, cutthroat ambition at the expense of the other, and a refusal to talk about anything deep make their relationship a nightmare dynamic. It is toxic to its core, yet the moment shit hit the fan during Connor’s wedding—maybe another failmarriage in the making—Shiv’s connection with Tom proves vital. Quite literally, seeing as he becomes a conduit to the family’s unrehearsed goodbyes.
In fact, Shiv rejects Tom’s call twice (he then tries Roman). She isn’t being petty; it was only the day before that they were bickering about divorce lawyers, after Tom had sought advice from Logan—who freely gave his best trick to fucking over a spouse. All of that is immediately put on the back burner when Kendall (Jeremy Strong) tells his sister about the complications aboard the private jet. Despite all the recent cruelty, there is an instant softening and rare Shiv Roy vulnerability the moment she gets on the phone with Tom. “Are you just being nice to me? Is he gone?” are words she can barely squeak out, and Snook should win an Emmy for this scene alone.
Tom might be on a plane to Sweden while Shiv is on a boat destined for Ellis Island, but they have never been closer. If you listen hard enough, you can hear reconciliation bells. Maybe.
The Roy siblings are not a demonstrative bunch, but this event briefly breaks those barriers. Hand-holding, arm grabs, face touching, and hugs in various configurations end with the three as an interlocked mass when they say goodbye at the end of this terrible day. It isn’t quite as enmeshed when Shiv and Tom reunite, as she doesn’t fully reciprocate his warm embrace. But her head against his chest and an arm graze is a solid start. It is all baby steps, including asking him to ride back to New York with her—even if it is because she wants a play-by-play of what happened on the plane.
Cut to the start of the next episode, “Honeymoon States,” (yes, the episode titles this year are also a masterclass), and she wakes up alone the following morning—these first four episodes take place over consecutive days. A call from her doctor throws a baby-shaped wrench (or bundle of joy) into the mix, adding to the numbness that Snook deftly projects. Playing her cards close to her chest is a Shiv signature, and we are no clearer on what she is going to do by the end of the episode. Conversations about getting pregnant were at the root of Tom and Shiv’s disharmony in Italy and one of the final tipping points that pushed ultimate wife guy Tom away.
“Let me show you some kindness,” Tom softly says in Sunday night’s episode, emphasizing this concept’s alienness. Shiv thinks she is partially to blame for her father’s death, and she even mentions grandkids (though Tom has no idea she is talking about herself). She can only be so honest and can’t help but recoil at his touch.
It also seems like the question he posed in another picturesque locale at the end of Season 2 is still unanswered: “I wonder if the sad I’d be without you would be less than the sad I get from being with you.” Tom would be a writer in another life as his sad boy declarations are poetry to my ears.
“I…love my wife. And I just—I just love saying the word ‘wife.’ Wife. Wife. Wife. Wife. Wife, wife, wife, wife, wife,” Tom said in his wedding speech, making him the patron saint of TV Wife Guys. It is a sweet sentiment that also underscores his desire for the many extra considerations that come with marrying into this powerful family. He is bound to both Shiv and Logan. And only one of them gives him what he wants.
It is a dysfunctional, toxic mess that I can’t help but warm to. Sure, the more pathetic Tom gets, the more repulsed Shiv becomes. And yet, the minute he grows a spine, it disrupts the equilibrium she perfected. She can call him a “little bitch boy” all she wants, but Shiv is the one who can’t even talk about what happened in Italy.
Mommy (and Daddy) Issues
Dialing back the clock to her mother’s destination wedding and a conversation with Lady Caroline is a roadmap that sketches out Shiv’s inability to let anyone get close. “Truth is, I probably should’ve never had children,” Lady Caroline tells her. “You made the right decision; some just people aren’t made to be mothers.” This observation ends with a reflection on Logan’s knack for kicking something to see if it returns. Her mother’s ability to cooly reflect on the truth without giving an inch of her heart is a skill Shiv has inherited.
Each Roy child has been psychically scarred by their parents, and even though we have spent over 30 episodes with these characters, there are still significant gaps in what we know about them (such as who is Connor’s mother?). We don’t know Tom and Shiv’s meet-cute origin story, beyond vague references to Shiv being a mess when they first met. This is alluded to again when Tom tries to comfort her the day after Logan’s death, when he brings up this apparently “very difficult time” Shiv was experiencing when she was in France. No specific timeline is given, but Tom paints a vivid picture of the “fine silk shirt” she was wearing when he put his arm around her. “Do you like this?” Tom recalls asking.
Nothing about this sounds romantic, and it wouldn’t match the couple in question if it did. However, with the Nicholas Britell score and Macfadyen’s open face, the exchange gives something as close to hopeful as Succession gets. What could sound more like Mr. Darcy than the revelation that Tom wrote Shiv handwritten notes?! In his retelling, Tom speaks softly, recalling that she eventually said, “I like it all.” There is a resigned quality to Shiv saying yes to things, whether Tom’s intimate gesture or the circumstances around his proposal.
Ah, yes. That proposal occurred in the hospital in the second episode, after Logan had a stroke aboard a helicopter. “I wanted to do something to make all this better, and I thought while your dad’s still with us, wouldn’t that be a nice thing?!” is his earnest proposal. Shiv’s exasperated reaction to this is a red flag, but she quickly follows up with an on-brand, low-key acceptance. The smile on her face is genuine, and you couldn’t help but pull for this mismatched pair.
That event was maybe only a year ago, if Logan’s birthday is anything to go by. “How much time has passed on Succession?” is a pressing question for fans. The proposal to conversations about divorce might only span one calendar year—I wonder who guessed less than 12 months to Lady Caroline’s fun icebreaker.
“We gave it a go” is the sad and brief conversation about moving from trial separation to a more permanent end in the fourth season premiere. It is the most content they have been with each other in a long time, and provides us with the most significant Macfadyen-related hand moment since Joe Wright’s Pride & Prejudice. Part of my desire to see a lasting TomShiv marriage also stems from how damn good Snook and Macfadyen are in scenes together. So I selfishly want to revel in this couple’s shared misery—it does love company.
Either way, there is something full circle about Logan’s birthday, symbolically marking the beginning and end of this union. Logan’s death is the unknowable variable in this equation that could save this flop marriage from imploding further. Not that Logan gave a shit about this duo’s long-term future (as his handy divorce tip proves). Because Tom was willing to go to prison, his father-in-law finally saw him as something more than one of his arsenal of stooges—though only barely. That he was ready to sacrifice his freedom elevated him in Logan’s eyes, and betraying Shiv set Tom up for the future—and even then, it was only worth so much.
Unhappily Ever After?
“The negative case would go, ‘You’re a clumsy interloper, and no one trusts you. The only guy pulling for you is dead. You’re just married to the ex-boss’s daughter, and she doesn’t even like you,’” is how Karl (David Rasche) brutally sums up Tom’s position. “That’s how the naysayers might frame it,” is Karl’s defense, but he’s not too far off.
Tom is a scab that Shiv repeatedly picks at, but he isn’t an innocent party in this game. If he were simply a happy-go-lucky guy in love with his wife, then it would be a lot sadder, and for a failmarriage to be this enticing, you need both parties to make the other miserable—together and apart.
Tom leveled up in Italy, and the more they fumble within the typical marriage parameters, the more I want them to succeed. Even after showing compassion and strength on the phone throughout the Logan ordeal, he still has his eyes on the prize. He tells Greg (Nicholas Brennan) he needs “people to know” he was there when everything went down. Yes, he is sad (he isn’t a psychopath), but he also follows Gerri’s (J. Smith-Cameron) shrewd lesson of: “How does it serve my interests?”
So what next? Well, the window for Shiv to let her guard down is ending. After all, she still angrily swats away tears like stray hair fluttering in her face. The mid-season trailer teased Roman (Kieran Culkin) playing the all-too-familiar crazy card (“my sister’s fucked up”). She is back to layered barbs fired at her husband that make her seem like she is trying too hard. Or maybe “Tom, I did a number on you. I twisted your heart right up” is the Roy version of foreplay—that’s what it sounds like to me.
“Let’s just enjoy this sham marriage and the death of romance,” Roman says as he steps onto the boat at Connor’s wedding. While he is sarcastic, it is a sentiment that sums up the lack of a fairy tale at the heart of Succession. Unhappily ever after, till death does them—not Logan—part.