Toxic Is As Toxic Does

2 Therapists Break Down Shiv & Tom's Toxic Succession Ending

Are they the worst couple… ever?!

by Hannah Jackson
Originally Published: 

It’s been said that the first year of marriage is challenging. (And if it is to be said, so it be, so it is.) But that would be an understatement for the youngest Roy scion Siobhan (Sarah Snook) and her Midwestern interloper husband Tom Wambsgans (Matthew MacFadyen), whose volatile relationship has kept Succession fans on pins and needles for four seasons. The newlyweds were already in hot water at the end of Season 3 after Tom, in a rare moment of defiance, betrayed Shiv and her brothers by letting her father, Logan, in on the siblings’ plans to oust him from the helm of his media empire. Over the course of the last 10 episodes, they continued to devolve into attacks so ugly (including over Shiv’s pregnancy, which Tom cruelly presumed to be “a new position or a tactic”) that when the finale ended with the two hand-in-hand (kind of) the victory felt hollow.

“Are there any positives about the nightmare we’ve shared?” Shiv asked Tom in the series finale, as she proposes giving their relationship a real shot. As she puts it, “Once you’ve said and done the worst things, you’re kind of free.” Patrice Le Goy, Ph.D., a licensed marriage and family therapist, suggests that Shiv’s understanding of vulnerability in her relationship is indicative of her disorganized attachment style. “She is afraid of vulnerability and instead attempts to protect her emotions with sarcasm and disdain. It is clear that she knows that showing true feelings of sadness or hurt is unsafe,” she says. “This develops when caregivers inflicted emotional, physical, or sexual abuse and causes the child to want closeness but also be very afraid of it. As Shiv had an emotionally abusive father and an emotionally neglectful mother, you can see how she has this push-and-pull relationship with closeness. She keeps people at arm's length with her snarkiness, but you also see her venture awkwardly into attempting closeness.”


In the end, Tom betrays Shiv once again when he accepts Lukas Matsson’s proposal to name him the American CEO in the Waystar-GoJo acquisition — a position he’s offered because Matsson cannot divorce Shiv from his sexual desires. “Why don't I get the guy who put the baby inside of her, instead of the baby lady,” he told Tom.

“Shiv is the most powerful woman in the Succession universe. Even so, she could not ‘win’ Succession,” says Madison McCullough, a licensed clinical social worker. “A man was always going to win, because of patriarchy, both in the world at large and that which is deeply ingrained in the Roy family.” Le Goy calls back to the eulogy Shiv delivered at Logan’s funeral, when she says, “He couldn’t fit a whole woman in his head.” “Shiv does not know how to exist as a woman in this patriarchal, misogynistic environment,” Le Goy says. “[She] had no examples of a whole woman thriving in that world.”

When the tie-breaking vote in the GoJo acquisition falls to Shiv, she turns against her heir-apparent brother Kendall to allow the deal to go through, crowning Tom CEO. “Shiv's final vote was informed by which path would give her the most power,” McCullough says. “A part of her knew that she would be sidelined if the deal fell apart and Kendall was at the helm. With the deal going through and Tom being in a position of power, Shiv's as close as she can be to power without having it directly.” Le Goy seconds this. “For their whole lives, Logan Roy taught his children that there could only be one winner. So why would Shiv make Kendall the ‘winner’? By using her vote to put Tom in the position of CEO, she could at least be winner-adjacent,” she says. “Now Tom owes her, she can probably influence him more than Kendall, and this move also makes her immediate family more powerful. This probably feels like a safer bet than trusting her family of origin who have let her down over and over.”

Shiv ends as close to power as a woman could get, at the expense of repeating her own mother’s fate — a cold wife to a power-hungry CEO. While many fans may have rooted for the two to get back together, barely touching hands in the backseat, looking off in opposite directions, is probably not the ending most had in mind. “The lukewarm hand-holding scene makes me think of the word ‘resigned.’ This was not what Shiv had wanted for herself and so she cannot or does not want to wholeheartedly respond to Tom’s attempt, but she is going to continue to partner with him to make the most of it,” Le Goy says. “Another interpretation is that even if Shiv does want to hold his hand completely, that still feels too unsafe to her after his betrayal and so she is not willing to give herself to him until he proves his loyalty to her.”

Still, Le Goy holds out hope for Tom and Shiv’s future, especially with baby Wambsgans-Roy on the way. “They will have to learn to sit with the uncomfortable feeling of vulnerability and learn to process and contain difficult emotions without attempting to unload them on their partner,” she says. McCullough, on the other hand, believes that the two don’t know that there’s a problem to be fixed. “I'm not sure either of them would characterize their relationship as in need of redemption,” she says. “While it is certainly toxic and abusive, each of them is knowingly choosing that. You can't have the level of cutthroat competition they each crave without equal levels of pain and dysfunction.”


Patrice Le Goy, Ph.D., LMFT

Madison McCullough, LCSW

This article was originally published on