Succession season 4: the highs and lows of Tom and Shiv, one of the best TV relationships of the decade

Tom finally has it out with Shiv  (Graeme Hunter)
Tom finally has it out with Shiv (Graeme Hunter)

Succession season 1-4 spoilers below

Succession season four is back with a bang and we haven’t been able to think of anything else since the devastating events of episode 3, deceptively titled Connor’s Wedding.

The final ever season of the show has been jam-packed full of enthralling plotlines, with one of the most captivating being that of Tom and Shiv’s love story – if you could call it that. Season four has seen the duo officially break up, hate each other, tease and taunt each other mercilessly, and perhaps most importantly, has seen Shiv become pregnant – we’re assuming with Tom’s baby.

It was obvious that all the back and forth between the two remarkably selfish individuals was going to end in upset, and indeed it did in episode seven when they had a furious argument on the balcony of their home where they were hosting a pre-election party. So what’s in store for Tom and Shiv now? Episode seven’s fight really felt like the kind that is impossible to come back from.

Here we break down the highs (there have been some) and the many lows of Shiv and Tom, as we wonder what’s next for the duo.

The Highs

Tom and Shiv seem to make amends

It was obvious that something of this sort was going to happen soon: after weeks of very mean flirting – the kind of which we’ve come accustomed to with Tom and Shiv – in season four episode six the ex-couple sleep together.

In the episode, Shiv and Tom start getting romantic too: Tom says he’d like Shiv back, and Shiv says, “I’d follow you anywhere for love, Tom Wambsgams” (although she’s joking). Their conversations are customarily cruel and manipulative as they tease each other, but it’s a high for the duo, as they do really seem, in their twisted way, to like each other.

The Hug

This was the best clip we could find of Tom and Shiv’s hug in season four episode three, just after she has given the statement to the press about her father’s death, but we don’t quite agree with its analysis.

Tom propTo us, the moment is deeply intimate, and Shiv doesn’t seem to pull away. It’s the hug of two people who are both feeling emotionally wrecked, and have no words to say, so show they are supporting each other with a tender hug. After episode one’s break up, and the subsequent spats on the phone, it’s a high point for the duo who are, in the end, there for each other when the going gets tough.

Tom proposes to Shiv at the hospital

Gosh this seems like a long time ago, doesn’t it? There’s baby Shiv and baby Tom, in the hospital in season one when it’s touch and go whether Logan will recover from his brain aneurysm. In a way, it sets up everything that’s about to come: Tom is being vulnerable and sincere with Shiv in a way he isn’t with anyone else. Shiv is making light of the proposal, while Tom, wide-eyed and heart at this point splattered all over the floor, is waiting to hear her response. We’re claiming this as a high, however – they’re sweet, and even though Shiv is a little reluctant, the relationship still has hope.

Shiv tells Tom about being named Logan’s successor

Admittedly, this wasn’t a high high, but it was a moment in the show when Shiv and Tom were able to overcome their personal limitations and compromise, which was something. Shiv, after a week of privately mulling things over, finally tells her husband that Logan has named her as successor. Tom seems a little miffed that she’s taken a week to speak to him, and is truly in shock. Macfadyen brilliantly allows all the complexity of Tom’s feelings flicker across his face: jealousy, pride, fear and shock at the news.

Then he says, “Because I thought this is something that we wanted for me” – oh, sting. Shiv’s eyes are streaming: “It’s just a modification of the plan,” she says. It’s hard to tell whether she’s disappointed with her husband’s response or too overwhelmed to notice. Tom then asks about whether Logan mentioned him, perhaps a little egotistical given he should be congratulating his wife. Second later Tom has got a hold of his emotions: he says he’s so happy for Shiv, and that he supports his wife. As the scene closes the duo start heavy kissing.

Tom humiliates Nate

Why is this scene categorised under the highs? Because Tom stands up for his marriage. Yes, it can be argued that he goes overboard humiliating Nate here, and that he should direct his emotions towards his wife and not the man she’s cheating on him with, but there’s still something fulfilling about seeing Tom explicitly caring about his relationship with Shiv. Nate, is, after all, in the wrong. He knows it and Tom knows it, which is what makes the scene so brutal.

The Lows

Episode seven’s fight on the balcony

Tom and Shiv in episode seven, Tailgate Party (©2023 HBO. All Rights Reserved)
Tom and Shiv in episode seven, Tailgate Party (©2023 HBO. All Rights Reserved)

There are fights, and then there are fights. And in season four episode seven, Shiv and Tom had a fight. The kind that’s near-impossible to move past because so many cruel things are said that can never be unsaid. The episode began on such a positive note, with the couple seemingly back together. But at the party, Tom didn’t like the fact that Shiv was allowing Matsson to publicly throw him under the bus (fair) and everything came to a head on the balcony.

“Shall we have a real conversation?” says Tom, and oh how we (and he, we’re guessing) wish he had just gone to bed in that instant. Every adult knows the rules: difficult conversations should be had in the morning. “You’re a f***ing snake,” says Shiv. “I think you shouldn’t have even married me,” says Tom. “You’re f***ing me for my DNA. You’re f***ing me for a f***ing ladder,” says Shiv. “I think you are incapable of love, and I think you are maybe not a good person to have children,” says Tom.” Wow. We thought we’d seen Shiv and Tom go through many lows, but this was something different, and it really could mark the end, actually, totally, finally, of Tom and Shiv.

The break-up

Maybe we should have seen episode seven’s fight coming from a mile off. After all, season four opened with Tom and Shiv officially breaking up. It was the perfect end for the duo played by Sarah Snook and Matthew Macfadyen. No nonsense; no dragged-out, overly-emotional talking or crying. They had a short spat, Shiv said she felt that the relationship was over, and Tom, as usual, submitted to her wishes. So the couple lay on the bed, holding hands, looking at the ceiling. And thus Tom and Shiv ended. The quiet collapse of the relationship was in keeping with the way the show goes about its business, and it felt genuine to their characters too.

A wedding night confession

Arguably one of the most savage conversations in the entire show, Shiv opens up the topic of an open marriage on her wedding night. Poor Tom is floundering at her suggestion – after all, what choice does he have but to agree? The vows have been uttered, Shiv’s there literally wearing the wedding dress. If he said no, what would that mean for the relationship? Would they instantly divorce? Would she cheat behind his back? The end of the relationship can be traced back to this incredibly unkind moment (though there were plenty of problems before Shiv’s outburst).

Tom wants to make Shiv pregnant before prison

Remember in season three when Tom thought he was going to prison and was googling toilet wine and jail practices? He went a bit loopy facing the prospect of years behind bars (and who blames him?). But in this awkward scene his distress overflows into his marriage as he tells Shiv he’d like to get her pregnant so that when he comes out of prison there’ll be a baby waiting for him. It reeks of desperation and fear – and Shiv seems to suggest that she won’t be there waiting for him. The exchange shows that Shiv is head and not heart: Tom is, in part, functional for her, there’ll be no waiting for his release for a romantic reunion.

Tom and Shiv’s dirty talk exposes cracks in their relationship

This scene hardly needs an introduction. On holiday, Tom and Shiv are playing around. “You’re not good enough for me, says Shiv. “I’m way out of your f***ing league... but that’s why you want me... that’s why you love me. Even though I don’t love you.” Tom, who is rather quiet, pretends to play along.

Tom finally confronts Shiv

As awkwards as it is to watch Tom wandering around being an imbecile with Greg, it’s much harder seeing him being honest and vulnerable with Shiv. Here Shiv says, “I love you, no?” as Tom lobs rocks into the sea like a moody teenager. He says, “I don’t know. I love you. I love this rock. Bye rock, you’re dead. What does it mean?” In a way it mirrored the wedding night scene completely: Tom’s words are heartfelt (even if they’re not that eloquent), Shiv bats them away with her usual quips. Then Tom came out with the devastating line: “I wonder if the sad I’d be without you is more than the sad I am with you.” Weep.

Tom betrays Shiv

Boooo! We still can’t get over Tom’s betrayal of Shiv at the end of season three: there she and her siblings were, thinking that they were going to stop their dad from selling Waystar Royco by secretly banding together, and then Shiv made the mistake of calling Tom. Tom, in a move that made audiences around the world gasp out loud, called Logan and told him about the young Roys’ plans. Logan then made a deal with his ex-wife Caroline which blocked the kids.

Afterwards, Tom pretends like nothing had happened, and asks Shiv why she is upset, kissing her neck. While the relationship had been previously spinning to the floor, like an unhappy samara leaf, now it takes a different turn. It shows that Tom had abandoned the marriage, that he is on his own path , and that the marriage is now just a label.

Succession is streaming on Sky Atlantic and NOW