Shiv Roy's pregnancy reveals the heart of ‘Succession'

Shiv Roy's pregnancy on 'Succession' is a nihilistic portrayal of pregnancy, devoid of joy and hopeful anticipation.

Shiv Roy's pregnancy reveals the heart of ‘Succession'

Editor's note: Rebecca Bodenheimer, a cultural critic and freelance writer, is an editor. This commentary is solely the opinion of its author. CNN has more opinion pieces.


Note: This essay contains spoilers for 'Succession's final season.

The critics have debated for years whether Jesse Armstrong's HBO series 'Succession', which ended its run on the show's final Sunday, was fundamentally a comedy or drama. The satirical and comedic elements in the earlier episodes were what made the show unique for me. The barbs that the characters hurled at each other had a Veep-like energy.

The tragedy of the story started to overshadow the comedy around season three, perhaps when the audience began to wonder if Kendall Roy's (Jeremy Strong) body had been found in a swimming pool.

"Succession" is hilarious in a zeitgeisty kind of way, but it will be remembered for its tragic Shakespearean nature. The final season of the show has been centered around the Roy siblings and their reactions to the loss of their father Logan (Brian Cox). Warner Brothers Discovery is the parent company of both HBO and CNN.

It was shocking to see the patriarch of the show killed off in episode 3, but the writers have been able to patiently sort through the aftermath and depict the power struggles among his children.

In the episode that immediately follows Logan's demise, the audience learns that Siobhan "Shiv" Roy (Sarah Snook), the youngest and sole female sibling is pregnant. In addition to some of the most memorable one-liners ever, "Succession" has given us an incredibly nihilistic view of pregnancy that is devoid of hope and joy. Ironically, despite the show's focus on family and inheritance, there are no children in it. Instead, childrearing falls to minor characters like Kendall's former wife Rava (Natalie Gold).

Shiv's pregnancy is received with open arms

While I am alarmed at the criminalization and stigmatization of abortion, as well as pregnancy, because we have seen women with miscarriages being accused, I also remember fondly my pregnancies and the wonder that my body created. Shiv never gets to experience the wonder of his body creating new life. This is one of many tragedies in this show.

The film 'Succession,' showed us how Logan's harsh parenting style and his pitting of children against one another has caused them emotional harm. How many times has Kendall tried to beat his father or escape the family business?

In the second episode of this season, Connor Roy, who is always at the center of jokes, says: "The good thing about a family that does not love you is that it teaches you to live without them." In the same way, we have seen Roman (Kieran Ruck) make terrible and impulsive choices in the aftermath of Logan's passing, which culminated in his emotional breakdown during the funeral episode.

Shiv's pregnancy has heightened fans' interest and speculation. Fans have been asking in chat groups and Twitter whether it is Tom (Shiv’s estranged spouse, Matthew Macfadyen) or if she is pregnant via surrogate.

The audience initially receives very little information. Shiv's physician tells her after Logan's passing that the amniocentesis results are encouraging. We also learn that Shiv is less than 20 weeks pregant. Shiv's reaction is not happy or relieved. It is the morning after her father died, so it seems reasonable.

Shiv also drinks alcohol more than once, and even accepts the cocaine offered by Lukas Matsson, the corporate rival of the Roy family (Alexander Skarsgard), in episode five. We never see Shiv actually snort the drug. Shiv's behavior on social media was a predictable mockery of her as a bad mother for drinking during pregnancy.

The penultimate episode of the show made me realize how tragic the pregnancy storyline is.

Shiv's pregnancy is unique

Shiv is not like many TV characters. From Erica Kane in 'All My Children', to Cristina Yang in 'Grey's Anatomy', they have all struggled to decide whether or not to stay pregnant. Shiv's decision to undergo an amniocentesis, a test to determine genetic or chromosomal conditions in a fetus, is a sign that she has invested in her pregnancy.

Shiv says that she wanted to see her father meet her unborn baby in a later episode, when her condition was revealed. She says if he hadn’t got on that plane he would have lived 20 years longer, so he could have rocked his grandchildren to sleep. Tom replies with a gentle sarcasm, knowing how absent Logan was from his grandchildren. He is trying to reconcile their rocky relationship, but she refuses.

Shiv is seen playing hot and cold in the next episode with Tom. She has done this throughout their relationship. She never allowed herself to truly be vulnerable with Tom because her parents only showered their love in a transactional way.

Tom could have informed Shiv about her pregnancy at two different, intimate moments, but she didn't. Tom also doesn't seem able to tell that Shiv is pregnant, despite having sex with him multiple times.

Tom's exhaustion, which he warned her about but she ignored, is the catalyst for their ugly fight on the balcony. Tom tells her: "I think you're incapable of loving." You are not the best person to be a parent.

It's a reference to Caroline's (Harriet Walter's) words to Shiv in Season Three, when she said that Shiv made the right choice because "Some people are just not made to be mothers."

Caroline is a horrible mother. She's probably even worse than Logan. Shiv has two poor parenting models - one who views her children as an annoyance (Caroline) and the other is a pawn to be manipulated by (Logan). It's no surprise that Shiv shows little happiness about having a child.

Despite only one episode remaining, the reasons behind her decision to continue with this pregnancy remain very opaque. One would have expected at least some indication that Shiv wants to continue with this pregnancy. In the last two episodes, she has revealed that she is pregnant. This only intensifies the dark undertones.

Shiv tells Tom the news in episode 8 during election night while he is dealing with multiple crises. She pulls him away to apologize after their fight on the balcony. When he is unmoved by her, she throws a Molotov Cocktail about her pregnancy. Yes, you are.

His response is shocking: "Is this even true or is it like a different position or tactic?" Shiv, clearly hurt, manages a weak "what?" She is reaping what she sows--she has misled him many times, and it's only natural that his initial reaction to this is disbelief.

The Roy family's brutality is not a joke

Other reactions to Shiv’s news were also depressing. Kendall immediately asks if the baby is Tom’s, and Caroline immediately assesses her, saying, "Blimey!" Caroline makes it about her, and asks why Shiv did not tell her.

Matsson hints that he is aware of her plans to become CEO at Waystar, a company he wants to buy. Shiv responds brutally: "She's one hard-bitch, right?" Who's going to do, say, 36 hours of leave for maternity? Her vanity cesarean via email. Poor kid won't see her. It's a reference to the distance between Logan and Caroline as parents. She's also putting her fetus in danger, and Matsson may still not give her the position.

Shiv's conversation with Tom, Caroline and Caroline later compounds the tragedy. Tom asks her why she didn't inform him sooner. She replies, "Because it was so sad." Caroline comes over to Tom and tells him, "Lovely news." You did well. She has not yet congratulated her daughter.

Tom replies, "If it weren't such an absolute fuckin disaster, it would have been a dream." Shiv's intention to not be present when Caroline tells Shiv how difficult it is to raise a child, Shiv says, "Oh, no. I won't see it." I'm going to do it the way my family does... they don't become emotionally stunted do they?

Shiv's interactions are full of sarcasm and she seems to be in denial or complacent that her child will inherit her emotional scars. Shiv may be feigning for power and not believe what she says, or she might end up parenting her child the way she was raised. Unfortunately, we will never know. As a mother of 2, I am struck by the lack of excitement and goodwill surrounding this announcement.

Shiv is not congratulated or asked how she feels. She doesn't even allow herself to imagine motherhood. She is so focused on beating her brothers in the succession game, that she doesn't even see this child as anything other than an obstacle.

This storyline, in the end, is a perfect representation of 'Succession's' larger tragedy. Ewan Roy (James Cromwell), in his eloquent eulogy, said that Logan's legacy was his children's emotional inheritence of his selfishness, greed, and lack of awareness, which led them to hurt others. Shiv Roy’s pregnancy is a testament to the emotional decay at the heart of this family.