The Second Sex

Shiv’s Pregnancy Is One Narrative She Can’t Control

But you can’t blame a Roy for trying.

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After many episodes of speculation about how, when, and why she’d tell her secret, Shiv’s pregnancy “announcement” was an anti-climax. Riding to her father’s funeral in the surreal privacy of a hideous Cadillac, she mumbles the news to her brothers like it’s a hassle to do so, a non-event. She sits there, resignedly, as each brother reacts in true-to-form ways. Kendall — polite, mostly unmoved, with a hint of protective machismo. Roman — a stunted flood of deflective sex jokes. By the time they get to the funeral, her moment is over. She walks into the church and is greeted by her mother, who knows immediately. She’s showing, and most people who are paying attention (i.e. not her brothers) piece it together on the spot. All that’s left for Shiv to do is confirm, and a nod is enough.

For the majority of this season, I watched and waited for Shiv to use her pregnancy as some sort of power play — maybe against Tom, I wasn’t sure. But it was a powerful piece of information, that, I assumed, would be used in a classic Roy family power-grab way. So, at first it struck me as uncharacteristically sloppy to have so much build up for a thing that was ultimately uneventful. The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized that Shiv handled her situation with perfect care, as the very good political strategist we know her to be.

Shiv intentionally buries her news under an actual burial, just like Matsson’s sketchy numbers are (successfully, and in this same episode) buried in the crowded post-election news cycle. “It’s just become an amazing day to bury your bad news,” Shiv tells him, as she herself proceeds to do the same.

Sarah Snook as Shiv and Alexander Skarsgård as Lukas Matsson have a chat before Logan’s funeral.HBO / Succession

In Logan’s world — and our world — a pregnancy is never advantageous. Raised steeped in Logan-ness, Shiv knows that her secret is not powerful. Just like she would never be the one at the party with the ludicrously capacious bag, she knows her pregnancy could mean the end of relevance. A possible roadblock to all she’s been clawing for. Womanhood, mortality, embodiedness are nothing but liabilities. Logan himself just reminded everyone of how deeply inconvenient bodies are by dying. Living+ notwithstanding — by nature, human bodies stop. It’s sad. And sadness doesn’t sell.

Likewise, Shiv’s pregnant body is a very visible, deeply human body — it makes us think of sex and birth, and birth’s opposite is death and, well it’s all a bit animal. Shiv may have her own feelings about whether or not it should be this way. But, as she says herself in this episode “my feelings are irrelevant...I respect our audience.” She was raised to want nothing more than “money and winning.” She wants to win, and knowing how to play is her true inheritance. So, she plays her pregnancy as a known liability. It is a reminder of her humanity, and in the world of the show, what could be a clearer sign of weakness?

So, she gets ahead of it. Or tries to. She buries her news under the funeral and some nicely-timed political unrest. Everyone’s pretty distracted. It’s a very Logan move.

She and Matsson stand scheming before the funeral begins, and he confronts her directly about it after she tells him she wants to be the ‘American CEO’ when GoJo acquires Waystar.

“Shiv Roy, huh? I’ve heard that she's [gestures to his stomach]. Is that true?”

“Yeah, well, she's one of those hard bitches, right?” Shiv volleys quickly. “She’s gonna do 36 hours of maternity leave, emailing through her vanity cesarean. Poor kid’ll never see her.”

It’s a non-issue, she assures this essential ally with boys-club hubris, as she stands there in a swelling body. It’s the kind of dark, slow-burn satire that Succession tends to nail — like Logan dying at the very moment he was planning to sell the world on “Living+.”

Jeremy Strong’s Kendall Roy and Snook’s Shiv agree to a funeral truce. HBO / Succession

We don’t know for sure, but it’s pretty easy to assume that her pregnancy was wanted — despite what Shiv would surely know about how it would be received by her peers. The Roy kids stumble, but they generally move with intention. If Shiv didn’t want this pregnancy, in other words, it would not be happening.

Shiv, as Logan’s only daughter, spent her entire life trying to transcend her biological liability. As the child with the most to prove, maybe she was, in some ways, the most Logan-like. As she stands to give an impromptu eulogy at his funeral, she speaks about being a woman in Logan’s world — these are words we know we would never have heard when he was alive.

“It was hard to be his daughter. I can’t not...he was hard on women. He couldn’t fit a whole woman in his head.”

Many of those of us who become pregnant struggle with the uncontrollable visibility of pregnancy. A hugely personal thing about us is on display, subject to judgment, and there is nothing we can do about it. Whether we downplay it or we lean into it or try to (as Shiv has) ignore it, every person who has ever been pregnant — who watches Shiv try so hard not to be defined by the thing that is happening to her body — feels for her in her losing battle.

In the world that her father built — a world she has fought to perpetuate — no amount of money can protect her from the fact that pregnancy and the motherhood that follows will, to the men around her, define her as less. Less capable, less available, less focused, less fierce. This awareness drives her at every turn. Clawing harder than ever now that the news is out, Shiv tries to get ahead of the narrative that she knows is coming. She grabs a flute of Champagne with Tom at the wake, taking two sips in rapid succession with her eyes locked on his.

He smirks. “It's fine—”

“I know it's fine,” she snaps back. They proceed to have an almost-tender moment. Tom apologizes for being cold about the pregnancy when she revealed it to him in the previous episode, and tells Shiv how exhausted he is. She sends him home to their apartment to rest, instead of the hotel he’s been staying in.

Tom and Shiv just can’t quit.HBO / Succesion

He looks genuinely relieved, and the moment contains as much intimacy and vulnerability as we ever see on this show. This is a mutual caretaking, something foreign to the Roy children. If it is a capability inside Shiv, it’s an impulse — an animal nature, bodily in a way that Logan would read as weak. But, then again, Logan is dead.

Without Logan, the approval the Roy kids have vied for will never come. They’re going through the same motions, but the sun’s warmth — as she called his favor in her eulogy — is gone. There is nothing to fight against or strive for. Nothing.

Shiv is sad, and Shiv is free. Or she could be. Despite her efforts to prove that she only barely cares that she’s pregnant, here she is, showing real care. Being a little bit nice to Tom, and letting him be a little bit nice to her. It points towards a saner world where a person could rest if they were tired, and Shiv could want a baby.

All of this is probably too sane and too human for this show, though. In the world of Succession — a barely-funhouse mirror for our own — humanity is weakness, care is weakness and the people who keep their eyes locked on this assumption (ahem, Darth Greg) tend to win.

Without her father, and with a baby on the way, Shiv stares at the question of succession from a new angle — her own position, and what it will mean for her child one day. Is the baby just another reason to fight harder to win? Or will she break the cycle she’s a product of?

It doesn’t seem likely. Near the end of the episode, Shiv stands with Tom at the wake and her mother comes to check on her in an uncharacteristic, nearly-kind way.

Snook’s Shiv schemes with Skarsgård’s Matsson and Justin Kirk’s “President elect” Jeryd Mencken at the wake. HBO / Succession

“You alright? It's hard,” she says.

“Oh, I'm not going to see it. I’m just going to do the family way…I mean, they don't grow up emotionally stunted, do they?”

“I shouldn't think so,” her mom mumbles, and walks away. Tom reaches out to Shiv, and they have a moment that’s almost tender and intimate. He goes home to rest, and Shiv gets a call from Mattson saying their plan to make her CEO is a go. Her eyes go from on the cusp of tears to eager, ravenous.

Maybe Shiv and Tom really do go off into the sunset with their little baby. But probably not. Logan is dead, and Shiv’s still in the game.

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