Welcome to Original Characters, an ongoing series of Industrial Scripts articles examining the most original characters to appear in both TV and film. This article will focus on Shiv Roy from Succession.
Table of Contents
What is an Original Character?
It’s a character that sticks with you even when they’re long gone from your screens. It’s a character that serves as a reference point in casual conversation or a character that sums up a behavior or generation.
“Not the same as anything or anyone else and therefore special and interesting…”
— The Cambridge English Dictionary
Most importantly, in screenplay terms, an original character is a character that shines through in spite of any other weaknesses within that screenplay.
For a Screenplay Reader or Development Executive an original character is an element of a script that shines through everything else. No matter how busy they are or no matter how much work other elements of the script need, the original characters stand out.
Great characters are at the very heart of great screenwriting and original characters can help elevate great to superlative.
Whether plucked from real life, an amalgamation of real people in real life or just simply a genius stroke of creativity, these are original characters…
The fifteenth in our original characters series will look at Siobhan “Shiv” Roy from Succession.
*The following article contains spoilers for Succession*
Who is Shiv Roy?
Siobhan “Shiv” Roy is the youngest child and only daughter of Logan Roy, founder and CEO of media conglomerate Waystar Royco. Initially, she strives to stand out amongst her family and takes no interest in working for the family business. When we first meet her, Shiv works as an advisor to Democratic senator Gil Eavis.
Shiv claims to be empathetic with liberal values. And in this way, she stands out from the rest of her family, who are outwardly conservative. However, already towards the end of the first series, she proves to somewhat betray these values. She evolves in series 2 when Logan tells her that he will make her his heir to Waystar Royco. From then on she loses interest in standing out from her family and instead becomes hungry for power.
- Shiv has arguably changed more than any other character by series 3, seemingly becoming the most desperate for the CEO role.
- Kendall, for example, has the opposite arc, going from wanting the CEO role to wanting to have nothing to do with it.
- But Shiv becomes intoxicated with the quest for power. And her actions result in straining relationships with her siblings and husband.
She has signs of potential redemption. For example, she opposes her family’s selection of extremist Jeryd Mencken as a presidential candidate, still holding onto something of her liberal values. However, Shiv’s consistency is that she constantly battles loyalty to her family and loyalty to herself and her independence. It’s a battle that makes for fascinating drama.
What Makes Shiv Roy an Original Character?
Shiv’s intrigue does not strictly come from her likeability. The show allows her to be cold, selfish and self-motivated.
Shiv is initially a strong female character with seemingly liberal values in a male-dominated field. She works with Gil Eavis, a senator reminiscent of Bernie Sanders who is out to punish destructive figures like Logan Roy. This sets Shiv up as something of an inspiring figure to the audience.
She’s someone who is going against the grain and seemingly fighting for moral values. She’s a fish out of water – something that inherently makes the audience root for her. Moreover, she’s carving out her own path, resisting the pressures her family name entails and even trying to rail against it.
“Five years’ time, I’d like to be free of this company and the Roy name.”Shiv Roy
To begin with, Shiv has different ambitions from the other main characters, who want the same thing. However, ultimately rather than inspiring other characters she becomes more like them and is drawn into the ambition of becoming CEO. She does this whilst trying to hold onto her individuality, something that proves difficult.
Watch how in the above scene she goes from saying she wants to be rid of the Roy name to saying “yes” to the CEO job in a matter of minutes. Shiv is seduced by the allure of power and the allure of her father’s admiration.
And it’s this change in her that makes her an original character. Shiv represents the endlessly fascinating battle between family loyalty, power and values. What does Shiv truly hold dear? Is it her family, power, or her values? Do any of these things matter and is she just self-motivated? These are the questions at the heart of Shiv’s story.
Furthermore, the way she fights with the potential answers challenges the audience’s loyalty to her as a character. The series lures us into liking her, amidst a sea of sharks, only to then challenge our empathy.
When Shiv is initially offered the role of CEO by Logan, we think the good guys have won. It’s only as the series and Shiv’s character develops do we realise this isn’t really the case. It’s more that the one apparent ‘good guy’ has indeed become bad.
Shiv’s Relationship with Logan
At first, the tension between the father and daughter is made worse due to Shiv’s reluctance to work with Waystar. The bad blood between them even nearly results in Logan not showing up at Shiv’s wedding.
Logan dislikes the fact Shiv works with Gil, an anti-capitalist who wants to take him down. He sees Shiv as an antagonist. And Shiv herself sees her father as a necessary evil. She doesn’t want to be alienated from him but she also doesn’t want to be caught up in his web.
Shiv’s relationship with Logan changes though. And this highlights her change in character throughout the series. Shiv’s facade is ultimately exposed when Logan promises to make her the next CEO. This gets at Shiv’s desire for power. And it’s perhaps representative of everyone’s desire for power. When faced with such a tempting dangle of power, how difficult is it to resist?
Logan’s actions lead to Shiv’s unlikeable self coming to light. The layers start to come away on her initial likeability. Gradually, we start to see all the ways that she is corrupted by her family; from her ruthless attitude towards business to her cold behaviour towards her husband, Tom.
At the heart of this change is Logan. Shiv, like all the Roy children, craves her father’s respect and admiration. She might deny it initially but when his admiration becomes tangible to her, she seemingly can’t help but pursue it.
Shiv clashes with her siblings in different but equally fascinating ways.
- Connor Roy – her eldest brother. She patronises him, as most of the other siblings do too. She clearly sees herself as more intelligent than him (which she unequivocally is) and often uses him as a way to make herself feel better about her own power and position.
- Kendall Roy – She sees him as her main competition for top dog within the family. They respect each other’s intelligence, seeing themselves as the smartest in the family. They strive to prove themselves as the bigger individualist, pushing them each to work harder.
- Roman Roy – Roman is the one with whom she clashes most viscerally but also seemingly bonds the most. They’re often aligned, whilst still sniping with each other. They have the most sibling-like relationship of all the siblings, making fun of each other, speaking in silly voices and acting petty towards each other.
The Gilded Cage
Growing up in a very rich family may have influenced the way the siblings are as people and how they communicate with each other. Constantly being surrounded by staff may have caused a struggle for them to see the humanity in people. And having every material want fulfilled warps their goals and desires.
A poor perception of people may explain why they have such poor relationships with one another. There is a purely cynical, transactional nature to all their relationships. This ultimately comes from their father’s relationship with them though, rather than their circumstances.
Logan seeds the competition within them. They compete for his admiration and they compete for the power he can bestow on them. Whenever it seems they might be ready to wrestle power from him, he has a way of beating them.
And Shiv plays a crucial role to the audience witnessing Logan’s tactics. She’s constantly trying to assert her own independence and intelligence. But this crumbles in the face of the games her father plays with her.
The scene where Logan offers her the CEO role is the perfect example of this.
- In one conversation, Shiv goes from confidently asserting her detachment from the company and family to desperately getting her father to not sell the company.
- It’s Logan who does this to her, letting her confidently brag before dangling the carrot in front of her. As with all his children, he knows what buttons to push.
- And despite Shiv seeming to be the one least likely to fall for it, gradually her confident facade falls and it becomes clear just how vulnerable she is to her father’s wishes, as everyone else is.
This makes her compete with her siblings. However, it’s not just her siblings she turns on but her husband as well.
Shiv and Tom
Shiv’s marriage to Tom is one of the most important elements of her character. It’s especially important in the unravelling of her as a likeable character. Tom is crucial as a pivot for the audience to focus around. Our shifting loyalties swirl around him as Shiv becomes the unlikeable one in their relationship and he becomes increasingly likeable.
Tom highlights Shiv’s ruthless self-pursuit in no uncertain terms. She never seems to truly value or respect him. And she always sees herself as being able to manipulate him. This morphs over the seasons from a casual disregard to something more sinister and manipulative.
A sexual encounter in season 3 between the two of them where Shiv teases Tom by saying “I don’t love you” and “you’re not good enough for me” is the clearest expression of how Shiv really feels about Tom. She passes it off as “dirty talk”. However, both we and Tom know Shiv is lying.
Shiv’s ability to lie and pass everything off as a joke comes starkly into view when it comes to Tom. We come to understand the intimacy (or lack of it) of their relationship. And this consequently highlights Shiv’s manipulation and Tom’s tragedy. Tom might genuinely love Shiv. But Shiv can only be in their relationship knowing she has power over him.
This is a key tenet of the series overall. The Roy family will screw over whoever it takes to maintain a grip on power, whatever that means to them. They’re in constant competition with those around them. And this is abundantly clear when it comes to Tom and Shiv. As soon as it looks like Tom might have got one up on Shiv, that’s when she no longer finds the relationship tenable. Power, therefore, is essential – more essential than love.
Fashion Sense and Image
Shiv’s evolving characterisation through the series is acutely represented by her style, which changes as the series develops.
When she becomes as corrupted as Logan, her evolution is reflected in the change in her fashion style.
- In season 1, Shiv has long and wavy hair and looser clothes. She wears warm tones with a softness to them.
- By season 2 Shiv sports an angular bob haircut and sharper clothes.
- Then by season 3, she’s fully embedded in powerful workwear, sporting tailored suits in cooler, muted colours.
Shiv’s changing style is a neat way to show her changing ambitions. When in season 1 she is trying to be an individual, her clothes reflect that. She doesn’t exactly dress how you might expect a billionaire to. And that’s the point. But the more she embraces her apparent destiny as part of the Roy clan, the more she conforms to type. She dresses to convey power, authority, and cool detachment.
It’s a reminder that visual elements can be vital in building a character arc. As a screenwriter, you’re not going to be making the final say when it comes to costumes, hair and makeup. However, by subtly seeding how an inward character change can reflect externally, you can lay the groundwork for others to run with.
In a series filled with incredible characters (see our piece on Kendall Roy), Shiv stands out. She’s probably the character that most audiences would side with, particularly in the first season. However, gradually she’s corrupted. It becomes harder and harder for the audience to unequivocally like her.
It never, though, becomes black and white in this regard. She always veers from being a character with self-serving, cold motivations to one that seems to at least be on the better side of the argument. We still somehow want Shiv to win, amidst all her unlikeable qualities. In a male-dominated world, she stands out. And we perhaps can’t shake that likeable character from season 1; the only one who seemed like they might have an ounce of morality.
Shiv challenges the audience to both like and dislike her. In this, she reflects the show’s themes perfectly. In a toxic environment, can anyone come out on the good side? Can Shiv reform the system from the inside? Or is she just as corrupted and self-serving as her father? Are there any ‘good guys’ here?
These are the compelling questions at the core of Shiv Roy’s characterisation and the elements that make her such an endlessly watchable, original character.
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This article was written by Jamie McIvor and edited by IS Staff.
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