Let’s Play Bitey

Photo: Claudette Barius/HBO

For a little while there, Daddy Logan was the Roy getting the most action. Kerry was using the potential toppling of the American democratic process as a seduction tactic. Marcia was (allegedly) indulging in nightly phone sex with the Waystar Royco head honcho. Roman’s dick-pic pipeline to Gerri was cut off; Kendall’s relationship with Naomi Pierce cooled; let’s not imagine Connor and Willa’s undoubtedly dutiful lovemaking. That means Succession’s mantle of physical carnality fell to Shiv, and in “Living+,” her thick and chewy earlobes team up with Tom’s spelunker body to give us a romp so resentful and so romantic that their marriage is worth rooting for again.

This wasn’t always the case, what with the infidelity, failed open marriage, and Shiv’s version of foreplay, which included telling Tom, “You’re not good enough for me.” Tom’s betrayal of Shiv to Logan in “All the Bells Say” was the lowest blow, causing a weeks-long estrangement — but also finally inspiring in Shiv some respect for her husband. You always hurt the ones you love, and all of Tom and Shiv’s interactions in season four have personified the range of emotion implied in that adage.

Their pained reunion in the season premiere, in which Shiv rejects Tom’s attempts at an honest conversation but holds his hand; Tom repeatedly asking for Shiv when he calls Roman and Kendall with news of Logan’s medical emergency in “Connor’s Wedding”; their hairpulling flirtation in Norway with reciprocal cruelty as its own kind of sensual caress — all of these were little steps of return. Tom and Shiv can’t stop getting in each other’s business because they want to get in each other’s business. It’s hot! Good for them!

That “Kill List” face-off was the most direct Tom and Shiv have ever been about their attraction (read “thick” as “thicc” and “spelunker” as a “guy who goes diving down there” and you’ll get the subtext) and the first time Tom really stands up to Shiv, and whew, is his smug self-confidence tinglingly arousing! That steely glare Matthew Macfadyen levels at Sarah Snook is a challenge and a promise, and it’s the perfect lead-up to the weird shit the couple gets into during “Living+.” The bitey game as a precursor to hate sex during the investor reception! Tom’s Daisy Buchanan–like admission that he threw Shiv under the bus for money! Snook’s husky voice when she says to Tom, “I’d follow you anywhere,” and then the laugh they share at the absurdity of such a statement! This is Tennessee Williams–style stuff, all withholding and lust and competition and titillation. This is Shiv and Tom realizing they’re both outsiders, castoffs, and never-will-bes and also realizing no one will ever understand either of them as well as the other. Of course, their relationship is transactional, but which dynamic in Succession isn’t? On some level, they loathe each other; on another, they’ll never let the other go. They’re twisting our hearts right up, and damn, does it feel good.

This article originally appeared in Succession Clubour subscriber-exclusive newsletter obsessing over all the minutaie of the final season. Existing subscribers can visit this page to sign up. If you’re not a subscriber yet, get started here.

Let’s Play Bitey