‘Succession’ Creator Reveals His Take on That Final Shiv/Tom Moment: ‘Terrifying Equality’

“It’s not really even human contact. It’s a sort of two pieces of porcelain or something,” Jesse Armstrong says

Matthew McFadyen, Sarah Snook in Succession "With Open Eyes"
Matthew McFadyen, Sarah Snook in Succession "With Open Eyes" (HBO)

Note: The following contains spoilers for the “Succession” series finale.

Of the many moments in the “Succession” series finale that have sparked conversation and debate ever since it aired, perhaps the most charged might be the final scene between Shiv (Sarah Snook) and Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) – and creator Jesse Armstrong is now offering up his interpretation of that dead-fish handhold.

Tom has been named CEO of Waystar Royco, now owned by Matsson’s (Alexander Skarsgard) Gojo, thanks to Shiv’s last-minute decision to change her vote at the board meeting and deny Kendall (Jeremy Strong) the chance to be CEO. In the moments following the vote, we see Tom ask Shiv to meet him in a car waiting downstairs and she hurriedly declines, yet later on we see her join him in the vehicle, the new King and Queen side-by-side. Tom coldly offers up his hand and Shiv puts hers on top of his, not as a show of affection but of… resignation? Acquiescence? Deference?

What precisely is going on there has been a matter of debate among fans, but Armstrong told NPR’s Fresh Air that he sees it as “terrifying equality.”

“Everyone has their own view, and I can tell you mine, which is that for me it was a moment of equality,” the creator and showrunner said. “Chilly, rather terrifying equality, but equality, which has never been the case in that relationship before. Tom has always been subservient. Now he has this status, but his status is contingent. That’s kind of what the whole episode has been about. Shiv’s status is as all the kids are – secure. It’s secure in a financial sense. She has billions of dollars. She has wealth that could never diminish, whatever happened to the world. And she also has a name, which will sort of haunt her and make it interesting, to a certain degree, for the rest of her life, and that can’t be taken away from her. Whereas Tom’s position could be taken away in the click of fingers.”

Armstrong further described the handhold as something that’s not even human.

“So for me, there’s a very terrifying equality in that, a remarkable dry hand on hand. It’s not really even human contact. It’s a sort of two pieces of porcelain or something,” he continued. “So that’s what it is for me. That isn’t what it would be for everyone. And certainly you could see the situation being a clever stratagem by which Shiv remains in play. Maybe that thought will occur to her tomorrow or the day after. But for me, the show’s ended at this point and the story is over and that’s where I think they end up.”

Shiv’s decision to change her vote puzzled many viewers but there’s a lot going on there. She’s carrying Tom’s baby, so even though she’s not CEO, her child may very well be someday. And she’s positioning herself as someone close to the person in power, something we saw her do throughout the series.

Someone who doesn’t have a take on that moment is Brian Cox, who still hasn’t watched the rest of the season following his character’s death.

“Somehow or other because of what happened to Logan, I’ve been disinclined to watch,” the actor told BBC News in an interview. “I knew how it was going to end because I knew that Logan had already set it up. And so I gather that ultimately, in the end, Logan’s won through even though he’s in the grave. But it’s a strange situation. I don’t cling on to things. When it’s over, it’s over and I go on.”

Godspeed, sir.