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'Succession' season 4, episode 7, 'Tailgate Party'

Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) and Shiv (Sarah Snook) have it out this week.
David M. Russell
/
HBO
Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) and Shiv (Sarah Snook) have it out this week.

On the eve of the presidential election, Tom and Shiv host what was supposed to be Logan's party, but little goes as planned. Roman and Kendall identify a potential weakness that could crush Matsson's dreams of acquiring Waystar, Connor and Willa ponder an intriguing opportunity to leverage his tiny political following, and Shiv and Tom find that their reunion in L.A. didn't solve as much as they thought.

There are a bunch of stories going on in this episode in which various characters are trying to accomplish various things, and then there's one emotional blockbuster, so let's do the other stuff first and we'll get to that balcony scene — and it's not the romantic kind.

Roman (Kieran Culkin) and Kendall (Jeremy Strong): just a couple of bros going regulatory.
David M. Russell / HBO
/
HBO
Roman (Kieran Culkin) and Kendall (Jeremy Strong): just a couple of bros going regulatory.

Let's go regulatory

Kendall and Roman have realized that the stock bump from Living+ that they hoped would make Waystar too expensive for Matsson to acquire isn't going to be enough. Therefore, they've moved on to a plan to "go regulatory," by which they mean "accomplish our business goals by pretending briefly to be interested in the ways this deal might affect the regular human beings the government is bound to protect." But going regulatory takes allies in politics. This is how they come up with the idea of inviting the very connected Nate to the party.

When Shiv gets wind of this plan, she warns Matsson that he'd better show his face and schmooze. So he shows up, and Shiv pretends to be as surprised as her brothers. Kendall and Roman (goof-ups to the end) actually pawn Matsson off on her, tasking her with babysitting him and making sure he doesn't mess up their plans — not realizing he's only there to help her mess up their plans.

But at the party, Nate largely rebuffs Kendall's efforts to put a bug in his ear about Matsson. And when Kendall suggests he could manipulate ATN's news coverage in return for Nate's interference in the deal, Nate pulls the plug on the conversation, probably less because he's appalled at the suggestion and more because he's realizing Kendall is flailing, and would make a dangerous and unpredictable ally. "I don't know what you think this is," Nate says fairly gently. "I'm not Gil, and you're not Logan. It's a good thing."

Connor (Alan Ruck) takes care of Willa (Justine Lupe), sort of.
David M. Russell / HBO
/
HBO
Connor (Alan Ruck) takes care of Willa (Justine Lupe), sort of.

Let's become ambassador to Oman

Roman learns that Connor's 4- or 5-point share in the states where he's doing best might help sway the presidential election against Roman's hand-picked aspiring fascist, Jared Mencken. Thus, Roman is dispatched by Mencken's team to lobby Connor to drop out only hours before polls will open. (Wet Blanket Alert: Given early voting, the effect of a very-last-minute statement dropping out would be blunted in many states.)

Connor is disinclined to drop out "for the good of the republic," laughing out loud at the very idea in a way both bleak and believable. A negotiation follows in which Roman is authorized to offer Connor a series of possible ambassadorships, beginning with a spot in Mogadishu, which Connor dismisses as "kinda car-bomby." My favorite moment comes when Maxim Pierce, Connor's right hand played so nicely by Mark Linn-Baker, suggests South Korea and Connor counters with North Korea.

Eventually, Connor settles on Oman and presents it to Willa, who isn't sure life in a sultanate would be for her. Eventually, Connor refuses the trade. He will not drop out. Roman's anger swells. He insults Connor by telling him everyone in the room thinks he's a joke, but he also goes after Willa, putting finger-quotes around the word "wife" when referring to her. Connor is a doofus, but it's hard to argue with him: "There's one person here who doesn't think I'm a joke, so that's who I'm going to listen to."

Gerri (J. Smith-Cameron, r.) has had it up to here with Roman (Kieran Culkin).
David M. Russell / NPR
/
NPR
Gerri (J. Smith-Cameron, r.) has had it up to here with Roman (Kieran Culkin).

Let's not send any more unseemly photographs or blocks of frozen blood

Roman also fails miserably when he tries to make nice with Gerri at the party. He initially assumes he can just sort of roll back having fired her, but at the party, his hopes evaporate. She is out, she is going to leave with a tremendous amount of money, and unless she gets exactly what she wants, she will release all the naughty pictures of Roman's Waystar and Roycos that he was creepy enough to send to her. Gerri intends to get paid.

Humbled by both Connor and Gerri, Roman nevertheless gets a victory when his slimy dirt-diggers find out about the frozen blood Matsson sent to Ebba. So Roman, himself a creeper who's been sexually harassing a woman by bombarding her with unwanted messages, finds some leverage over another creeper because he's been sexually harassing a woman by bombarding her with unwanted messages.

We learn, rather painfully, that Ebba is miserable working for Matsson, who treats her like garbage and bullies her alongside his loathsome right-hand man, Oskar. Seeing Kendall and Roman approach Ebba pretending to befriend her, pretending to sympathize with her, all because they want to get at Matsson and they see his abuse of her as a lever to pull? This, too, is predation. And it is through this maneuver that the co-CEOs of Waystar Royco get their first real break in killing the deal: Maybe nobody will care that Matsson is toxic and abusive, but they might care that he's counting all his subscribers in India twice, as Ebba explains and Matsson later confirms to Shiv, who now wonders why she got mixed up with this dope.

A newly confident Kendall and a newly shaky Matsson get into an absurd argument about the merits of New York and of their various companies, which leads to Matsson declaring Kendall's numbers in his presentation as "gay." And then they hug it out, and they still hate each other. In the aftermath, Kendall corners Frank among the coats and tells him he wants to flip the whole thing: Waystar buys GoJo. He's ready to cut out his siblings, too. "One head, one crown."

Shiv (Sarah Snook) is not helping her marriage by tussling over Waystar with Roman (Kieran Culkin) and Kendall (Jeremy Strong).
David M. Russell / HBO
/
HBO
Shiv (Sarah Snook) is not helping her marriage by tussling over Waystar with Roman (Kieran Culkin) and Kendall (Jeremy Strong).

Let's get that divorce after all

When we last saw Tom and Shiv, things were good. On party day, Tom even brings her breakfast. Unfortunately, her "party prezzie" of scorpion art goes over poorly, particularly since she's the scorpion. "I love you, but you kill me, and I kill you," he says, insisting that it's funny. Her face does not think it's funny.

That night at the party, with Shiv standing right there, Matsson acknowledges to Nate that he intends to fire Tom if the deal goes through. Shiv's response is not to defend her husband, but to take Matsson aside to tell him she wants to run Waystar if she helps the deal go through.

As the evening wears on, Tom grits his teeth through a series of insults. Kendall fails to recognize him even though he's one of the hosts of the party. Shiv mocks him and doesn't defend him. Finally, he's ready to go to bed early, before the guests even leave, and now Shiv decides he's important and can't go to bed yet.

This leads to an agonizing, 6.5-minute scene on the balcony of their triplex. It begins with Shiv admitting she's afraid she's picked the wrong horse in the fight between Matsson and her brothers — just like Tom picked the wrong horse by siding with Logan, not that they acknowledge this. But for Tom, Shiv is entirely focused on the possibility that she will wind up a loser in all this, and cares not about the likelihood that he will. "Should we have a real conversation?" he says. "With a scorpion?" she counters.

They get down to brass tacks. "You shouldn't have even married me," he says. She says she accepted his proposal so as not to hurt his feelings. He says she's awful; she calls his family "striving and parochial." He points out that she was ready to have him go to prison; she answers that he volunteered because he's that much of a suck-up. Oh, and he says. "You won't have my baby." As if that's not enough, a few lines later, he says, "I think you are incapable of love, and I think you are maybe not a good person to have children." Stung, she says that's "not very nice to say, is it?" Eventually, she gets to, "You don't deserve me, and you never did, and everything came out of that." Finally, he kicks everybody out of the apartment and goes to bed.

They really did seem closer last week, but perhaps it makes sense that the minute they went back to the world in which they have to navigate their actual lives, it collapsed. And who knows what's next? We haven't seen Shiv talk about her pregnancy for a while, not since the very brief scene at the very top of Episode 4. As far as we know, she's still pregnant as Tom attacks her for being unworthy of motherhood, and as far as we know, she's pregnant with his baby. If she was about to tell him, she probably isn't anymore.

One last thing

Succession has always been about a lot of toxic dynamics, but I'm not sure it's ever been so much a show about misogyny as it is right now. Roman is a spinning top of loathing directed at women — Gerri, Willa, Joy, even Shiv. Kendall is shouting at Rava, hurting his daughter, manipulating Ebba, not caring at all about the senior women at Waystar, and yes, also being perfectly willing to sideline Shiv. Matsson is a pig. Greg jumps into the bullying of Ebba with both feet. The siblings all talk about Marcia as if she, their father's wife, belongs nowhere near his funeral. Only Roman has even pretended to spare a thought for Kerry. It's ironic that Tom, one of the few men whose story involves fury directed at an individual woman, seems to be taking out less of his resentments on women generally than Kendall, Roman, Greg, or Matsson.

Three episodes to go.

Fun details:

  • When Tom brings Shiv breakfast as she looks at polling numbers, he playfully calls her "Rasmussen," after the rightward-leaning polling firm. 
  • An interesting Succession side story has been Rava's evolution from barely wanting to divorce Kendall to trying to co-parent peacefully with him to pitying him to being utterly tired of him. We don't see Natalie Gold that often, but every time we do, I always think her performance is spot-on and very interesting as a woman who married into this family and knows very well she'll never be completely out of it. 
  • The jokes about Mogadishu are a very tricky kind of line-walking. Are they at the expense of Mogadishu? Are they purely at the expense of Connor? There's a Veep-y quality to this section that is a good reminder that Succession creator Jesse Armstrong did, in fact, work with Armando Ianucci. 
  • It's not an accident that Connor laughs at "for the good of the republic" while wearing a flag pin at a party that serves little burgers with American flags in them. 
  • Gotta love Connor referring to the ideal funeral as a "tight 90."
  • Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Linda Holmes is a pop culture correspondent for NPR and the host of Pop Culture Happy Hour. She began her professional life as an attorney. In time, however, her affection for writing, popular culture, and the online universe eclipsed her legal ambitions. She shoved her law degree in the back of the closet, gave its living room space to DVD sets of The Wire, and never looked back.