Succession’s ‘Tailgate Party’ Is a Tale of Two Toxic Marriages

8 minute read

’Twas the night before Election Day, and all through Tom and Shiv’s palatial Manhattan apartment, creatures from across the late Logan Roy’s constituency—crypto-fascist right-wing nutjobs, venture capitalist Dems, centrist ghouls, op-ed narcissists, beltway psychos—were creating quite a stir. Succession’s “Tailgate Party,” named for Waystar’s traditional pre-election bash (and presumably both a nod to the way the Roys treat politics as a sport and a joke at the expense of the plebes who actually do throw parties in parking lots), finds the family and their associates doing some dirty campaigning that is only partially related to the presidential race.

For all that the fate of American politics (see: Con in Oman) and two multibillion-dollar corporations hinges on these conversations, what’s really driving them is personal relationships—specifically, romantic and sexual ones. At the core of this episode, a talky one even by Succession standards, are a pair of bad marriages. In the literal sense, we have Tom and Shiv, who channel their mutual bad night into what might be their rawest blowout yet. Then there’s the figurative marriage of Waystar and GoJo, which turned toxic long before Matsson made his proposal. Now, it’s anyone’s guess as to whether the wedding will even happen.

Sarah Snook and Alexander Skarsgård in Succession season 4, episode 7 "Tailgate Party"David M. Russell—HBO

Waystar vs. GoJo

Still determined to wrest their dad’s legacy from the muscular arms of Lukas Matsson, Kendall and Roman come into the party with a new strategy: They want regulators to intervene. (Never mind that such a heavy-handed government check on the free market would have horrified their father.) To that end, they invite Shiv’s old flame Nate—a Democratic operative who would be assured a powerful role in a Jimenez administration—and inundate him with both information on the two companies’ overlap and assurances that ATN would go easy on Jimenez, who leads in the polls, during his first 100 days in office. This brazen attempt at quid pro quo horrifies Nate.

But Ken and Roman might not need him anyway. Yet another bad romance works out in their favor. Desperate to win the Swede’s favor, Greg—who has just cheerfully laid off 100 ATN employees at Tom’s behest—brags that he could easily fire Ebba, the GoJo exec who’s been receiving half-liters of the founder’s frozen blood, on Matsson’s behalf. (Side note: It didn’t make much sense to me that ATN would slash its staff literally hours before the election. Why not wait till after the biggest news event in four years?) This is the last straw for Ebba, who retreats to the terrace and bitterly airs GoJo’s biggest secret. “Matsson’s numbers are a little funky” in India, she tells the CEBros. Or, as Matsson himself puts it to Shiv when she confronts him about Ebba’s revelation, there’s “a little issue with subscriber numbers being bullsh-t.” Oh.

Clearly, Matsson has been working pretty hard behind the scenes to hide his funky numbers from not just the Waystar board, but also the haters on Reddit. It isn’t just a business problem; it could become a legal one. The solution he proposes to Shiv is this: “We close quickly and then sh-t will get crazy good. By next quarter the numbers will be real… probably.” So now we know that Matsson wasn’t just being nihilistically cruel in dragging the Roys and Co. out to Norway to finish negotiations so soon after Logan’s death. He was also trying to make them unwitting accomplices in a smoke-and-mirrors display to avoid accountability for juicing GoJo’s subscriber numbers in India. That’s why he wanted to get the deal done so quickly. Mystery solved.

From left: Ashley Zukerman, Sarah Snook, and Alexander Skarsgård in Succession season 4, episode 7 "Tailgate Party"David M. Russell—HBO

Shiv vs. Tom

Inevitably, all of the above drama spills over into Tom and Shiv’s fragile reconciliation. One of the most gloriously uncomfortable moments of the evening happens when Nate—with whom Shiv cheated right before her wedding, back in season 1—is locking horns with her new crush, Matsson. There’s a ravenous expression on Shiv’s face (bless Sarah Snook for this performance) as she watches them together. Tom sees it, too, and he’s never looked more defeated.

From that early scene on, it’s obvious that the Roy-Wambgans household will not be going to bed happy tonight. Tom may be a bootlicker and even, as Shiv later alleges, a masochist, but all of her and Matsson’s lurid jokes about crushing him are making him worry over the career he loves so much. When she interrupts Tom scrambling to curry favor with his new Swedish overlord, Matsson informs her: “I’m about to take a sh-t in your husband’s mouth, and I’m pretty sure he’s gonna tell me it tastes like coq au vin.” While there has been ample BDSM threesome humor since Shiv and Matsson started flirting in the Norway episode, this is the first time we’ve seen Tom fumbling for a safe word. It doesn’t help that everyone he talks to seems to have heard a rumor that he’ll be moving on from Waystar once the GoJo deal is closed.

Because, as he rightly points out during their climactic argument, she doesn’t really care about him, Shiv is having a pretty great night while her husband suffers humiliation after humiliation. What finally brings her down is the news that Matsson—her secret ally—may not be the Viking genius she believes him to be. “Maybe he isn’t real,” she frets to Tom. “There is a time bomb in his numbers, and I might get blown up.” Real is a key word in Roy World, one that can apply to news narratives likely to make an impact and business opportunities that seem destined to pan out. When used to describe a human being, it carries a meaning akin to Logan’s category of “serious people.” The Roy kids are always trying to find something real so they can be someone real. But for children who live in a world of their father’s making, reality has proven elusive.

Matthew Macfadyen, left, and Ashley Zukerman in Succession season 4, episode 7 "Tailgate Party"David M. Russell—HBO

(It bears mentioning here that Waystar is losing its only remaining executive who actually is real, in the sense of having sharp business instincts and the company’s best interests at heart: Gerri. Chalk that up to another, er, parasexual relationship that was always deeply wrong but has now gone full-on toxic. “The firing-you thing—that wasn’t real,” Roman protests to Gerri at the party. But she’s done, and she’s looking to secure “eye-watering sums, hundreds of millions” in return for not destroying the company. Her final words to him are perfect: “I could’ve got you there.”)

What Shiv doesn’t realize just yet is that she’s pushed Tom past the point of caring about her billionaire-heiress problems. He’s ready to confront her about telling “maybe 40 of the most important people in America” that he’s getting fired. Shiv shrugs it off as a “tactical joke,” but Tom knows better. From there, the couple descends into a venomous relitigation of their entire relationship. Tom’s case against Shiv: an embodiment of the glass-encased scorpion he bestowed on her earlier that day, she’s selfish and “incapable of love” and should never have agreed to marry him and, by the way, would probably make an awful mother. (We’ve yet to see her tell him or anyone else that she’s pregnant.) Shiv calls him a “conservative hick” who proposed to her “at my lowest f-cking ebb,” while Logan was in the hospital, then, by betraying her in his own quest for power, “took away the last six months I could’ve had with my dad.” Ironically, this is the most real conversation they’ve ever had. They’re both absolutely correct.

The question now is what tomorrow will look like for Tom. It’s going to be a long day for him in the election-coverage trenches at ATN, and he’s already mad enough to kick some of the biggest VIPs in the business out of his apartment (or try to) before stomping off to get some sleep. What we know about Tom is that he lashes out when he feels unappreciated. If he was capable of screwing over Shiv to win Logan’s favor, then surely he has it in him to do something even worse to her after what she’s put him through with Matsson. Unfortunately for Shiv, she also just confided in Tom that GoJo is fudging its India numbers. The next time we see him, presumably, will be on Election Day at the popular cable news operation he at least nominally runs. He has the inside info, he has the ideal platform to disseminate it, and he has a whole heap of reasons to want the GoJo deal to collapse. I, for one, can’t wait to see his next move.

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