Season 4, Episode 7: ‘Tailgate Party’
This “Succession” season’s premiere episode ended with Tom and Shiv lying together in bed, bitterly angry but still holding hands. In the weeks since, the couple has been flirting more openly (and bizarrely), trying to figure out if perhaps they are each broken in just the right way that their jagged pieces can fit back together.
Their weird romantic renaissance peaks with this week’s episode, which sees them sexting each other incessantly — and sees Tom confusingly gifting Shiv with a glass-encased scorpion, in an apparent reference to “the scorpion and the frog” parable. (Tom, sheepishly explaining: “I love you but you kill me and I kill you?”)
The couple means to cement their comeback by co-hosting an election eve “tailgate party” in their swanky triplex apartment, with a guest list drawn from a who’s-who of media, political and business bigwigs. They inherited this shindig from Logan, who regularly used it as a way to make nice with his ideological enemies, allowing them all to meet as friends for at least one night and pretend they don’t despise each other. It’s like a cocktail party version of Tom and Shiv’s marriage.
As always with “Succession,” the Roys arrive at this party with discrete agendas. Shiv intends to continue in her secret role as the Matsson-whisperer. Unbeknown to Kendall and Roman, their father had already invited Matsson to the party; but the Swede declined, because legacy media backslapping and chest-puffing bores him. It’s only after Shiv warns him that the Roy boys are making moves that Matsson mobilizes. His strutting GoJo band barges into the triplex right when Kendall is leading a moment of silence for Logan.
Shiv pretends to be appalled by the rudeness, but after Kendall insists he wants to avoid any direct confrontation with Matsson —“There’s too much peanut butter between us,” he says — she takes the assignment to stay by Matsson’s side, introducing him to the power-brokers while also subtly promoting GoJo’s plans for Waystar and ATN. She makes sure everyone knows she will be involved in whatever comes next — or as she demands of Matsson, have “a very, very, very significant role.”
Roman, meanwhile, is still kicking himself after skipping the Living+ presentation that made Kendall the new Waystar star, so he makes his own big move. The polling is showing a tight presidential race, with the Republican candidate Jeryd Mencken falling just short in a few key states. If Roman can talk Connor into dropping out and backing Mencken, that might be enough to make a difference, which would mean that the new president of the United States would owe Roman Roy all the favors.
On the whole this is a very heavy episode, but nearly everything to do with Roman wooing Connor is hilarious. After his older brother laughs off the idea that he would concede for “the good of the republic,” Roman becomes the go-between for ambassadorial offers. Somalia? “Little bit car bomb-y.” Work up to a big European post through Slovenia or Slovakia? “It’s a no on the Slos.”
Eventually they settle on Oman (“rich man’s Yemen!”), but Willa is concerned when she looks the country up and reads, “The sultan’s word has the force of the law.” She is also not swayed by the prospect of helping Mencken, telling her husband, “All my family and friends hate Mencken.” (Connor just smiles big and says,“Diplomatic plates!”)
The subplot takes a sour turn when Willa persuades Connor to reject Oman and stay in the race, which angers Roman so intensely that he refers to Willa as Connor’s “wife” (in quotation marks) and calls his brother “a joke.” This happens immediately after Roman has a crushing encounter with Gerri, who lets him know of her plan to extract “eye-watering sums” from Waystar thanks to his entitled arrogance, sloppiness and sexual harassment.
She then adds, as the hardest slap in her former protégé’s face, “I could’ve got you there.” It’s no wonder Roman is fuming when he confronts Connor — though that does not excuse how mean he is.
Kendall also makes some missteps while coasting on his Living+ triumph. He invites Shiv’s ex-lover and top Democratic operative Nate Sofrelli (Ashley Zukerman) to the party, to see if the Dems might consider squashing the GoJo deal from a regulatory standpoint. In return, Kendall promises that ATN will give the potential new administration “a better ride on the first 100 days.”
All this favor-trading makes Nate uncomfortable, as does Kendall’s insistence that old acquaintances should not have to worry about ethics and legal formalities. (“You’re not Logan,” Nate warns him. “And that’s a good thing.”)
Kendall rebounds though when he gets some useful intel about Matsson. GoJo’s long-suffering head of communications, Ebba (Eili Harboe), lets slip that the company’s metrics are erroneously doubling their subscriber numbers in India. (“New money,” Kendall later says to Shiv, shaking his head. “You gotta hold those bills up to the light.”)
Kendall comes to Frank and suggests a new tactic: “Reverse Viking.” Acquire GoJo and make Waystar bigger than anything Logan ever achieved. And if Roman and Shiv object? Kendall shrugs. “I love ‘em but not in love with ‘em, y’know” he says. “One head, one crown.”
The whole premise of Logan’s tailgate parties are that the attendees are all, to some extent, putting on an act. Loony lefty? Neo-fascist? These are just performative personas. At this party everyone can take off those masks and put on another. But while it’s all well and good — sort of — to play those kinds of games in public, emotionally healthy people do not keep playing them in private. The Roys, damaged by their manipulative and withholding father, repeatedly fail to grasp this. That is how Kendall and Shiv can pretend to have each other’s backs while secretly planning to stab each other.
Which brings us back to poor Tom, who realizes as the night rolls on that Shiv will not protect him from the people who want to change ATN. Even while standing right next to Tom, she calls him “Mr. Mild” and “a one-pepper menu item.” While circulating with Matsson, she never balks at any suggestion that her husband has no future with the company. Those rumblings eventually reach Tom, who is already exhausted from being bombarded with questions from the party’s more liberal guests about whether ATN is fostering a climate of political violence.
It all ends in tears. In last week’s episode, Shiv and Tom enjoyed a moment of truth-telling they each found refreshing — and even a little kinky. This week though, in a private moment on their balcony, they lob honesty-bombs at each other until they do real damage.
In a nightmarish scene, they keep saying the worst things they can imagine about one another. Shiv calls Tom a “hick.” He tells her she is “maybe not a good person to have children.” She blames him for separating her from her father in his final months. He counters, “It’s not my fault that you didn’t get his approval.” The argument is brutal, and may mark a turning point for this show as it pivots toward the finale.
Because unlike the tentative togetherness that ended the Season 4 premiere, this episode ends with Tom and Shiv in separate rooms, in deep pain. That’s a strong visual metaphor for where the “Succession” story stands right now. The tailgate party has broken up. Everyone has moved back to their respective sidelines. Welcome to rivalry week.
Lest you feel too much sympathy for Tom, remember that in this episode he makes goofy faces while Greg is firing dozens of ATN employees simultaneously via a group video call. Later at the party, Greg tries to impress the GoJo crew with his willingness to be heartless. (“You gotta do what you gotta do, right?” he says to Matsson, who replies, “Do you, though?”)
Greg is “Team KenRo,” even though Kendall — like Tom — mainly expects him to perform morally objectionable tasks, such as finding some drugs that might make Matsson do something embarrassing. Greg agrees to try his best, despite warning Kendall that Matsson “has expressed a distaste in the past for my particular flavor of me.”
The cases of terrible “biodynamic” German wine that Tom was stuck with last season return at the tailgate party, where he tries to fob it off on the guests. (Tom, pressuring Nate into drinking it: “It’s the kind of wine that separates the connoisseurs from the weekend Malbec morons.”)
So when will Logan’s funeral be? The series finale, maybe? The past few episodes have been preparing us for a real humdinger of a ceremony, which is currently either going to be Marcia’s “three-day grief-a-thon” or Connor’s “tight 90.” One thing we do know: Roman will be delivering the eulogy, in what could be his last chance to convince the nation’s tastemakers that he is, contrary to his father’s opinion, a serious person.
Connor, on spending time with Logan’s corpse: “The weird thing is how much he’s not there. I find that consoling.”