In Sunday’s episode of Succession, aptly titled “Tailgate Party,” the Roy children inherit a longtime ritual from their old man: hosting a lively get-together in advance of a consequential big game. This tailgate isn’t about football, though, in either the NYC or Dundee definition of the word. No, this party, held on election eve, is all about the runs, late hits, and Hail Marys of the political world. There are rivalries, and surprises, and politics—and lots and lots of popcorn. “Let the games begin!” Kendall Roy says to all the movers and shakers and champagne-servers in the room.
As the night unfolds, everything unravels—the sign of one hell of a party. The hosts flirt, then bicker, then seethe, then have a fight for the ages. Well-laid plans for some off-the-books lobbying devolve into discomfort. One VIP guest leaves early, three corporate adversaries arrive unwanted. Ambassadorships are dangled and rejected. You know, the usual fare.
Succession is a show that loves to center big gatherings, with its characters mingling till dawn (and/or their doom) in places ranging from Tuscany to a reproduction of Kendall’s mother’s womb. Will Tracy, the writer-producer credited on “Tailgate Party,” previously wrote one of Succession’s best episodes of assemblage, “Tern Haven” in Season 2. And once again, he has created a night to be remembered, a new entry into a TV party canon that includes the long-dreaded dinner party in The Office, the revelatory wedding in Who’s the Boss?, and, like, every episode of Real Housewives.
But what’s the secret to throwing a banger of a bash, whether on TV or in life? As the late great irate Logan Roy might say: get fucked. No, I mean it! Below, I present one simple acronym—GET FUCKED—that is the secret to party success: Guest list; Eats; Theme; Flow; Unwelcome visitor(s); Cloakrooms; Knickknacks; Escapades; and Drama. That’s right, G.E.T. F.U.C.K.E.D.—because being a good party host doesn’t just mean setting out napkins, it means setting up conflict for all to enjoy.
In the wake of Logan’s death, this election cycle’s tailgate party has been moved from, ostensibly, Logan’s residence to the home of Tom Wambsgans and Siobhan Roy. But as the great Dave Matthews once crooned, it’s not where you are, but who you’re with that really matters. Before the start of the party, Shiv tells GoJo founder Lukas Matsson that, given the guest list, it would be worth his while to show up to advocate for the GoJo-Waystar merger they seek.
“There’s gonna be, what, 40 thought leaders, pols, officials who will actually decide this,” Shiv says, “and half of them are gonna be there.” The guest list is the thing, and this guest list was determined by a once-living Logan. “He loved you all,” Kendall tells the partygoers, who are a who’s-who of American politics and media—and also some dude named Len.
Food is an essential component of a party episode. In The Good Wife, a cake arrives to a wedding celebration mistakenly bearing the message “Rest in Peace.” One of Community’s most famous episodes—at least in meme format—is “Remedial Chaos Theory,” which is set at a housewarming party and involves a dice toss to determine which character has to pick up pizza. (Chaos and dancing unfolds.)
As for Succession, well, it is a show that loves to withhold food from its characters and major moments from its audience. A number of the series’ biggest events take place offscreen, such as Logan’s death, or—I can only imagine—Oskar-on-edibles tracking down a cater-waiter to give him an entire tray of those American flag sliders, please, and like nine packets of fries. The only question is which character is more likely to take a leak into the kettle corn: one of the Swedes (not you, Ebba) or an increasingly angry Roman? Why not both?
Some themes are whimsical if confusing, like the Wizard of Oz Leap Day birthday party turned cruise in Modern Family. Others pull at the heartstrings, like the time Leslie Knope knew that the best Ron Swanson birthday party was in fact a war-movie-themed dinner for one. The “tailgate party” theme in Succession did admittedly throw me off a bit—at one point, I was imagining like, tartan blankets and mimosas, Tom tossin’ the pigskin and Nan Pierce pulling up in a vintage Grand Wagoneer—but it makes sense: to the Roys, a presidential election is a game, but not one necessarily worth leaving the comforts of home for. Any calls you need will be coming from inside the house.
This is a workhorse of a category, encompassing two things: (A) the ease of circulation within the confines of a party, and (B) the cool tunes. Don Draper’s birthday party in Mad Men exemplified both, what with that conversation pit and Megan’s bizarre yet vibey rendition of “Zou Bisou Bisou.”
The Roys’ party, on the other hand, had room for improvement on both counts. Chez Shiv is certainly a lovely triplex, with multiple floors and sprawling balconies; but it’s also a fishbowl, with everyone being perceived as hell any time they stomp up the stairs or smoke on the deck. And as for the music—what’s with the music? Logan would have at least hired, and then probably belittled, a live piano player or something. Unserious party people.
Rule of thumb: A party ain’t a party unless someone crashes. Like Donna showing up and ruining Cam’s carefree dancing in Halt and Catch Fire. Or Tareq and Michaele Salahi, of Real Housewives infamy, sallying forth into the White House. (Legends only.) Note, however, that “unwelcome” does not necessarily have to mean “uninvited”—in fact, it’s funnier and better when it’s an invited guest rolling in and disrupting it all.
In “Tailgate Party,” there are a number of unwelcome guests. To Tom’s dismay, Nate Sofrelli—Shiv’s former paramour and colleague, who is now in a position of influence with the Democratic nominees—is one of them, showing up to Tom’s own home! (To be fair, Nate also suffers as he gets a toxic dose of Kendall in pure needs-something mode.) And then there are the GoJo Three, who bumble in during a moment of silence for Logan. One is sullen, one is scheming, and at least one is on drugs. They then proceed to lounge around and do more drugs; mock both the Roy family (“Fucking hanger-on,” Oskar says about Greg, using impeccable English. “You fucking dingleberry”) and one another (“Ebbaaaaaaa!”). And their presence leads to what is somehow only the second (or actually maybe third?) most heated exchange of the evening, and the most public one: between Matsson and Kendall, both getting aggro about souped-up numbers and maligning/defending the honor of New York.
“I thought these people would be very complicated, but it’s ... they’re not,” Matsson says to Shiv at her party. “It’s basically just, like, money and gossip.” Shiv agrees: “Yeah, no, that’s all it is,” she says. “Just money and gossip.”
Parties thrive on money and gossip, but money and gossip thrive on being exchanged in secret. Enter the cloakroom—a makeshift version of which Shiv and Matsson are standing in (and poor Mondale is lying in) when they have the first of two sub-rosa conversations. (You know it’s fancy when there are actual coatracks versus an avalanche of puffies cascading from bed to floor.)
It’s in the cloakroom where Shiv asks Matsson: What have you done for me lately? Where Matsson discloses the nonexistence of a second India. And where Kendall loops Frank in on his diabolical plot to pursue a “reverse Viking” and snap up GoJo. This is the room where it happens.
Being a host gives randos a chance to glance around and catalog who you are. In Freaks and Geeks, Lindsay preps for her forbidden kegger by decorating the walls with psychedelic posters. Stranger Things features a drink-and-you’ll-miss-it glimpse of a telephone abandoned in a blender. For time immemorial, it’s not truly a party until someone smashes someone else’s mom’s favorite vase. The little details of a party scene matter, and the lack of details does, too: in Breaking Bad, every person and piece of furniture at the “Gray Matter” party exist in some state of greige, which highlights how out of place Walt and Skyler feel. In Succession, the lack of identifying details anywhere in Tom and Shiv’s home underscores how they may live comfortably, but they don’t know comfort. (Perhaps the only exception were those mushroom lamp things out on the balcony; every time Roman reached out and palmed one I thought of Trump and the illuminated globe.) Let’s have a party at Connor’s home sweet home next time: You know that guy is balls-deep in various curios.
The literal “get fucked” part of the G.E.T. F.U.C.K.E.D. program. Often, a reliable element of a party episode includes some form of physical passion. This can take place in a backyard pool or in someone else’s room; it can take place between two exes or be designed to make an ex jealous, like Lindsay kissing Edgar during a housewarming party in You’re the Worst. It can mean everything or nothing at all. Succession knows this: At Tern Haven, Kendall and Naomi hook up before he poops the guest bed. At Logan’s final birthday party, Greg rummages toward fruition with a rando, also in a guest bed.
But Succession also knows when to withhold this. There is no such fumbling at the tailgate party, no sex in the sham-friends-real-pain room. In this episode, Succession saves its sex for the offscreen and the small screen, with Mr. Sexmas Wambsgans texting Shiv “I’m rock hard” before initiating a round of layoffs. And while Roman hopes that Gerri’s presence means forgiveness, it’s actually a show of defiance. Cornering her at the bar, he suggests—sarcastically, of course, but also definitely serious—that maybe they should return to their old horny arrangement. Unfortunately she isn’t interested in him anymore, just her own financial pile and reputational pride.
Last but not least, drama, the whole point of a party, and the place where this week’s Succession truly shined. “Tailgate Party” showcased all manner of conflicts, including but not limited to:
- Geopolitical intrigue: “No to the Slo-s,” said Connor, turning down an ambassadorship to Slovakia or Slovenia, though I’m kind of upset and fixated on how much I truly feel like he’d love the latter! There was also the matter of “two Indias,” which was disclosed (strategically??) by Ebba after she’d been taunted by her two colleagues, and, oh yeah, the whole upcoming presidential vote thing.
- Jerky in-laws: Roman tried and failed to boss Connor and Willa around, leading to as tender a moment as it gets on this show when Connor stood up for his wife and himself.
- Two Guys, One Shiv: On the one hand, Tom encouraged Nate to drink red wine that tastes like wet dog. On the other hand, Nate knows that, most likely, Tom is about to lose his “hands dirty, clean noggin” job. Bottoms up!
- Cloakroom conversations: See above; poor Mondale.
- Urban planning: Matsson is willing to make Nazi references on Twitter, but notice that he keeps his lava take that New York City is a “second-rate city” to in-person conversation ONLY. Even that impervious man would not be able to handle the heat if he unleashed that take on social media. What’s next, not respecting bodegas?
- Love and marriage: Tom and Shiv, wow: as effective an ad for soundproof doors and windows as I’ve seen this side of Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. This season of Succession has felt particularly theatrical, with a sense of claustrophobic constraint, and even when the duo takes their fight outside, they still are trapped high in the sky, in plain view of themselves, their guests, the city. (Sarah Snook mentioned in an HBO interview following the episode that they could hear their arguments echoing through the Manhattan canyons during filming.) Digs about parental fitness! Reminders about jail! Comparisons to scorpions and snakes! Tom and Shiv’s tailgate party was supposed to be in anticipation of the election, but the real knock-down, drag-out sporting event took place then and there, between its two hosts.
- Getting people the fuck out of my house, now: “Bedtime for Bonzo!” Tom announces upon reentering what is hopefully the worst party he’s ever hosted, one in which he failed to move all the biodynamic German wine that reminds him of his dissolving marriage and heard gossip only about his job being kaput. “Sorry,” Tom booms, less brightly this time, “but please get the fսck out of my house now.” Off to the cloakroom and into the world! Drink up, rock the vote, good night, and good luck. We’ll follow up about the next president once we’ve sorted out the winner of the kettle corn.