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One Head, One Crown: Breaking Down Episode 7 of ‘Succession’

On the eve of the U.S. presidential election, the most important order of business is Kendall and Roman finding a new way to screw over Lukas Matsson

Getty Images/HBO/Ringer illustration

Television’s most miserable wealthy family is back for one final season of scheming, and The Ringer will be following their tragicomic power struggle every step of the way. Each week, we’ll break down the biggest developments, track who’s leading the literal line of succession, and catalog each episode’s most savage burns, best Cousin Greg–isms, and more. Let’s continue with the seventh episode, “Tailgate Party.”

Succession’s Line of Succession, Week 7

With all the time that Succession’s final season has spent on GoJo trying to acquire Waystar—a deal that’s been delayed thanks to everything from Logan’s death to his failsons doing everything in their power to stop it—it’s easy to forget that a presidential election is imminent. In case viewers were confused about where we are in the show’s timeline, “Tailgate Party” takes place on election eve, as Shiv and Tom host the party in question at their swanky New York apartment. But even as American voters are about to select a new leader of the free world, the most important order of business for Kendall and Roman is finding a new angle to screw Lukas Matsson out of buying their father’s company.

With Waystar’s stock apparently plateauing following the shockingly successful launch of Living+, Kendall and Roman believe their next best bet is to get the regulatory agencies—the Department of Justice, Federal Communications Commission, etc.—to throw sand in the gears. (One IRL example: It took 15 months for Disney to officially purchase the majority of 21st Century Fox’s assets.) Thankfully, some of the most influential figures in media and politics are coming to the tailgate—exactly the kind of people the co-CEOs need to upend the deal. (One such person is Shiv’s old flame Nate, who is an important voice in tech and trade space for the Democrats.) But the fatal flaw in Kendall and Roman’s plan is that they relay everything to Shiv, completely unaware that she’s colluding with Matsson. Shiv, in turn, tells Matsson that he’s got to show up and schmooze the partygoers her brothers are targeting. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Matsson and his Scandinavian entourage arrive at the party right after Kendall asks for a moment of silence in Logan’s memory:

Once again, Shiv has got the upper hand on Kendall and Roman—not only is she feeding information to Matsson, but politics is her area of expertise. But just because she’s assisting the GoJo founder doesn’t necessarily mean she’s helping herself in the long run. After pulling Matsson aside in the middle of the party, Shiv says that she wants something in return for her loyalty: a place in the new Waystar regime. “I know the company, I know everything, I know my way around, I’m collaborative, I have the name,” Shiv explains. “I’m hot shit and I’m ready to go.” That’s all well and good, but the fact that it’s taken her this long to ask for something tangible is incredibly shortsighted. Matsson doesn’t promise Shiv anything in the moment—he says he’ll need to circle back—which gives the impression that he’s just using her animosity toward Kendall and Roman as leverage.

Alas, we may never know if Matsson was actually planning to reward Shiv for her efforts. Matsson’s entourage at the party includes Ebba, GoJo’s head of communications and, more importantly, the person who’s been on the receiving end of his [clears throat] blood samples. (I don’t have any HR experience, but I’m pretty sure it’s a bad idea to send subordinates your bodily fluids.) After Matsson repeatedly belittles poor Ebba in earshot of Kendall, he and Roman approach her “on a human level,” which is Roy-speak for attempting to get some dirt on her boss. What the co-CEOs discover is better than they could’ve ever imagined: Ebba confesses that Matsson is a conman.

GoJo has been inflating its subscriber numbers in India, to the extent that “if there were two Indias, it would make sense,” as Matsson later admits to an irate Shiv. (Given that India has a population of over 1.4 billion people, that’s a ton of phony subscribers.) This is precisely the ammunition Kendall and Roman need to put a stop to GoJo buying Waystar. Shiv, meanwhile, has to contend with hitching her wagon to the wrong person, and what could happen if her brothers find out that she’s been working against them the entire time.

At the end of the party, Kendall tells Frank about Matsson’s deception and his own plans for how Waystar should proceed. In a move that would get the Logan stamp of approval, Kendall proposes that they go back to the original parameters of the deal from the third season: Waystar buying GoJo, rather than the other way around. (If the news of the fake subscriber numbers leaked, Waystar could acquire GoJo at a cut-rate price, while still being able to utilize its impressive streaming tech.) More importantly, Kendall doesn’t want Roman or Shiv to be part of the company’s future. “I love ‘em, but not in love with them, you know?” he says to Frank. “One head, one crown.” We’ll have to wait until next week to see if Frank is buying what Kendall is selling, but for now it sure looks like the Number One Boy is back in pole position to seize the Waystar throne.

Takeaway of the Week: The Ballad of Shiv and Tom

We haven’t spent too much time during our recaps this season delving into the evolving dynamic between Shiv and Tom, which took a fascinating turn by the start of “Tailgate Party.” After looking destined to head into a messy divorce—Shiv was not very forgiving of Tom going behind her back at the end of Season 3 to curry favor with Logan—the couple have rekindled the spark in their relationship over the last few episodes. The two have been trading insults as a form of affection, playing “bitey”—a bizarre kind of foreplay where the two literally bite one another until someone taps out from the pain—and are sleeping together once again. It’s twisted, sure, but in the world of Succession, love and hate feel interchangeable. (See also: every interaction among the Roy family.) In fact, one could argue Shiv and Tom’s chemistry has never crackled as much as when they’ve been at each other’s throats this season.

Sadly, the good times between Shiv and Tom didn’t last long. The first warning sign came in the opening scene of “Tailgate Party,” when Tom gives Shiv a glass-encased scorpion as a present—a vicious predator meant to represent her. “It’s just silly, honey, it’s like, you know, ‘I love you, but you kill me, and I kill you,’” Tom says. (A word of advice to all the people in relationships out there: Don’t compare your significant other to an arachnid.) Later, when Matsson implies during the party that he’s going to enact some major changes at ATN, including letting Tom go, Shiv is totally unbothered. Much like when Tom offered to go to prison on Logan’s behalf in Season 3, Shiv’s apathy over her husband’s future cuts deeper than any insult she could hurl at him.

The tension all comes to a head at the end of the evening, when Shiv and Tom finally air out their grievances on the balcony of their apartment. “At this party here, there are maybe 40 of the most important people in America and you have just walked all around, all evening, telling them all that I’m gonna get fired,” Tom says. (No lies detected.) As for Shiv, she blames Tom’s betrayal as the reason she didn’t spend more time with Logan at the end of his life. That’s all well and good, but Shiv neglects to mention that she was planning to backstab her father—all Tom did was give Logan a heads-up. (Side note: It’s also quite telling that, while the Roy siblings continue fighting amongst themselves over control of Waystar, none of them jumped at the opportunity to speak at their father’s funeral—which will undoubtedly be the focal point of an upcoming episode.)

But for all the baggage that Shiv brought to their relationship, Tom isn’t exactly faultless. He confessed last week that proximity to money is part of the appeal of their marriage, and he’s repeatedly shrugged off warning signs, including Shiv asking for an open relationship on their wedding night. (It’s also hard to have too much sympathy for Tom possibly losing his job when he carelessly signs off on ATN layoffs and makes Greg deliver the bad news.) Much has been written about the cyclical nature of Succession’s corporate power struggle, but Shiv and Tom’s relationship is caught in a similar holding pattern. If insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting the same results, then the characters have nobody to blame but themselves.

For Shiv and Tom, “Tailgate Party” seems like the closest they’ve gotten to the point of no return. But if there’s anything that can pull the couple back from certain divorce, perhaps Shiv’s pregnancy—something she’s kept hidden from the rest of the show’s ensemble—will give Tom a change of heart. Then again, Tom already made his feelings clear about Shiv’s potential as a mother during their fight on the balcony: “I think you are incapable of love, and I think you are maybe not a good person to have children.” (Ouch.) Connor and Willa might be the most authentic couple on Succession—they both accept why they’re together, good and bad, and have made the most of their situation. But Shiv and Tom’s marriage best reflects one of the series’ bleaker tones: a toxic cocktail of love, hatred, and codependency.

The Most Callous Display of Wealth

Unsurprisingly, the big centerpiece of “Tailgate Party” is the episode’s titular event, which brings together powerful figures in the world of politics and media ahead of the election. It’s the calm before the storm but with an open bar and American-themed hors d’oeuvres. I have to hand it to Shiv and Tom: Their marriage might be in shambles, but they sure know how to host a party. The menu includes mini cheeseburgers with American flag toothpicks, french fries that will surely be called “Freedom Fries,” and bottles of champagne that probably cost as much as my annual salary:

Then there are all the guests. It’s hard to get a good read on the attendees, most of whom remain unnamed, but it’s clear that the Roys have enough clout that the party could very well be the most powerful gathering of people on election eve outside of the White House. Really, the only drawback is some of the wine that Tom is peddling to the guests. “So this German one, with this label, let’s push this, OK?” he tells one of the servers. “Say it’s a light, fruity red—don’t say it’s biodynamic, and don’t say it’s German, just say it’s a light, fruity red. And yes, a little bit of fizz is normal, it’s sophisticated.” As for the quality of said wine, Frank tells Kendall that it “smells like wet dog.”

Above all, the tailgate party underlines how, when it comes to influential figures across the political spectrum, these people don’t mind rubbing shoulders with the so-called opposition. They’re part of the same tax bracket, after all. (If it sounds like I’m being too cynical, look no further than Tucker Carlson and Don Lemon reportedly texting one another after getting fired by Fox and CNN, respectively.) But the worst part of the tailgate is what’s missing from it: Mondale. We haven’t seen much of Shiv and Tom’s very good dog on the series, which is an indictment of the couple as pet owners, and he’s completely absent from the party despite living in the apartment. I sure hope poor Mondale was being taken care of—and for his sake, it’d be better if he just found a new family once their divorce is finalized.

The Most Brutal Insults of the Week

5. After finding out that Matsson’s been inflating GoJo’s subscriptions in India: “But you, man, your numbers, exploding, right? Like, literally unbelievable.” —Kendall

4. When Tom starts kissing up to him at the party before Shiv interrupts: “I’m about to take a shit in your husband’s mouth and I’m pretty sure he’s gonna tell me it tastes like coq au vin.” —Matsson

3. On the attendees of the tailgate party: “C’mon, they’re not all crypto-fascists and right-wing nutjobs, we also have some venture capital Dems and centrist ghouls. Dad’s ideological range was wide.” —Kendall

2. When Connor refuses to accept Jeryd Mencken’s offer of an ambassadorial appointment in Oman to drop out of the race: “Con, man, eat the fucking carrot, OK? Everyone in this room thinks you’re a fucking joke. So tell your [air quotes] wife to shut the fuck up, cover her shoulders, and pack a fucking bag for Oman.” —Roman

1. When Shiv says she didn’t want to hurt his feelings by rejecting his marriage proposal: “Oh thanks, thanks for that. Yeah, you really kept me safe while you ran off to fuck the phonebook.” —Tom

The Cousin Greg Corner

We got some more clarity this week on Cousin Greg’s actual job responsibilities at Waystar, and it’s not pretty. Basically, he’s the go-to guy for laying off employees, and we see Greg in action informing some ATN reporters and correspondents across the globe that they’re being let go as he reads half-heartedly from a pre-written script. Greg’s apathetic demeanor while destroying people’s livelihoods, juxtaposed with the anger and confusion among the workers, encapsulates the character’s steady moral devolution on the series:

Greg was never a good guy, per se, but he was so removed from the wealth and power of his extended family that he began Succession as the closest thing the show had to an audience surrogate. (Let’s not forget, he technically started off living in a youth hostel.) As a result, Nicholas Braun’s twitchy performance was Succession’s most reliable form of comic relief: a comparatively harmless individual surrounded by malignant presences. Naturally, the closer that Greg gets to power, the more his soul has corroded. That Greg can still pass off as an innocent-seeming guy—especially when he’s awkwardly stumbling over his words—makes him a particularly valuable asset for laying people off at the company. As Greg tells Matsson at the party: “HR says I’m the right guy for the job, ’cause it looks like I care but I don’t.”

My half-assed theory is that the Succession brain trust have responded to the fandom’s love of Greg by doubling down on his deplorable behavior this season. Either that or the series is setting Greg up for bigger things to come. In the midst of all the Roy family infighting, Greg has quietly ingratiated himself to everyone—he’s still Tom’s closest confidant, but at the same time cozies up to Matsson during the party at Kendall’s request. If Greg keeps playing both sides, and the other characters continue undermining each other, perhaps he’ll end Succession by doing more than just firing employees: He could run the whole damn company. I’m just saying: Maybe Greg’s name was on Logan’s fabled piece of paper for a reason.