[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for Succession, Season 4 Episode 7, “Tailgate Party.”]
Succession’s continued creep towards the end featured all sorts of escalation in “Tailgate Party,” with as-yet undefined repercussions for the still-alive acquisition of Waystar Royco, now that Kendall and Matsson’s antipathy is now much more public, while other secrets — like Roman’s history of sending Gerri dick picks — seem ever closer to bubbling to the surface.
Beyond Roman claiming the “big energy” slot at his father’s funeral (an epic event still waiting in the wings) and Connor considering, then passing up, an opportunity at an ambassadorship in order to continue his campaing, the standout storyline is Shiv and Tom, Tom and Shiv, locked forever in a two-steps-forward, three-steps-back dance that may now finally be over, with the slinging of some hard truths.
Truths might actually be the wrong word to use — instead, the balcony fight between Shiv and Tom defined the difference between truth and honesty. Is Shiv “maybe not a good person to have children”? That remains to be seen; the point is, Tom believes it, the same way Shiv doesn’t hesitate to say that “you were only with me to get power.” It’s been the crux of their relationship for years, the inequality between them that a happier, more well-adjusted couple wouldn’t dwell on — but Succession has never been a show about happy or well-adjusted people.
The underlying edge of this particular blow-up is that Shiv’s already been feeling untethered due to a number of factors (did you hear that her dad just died?), but things hit a new level in “Tailgate Party” thanks to the knowledge that her attempted alliance with Matsson may blow up in her face, due to his own murky business practices. “I am fucking my family for this,” she says to Tom, and the knowledge of just how alone she might be in the not-too-distant future makes her all the more sensitive to his, ahem, loving gift of a scorpion paperweight.
There’s a funny truth to how you don’t really understand your own family until you see it through the perspective of your partner; the dysfunctions of the familial unit you grew up with feel invariably natural until exposed to a new perspective. Yet Shiv and Tom’s problem is that whatever outside outlook Tom might have been able to offer her on love wasn’t possible, because he was too desperate to join the Roy echelon; he bit too hard into the toxic apple himself.
Both Sarah Snook and Matthew Macfadyen tear into their climatic balcony scene with the raw power that comes from years of sublimated emotion; it’s a master class in emotional devastation, as expressed by two characters who don’t trust the basic existence of emotions. Yet what’s perhaps most fascinating about “Tailgate Party” is that as scorching and brutal as Shiv and Tom’s final argument is… it’s hard to believe that it’s actually the last throwdown between them. Especially given the fact that Shiv’s still pregnant (as far as we know), and Tom still doesn’t know, and the odds remain pretty good that it’s his child (again, as far as we know).
Even beyond that pending big reveal, this is a couple where “bitey” is an established part of their love language; it feels like this isn’t the first time we’ve said “oh, this is definitely it for Shiv and Tom, for sure,” and it also feels like this might not be the last. At a certain point, though, you bite hard enough, and you actually draw blood. And, sooner or later, you fully bleed out.
If we’ve been trained by Succession to expect anything at this point, it’s the unexpected. So while this might feel like the end of TV’s most troubled marriage (at least amongst this year’s Emmys contenders), there are still three episodes of the show left to go — and so much chaos which might follow as a result.
At least there’s good news for at least one person at the tailgate party: Willa doesn’t have to move to Oman. Well-played, Willa.
New episodes of Succession premiere Sundays on HBO and HBO Max.