As the election looms, the Roys and their circle try to celebrate. Naturally, it does not go as planned.
It’s the eve of a high-stakes presidential election. If the reporting about a firebombing at a campaign office in Phoenix is accurate, it could be a potentially catastrophic day. The United States is on the brink of violent mayhem, and the people running the show are eating beef sliders with American flags sticking out of them.
“Tailgate Party” starts in the morning in the Wambsgans residence, the new home for Waystar’s annual election party. Democracy may be at the tipping point, but at least Shiv (Sarah Snook) and Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) are having and enjoying lots of sex. It might be a band-aid over the deep cracks in their relationship that bubbles over later, but good for them. “Father Sexmas” serves Shiv breakfast, along with some fresh polling that shows her preferred presidential candidate, Daniel Jimenez, is four points in the lead over ATN’s pick, the autocratic Jeryd Mencken.
The morning is going great until Tom hands Shiv a beautifully wrapped gift. It’s what every woman wants, a dead scorpion trapped in glass. Sarah Snook has a fantastic reaction as Tom explains that it’s funny because it symbolizes they’re both capable of killing each other. Shiv doesn’t get it. By the end of the episode, she will.
Later in the day, all the Roy siblings get together at a fancy restaurant to discuss their dad’s funeral plans. Connor (Alan Ruck) is technically still running for president (he’s almost up to 6% in Alaska!), but he’s also busy making the funeral arrangements since none of the other siblings seem capable of even saying the word “funeral”. He asks if anyone wants to do the eulogy for their father but doesn’t get any takers.
Kendall (Jeremy Strong) and Roman (Kieran Culkin) quickly change the subject by talking about their latest scheme to get Matsson (Alexander Skarsgård) out of the Waystar deal- regulatory oversight, baby! They want to scare Matsson by threatening congressional and DOJ oversight of the merger. They get Shiv to invite her old flame and now big-shot political insider, Nate (Ashley Zukerman), to the party to talk about it. Shiv does so while also immediately calling Matsson with a warning.
Later that evening, guests start to arrive at Shiv and Tom’s place, including Nate. Tom is obviously displeased by this and forces Nate to drink from his awful red wine stash (it “smells like wet dog,” according to Frank). It’s a brilliant double callback both to their wedding night in the season one finale, where Tom bullied Nate into putting his parents’ wine back in the bottle, and a nod to Tom’s disgusting personal red wine collection from last season.
Roman gets a call from Mencken’s team telling him they’re worried Con-heads may play spoiler for Jeryd’s presidential bid by sucking up some of his voters. They’re offering Connor a sweet ambassadorship to Somalia if he drops out, but Connor declines, dismissing it as “a little car bomb-y.” He counters with an ambassadorship to the UN or even North Korea so he can “open it up like Nixon did China.” Ultimately, he decides to stick it out with just a few hours before the polls open.
While Roman tries to make moves, Matsson and company crash the party during a moment of silence for Logan. He’s brought along his communications officer (and ex-lover he regularly sends liters of his own blood) Ebba, along with Oskar. Shiv tries to get Matsson to play nice with the elite partygoers to smooth over the Waystar acquisition, but for all his bottomless wealth, the eccentric tech bro doesn’t have the best people skills.
Mattson calls out Tom for kissing ass before asking whether he or Shiv gets the apartment in the divorce. He all but promises to fire Tom once he takes over. Shiv stands by, not defending Tom despite their supposed reconnection.
The antics continue with Mattson harassing and bullying Ebba, who clearly doesn’t want to be there before he threatens to fire her, and recruits Greg (or as Mattson calls him, “Garry”) to serve as terminator since he’s become the master of awkwardly firing people.
Ebba leaves in a fury and winds up spilling some big financial news to Kendall and Roman. Much like the insane numbers Ken came up with for the Living+ launch, GoJo’s India numbers are quite inflated.
The Roys share this with their sister, who immediately confronts Matsson in the coat room. He confirms that the stats are indeed “a little bit bullshit.” Shiv is left with a request to build a second India to make the numbers work and no promise of any leadership role once Mattson’s taken over Waystar.
Siobahn Roy has an even bigger buzzsaw headed her way, but before we get to the fight, we must address Kendall. Succession seems to be molding him into Logan 2.0. His father’s corporate throne has been the football to his Charlie Brown the whole series. And while Kendall might well fall on his back yet again, this feels different.
It’s the culmination of Snook and Macfadyen’s incredible work with each other—and of the marvelously thorny mix of genuine chemistry and searing hatred that they have built.
In the cold open between Kendall and Rava, he shouts, “I’m doing this for my kids!” (Where have we heard that before?). Later, when he asks Nate about applying government pressure on Matsson, Nate gently replies with, “I’m not Gill, and you’re not Logan. That’s a good thing.” It really sums up the thesis of the show. We’re not our parents, but are we doomed to become them, or do we chart our own course? Based on Jeremy Strong’s painful expression when he hears this, it feels like he knows this but can’t bring himself to stop.
Instead, he confronts Matsson in front of the whole party with a pissing contest about whose made-up numbers are better. The tiff plants a seed, a very Logan idea for Kendall—just buy GoJo like he originally wanted. He tells Frank about his “Reverse Viking” strategy in the coat room (it’s a coat room rich with incidents) and asks him how Roman and Shiv feel about this. He replies, “I love them but not in love with them. One head, one crown.” Already, he’s echoing the lonely, sad bastard Logan was at the end of his life.
Meanwhile, Tom is sick of hearing people at his own party openly talk about how he’s going to be fired soon. When he meets with Shiv on the balcony, she confides her worry that Matsson might be a psychopath. Tom counters by why she hasn’t defended him from his potential sacking. Her reply? It was a “tactical joke.”
The scorpions go at it.
All the anger and resentments that have been boiling under the surface throughout the series explode. Tom charges that Shiv never cared about him—even when he was about to go to jail. Shiv defends herself with a hilarious, “You offered to go to jail!” and counter-charges that Tom married her for the money.
Tom goes for the jugular. As he sees it, Shiv is not a good person and would make a terrible mother. Shiv, still secretly pregnant, crumbles at this. She gets the last words, “You don’t deserve me, and you never did.” but they’ve successfully annihilated each other.
It’s a remarkable five-minute scene. Two characters with nothing left to hide (Only Shiv’s pregnancy remains secret) are finally completely open and vulnerable with each other. It’s the culmination of Snook and Macfadyen’s incredible work with each other—and of the marvelously thorny mix of genuine chemistry and searing hatred that they have built.
The episode ends with the apartment going dark, empty after the party. Tom and Siv sit in separate bedrooms contemplating what they’ve done and what comes next. There’s an election to cover. And with a sleepless Tom at the head of a major propaganda network and democracy on the line, what could go wrong?
Boars on the Floor:
- “You’re my #1 (Rava)”: Natalie Gold has done tremendous work over this series as Kendall’s distant but very patient ex-wife. She’s one of the only normal, down-to-Earth characters in the show, so it’s refreshing when she shows up, and we get an outside-the-bubble view of these crazed, wealthy weirdos. She’s great here in the cold open—speaking with Kendall outside a coffee shop and telling him his daughter is too scared to go to school after seeing a racist ATN shirt. When Kendall has the audacity to ask her where her mother was in all this, she responds with a biting, “Where was I?! I was raising our kid while you were running a racist news organization!”
Rava also bears a striking resemblance to MacKenzie Scott, the charitable ex-wife of a real-life billionaire, but I have no evidence Rava is based on her.
- I don’t see any trace of Mondale in Shiv and Tom’s apartment. Where is Mondale?!
- “Oman? Poor man’s Saudi Arabia or rich man’s Yemen?”- Connor, soon to be US Ambassador?
- I love that Connor is still best buds with his liberal intellectual rival, Maxim Pierce (Mark Linn-Baker), who shows up at the election party. When is their podcast dropping?
- Oskar blowing smoke in Greg’s face without any warning is fantastic.
- Greg earns Matsson’s respect with his firing skills, sorta:
Greg: “You gotta do what you gotta do.”
Matsson: “Do you, though?”
- Gerri shows up at the party, and Roman tries to take back his firing. Gerri isn’t having any of it. She threatens blackmail with all those dick pics of his and leaves him with a melancholy, “I could have gotten you there…”. I hope these two can make up somehow.
- “Cool cool family,”- Matsson after watching Roman berate Connor and call Willa his “wife” in quotes.
- Almost forgot to mention that Roman claims the eulogy gig at the very end of the episode. Is this setting up an emotional and/or awkward scene in the series finale?
- Tom leaving his own party is an inspiration for all introverts who like having people over but need them to leave by 10 pm sharp. “Sorry, but get the fuck out of my house now! I’m serious. Go to your beds. Go home and cry!”
- This episode was directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, who also directed the classic episodes “Safe Room” from season 2 (my all-time fave Succession episode) and “Lion in the Meadow” from season 3 (the one where Adrien Brody wore oh so many layers), as well as the 2003 film, American Splendor, which isn’t a Succession episode but still a classic!
- This episode was also written by Will Tracy, who co-wrote one of the best films of 2022, The Menu.
- Support the WGA as they fight for fair pay! No AI will ever be advanced enough to write a line as brilliant as “Your numbers are gay.”