wambsgans watch

What’s Tom’s Deal in This Week’s Succession?

Photo: Macall B. Polay/HBO

“Wambsgans Watch” is our weekly assessment of the state of Tom Wambsgans’ relationships in each of the remaining episodes of Succession. Spoilers follow for episode one of season four, “The Munsters.”

The last time we saw Tom Wambsgans, he was tending to Shiv after her father effectively destroyed any influence she, Roman, and Kendall might retain in the Roy family empire. In the final shot of that episode, Tom places his hands on Shiv’s clavicle, which can be interpreted in two ways: either he’s comforting his wife, or his grip is sliding ever closer to Shiv’s throat.

When Succession season four begins, Tom — played with even more confident slipperiness this season by the wonderful Matthew Macfadyen — is still straddling some very delicate lines in his life: with his (soon-to-be ex-) wife; his (soon-to-be ex-) father-in-law and current boss, Logan; and his fellow “disgusting brother” Greg. Let’s assess, on the “fuck or get fucked” spectrum of Tom’s various personal and business relationships, exactly how things are going for him.

Who is Tom Wambsgans fucking with?
Kind of everyone. Tom has a real skill for saying words that don’t actually express what he means, and it’s on full display this episode, starting with his phone call to Shiv. He rings her up to tell her he had a drink with Naomi Pierce, former girlfriend of Kendall and member of the family that owns a media company Logan once wanted to acquire. But he also says the drink didn’t mean anything.

“It’s social. It’s not a sexual thing. So there’s nothing I need to tell you about,” he explains. Uhhh, so why are you calling, Tom? Because he’s doing for Shiv what he did for Logan at the end of season three when he let him know three of his kids were about to ambush him: He’s letting his wife know that her dad plans to make another run at acquiring the Pierces’ media conglomerate. In an extremely weird way, this is Tom’s version of apologizing to Shiv. It’s apparent by the end of this episode, after Tom and Shiv basically agree to get a divorce because Shiv would rather give up on their marriage than actually work through the pain they’ve caused each other, that they’ve never really discussed Tom’s betrayal and never will. Tom is offering her a make-up tip-off and, in the process, fucking over Lord Fuck Off himself, Logan Roy.

Like everyone on Succession, Tom’s macro-objective is to hold on to as much money, power, and clout as he can. But his more immediate objective is to be just weasel-y enough to ensure no one cuts him out of the ATN/Waystar family, even if he’s technically no longer family. So he’s fucking over Logan by helping Shiv, and fucking over Shiv by continuing to be a close ally of Logan. At least he’s consistent in his hypocrisy.

Who is fucking with Tom Wambsgans?
Logan isn’t fucking over Tom yet, but it’s very clear that if kicking Tom to the nearest curb serves his interests, Logan will do it without a second thought.

“Whatever happens, we’ll always be good, right?” Tom asks Logan during his extremely tense and unfun birthday party. Logan’s response: “If we’re good, we’re good.” Translation: “I am not unconditionally loyal toward you and if you piss me off, you’re toast.”

“That’s heartening,” Tom says. “I am heartened by that.”

He is absolutely not heartened, nor should he be. The subtext of Logan’s comment is that Tom should tread lightly. Which means that, where Logan is concerned, Tom can’t relax, not even for a millisecond.

How fucked up are things between Tom Wambsgans and Cousin Greg?
The answer to this question is always: very! But Tom is extra-intent on distancing himself from Greg as this season begins. He cringes every time Greg tries to suggest they are frat bros in solidarity, a.k.a. the Disgusting Brothers. He’s also extra-mean about the basic influencer wannabe Greg brings to Logan’s party, telling him that everyone is “laughing up their sleeves” at him.

Why is he such a dick about all this? Because even though he seems to have his professional shit sort-of together on the surface, Tom knows that on the inside he’s still very much a Cousin Greg. If he and Shiv end their marriage, he becomes an official Roy family outsider, technically even more so than Greg. Tom’s judgment has, historically, only been a little better than Greg’s. In his heart, Tom knows he is absolutely a disgusting brother, and he loathes this about himself, so he channels all those negative feelings toward clueless sexual rummager Greg.

Further evidence that Tom and Greg are two sides of the same coin: shortly after Tom’s call to Shiv, Kendall announces that someone on his team forwarded him an Instagram post shared by “some girl” at Logan’s party — Greg’s date — in which a member of the Pierce family was tagged. If Tom hadn’t mentioned his drink with Naomi to Shiv, the Roy family Rebel Alliance would have found out about the plan to snag PGM indirectly from Greg.

At the end of this episode, how fucked is Tom Wambsgans?
Professionally, he seems fine. It’s tempting to say it’s tragic that his marriage to Shiv has ended with a long, ambivalent sigh. (“We gave it a go.”) But he doesn’t seem particularly broken up or worried about its implications, perhaps because he’s convinced himself that Logan’s “If we’re good, we’re good” really is heartening.

Tell yourself whatever you need to tell yourself to get a good night’s sleep, Tom. Then get ready to start another day of tap-dancing on eggshells.

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What’s Tom’s Deal in This Week’s Succession?