In “Wambsgans Watch,” we weigh in on the state of Tom Wambsgans’s relationships in each of the remaining episodes of Succession. Spoilers follow for episode five of season four, “Kill List.”
Remember how deft Tom seemed at lying and worming his way around ATN at the beginning of the season? Even though that was mere days ago in Succession time, the wheels are already coming off the Wambsgans in this week’s episode.
Before boarding the plane to Norway for the GoJo company retreat, Tom tells Greg he’s not concerned about currying favor with GoJo leadership once the merger with Waystar is finalized. “With the ATN carve-out, I’m not worried about Matsson so much as being whacked by the cast of Bugsy Malone over there,” Tom tells Greg, alluding to Shiv, Kendall, and Roman by referencing the 1976 child-mobster movie starring Jodie Foster and Scott Baio.
But there’s no longer an ATN carve-out at the end of the episode, as Lukas Matsson winds up buying the entire company. It’s clear Tom is actually quite worried about impressing Matsson and everyone who works for him, so much so that he is possibly more awkward in the presence of his future colleagues than Greg “Don’t Bet Against the Baguette” Hirsch. By the end of the episode, it seems like Tom’s only potential savior is Shiv, which may not be great for him since he aggressively flicked her earlobe in the middle of a company retreat. On the other hand, Tom is not on the kill list, and it seems apparent that Shiv is responsible for that.
Who is Tom Wambsgans fucking with this week?
Tom doesn’t have the solid footing or clout to legitimately fuck with anyone at the moment. That said, he seems very willing to offer up some blood sacrifices to boost his standing, as evidenced by his offer to guide Oskar, one of Matsson’s closest confidantes, through “the mighty oaks of Waystar.” Not sure that Oskar will take him up on that or that he takes Tom seriously at all considering that he initially refers to him as “Tom of Siobhan,” a comment that made me briefly long for a Succession–Handmaid’s Tale crossover episode in which Tom is officially renamed Of Siobhan and has to live under Shiv’s eye.
Actually, to be honest, that might be where Succession is heading this season.
Who is fucking with Tom Wambsgans?
It’s tempting to say that Matsson is fucking with Tom given the somewhat chilly reception he offers when Tom decides to “perch” at Matsson’s table. But Matsson isn’t really messing with Tom so much as he seems befuddled by him. Tom isn’t even on Matsson’s radar, which is worse than being perceived as someone with whom it would be worthwhile to play mind games. Tom knows he “needs profile” and seems positively thirsty for it. In fact, he is parched for profile, so desperate that his way of trying to establish a connection with Matsson is to cough up some nonsense about how they both laughed together at someone’s cargo shorts once. Matsson doesn’t even have to fuck with Tom; Tom is loading his own gun and shooting himself in both feet.
But the person who’s really fucking with Tom in “Kill List” — though not entirely fucking him over — is Shiv. She seems to know he overheard the conversation she had with her brothers about axing him, and she likes knowing she has the upper hand. She also seems to get off on lording her connection with Matsson over him. “He’s broad,” she says to Tom about Lukas, whom she also notes is “conventionally attractive.” “I used to think you were broad, but compared to him, you’re wiry. You look like a fucking spelunker.”
I didn’t know the word spelunker could be used as an insult, but Shiv is really in her bag in this episode, and that includes becoming an innovator in the art of dunking on her husband. This process also involves her kicking gravel on Tom’s pristine white sneakers while saying dismissively, “People are coming down from molly, and their pupils, they’re dilated. And your shoes are like looking at the sun.” Another uniquely sick burn! Tom’s response to all this is less sophisticated but equally weird: He flicks Shiv’s left ear and says her earlobes “are thick and chewy. They’re like barnacle meat.” It’s gross but also a little hot?
As strange as it may sound, this exchange is the most solid indication we’ve gotten this season that Shiv and Tom will stay together, a theory bolstered by Shiv asking Tom to have dinner with her once they get back to New York. What bolsters it even more, though, is how it relates to another twisted, sexually charged interaction they had last season in “Chiantishire” on another occasion when they were outside the U.S., in Tuscany on the eve of Shiv’s mother’s wedding.
In that installment, just before they start having sex, Shiv tells Tom she’s out of his league and that’s why he wants her even though she doesn’t love him, comments she later describes as foreplay. (For real: Degrading Tom might actually qualify as foreplay for Shiv.) But before she says any of that, she outlines a plan for taking control of ATN: She’s going to fight for a leadership role, then “get rid of Cyd, remake ATN, destroy it, raze it to the ground,” but without firing Tom. In this week’s episode, Shiv tasks him with firing Cyd. (It’s also worth noting that, at the beginning of that season-three interaction, Shiv suggests to Tom they try to have a baby. It seems like everything she laid out in that episode is coming to fruition.)
Earlier in the episode, she expressed concern about ATN being in cahoots with fascist Republican candidate Jeryd Mencken and later establishes a bond with Matsson, a valuable thing to have since he seems poised to completely freeze out Kendall and Roman going forward. Matsson, who prides himself on being a disruptor, says he doesn’t see a future in a news organization that caters to old, angry conservatives, which suggests he would be amenable to any changes Shiv wanted to make. Shiv also has a really valuable weapon in her back pocket: her knowledge of Matsson’s habit of sending blood (!) to Ebba, a direct report who seems to have made it clear she absolutely does not want to receive frozen blood bricks from her boss. This is a much freakier version of Roman sending repeated unsolicited dick pics to Gerri — information, I should add, that Shiv could totally use against Roman if she needs to — and I have to salute the writers of this episode, Jon Brown and Ted Cohen, for assigning that detail to an actual former HBO vampire.
If the rest of the final season involves Shiv turning Succession’s Fox News equivalent into a liberal-leaning organization while she metaphorically forces Matsson and Tom to play Boar on the Floor, I am very fine with that. The bottom line as far as Tom is concerned is that he’ll still be in the ATN fold as long as Shiv has a place there. And at least for now, Matsson seems inclined to provide her with one.
How fucked up are things between Tom and Greg?
I’m sensing a potential tipping of the scales in this relationship. When Tom calls Greg over to Matsson’s table so he can make fun of him, thereby making Tom look and feel superior, Matsson suddenly becomes interested in Greg. When he finds out he’s part of the Roy family, he’s especially intrigued, though he definitely seems to perceive Greg as a clown.
Kendall also tasks Greg with taking a call from a journalist so he can leak information about how the merger talks are breaking down, which suggests that, assuming Kendall and Roman wind up in an adversarial relationship with Shiv, Greg will stand on their side while Tom remains on Team Shiv. In short, Tom’s days of using Greg as a “pawn sacrifice” may be numbered.
So, at the end of this episode, how fucked is Tom?
On one hand, he isn’t fucked at all. He still has his job. Shiv seems inclined to keep him in the fold, and she has Matsson in her corner, which all bodes well for Tom’s job security.
On the other hand, though, he’s kind of fucked if Shiv is keeping him around only because she gets off on humiliating him. At the very least, though, he’s not quite “fair and squarely fucked” to the extent Karl projected he would be. Tom Wambsgans lives to perch for at least another day.
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