wambsgans watch

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

Photo: David M. Russell

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 seven of season four, “Tailgate Party.”

In this week’s Succession, Tom and Shiv played a verbal game that was less playful and sexually charged than Bitey but definitely left marks.

It was quite a steep ride down from where Tom and Shiv started this episode — basking in a post-reconciliation-sex afterglow that involved elegant breakfast trays and sexting (“It was like the orgasm Olympics,” wrote Tom; “Sorry if I broke your dick,” replied Shiv) — to where they ended it: saying the worst possible things to each other’s faces. It was far more savage than watching them sink their teeth into each other’s forearms. In fact, their whole argument, performed with cutting urgency by Matthew Macfadyen and Sarah Snook, may have been one of the most savage things that’s ever happened on Succession. And this is a show that once made grown men fight over sausages on the floor.

Shiv and Tom could come back from this, theoretically. But something about Tom’s willingness to throw the entire conservative-media elite out of their apartment — a thing he would normally never do out of fear of offending a potential ally — makes me think he’s finally hit his limit with this marriage. It is completely understandable that he’s upset by the events that transpire at this tailgate party that has zero tailgate vibes whatsoever. Tom is tired, the kind of tired where you can’t stop talking about how tired you are, the kind of tired where you go, “I’m pre-tired. I’m tired from thinking about how tired I’m going to be.” I have been pre-tired many times. It is a real thing!

In this exhausted state, he’s forced to deal with a cavalcade of callbacks to people and objects that previously caused him insecurity in his marriage: Nate, the man with whom Shiv cheated; Matsson the Striking Viking, who shows up unexpectedly to this gathering of smuggalos; the shitty Germanic wine made at Tom’s and Shiv’s vineyard, which Tom tries desperately to pawn off on as many guests as possible. Is Tom’s desire to push the “light, fruity red” a practical choice just to get it out of the apartment, or is it symbolic of his interest in putting the past behind him and forging a less, um, acidic future with Shiv? Both?

But the undeniably worst part is the spreading of the narrative that Tom will be fired once the deal with GoJo is finalized, a bit of gossip Shiv refuses to squash. This eventually gets back to Tom — “Don’t mind me,” he says when Roman and Kendall ask to speak to Shiv privately, “I’m getting fired” — and it’s just too much indignity for this tall, very pre-tired man to take. He looks around that party for someone who doesn’t think he’s a clown. But unlike Connor, he can’t find anybody, including his own wife.

“Will you explain to me the joke?” he asks Shiv when she tries to suggest that going along with the firing talk is somehow a gag, an excuse similar to the one she offered in season three when she told Tom that saying she doesn’t love him is foreplay: “Just being horrible for fun.”

During their explosive argument, Shiv whips out every awful adjective to describe Tom, words she knows represent his worst fears about what other people think of him. She calls him “a hick,” “striving and parochial,” someone who betrayed her and stole the last six months she could have spent getting closer to her father.

But while Shiv throws punches, Tom fires gunshot after gunshot.

“You are incapable of thinking about anybody other than yourself because your sense of who you are is that fucking thin.” (True. Is this also true about Tom, as Shiv suggests? Yes, absolutely.)

“I think you can be a very selfish person and I think you find it very hard to think about me, and I think you shouldn’t have even married me, actually,” Tom says. Tom is right! Shiv made him feel insecure in the marriage from the minute it started by waiting to share her doubts about monogamy until their wedding night.

“You are incapable of love, and I think you are maybe not a good person to have children.” This one really hurts because it comes so close to echoing what Shiv’s mom said to her in Italy: “Some people just aren’t made to be mothers.” It’s also terrible because, at least as far as we know, Shiv is still pregnant, though of course Tom does not know that. But as knife-twisting as this zinger is, it’s true. Shiv cannot put another person’s needs before her own. No one in her family ever showed her how to do that.

Sometimes in a relationship, you can air all your grievances, then figure out how to work through them. Other times, the wounds from the words don’t heal. For Shiv and Tom, this might be one of those times. I am not sure Tom is going to want to keep playing along and standing by Shiv’s side as he tries to navigate the new ATN, and I doubt Shiv will want him there. It would not surprise me if Tom exercises some leverage by letting Kendall and Roman know that their sister has been serving as a mole for Matsson. Tom has tipped off a family member about Shiv’s secret maneuvers before. He could very well do it again.

So, who is Tom Wambsgans fucking with this week?
Well, for starters, he was clearly fucking with Waystar Royco employees by asking Greg to fire a bunch of them on Zoom while Tom pretended to wah-wah like a baby off-camera. How dare Succession do this just when it’s making Tom relatable!

But more importantly, he was fucking big-time with Nate, the same guy Tom booted out of his wedding with the threat, “If I ever see you in the same room as Shiv again, I will pay men to break your legs.” He did not pay anyone to break any of Nate’s limbs, but he did try to kill Nate with false kindness, offering him a full glass of wine as opposed to making him pour the remainder of one back into the bottle. “I won’t drink too much of your wine,” Nate jokes, which prompts Tom to sell his shit-wine even harder. “It’s the kind of wine that separates the connoisseurs from the weekend Malbec morons,” he says, not very subtly implying that Nate is absolutely a weekend Malbec moron. Nate responds by being thoroughly unintimidated and, in his refusal to make deals with Kendall, proving he might be the only person at that party with a teensy bit of a moral compass. Good try, Wambsgans!

Who is fucking with Tom Wambsgans?
In addition to Shiv and the members of the New York media community invited to this party, Lukas Matsson is definitely messing with our boy Father Sexmas. On at least one level, Matsson operates in the same way the Roy siblings do: getting off on making others feel uncomfortable and small. During party conversation — Tom’s opener to their chat: “I’m tired” — Matsson asks Tom whether he sees his role at ATN as hands-on or more akin to an overview guy. Instead of committing to an answer, Tom does what he always does: tries to be whoever the person in front of him wants him to be.

“Let me ask you this,” he says, sounding like he’s stalling. “What would you value more highly?”

Matsson accuses Tom of kissing his ass, and even though Tom charmingly denies that, it feels like he’s already lost the Swede’s respect, particularly when Shiv strolls up and Matsson tells her, “I’m about to take a shit in your husband’s mouth and I’m pretty sure he’s going to tell me it tastes like coq au vin.” Shiv is also obvious about her interest in taking advantage of her connection to Matsson, but much more confident in this regard than her husband. When he basically asks her to sell her skills to him, she says, “I’m hot shit and ready to go” without flinching.

By the end of the episode, both Shiv and, weirdly, Greg have earned more respect from Matsson than Tom.

How fucked-up are things between Tom and Greg?
The most notable Tom-Greg moment in this episode comes when Tom suggests Greg should decide whether he’s siding with Matsson or Kendall and Roman, a duo Tom describes as the “dumpster brothers.” Greg, already assuming Matsson hates him and always will, says he’s Team Kenro. But after vaping with Matsson and his boys, and representing himself as the John Wick of firing people, Greg seems to have forged a potential Matsson alliance.

TL;DR: Greg is in a position where he can float — terrifyingly mosey? —  between sides while things shake out, whereas Tom seems less primed to do that. Maybe Tom should start being nicer to his Greg-lette.

At the end of this episode, how fucked is Tom?
Tom has everything to lose, and he knows it. That’s one reason he is so irked by Shiv’s panic about her Matsson alliance blowing up. “You will be okay because you’re a tough fucking bitch who always survives because you do what you need,” Tom says, and once again he is right. Maybe she’ll have slightly less money, but Shiv will always have enough money and the status of being a Roy. If Tom is no longer connected to Shiv and lacks other company allies, it’s hard to see how he comes out of this merger bloodbath — unless, again, he outmaneuvers Shiv.

At the end of the episode, though, it doesn’t seem like Tom even cares about that. When he chokes out the words, “You have hurt me more than you can possibly imagine,” it feels real. He genuinely loves Shiv.

When Tom gave Shiv that weird scorpion enclosed in glass, a wrapped “party pressy for being such a hot piece of ass,” at the start of the episode, I thought of the argument Shiv and Tom got into on their wedding night. She described marriage as “fear and jealousy and revenge, and control, and they all get wrapped up in really nice, fucking wrapping paper and it just looks really lovely and nice, but when you open it up —”

“Love. It’s bullshit,” Tom told her. “But I do love you.”

That scorpion is an acknowledgment of all the fear, jealousy, revenge, and control that characterizes their relationship. It calls to mind that famous fable about the scorpion and the frog, where a scorpion promises not to sting a frog if the frog gives the scorpion a ride across a river. It wouldn’t make sense for the scorpion to hurt the frog during their journey because then they will both drown, the scorpion argues.

But of course the scorpion stings the frog anyway, and as they’re both dying, explains that he couldn’t help it. It’s in his nature. Obviously Shiv is the scorpion in this scenario. But she and her frog haven’t drowned yet. It’s still possible for Tom to summon his inner scorpion and sting her first.

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