wambsgans watch

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

She don’t lie, she don’t lie, she don’t lie: cocaine. Photo: Macall Polay/HBO

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 eight of season four, “America Decides.”

Tom Wambsgans is having a rough day at the office in this week’s episode of Succession. We’ve all been there, right?

You start Election Night feeling tense, so you snort some cocaine, then start freaking out when your network’s touchscreen breaks on live television, then find out your estranged spouse is having your baby, and before it’s all over, you inevitably wind up yelling, “Do not put any more lemon water or wasabi in his eyes, okay?” If you’ve ever worked in a newsroom on the night of a presidential election, you know that’s exactly what it’s like, and no, I will not be taking further questions on this matter, because I’ve been advised by the Decision Desk not to leak any more information.

Seriously, though, “America Decides” finds Tom at his most crazed since that time he chucked roughly 87 water bottles at Greg in a safe room. He’s under enormous pressure, because he’s overseeing the newsroom on his own — Cyd has presumably been fired, based on Tom’s comment that she’s “running around town spitting poison like a king cobra with an iPhone.” Tom is running too — up and down the stairs from the executive offices to the newsroom wearing a pair of ill-advised dress shoes and juggling three cell phones. He’s still tired from the night before, not to mention the night before that, which obviously is why he snorts cocaine while hiding behind a whiteboard — since doing cocaine at work famously solves every problem. When there isn’t a Roy barking orders in his ear, there’s one striding confidently onto the newsroom floor, where they have absolutely no business being.

Captain Disgusting Brother is expected to call the shots for ATN on this important evening. Except, in classic Wambsgansian fashion, he maintains an arm’s length from assuming full authority or responsibility. He’s constantly making Greg cover for him on the phone, particularly once Tom’s bombarded with irate calls after declaring the election for Mencken on Roman and Kendall’s orders. He even sends Greg into the control room a few steps ahead to make that announcement, as if he wants to maintain plausible deniability in case the call becomes a legal issue later on.

But the effort to avoid blame is futile, since before the night’s over, another network is reporting headlines of “ATN Head Blasted for Premature Call” and “DNC Accuses Tom Wambsgans of Undermining Democracy.” Wonder who’s pushing that agenda. Could it be Kendall or Roman? Or maybe even Shiv? Speaking of which …

Who is Tom Wambsgans fucking with this week?
Tom is still, understandably, very angry with Shiv for the many insulting things she said during their tailgate-party fight. (Sample: “You don’t deserve me, and you never did.”) As I understand cocaine — and this is largely based on that movie with Keri Russell and the bear and John Mulaney’s most recent comedy special — it generally does not make people less mad or less on edge. Which, to some extent, may explain why Tom is extra nasty to Shiv when she pulls him aside to talk.

Shiv starts by saying she wants to apologize for “some” of what she said the night before. If that seems naïve, remember that Shiv was raised in an environment where people regularly dumped acid on each other and pretended no one got burned. Of course, she feels like she can just say sorry for accusing her husband of “fucking her for her DNA” and things will be kind of okay again. But that’s not how Tom sees it. When Shiv notes that he seems distracted, he says, “How should I frame my face? Are you scared that I’m going to blab about you and Matsson?”

Tom immediately goes Threat Level Midnight, which is comical given what he says to Greg earlier about deploying intel in a strategic manner. “Information is like a fine wine,” Tom whispers, again connecting (allegedly) fine wine to ruptures in his marriage. “You store it, you hoard it, you save it for a special occasion, and then you smash someone’s fucking face in with it.” In the spirit of smashing Shiv’s fucking face, Tom escalates things by telling her, “You hated him,” meaning her father. “It was complicated, but sometimes you certainly hated him, and you also sort of killed him.” Remember just four episodes ago — really only a few days in Succession’s wonky season-four timeline — when Tom was comforting Shiv and insisting that she was not responsible for her father’s death? Tom does, and he has decided to use that moment of vulnerability against her.

Shiv, clearly hurt by Tom’s words, hits back with some surprising words of her own: that she’s pregnant with Tom’s baby. This, right here, is Succession storing, hoarding, and saving information for a special occasion. This show told us four episodes ago — in the same hour when Tom comforted Shiv — that Shiv was pregnant, and it did nothing further with that revelation until now. Dropping the bomb at this moment is terrible for Tom, but it makes for magnificent drama.

As Shiv notes, there is no ideal time to tell someone you’re pregnant. But the ideal time to receive that news is definitely not after snorting cocaine while experiencing an extended panic attack on the night of a major presidential election when you’re expected to run a newsroom. Tom accuses Shiv of lying (“Is that even true? Is that, like, a new position or a tactic or what?”), and one can understand why he might think so. But the way Shiv’s face crumples at the question — Sarah Snook continues to destroy in every scene this season — makes it clear that it’s no lie. Tom sits with it for a second but doesn’t have time to think about it further.

For the remainder of the episode, he either freezes out Shiv entirely or treats her with open disdain. At one point, he tells her she sounds “unhinged” when she points that those burned Milwaukee ballots likely contained votes for Jimenez. (Shiv is not wrong!) Even worse, when she begs Tom to hold off on calling the election for Mencken, he completely ignores her and follows the orders given to him by Kendall and Roman. “It’s not my call,” Tom says more than once, absolving himself in the middle of committing a crime. “Fucking Pontius Pilate!” Shiv shouts at him.

At some point, after the election pressure and coke wear off, maybe Tom will show his wife and mother of his future child a bit more grace, although it’s unclear if Shiv would even be open to receiving it. (Someone who compares their spouse to the guy who green-lit the murder of Jesus Christ is, generally speaking, not up for reconciliation.) Either that or Tom’s going to double down on his threat to throw Shiv under a bus because of her relationship with Matsson. Obviously, Kendall and Roman now know what their sister has been up to, but the general public doesn’t. News of that kind of turmoil within Waystar and the Roy family at such a precarious moment could really tank a stock, don’t you think?

Who is fucking with Tom Wambsgans?
As previously noted, Cyd is out on the streets of Manhattan, presumably spreading nasty rumors (or non-rumors) about our Tom. Pam, the news director I refer to as “almost Cyd,” gives Tom a little shit in the beginning of the evening by pointing out that most people do not wear uncomfortable dress shoes to a news-making marathon.

But it’s Kendall and Roman who are the biggest thorns in Tom’s side this week, questioning his competence and authority at every turn. The minute the touchscreen goes down and the reporter using it becomes agitated — sir, you are no Steve Kornacki — Kendall is on Tom’s ass to get it fixed ASAP. It is so typical of Kendall to expect the big board to just instantly repair itself because he snapped his fingers and yelled at Tom, who can only do his version of what Kendall’s doing: scream at Dave, the guy who actually might know how to fix it.

Meanwhile, Roman — who has decided it’s totally fine to align himself with a white supremacist, because who really gives a shit? — keeps asserting that he’s the one who can call the election results. “On what precedent? By what authority?” Tom asks when Roman insists ATN declare Wisconsin a Mencken win. “By the power of me, the CEO of Waystar, telling you what to put on the telly-box mouth people,” Roman responds.

After being pushed around and manipulated by the Dumpster Brothers all night, of course Tom is the one who takes the heat for that Mencken decision, even though “it wasn’t his call.” Tom should probably be thinking about whether he even wants to keep this job, assuming he doesn’t get publicly shamed into a termination before he can make a choice.

How fucked up are things between Tom and Greg?
This episode proves, once and for all, that Tom Wambsgans cannot function without Greg Hirsch. He needs Greg to get him coffee, because if Tom doesn’t get coffee, he might get so sleepy that he will miscall Colorado, which obviously will lead to nuclear war and the end of civilization as we know it. “It’s a long way back from pond life because you failed to get me a double shot!” Tom shouts.

He tries to force Greg to do cocaine with him so he will feel less “judged,” and when Greg declines, Tom somehow argues that if he doesn’t snort that white powder, it means he is racist. (“What are you saying — all Aztecs are stupid? Don’t be a racist little bitch about it.”)

At the height of his freak-out, brought on by the sight of bodega sushi provided by the guy who’s actually supposed to assist Tom on Election Night, Tom blurts out, “I need you Gregging for me tonight!” Correction: Tom needs Greg “Gregging” for him every night.

So Greg Gregs, even though he’s technically in Matsson’s inner circle now and could, theoretically, try to pull rank. I’ve been saying this for weeks, but I’ll say it again: Greg is somehow going to wind up better positioned professionally than Tom. And when that happens, Tom may be the one who winds up Gregging for Greg.

So, how fucked is Tom?
He’s definitely not in a good place. He’s being blamed for how ATN handled Election Night, he just learned he will potentially be parenting a child with a woman he presently can barely stand, and he still doesn’t have any sturdy business allies on whom he can rely. His most loyal colleague and friend is Greg — a man who can’t even eat sushi without getting wasabi in someone else’s eyes. There are still two episodes left, so I’m not prepared yet to say that Tom is completely fucked. But he’s definitely in a sedan being driven by someone who has directions to Fucked Town.

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