Last week’s episode took a bit of a dip, storytelling-wise, for Succession, but this week’s episode, “Tailgate Party,” was not only a welcome return to form, it served another tour de force for Matthew Macfadyen.
This week’s main event – the only event, really – is a pre-election party, hosted by uneasily-reconciled Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) and Shiv (Sarah Snook), where competing motivations come to the fore. Kendall (Jeremy Strong) no longer wants the GoJo acquisition to go ahead and hopes to influence the bigwigs at the party (some of the most important people in America, apparently) about Matsson’s (Alexander Skarsgård) recklessness and engage some regulatory threat. Meanwhile, Matsson, now advised by Shiv, hopes to assuage that very same crowd by presenting as a reassuring, charming Swede.
Aside from Tom’s biodynamic wine, the main lubrication at this party is gossip. In some cases, like Greg (Nicholas Braun) finding out Ebba (Eili Harboe) and Matsson’s “mingling”, it’s lukewarm. But sometimes, it’s hot: Ebba lets slip to Kendall and Roman (Kieran Culkin) on a balcony – the symbol for talking openly this week – that Matsson isn’t a real tech genius, and he’s fudged subscriber numbers in India.
That news, once again, splits the Roys. Kendall is judgmental (with new money, you have to “hold those bills to the light”) and gleeful. He wants to use that new information to pull out of the deal and “reverse Viking”: buy GoJo from the Swedes instead (he keeps that plan between Frank and himself). Shiv, meanwhile, is panicked she has backed the wrong horse. Matsson, for his part, tells her that if the deal goes through, no one will even care about the made-up numbers and that they will easily hit those targets in a couple of years. When business drives plot and character development, Succession reiterates its thesis: money and power is what matters to these people.
The revelations lead us to the main event: an enjoyable showdown between Matsson and Kendall, who taunt each other about their indiscretions. Matsson calls Kendall’s numbers “gay”, and Kendall calls Matsson out on his inflated Investor Day predictions. But tellingly, the funniest conversation this entire episode is not about work, but New York. Slouching against the window, Matsson makes a perfectly valid comment, like a perfect dickhead: “Nothing happens in New York that doesn’t happen everywhere.”
Throughout all this, Shiv (still pregnant, still not telling anyone) and Tom are heading for their third (!) emotional confrontation of the season. After last week’s peace deal, they are blurring the lines between sex and strategy, by sleeping together and sending each other sexts. (Tom also buys Shiv a dead scorpion, a gift whose meaning she cannot parse, though it is very obvious to him: she kills him!) The spanner in the works this week takes corporeal form in political strategist and Shiv’s former flame, handsome Nate Sofrelli (Ashley Zukerman).
Kendall wants Nate around so that he can tip off regulatory bodies about the acquisition, and kill the deal. Tom, understandably, is less thrilled about Nate’s presence at the party. But the real loser in the situation is Nate himself. His colleagues aren’t delighted that he’s hanging around with the Roys – the family business’s associations with the right-wing press are increasingly troublesome – and he makes a relatively swift exit. The rejection of Kendall’s deal signals the waning influence of the Roys’ media power and, as Nate points out, the end of Logan and Gil’s cycle of cruelty.
It also helps to explode Shiv and Tom’s delicate harmony, and they battle it out on the balcony, too. She said: Tom craves power and the Roy family name. He said: Shiv would be a terrible mother. Tom is terrified he’s on the kill list, and it doesn’t help that Shiv joked about that latter point in front of his face. Snook and Macfadyen can sell a showdown with their eyes closed, though it’s now so commonplace that even their mannerisms have become unintentionally irritating.
The eldest Roy sibling, Connor (Alan Ruck), provides welcome respite. He has been busy planning Logan’s funeral (“he’s looking good”). His other long game, a presidential run, is now making a difference. To sweeten the deal, Connor is offered an ambassadorial position, firstly in Mogadishu, then Slovenia or Slovakia, and finally Oman. He likes that last one, though Willa (Justine Lupe) is less sure (once again, she is right). Willa’s insistence that her husband should not become an ambassador – even if you get diplomatic plates, being able to run people over is not exactly a selling point, she explains – leads to a bust-up between Connor and Roman. Roman continues his rudderless streak this week, attempting (and failing) to make good with Gerri (J. Smith Cameron) and deciding he will be the one to speak to Logan’s funeral.
For the last 15 minutes of this episode, I was waiting for someone to fall from the penthouse. It could have been Matsson, Shiv could have pushed Tom. Maybe Ebba could have taken out both Roman and Kendall. Certainly, it would have been a welcome dose of insanity in an uncharacteristically sloppy, exposition-heavy episode. Ultimately, it is Ebba who gets it right, when she notes that the party simply comprises “money and gossip”. She is talking about the slippy, vacuous crowd, but it works as a comment on Succession, too. At its best, this show interrogated those twin vices in a surprising, thrilling manner. Currently, it seems happy to present them incuriously as fact.