news ‘Succession’ Review: Episode 7 Fireworks Turn a ‘Tailgate Party’ Into Scorched Earth

[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “Succession” Season 4, Episode 7, “Tailgate Party.”]

Tick tick tick.

As “Succession” enters its final three episodes, time-bombs are everywhere. Lukas Matsson (Alexander Skarsgärd) is a nuclear option unto himself. His uncontrollable antics could force or sink GoJo’s deal with Waystar, but there’s also his perilous ‘ship with Ebba (Eili Harboe) to worry about. She claims all those blood bricks Lukas sent her are the least of his worries, and maybe she’s right — though it’s kind of hard to forget about the blood bricks — since Lukas and Shiv (Sarah Snook) are considerably shaken once news about GoJo’s bullshit India numbers reaches Kendall (Jeremy Strong) and Roman (Kieran Culkin).

The smile on Kendall’s face says it all: He’s finally got the leverage he craves to make a serious play for power — one his dad would, in theory, be proud of, and one that allows him to push out his hangers-on sibs. “One head, one crown,” he tells Frank (Peter Friedman), after suggesting they “go reverse Viking” and push Waystar to buy GoJo, rather than the other way around, as planned. Tick tick tick… that’s the time-bomb on the deal. Tick tick tick… that’s the time-bomb on the Roy siblings’ superficial pact for shared power. Tick tick tick… that’s the time-bomb on tomorrow’s election, which will certainly affect ATN, the acquisition (in whichever direction it goes), and the Roy family’s political capital (especially if Connor’s “exploding” poll numbers in Alaska — three electoral votes — tip the electoral math in his favor!)

Plenty more clocks are ticking — Gerri (J. Smith Cameron) gets a time-bomb! Nate (Ashley Zukerman) gets a time-bomb! Roman gets a time-bomb! (That speech at the funeral? My nerves are already shredded.) — but Episode 7, “Tailgate Party,” will likely be remembered for the bomb that finally went off. Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) and Shiv had the talk, and it went about as well as shared emotional annihilation can.

For as quickly as Tom and Shiv’s balcony dust-up escalates to a full-blown marital meltdown — and it must seem especially rapid to Shiv, who’s gotten used to busting her husband’s balls sans consequence — there were signs of trouble all along. At the party, Shiv repeatedly fails to confirm what she and Tom agreed to ahead of time: that they “had a little break, and now they’re back [together].” Lukas being Lukas, he brings up their divorce right in front of them both, and neither tells him the divorce is off. Sure, Tom could’ve said it, but he knows he holds no power with Lukas, just as he knows Shiv needs to maintain that relationship for her own power play with GoJo to pan out. She needs to be the messenger, and she balks.

Twice. She does it again — albeit out of Tom’s earshot — when Lukas says he’s going to make major leadership changes at ATN (aka, he’s going to fire Tom.) Rather than chart a path forward for she and her husband, together, Shiv protects herself. Maybe she would have backed him later, when push came to shove and the pink slips were in the offing (she has in the past!), but word spreads of Tom’s impending termination faster than Greg (Nicholas Braun) can fire 100 staffers (aka, it spreads very, very quickly.) Tom, understandably, can only hear about his future unemployment so many times from so many people “at this party, in my house,” before he snaps. And thus the conversation Tom tried to have in Episode 1 comes to fruition. Each of them say their piece. The dust settles. One more marriage is strengthened through honest, open communication.

Just kidding. Tom and Shiv give fresh, piercing meaning to the term “irreconcilable differences,” as the now-former couple’s barbs grow sharper and more poisonous with each exchange. Written by Will Tracy, the scene is searing and tense, fitfully funny yet heartbreaking from start to finish. Tom, who asked to be left alone upon first exiting to the balcony, has been needing to get all this off his chest, so it’s no wonder he gives in and gets into it. “Shall we have a real conversation?” he asks, to which Shiv readily retorts, “With a scorpion?”

Succession Season 4 Episode 7 Sarah Snook Shiv

Sarah Snook in “Succession”Courtesy of Macall Polay / HBO

The gift placed on Shiv’s breakfast tray by Father Sexmas marked Episode 7’s first time-bomb, as the “friendly” gesture from Tom did not go over well. Was it friendly? Was he earnestly trying to embrace his position as the routinely stabbed partner in a venomous relationship? A position he’s contorted himself into long enough to believe, at least of a moment, it’s comfortable? I think so. Tom’s suit and tie, his attentive preparation, his chipper morning demeanor all speak to his servile devotion to Shiv.

But he still couldn’t stop himself from calling attention to his perception of their dynamic and, in doing so, reminded Shiv of her love/hate relationship with Tom’s servitude. That night, she spits it back at him as an insult (“You’re servile”), even if it doesn’t exactly stand up to his preceding complaint — a recurring pattern in their argument. An early back-and-forth sees Tom complaining about Shiv sleeping with other people and lying to him about it (pretty big gripes in a young marriage!), which she explains by confessing her lingering fear/ultimate justification: “You were only with me to get to power,” she says. “Well, you’ve got it now, Tom!” “I’m with you because I love you!” Tom cries, flatly stating what he’s long tried to convince her of, to little avail.

Does he mean it? Again, I think so. But does she believe her own accusation? Yes, I think she does, too. Tom and Shiv’s relationship has always been inextricably tied to each of their careers, and recent years have only seen the two trajectories become more tightly woven together. This suspicion that he’s only with her for her family, as well as his efforts to prove otherwise, have been lurking under the surface of their actions. So when Tom tipped off Logan to the siblings’ power play in Italy, it reinforced Shiv’s greatest fear: that her husband is more loyal to her father than to her.

She says as much on the balcony, but she’s not prepared for Tom’s response: “You were going to see me get sent to fucking prison, Shiv!” And by the time Shiv tries to defend herself — “you offered to go to jail” — Tom has already rattled off three more major blows: Remember when Tom was peddling that “undrinkable wine”? Honestly, I had forgotten, but he hasn’t, wedging it in between prison and “you won’t have my baby” because “you never even thought you’d be with me longer than four years.”

As soon as babies enter the chat, dear readers, you know this isn’t going to turn a corner for the better, but I doubt many of you expected Tom to take it where he does: “I think you are incapable of love,” he tells Shiv. “And I think that maybe you were not a good person to have children.” Of course, Tom doesn’t know she’s about to have a child; that she’s pregnant, likely with his baby, and Shiv does not tell him. Instead, her absolute devastation registers in Snook’s cold stare — filled with as much distress for the truth in his words as there is disdain for the main saying them — and defensive posturing; she turns her shoulder toward Tom, as if it’s sporting an invisible shield that might deflect one or two of the grenades he’s tossing, but you know her defenses have failed when the only comeback Shiv can offer is, “Well that’s not very nice, is it?”

It is not, and Tom does apologize. But it’s too late. Shiv sends a quick, shattering smile back to Tom — trying to convey how little she cares about him — and returns to the party. The damage is done. Their time has come, and the bomb has claimed its victims. Of course, there’s one more still ticking: Shiv’s pregnancy. If not then, in a moment when she seeks to inflict maximum damage on her attacker, when will she tell Tom? And what, exactly, will she say when she does? With three episodes left and virtually any ending on the table, options are plentiful. For now, all we know is Tom won’t be sleeping soundly any time soon, and all we can do is prepare for further destruction.

Tick tick tick…

Grade: A​

“Succession” Season 4 releases new episodes Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO and HBO Max.

Succession Season 4 Episode 7 Tom Greg

Matthew Macfadyen and Nicholas Braun in “Succession”Courtesy of David M. Russell / HBO

Greg Gary Sprinkles​

Greg may be leaning Team KenRo, but so long as Matsson controls the family company’s future — and thus, Greg’s — he shall be known by whatever name Matsson prefers. And this week, he prefers Gary. Was it a genuine slip of the tongue? A quick and intentional dismissal of a man-boy Lukas doesn’t like? Or maybe it was just a team full of former “Veep” writers and producers nodding to the similarities between that show’s Gary (played by Tony Hale) and “Succession’s” own “Gary.” After all, Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) was always second-in-command on “Veep,” thus making Gary an assistant to a servant — much like “Gary” is Tom’s assistant, and Tom is always serving the rest of the Roy family’s higher interests. (Never was that more apparent than when the Roy kids echoed “fuck Tom” to end Episode 7.)

However you want to interpret Greg’s new moniker, “Gary” had quite the week! His despicable duties as Tom’s janitor — firing a few dozen ATN staffers via one muted Zoom call — actually paid off with Lukas. The bloodthirsty (and blood-gifting!) Swede tries to play nice when Gary approaches him at the party. He makes his hostile No. 2 play nice long enough for Gary to bring up his daily duties as ATN executioner. “You said 100 scalps in three days?” Lukas asks, impressed or convincingly feigning it. “HR says I’m the right guy for the job because it looks like I care but I don’t,” Gary explains, oblivious to the insult, or convincingly feigning it.

Is his sociopathy enough to protect Gary if and when GoJo takes over ATN? Probably not. But if Kendall pulls off his improbable pivot and Waystar absorbs GoJo, Gary can probably find a spot in the new company, with or without Tom’s guidance. This kid walked into Waystar once, moving up from theme park mascot to suit-and-tie stooge with the ease of the entitled nepo baby he is; without Lukas cleaning house, maybe Gary can do it, too.

Slime Puppy Time​

Before digging into Roman’s multi-pronged predicaments, let’s take a moment to appreciate the many derogatory nicknames given to Kendall and Roman throughout Episode 7. What’s your favorite? Dumpster Brothers (courtesy of Tom) sounds like an HGTV hit in the making. The Fail Sons (via Matsson) is coming soon to HBO Max. But my vote goes for a classic: “Dumb and Dumber,” an easy but fitting insult Shiv could have been trotting out for nearly three decades now.

The man at the top will always be mocked — and two men just make for a target twice as large — but now it seems like we’re in a race to see which brother is first to blow up their own spot. Kendall’s pitch to take over GoJo could actually kill the two companies’ already tenuous relationship, but I’m dying to hear what Frank actually thinks. That he didn’t laugh Kendall out of the room gives the idea more merit than it may deserve, but even if it is actually ludicrous, that won’t stop Kendall. Despite his incensed claims to Rava (Natalie Gold), the absent father is only out for himself, and that’s dangerous.

Roman, however, has problems beyond self-control. Technically, his lack of self-control (and good judgment) put him in his current position with Gerri, where he’s going to have to justify a massive payout without letting anyone know why. (“I could’ve gotten you there” is such a simple, efficient, and bone-deep parting shot, we have no choice but to bow down to Gerri.) Roman’s also got the other firing fallout to keep an eye on, though I hope he’s focused on his father’s eulogy, at least for the next week. Roman asked for the “big energy spot” at Logan’s funeral, and now he’s got it. Kendall shined on Investor Day — can Roman pull off a public win of his own? Or will he be the Roy boy to bring two CEOs down at once?

Succession Season 4 Episode 7 Roman Gerri

Kieran Culkin and J. Smith-Cameron in “Succession”Courtesy of David M. Russell / HBO

Do You Have Any Jokes?​

“You’re too fucking transparent to find in a book” — while this isn’t exactly a joke, it is an incredible insult in a series filled with them. Damn.

The Best Line That Could Still Air on ATN​

“I thought these people would be complicated, but it’s basically just money and gossip.” – Lukas, cutting right to the core, as usual.

Runner-up: “I have a No. 2 who’s moonbeamed on edibles and a communications officer who’s terrified of communicating.” – also Lukas, the star of the party, who somehow managed to top his loud arrival during Logan’s moment of silence.

(OK, OK, let’s be honest: If ATN was actually going to air a line from this episode, they would dedicate a whole segment to Kendall’s “gay” numbers — I don’t know how, but you just know they would.)