Succession review, season 4 episode 7: These men are like apes in the most expensive, depressing zoo on earth
It’s election eve in this week’s episode of Succession, and it seems that Father Sexmas has brought us a little pressie for being such hot pieces of ass: a glimpse into Tom (Matthew MacFadyen) and Shiv (Sarah Snook)’s renewed romance. (Later, we will be subjected to their recent texts – obviously, I watched a screener, but I can only assume that when the episode hits the air, the credits will include a helpline number for anyone who is traumatised by the inclusion of the phrase “orgasm Olympics” in a sext chain with Tom Wambsgans.) Tom, thinking he is being funny, has bought Shiv a paperweight made out of a scorpion encased in resin, and Shiv, being smart enough to understand extremely basic symbolism, is pissed off. “Who’s the scorpion?” “You, I guess,” Tom says, not helping. “You love me, but you’d kill me, and I’d kill you.” If they weren’t already married, I’d have said this was the perfect opening for their wedding vows.
The scorpion feels plausibly like a reference to the fable of the scorpion and the frog, a fitting nod for an episode in which everybody gives in to their lowest impulses and behaves like their worst, most exploitative selves. A reminder that the family’s often cavalier actions have real consequences comes, too, in the revelation that Kendall’s (Jeremy Strong) adoptive daughter Sophie, who is of South Asian descent, was subjected to a “racially charged” insult in the street by a man wearing merchandise from the Roys’ TV channel, ATN. If this news puts Kendall back in touch with his long-lost conscience, the reunion is short-lived; by the time he’s meeting up with Connor (Alan Ruck), Shiv and Roman (Kieran Culkin) to discuss their father’s funeral and Shiv is greeting him as “Waystar Jesus”, it’s his ego that is back in charge. Connor suggests that Logan’s (Brian Cox) service should be kept to “a tight 90”, as if it is an unusually long stand-up set, and Shiv points out that because the congregation will be full of the industry’s biggest names, they should decide which of them is capable of doing the best job with the eulogy. “Probably nobody minds, right?” she adds. Absolutely, Shiv – if there’s one thing we know to be true about you and your siblings, it’s that you are all incredibly easy-going when it comes to competition.
Got to go contribute to the great toxification
Kendall and Roman are still hoping to thwart Lukas Matsson (Alexander Skarsgård) and GoJo, and if they can’t do so by making Waystar Royco so valuable he can no longer afford to buy it, they figure it might be time for a plan B: to put regulatory pressure on the deal, making it such a hassle that Matsson no longer wants to go through the rigmarole. Shiv, because she is still conducting her odd, quasi-flirty telephone relationship with Matsson, calls him as soon as her brothers leave and lets him know what they have planned, telling him it’s urgent he attends that evening to deflect. (Incidentally, we briefly see Shiv and Matsson on the phone together earlier in the episode, at which point Matsson calls the party a “braindead AOL-era putrid stuffed mushroom f***fest” and Shiv genuinely laughs. Neither a scorpion paperweight nor a frozen litre of your blood is an ideal gift when it comes to trying to get into a woman’s pants, it must be said, but Matsson does have the advantage here, at least.)
At the party that night, the whole scene feels like one of those videos where scientists release a bunch of hagfish in a paddling pool and let them fill it up with slime. Connor is still polling at one per cent in the vast majority of places, but says proudly that in one or two states he’s “exploding – four, five, six per cent”. The team of the right-wing candidate, Jeryd Mencken, have noticed Connor’s relative success, and they reach out to Roman to ask whether his brother might consider quitting so as not to split the vote, in exchange for the opportunity to go and explode in an entirely different territory: Mogadishu, say, or Oman. When Willa (Justine Lupe) points out that she’s not entirely keen on helping Mencken achieve anything, Connor offers up a counterargument: “Diplomatic plates,” he beams. “You can park anywhere – you can basically drive on the sidewalk.” “Running people over is not a selling point,” Willa very reasonably points out.
One might think that Kendall might pause at the idea of helping the man who is responsible for the rise in hate speech that is frightening his daughter, but as is often the case, business trumps everything. “I’ll go hit the libtards,” he tells Roman, “you go get the Nazis.” Far be it from the Roys to pick a side when sitting on the fence might be more lucrative. One of the “libtards” they are targeting is Nate (Ashley Zukerman), the political advisor whom Shiv used to date, and their hope is that he and his candidate might put some regulatory pressure on Matsson, who they’re painting as a lunatic. Matsson himself does not do much to dispel this impression when he bursts into the party in the middle of Kendall’s minute of silence for Logan, which in fairness Kendall chooses to conclude by uttering the phrase “thank you, y’all.”
Please imagine, if you will, being fired over Zoom by Gregory Hirsch (Nicholas Braun), as 100 employees of Waystar Royco are this week. “Obviously this is a very sad day, goodbye,” he eventually signs off, before quietly whispering “nice” under his breath like he just won an eBay auction. This ruthless business acumen inadvertently sets off a chain of events that are very helpful to Roman and Kendall later, when Greg tries to impress Matsson with his firing prowess by offering to fire Ebba (Eili Harboe), GoJo’s Head of Comms and also Matsson’s ex, of “frozen blood” fame. (This week’s most relatable moment: when Shiv asks how Ebba’s doing, and Ebba replies wearily “I’m… who cares.”) “Wow, Mr Nephew,” Matsson grins, “I thought you were backwash from the bottom of the gene pool.” “Yes, you underestimated me, and that’s exactly how I wanted it,” says Greg, which, sure, I guess. “I just jack-knife in there and slit their throats.” This scene will certainly act as fuel for the small group of people who routinely tell me they think Greg will “win” the show, and whether or not that is the case, his actions this week go on to have vital repercussions.
I am f***ing my family for this
Ebba, who is utterly determined not be a person who has been fired by Gregory Hirsch, leaves the room and goes to have a cigarette on the balcony, at which point she is joined by Kendall and Roman, who are faux-concerned. “We just wanted to make sure you were OK on, like, a human level,” Kendall smarms. (What Would Waystar Jesus Do?) In her anger, Ebba reveals something genuinely useful about Matsson: that he has fudged the numbers in the Indian part of GoJo’s operations. When Shiv hears about this, she finds Matsson and demands that he explain himself, and after admitting that the numbers are “a little bit bulls***” and that they might make sense “if there were two Indias”, he shrugs it off and says that he is hoping the deal will inflate his figures anyway in the first quarter, and that nobody will notice.
Incredibly, everything slides further downhill – Gerri’s at the party, and she’s furiously angry, and when Roman asks her for advice she turns him down, saying that she’ll be requesting “eye-watering sums of money” from Waystar Royco, and that if he tries to contradict her version of events at any point she will release his “copious” dick pics. Nate, who appears to have actual integrity, will not help Kendall spoil the deal. Connor, who also appears to have actual integrity, won’t quit for Mencken’s sake. Kendall and Matsson have an unbelievably embarrassing public fight at the centre of the party, each of them challenging the other about their inflated numbers. “Your numbers are gay,” Matsson trumpets. “That’s kinda homophobic, man,” Kendall replies. Like a pair of apes in the most expensive, depressing zoo on earth, they conclude by enacting some kind of curious primal ritual where they both embrace and chant “Love the deal! Love the deal!” Afterwards, Kendall – cracked, perhaps, or simply emboldened by this dreadful display of corporate masculinity – decides that if he cannot tank the GoJo acquisition, there is only one thing for it: Waystar Royco must acquire GoJo, instead.
Meanwhile Tom, who claims to be tuckered out from banging Shiv too much, has been hearing rumours all around the party that he’ll lose his job when GoJo buys the company. When he challenges Shiv on the subject, she says that the whole thing is “a tactical little joke”, and evidently displeased at being a “little joke”, tactical or otherwise, Tom loses his cool. “You are a tough f***ing b**** who will always survive because you do what you need,” he tells her, and she flashes back to his earlier gift. “I’m a scorpion,” she nods. “You’re a snake. ‘Here’s a dead snake to wear as a necktie, Tom!’” She calls his family “striving and parochial”, and he reminds her that at one point she was going to let him go to jail. (Were we ever so young?) Eventually, the worst possible insult spills out of Tom’s mouth: “I think you are maybe not a good person to have children with.” Shiv, who is still hiding her pregnancy, delivers the death blow to their short-lived reconciliation: “I don’t like you. I don’t even care about you.” Another way of saying, as the scorpion does to the frog in many versions of the story: “You knew what I was, so what did you expect?”