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As ‘Succession’ preps for a merger and election, Shiv and Tom steal the show

<i>Claudette Barius/HBO</i><br/>Matthew Macfadyen
Claudette Barius/HBO
Matthew Macfadyen

Review by Brian Lowry, CNN

Editor’s note: The following contains major spoilers about the seventh episode of “Succession’s” fourth season, “Tailgate Party.”

Well that sure went South quickly.

While there were plenty of developments around the proposed deal between Waystar Royco and GoJo, as well as political posturing and horsetrading in advance of a presidential election, the heart of the seventh episode of the final season of “Succession,” “Tailgate Party,” resided in the on-again, off-again relationship between Shiv Roy (Sarah Snook) and her estranged husband Tom Wambsgans (Matthew Macfadyen).

The hour began with the two enjoying the renewed heat between them, even exchanging naughty texts. Yet if reconciliation seemed to be in the air as they hosted a high-powered event together — “We had a little break and we’re back,” Tom said, rehearsing how they’d explain things — the episode closed with the pair engaging in one of the most brutal verbal spats TV has ever witnessed.

Trouble started brewing quickly, beginning with Shiv’s perplexed (and priceless) reaction when Tom gave her a scorpion as a gift. The situation escalated as Shiv squired Matsson (Alexander Skarsgård) around the party, smiling along as he alluded to post-merger changes that would include showing Tom the door.

Shiv had been playing an angle, serving as Matsson’s insider and informant as he jockeyed with her brothers, who have sought, awkwardly, to torpedo the deal. Her resolve was tested, however, when Matsson balked at spelling out her role and subsequently admitted that he had been fudging subscriber numbers in India, hoping to hide those discrepancies in the rush of the Waystar acquisition.

With both of them already agitated, Tom and Shiv finally unloaded on each other, in what played like the mother of all Emmy-campaign reels for their respective third nominations (Macfadyen won last year):

“You’re a hick,” she told him.

“You’re broken,” he said.

“I don’t like you. I don’t even care about you,” she snapped.

“It’s not my fault that you didn’t get his approval,” Tom said, regarding her fraught relationship with her father, before Shiv delivered the final, finishing blow: “You don’t deserve me. And you never did.”

Obviously, there was a lot else going on within the hour, from Matsson dismissing the Roy boys as “failsons” to Gerri (J. Smith-Cameron) threatening Roman (Kieran Culkin) with unleashing the very-private text messages he had sent her in order to secure a favorable financial settlement after the previous week’s bloodbath. Plus, there was the little matter of trying to grease Connor (Alan Ruck) with an ambassadorial post in order to get him to drop out of the presidential race, and Greg (Nicholas Braun), a.k.a. “Gary” to Matsson, notifying employees about layoffs via a painfully stiff Zoom call.

All of that paled, however, next to the epic Tom-and-Shiv roller-coaster ride. Those scenes played like a gift to “Succession” fans and Snook and Macfadyen, who, with apologies to that scorpion, put enough sting in their zingers to deserve every accolade that goes with them.

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