‘Tailgate Party’

   2023-05-08 02:05


Tailgate Party

Season 4

Episode 7

Editor’s Rating

5 stars

Photo: David M. Russell/HBO/David M. Russell

“Fuck Tom.”

Two words rattled off with startling casualness — first by Shiv, then Kendall, then Roman. Tom has just said a good night to the preelection “tailgate party” that’s so brusque that the partygoers take it as a joke. Or, perhaps, based on the buzz that’s been circulating all night, they take him as a joke. While Tom may have left a mark on Shiv — and the word really is “may,” depending on whether you believe, as he does, that she’ll be “fine” — the pivot into another subject is breathtakingly quick. The siblings have closed the book on Tom, this person who has been in their inner circle for the entire run of the show, and now it’s time to talk briefly about their dad’s funeral arrangements and who among them will deliver the dreaded eulogy. The party goes on without Tom. He was forever co-hosting it at the Roy family’s discretion.

In the wake of Logan’s death, Tom and Shiv seemed to have patched up their relationship, but we can now see that all the pain and betrayal that soured their marriage was merely put on hold for a little while. Shiv had no one else who could recognize her grief and have sympathy for her. And Tom, who lost his tenuous position at Waystar (or the GoJo version of Waystar) when Logan died, is still clinging to his career, which is mostly in Shiv’s hands. There’s a lot to sort out in their relationship, but the big question has always been how much authentic feeling is there and how much of it is transactional. Does Tom love Shiv? There’s plenty of evidence to that effect. Is Tom a “conservative hick” from a “striving and parochial” family who loves being rich and needs Shiv as his ladder to success? There’s plenty of evidence to that effect, too.

Before “Tailgate Party” turns into a less boozy Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? — in part because Tom and Shiv cannot seem to get their hands on drinkable wine — the table is set for a miserable night. Though the two have renewed a vigorous sex life, Tom offers Shiv the curious present of a scorpion encased in glass, intended as a wink to past betrayals (“I love you, but you kill me, and I kill you,” he explains) but more suggestively a symbol of her nature. He’ll be the frog that she stings after he carries her across the river. The gift is an insult, but it’s also a bit of foreshadowing because Shiv intends to do a lot of stinging at the party and her husband will not be unaffected. It’s almost worse that Tom isn’t a target so much as collateral damage. Her ambitions diminish him.

Despite indications that Kendall’s Living+ gambit worked, it still hasn’t cooled Matsson’s desire to swallow up Waystar, though he doesn’t intend to rub elbows at the tailgate party. (“He doesn’t want to swim around my dad’s bullshit preelection brain-dead AOL-era legacy-media putrid stuffed-mushroom fuckfest,” reports Shiv.) But Kendall and Roman are busy cooking up a new reason to crush the deal: to use their political connections to pound GoJo with regulations over matters like their invasive algorithms and data-mining practices. But the CE-Bros don’t realize that Shiv is cozying up to Matsson behind their backs, so she gets the heads-up on the plan and works to counter it by encouraging Matsson to show up to the party and introducing him to the elites who might determine his future.

Tom can see this entire nightmare unfold right in front of him. For one, Shiv has agreed to her brothers’ request to invite her ex Nate to the party because Nate has the ear of the man four points ahead in the election polling and could assist them in their regulatory scheme. Even if he can understand why Shiv invited him for political reasons, it’s a clear example of her putting her ambitions ahead of his feelings. When Matsson comes strolling in fashionably late, in the middle of Kendall’s “moment of silence” for his dad, things worsen for Tom. Shiv introduces Matsson to Nate by suggesting that a Matsson-operated ATN will be amenable to his candidate. He will make “major leadership changes” at the top of the network.

So begins the nightly gossip that circulates alongside the sliders held together by American-flag toothpicks and the fries deftly seasoned with sea salt. Tom tries to salvage his career by offering up his services however Matsson might like, as a “hands-on” type or an “overview guy,” but the Swede sees right through him. He jokes to Shiv, “Hey, I’m about to take a shit in your husband’s mouth, and I’m pretty sure he’s going to tell me it tastes like coq au vin.” You could argue that Tom has simply played a losing hand. He betrayed Shiv by casting his lot with her father under the not-unreasonable assumption that Logan Roy was immortal, and now he’s completely run out of allies, despite having temporarily patched things up with Shiv. Fuck Tom. The world will continue to turn without him.

Yet the extraordinary scene on the balcony between Tom and Shiv brings a series’ worth of pain to the table, and it’s perhaps most extraordinary because every single thing they say about each other is true. Tom’s wedding proposal did catch Shiv at her lowest ebb. He did need her DNA because he thirsted for power. She was oddly sanguine about the prospect of him going to prison, but he did indeed offer himself as the fall guy because of his essential servility. He loves her and she may be incapable of love, which seems to be a tragic part of the Roy DNA, too, at least among those who aren’t running a fringe candidacy gaining traction in Alaska. Sarah Snook and Matthew Macfadyen deliver the bullet points of this collapsing marriage with full feeling as if Tom and Shiv can finally and fatally tell each other everything they’ve wanted to say. It turns out the sex was hot because their marriage was a volcano.

Then again, betrayal is the family business. The alliance between Shiv and her brothers is fracturing in multiple cracks behind the scenes, portending disaster for all three of them. Word that GoJo’s subscription numbers in India may be wildly inflated gives Kendall and Roman an opening to spook the board out of approving the deal, quite apart from whether they’re successful in siccing regulators on Matsson. (On that front, Kendall’s heavy-handed promise to Nate that ATN will ease up on his candidate during his first 100 days is too gross a bribe for Nate to accept. “I don’t feel comfortable with the tenor of this conversation,” he says.) Shiv is assisting Matsson behind her brothers’ backs, but he’s extremely coy about promising her any reward for her allegiance to him — which is more evidence that Shiv isn’t as savvy an operator as she thinks she is.

And then, in a final blow, Kendall sneaks Frank away with a proposal to go “reverse Viking” on Matsson and have Waystar gobble up a weakened GoJo, which would make the company bigger than the empire his father had built. For some reason, Frank never seems dissuaded by Kendall’s legacy of epic failure, but he does have his concerns about Roman and Shiv and what kind of place they’d have at this newer, bigger Waystar. “I love ’em, but I’m not in love with them,” replies Kendall coldly. “One head, one crown.”

Fuck Tom? Fuck everybody.

• Kendall’s boundless insecurity comes out during an absurd pre-credit exchange with Rava, who has summoned him after an incident where their daughter was bumped by a guy in the Ravenhead shirt. (“Why was she out on the street?” Kendall asks as if Rava had left her on the set of a Death Wish movie.) He wants to make sure his ex knows that he’s big and important now, doing big things on “six continents.” She just wants him to call his daughter every once in a while.

• Greg is getting comfortable doing Tom’s dirty work, perhaps because firing 100 muted people over Zoom is infinitely easier than the skin-thickening ordeal of telling Kerry that she’s not quite ready for prime time. The Zoom firing also underlines just how graceless layoffs can be in the modern world. Here’s a fun roundup of some of the worst, topped by a company that sent a text to employees instructing them to call a number which then fired them via automated message.

The Wall Street Journal isn’t mentioned by name, but the show’s allusions to Rupert Murdoch, who owns the paper, and a reference to the “Journal Op-Ed ogres” seem like a nod in that direction. “Come on,” says Ken. “They’re not all crypto-fascist right-wing nut jobs. We also have some venture-capital Dems and centrists ghouls. Dad’s ideological range was wide.” Indeed.

• Connor negotiating an ambassadorship for himself in exchange for dropping out at the last minute is a fun little thread in this episode. First offered Mogadishu, Somalia, Connor balks (“a little bit car-bomb-y”) and makes some ludicrously ambitious counteroffers, like South Korea, or just plain ludicrous, like North Korea. (“You don’t know. Nobody knows. I could open it up like Nixon did China.”) When Connor finally settles on Oman as a good option, he has to settle Willa’s concerns about the sultan’s oppressive hold over the country. “The airport? We walk right through,” he assures her.

• The Ebba factor is really intriguing. She’s plainly miserable and has all kinds of dirt on Matsson, but he’s incapable of controlling himself and seeing her as a threat. For all the talk about fake numbers in India and regulatory hassles, Ebba seems to have the power to blow up GoJo all by herself.

• Still absolutely hilarious that Maxim Pierce, the Connor of the Pierce family, is serving as Connor’s chief adviser. Two rich moonbats on the town! And a nice role for Mark Linn-Baker, previously immortalized as Larry Appleton in Perfect Strangers.

• Really enjoying Oskar, who doesn’t wait a moment before attacking Greg for trying to hang out with the GoJo team. “Fucking hanger-on! Fucking dingleberry!”

• Roman’s impetuous firing of Gerri turns out to be exactly the gigantic mistake you might have predicted because she has a gallery of his dick pics as leverage and no interest in his efforts to walk it back. “I could have got you there,” says Gerri, who may have once honestly considered Roman a protégé. “But nope.”

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