Succession Season 4 Episode 7 Review: The Presidential Party From Hell

RATING : 7 / 10
  • A devastating end to the Tom and Shiv relationship.
  • More excellent corporate comedy as Kendall and Roman try to squeeze Matsson out of his deal.
  • The Presidential election storyline, which was teased as a major driving factor in Season 3, has come up short, and this episode reveals just how unsatisfying it's been.

Shiv (Sarah Snook) and Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) drifting apart was always inevitable, but this week's episode is the final nail in the coffin of their chaotic coupling; it's the closest we'll get to closure from the on-again, off-again storyline that's been bubbling away in the background all season long. Their relationship has always implicitly been more about their power dynamics within WayStar at any given moment — let's not forget Tom's initial proposal came as Logan (Brian Cox) had his first near-death experience — which is what makes their turbulent balcony argument in the latest installment so powerful. It takes the dramatic breakdown of their relationship for the games to finally end, and for them to finally see each other clearly. The results aren't pretty.

It'd take several psychiatrists and a word count far higher than what I've been allotted here to properly unpack Shiv's true feelings towards Tom; she may have told him directly last season she didn't love him, but everything in their relationship was a power play. When it comes to her soon-to-be ex-husband, no emotions can ever be taken at face value, and their interactions this season have been defined by some excellent facial reactions from Snook — just look back at last week's episode, rekindling in the back of a car. Every time Shiv turns away from Tom to stare out of the window, her face scrunches up in a way that's ever-so-slightly ambiguous. Is she cringing out of embarrassment, or turning to avoid looking too smitten? The way Snook and Macfadyen managed to easily rekindle the chemistry between their characters last week proved anxiety-inducing (this is not a relationship any sane person should root for), so this week's dramatic about-face was something of a relief.

GoJo to the polls

For the most part, this week's episode was as close to business-as-usual as this season has been, taking place almost entirely at the election eve tailgate party the Roys are now throwing in memory of their father. Teased as a big driving factor last season (when the introduction to alt-right candidate Jeryd Mencken [Justin Kirk] held far more satirical weight), the Presidential election within the show has been its least enticing narrative strand this time around, largely just reinterpreting talking points from the 2020 election campaigns but with fictionalized characters. 

An episode entirely about the family's negative influence on the election, as the owners and operators of this universe's Fox News equivalent, threatened to be the most tedious of the season. Its cultural commentary this time around is glaringly obvious; only Connor's (Alan Ruck) independent run coming back into focus delivers any highs in this regard. I can't believe it has taken me until this week to realize that, in the "Succession" universe, his spoiler run for the White House makes him the equivalent of what Kanye West was in 2020, albeit if Kanye was offered an ambassadorial job at the culmination of it.

When attention is called away from the reason for the party, returning to Kendall (Jeremy Strong) and Roman's (Kieran Culkin) plans to disrupt the GoJo deal and keep the business firmly within family hands, the episode treads back to safer, more engaging ground. It's been a delight to see Alexander Skarsgård's tech-bro billionaire Lukas Matsson elevated to main character status this season, although the comparisons many have afforded him to other self-styled disruptors such as Elon Musk didn't hold much weight to me. 

He's a Frankenstein's monster of the bad decisions made by various billionaires over the years, which came into greater focus this week as we learned he has been artificially inflating subscriber numbers to his streaming platform in India –- something which bares comparison to everything from Netflix viewing figures, to the various dubious stats Musk has doled out about his takeover of the bird app. Matsson is a singularly grotesque character, and as comparisons to various real-life figures become more obvious, Skarsgård's refusal to draw directly from any one famous source of inspiration just makes his character all the more fascinating. It's just a shame his downfall won't come from sending out bricks of his frozen blood.

An inevitably devastating break-up — for real, this time!

This brings us back to Shiv, who has been playing both sides to ensure she remains in whatever iteration of WayStar emerges from the debacle, leaving little time to process her grief or her impending parenthood. It has been assumed that the baby she's carrying is Tom's (although the show has yet to outwardly declare this), which has likely colored her decisions over the weeks, like refusing to put Tom on the Kill List, or shutting down her brothers when they took glee at the idea of firing him.

Everybody at the party assumes he's going to be fired, but it's only through seeing her playing along with this at face value that he finally airs his feelings in that climactic confrontation, telling her that she will never be a good mother. It's a line reading delivered by Matthew Macfadyen with a casual brutality, Tom not fully grasping the weight those words hold, that makes it the first time something he's said has been met with genuine devastation. He finally wins their power play, but it's at his most vulnerable moment professionally. Shiv finally sides with her brothers in cutting him off, the act of revenge they've not-so-secretly been clamoring for since his Season 3 finale backstabbing.

Their argument is a scene that elevates a serviceable episode into an unmissable one; I doubt anybody will be discussing any plots about the election after watching, but they will be unpacking a tense breakdown even knottier than Roman's mountaintop confrontation of Matsson two weeks ago. This isn't to say this was a bad episode prior to the climax that tied everything together, so much that it was the kind of story that could have easily slotted into any of the previous seasons — in fact, it could be argued that Kendall's birthday party last season was a significantly more satisfying take on the same narrative formula.

There are plenty of funny moments throughout, but the episode is unfortunately centered around its least engaging plotline. It's the first time I've started to feel concerned about this season, considering that the next two episodes (which will be set on consecutive days) will also be election focused. It's been an undercooked aspect of the season that proves even more unsatisfying when belatedly given more attention, and I hope that it will fade back into the background next week. With so much going on at WayStar, I don't feel like we would have lost anything in forgetting about it but continuity and an allegory for the end of the Roy family's cultural influence via their preferred candidate losing.