Succession Season 4, Episode 7 Recap: Drop Your Buffs

Does anyone else feel like they’ve been watching an episode of Survivor for the past hour?

succession ep 7 recap
Photograph by David Russell/HBO

It’s possible I’ve been watching too much Survivor—or maybe Mike White’s tendency to equate the entertainment business with his time on season 37 has begun to affect the way I, too, view pop culture. Still, while watching “Tailgate Party” this week, I couldn’t help but feel like an episode of the CBS reality show was playing instead. Yes, it was set in a New York City triplex as opposed to a remote island in Fiji and there was a lot less snuffing torches and more puffing on vapes, but the way the Roys and their peers conduct their business—through backstabbing, manipulation, and dirty dealmaking—had me feeling like Jeff Probst would step into frame at any minute. Seriously, Jesse Armstrong should follow in White’s footsteps and apply for Survivor season 45. There’s proof television writers do well on the show, and clearly he has a head for this thing.

Photograph by Macall Polay/HBO

Now, Succession has always been about gaming and strategy—that’s nothing new. For three and a half seasons, the show has depicted the manipulative nature of the Watstar Royco family as they team up and backstab in an attempt to get ahead. I’m not exactly sure why I am just now making this analogy, but I believe it was Shiv’s actions in the episode that really sparked the Survivor comparison for me. Over the past few weeks, Shiv has been playing both sides—appeasing her brothers while delivering information and advice to Matsson. Whether the GoJo deal falls through or not, she’s ensuring a successful outcome for herself. Any Survivor fan knows this is a great place to find yourself within the game. You want to be a useful, necessary tool in order to get ahead, sitting pretty in the middle as the opposing sides duke it out. But it can also be a very dangerous position if not played correctly. “Still keeping all your options open, honey?” Tom asked Shiv last episode. “You should be careful with that.” Of course, Tom would feel this way. He’s Shiv’s dysfunctional showmance partner. And yes, Shiv may continuously screw him over, but he keeps going back to her. It’s not like he has many other options. The Ken-Ro alliance isn’t exactly welcoming him into their strategy sessions.

Of course, by the end of the episode, we see what seems to be the official end of the Tom-Shiv alliance. In what might be one of the most heartbreaking scenes of an already emotionally distressing season, the couple finally comes to blows, voicing the things they’ve been holding back for so long, the opinions they felt they couldn’t say so as to get ahead in this social strategy game. Shiv calls Tom a hyena, a rat, a snake—animals that any Survivor fan hears players equate with their enemies all too often. Of course, there usually isn’t this much history between players (Blood vs. Water seasons notwithstanding), and this particular scene transcends the reality show trope, with dialogue that will surely send the Tom and Shiv lovers of Twitter into a tailspin. The argument comes to a head with Tom telling Shiv she is “incapable of love” and likely “not a good person to have children with,” the weekly reminder that Shiv is, in fact, pregnant, and has yet to tell a soul.

Photograph by David Russell/HBO

Kendall and Roman, meanwhile, are the classic guys’ alliance, thinking they can win their way to the end—outwit, outplay, outlast them all, simply because they’re better, stronger, and smarter. But their arrogance has blinded them from the fact that they don’t have quite the grip on the game they thought they did. Roman assumes he can smooth things over with Gerri, no problem—but she won’t forgive him for blindsiding her with that firing. Kendall’s attempts to bring Nate into the alliance fail miserably, and Roman takes it one step too far with Connor, losing two numbers ahead of the next Tribal Council. Later, the co-CEO siblings chat with Shiv on the balcony after Matsson’s “surprise” appearance, discussing their plans to “vote” the Swede off the island. As they ask Shiv to play double agent (unaware it’s a role she has already taken on) I couldn’t help but imagine Shiv in a confessional, laughing at her brothers’s blindness to the game’s true machinations.

And then there’s Matsson, who was the frontrunner for a while, getting the winner’s edit so fans root for him to take it home. In “Tailgate Party,” however, he loses his footing in the game when he screws over his own alliance member, Ebba, too many times and she reveals to his enemies that the idol he’s been touting around is, in fact, fake. The one thing that made Matsson unstoppable—his unbeatable subscriber numbers—isn’t real, leaving him without a shield to protect himself.

Photograph by David Russell/HBO

So, what will happen at the next Tribal Council? Who will go home? Who will outmaneuver the other players in order to emerge as the Sole Survivor and winner of the Waystar Royco throne? Will we be subjected to more of Shiv and Tom’s cringey sexts? Tune in next week to find out.