Tom Is Finally on Top in the 'Succession' Season 3 Finale

Souls are boring. Boo souls!

succession matthew macfadyen
HBO

This post contains spoilers for the Season 3 finale of Succession. 

The Roy children are fucked. And Tom Wambsgans is to blame.

Succession creator Jesse Armstrong doesn't completely spell out who foiled Shiv, Roman, and Kendall's plot to stop their father, Logan, from selling the family business, Waystar Royco, to tech company GoJo in the Season 3 finale, "All the Bells Say." But Armstrong makes it pretty clear that Tom, Shiv's constantly belittled husband, is behind the sneak attack. It's all there in the glances and the words that aren't said, from the way Logan pats Tom on the shoulder to the manner in which Tom approaches his lackey Greg with an offer to sell his soul to the devil.

Matthew Macfadyen's Tom has always been arguably Succession's most fascinating creation. Part fool and part tormentor, he exists in a limbo between the "to the manor born" biological children of Logan and the busy bees working on behalf of the show's tyrannical King Lear stand-in. Over the course of the three seasons, Tom has routinely served as the Roy family's go-to punching bag and scapegoat. He's humiliated himself in front of Congress and volunteered to go to prison on behalf of the company's sins. He's been beaten down so frequently that it's hard to forget he's also a savvy striver himself. He's a midwestern boy who glommed onto a media heiress, knowing full well that it would be advantageous to him. Even his relationship to Greg has ultimately amounted to some sort of strategy. He needs an ally to do his dirty work, and Greg has no problem selling his soul.

Macfadyen has been so good at portraying Tom's heartbreak, generating a perverse pathos that serves as a red herring. In the penultimate episode, the audience watched as Shiv told him to his face that she didn't love him and suggested freezing her eggs instead of conceiving a baby with him naturally. He seems to shrink in these moments, making you forget that he's just as ambitious as all these other craven capitalists. In the finale, that pang of rejection flickers across his face as Shiv dances around the question of what role he will occupy in their new Waystar hierarchy. Upon first watch, it was easy to expect that he might slink into the shadows once again.

succession
HBO

Instead, Tom makes a move that has been foreshadowed all season, particularly when Kendall tried to lure him over to his side of the Roy war. "My hunch is that you're going to get fucked, because I've seen you get fucked a lot, and I've never seen Logan get fucked once," Tom tells Kendall. Finally, Tom helps Logan do the fucking, and he brings along Greg. In Episode 4, he tells Greg the story of Nero, who killed his wife and then castrated and married the slave boy Sporus. When offering Greg the opportunity to work with him once again, Tom hearkens back to this, calling Greg "Sporus."

The brilliance of the finale is that, for a moment there, it almost appears as if the big takeaway will be the reconciliation between the youngest three Roy siblings. (Connor, meanwhile, has been momentarily placated by Willa's decision to "fuck it" and accept his marriage proposal.) Kendall, once again at rock bottom, confesses to Shiv and Roman that he was responsible for the death of the waiter at Shiv's wedding. And, remarkably, instead of using it against him, his brother and sister console him in their own stunted way. (Roman: "Shiv, you've killed a kid, right?") The openness allows them to unite for a common purpose: halting their father's sale of the company to GoJo, owned by Alexander Skarsgård's Lukas Matsson. In the messed-up universe of Succession, their solidarity is almost touching. (Almost.)

The previous two seasons of Succession have ended with the focus squarely on Kendall. In the first, Logan brings him under his wing in covering up his crime; in the second, Kendall publicly rebels against his father. As the third season closes, Kendall fades into the background. He consoles Roman while Tom attends to Shiv, who has no idea what he did. Kendall's been screwed over so many times by his father that he knows the drill. Shiv and Roman are in a state of shock. Someone—Tom—tipped off their father that they were coming, and Logan in turn reached out to their mother, Caroline, who restructured the deal of her divorce with Logan so as to strip power from her own children.

There were rumblings from critics early in the season that perhaps Succession was spinning its wheels too much, continually falling back on the Kendall-vs.-Logan paradigm established in the first episodes. Tom's actions allow Armstrong and his team to completely shift the power dynamics in Season 4. No Roy child is on top. Tom has made a deal with the devil, but, as Greg says, who needs a soul anyway? Boo souls.

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Esther Zuckerman is a senior entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @ezwrites.