This week’s episode opens with Tom warbling “Rasmussen! It’s election eve and guess what Father Sexmas has brought you? Hot polling!“
(Rasmussen is the real-world right-wing polling company that this weekend showed Trump ahead of Biden.)
Good husband Tom has brought Shiv breakfast in her home office. He got the tray from the caterer, part of a crew that has descended on their apartment for the “Tailgate Party,” an ATV pre-Presidential election-night fixture that Logan had always hosted in his townhouse.
Now the party has moved to Shiv and Tom’s apartment, a gorgeous, if somewhat generic, modern downtown triplex with several terraces.
When last we checked on Mr. and Mrs. Bitey, they were reuniting.
And from the looks of their latest post-hot-sex texts, it feels so good.
Which makes the “prezzie” that Tom offers along with brekkie a head-scratcher.
As she opens the Cartier-like box, Shiv’s perhaps expecting a watch.
Instead, she finds a glass paperweight with a scorpion inside.
Huh? Passive aggressive, Tom? It suggests that fable about the scorpion promising the frog not to bite him if he’ll carry him across the river. Half-way, the scorpion indeed stings the frog, and as the frog dies, the scorpion explains “It is my nature.”
As a marriage metaphor, it’s heavy-handed. Tom claims it’s a “joke. I love you, honey, but you kill me, and I kill you.”
But it does explain the nature of what becomes of their cocktail bash, a.k.a The Night of 1,000 Stingers.
This shindig is ostensibly about gathering the top political kingmakers in a room to be nonpartisan and convivial as they crown the next President.
But betrayal is the Roy nature. The center does not hold. And these are desperate, mostly despicable, people, forced to drink terrible wine.
By the end, ironically, Willa and Connor are the only couple left standing. And their mutual support is fun and endearing in an otherwise devastating, pitch-dark episode.
From the beginning, Connor busts out some comic lines. At the sibs’ early-morning meeting, he says he wants Logan’s funeral to be a “tight-90.” When talk turns to polling, he says “In Alaska, I’m exploding.”
But at the party, a manic Roman tries to strong-arm Connor into dropping out and sending his once laughable Conhead army to the now-down-in-the-polls proto-Nazi Jared Mencken, in return for an ambassadorship.
The first offer is Mogadishu, but Connor thinks it’s too “car-bomby.”
Earlier, a mob-bossy Kendall had met with his ex-wife Rava and heard that their daughter Sophie no longer wants to go to school. She’s had a “racially tinged” experience on the street and her classmates have started an “anti-ATN thing.”
Rava just wants Ken to call his daughter. But knowing he’s a shitty parent, Kendall gets grandiose, screaming “Six continents! I’m breaking my back and it’s all for them! To make the world safe!”
He’s bonkers, but I like that the writers are showing some real-world consequences from Fox News-style propaganda.
Let’s get back to co-host Pinky, who is still playing the dangerous role of double agent. She orders Mattson to attend. (He didn’t want to be part of an “AOL-era...putrid stuffed mushrooms” thing.) But after a post-Living+ bump, the Waystar stock is back in a trough, and she knows the boys plan to go “regulatory” to try to kill the deal. She wants Mattson to mix with the important folks who’ll be there.
In one of the best-written moments, Kendall has just welcomed the guests, made a moderately charming speech, and asked for a moment of silence in memory of his dad. That’s when the Swedes burst in.
Mattson is not good; he really seems Musked up. For starters, he’s wearing a hideous gold fur bomber jacket, like an out-of-work oligarch. He’s out of his element and acting like a “jerk-off coder from Gothenburg.”
To her family, Shiv feigns that she’s shocked by Mattson’s arrival, but agrees to baby-sit him. He later tells her something insightful: He thought these people would be sophisticated, but they’re only interested in “gossip and money.”
And what with the vaping and imbibing, he and his sidekick Oskar start publicly humiliating Ebba, the harassed head of comms to whom Mattson had previously sent his blood. Mattson tells Greg (who proudly fired one hundred ATV people in a single bound) to fire Ebba. They all scream “Ebba!” -- like Marlon Brando screaming “Stella!”-- as she retreats to a terrace.
The dumpster brothers have heard what happened and had earlier gotten some oppo on the blood situation, so they simulate humanity and go out to soothe her. Ebba ends up delivering the goods, saying that Mattson “is not even a real coder -- he just got stuff in a box and sold it” -- and also spills that his numbers in India are inflated.
Shiv calls him out, and Mattson admits that he’d need “two Indias” to make those numbers true. So this is why he’s so hot on the deal -- he’s buying cover and time so he can conceal this subscription numbers scandal.
But let’s get to the ticking time bomb of the ep, the unconscious uncoupling of Shiv and Tom. Even before the party started, Tom had complained that he was tired. But with his “sandpaper” eyes, he managed to see that Shiv, while dancing with Mattson all night, was betraying him. I’d already labeled their domestic cruelty an act out of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” and that’s exactly what Jesse Armstrong, writer and showrunner, called it in a post-show video.
This balcony scene, a reverse Romeo and Juliet, was almost six minutes of an exquisitely acted gut-punch. Both Shiv and Tom seem to realize that this time, they’ve backed the wrong horse in work and love, so what’s left? Each said terrible things about the other, and sadly, both were right. Tom really went for the solar plexus when he said that Shiv was cruel and would not make a good mother.
If I may digress for a minute: I understand she’s in denial, but Shiv’s pregnancy storyline bothers me, especially in this political climate. There was even a fakeout of Shiv falling down stairs. Plus, the idea that Tom would not know she’s almost 20 weeks pregnant amid all their recent intimacy is ridiculous.
Still, he said things like “you refused to have my baby.”
So what started out as a passive-aggressive “joke” on his part has become the terrible truth. They are both scorpions, thinking they’re frogs.
Naturally, in the end, with the India info, Kendall sees an opening for himself. He pulls Karl into a room to discuss going “reverse Viking”: Waystar buying GoJo. When Karl asks about his siblings, Ken says, “One head, one crown.”
One head, one crown, one big nervous breakdown.
See you at the funeral.