From the moment I started watching Succession, I’ve rooted for Tom Wambsgans. More specifically, I’ve rooted for the bromance between Tom and Greg, two goofy outsiders whose proximity to the Roy family has yielded personal gain and moral corruption. Their relationship, like a dysfunctional mashup of mentor, work husband, and frenemy, is one of the few sources of real interpersonal warmth on the chilly show.
But this week’s episode, “Return,” reveals just how much of the Roy family’s toxicity has rubbed off on their favorite punching bag.
[Ed. note: This post contains spoilers for Succession season 2, episode 7, “Return.”]
Even though Tom’s been assured by Gerri and Shiv that the internal investigation of the cruises scandal is no big deal, the lawyers ask him enough pointed questions that he starts to panic and leaves the room to get his story straight. He worries, rightly, that he could be thrown under the bus if things go south.
It’s so easy to feel bad for Tom in these moments, especially when his wife is so preoccupied with getting her dad’s attention that she brushes off his concerns with the dismissive tone of an annoyed babysitter. That sympathy is more difficult to sustain when he takes his frustration out on Greg.
After Shiv brushes him off, Tom heads straight to Greg’s apartment. Greg is having a few ATN coworkers over for dinner, which has to sting given that Tom got Greg that new job as a direct response to his (adorably botched attempt at) blackmail. While simultaneously reassuring Greg that there’s nothing to worry about, Tom convinces him to burn the copies he made of the previously destroyed documents that could implicate both of them in a coverup charge.
This isn’t the first time that Tom has channeled hurt feelings into bullying Greg, but it’s getting increasingly hard to watch — and even harder for me to justify my affection for Tom Wambsgans.
Succession is very good at humanizing its characters just enough that we start to empathize with them while continuing to remind us how horrible they are as humans. From the first episode when Roman promised a kid $1 million if he hit a home run and Tom casually tagged him out, I’ve known that he’s complicit in this family’s awfulness. But I’ve always believed that there was still a sweet guy underneath the layers of armor Tom’s built up to survive in the world of corporate warfare.
I’m starting to think I’ve been played for a fool.
I keep hoping against hope that Tom will run away with Greg and leave this family behind. It should be clear to him by now that Logan views him solely as a vehicle for grandchildren and that his relationship with Siobhan is one of convenience and appearance. A marriage that starts with a spouse waiting until the wedding night to confess that they’re not made for monogamy isn’t exactly a great harbinger of mutual trust and respect.
Sure, Tom had his own ulterior motives in marrying Shiv, but now that she’s been promised as Logan’s successor (for now,) there’s no way in hell that Tom could ever take the CEO seat he’s been coveting. That begs the question: what is Tom still getting out of this family? Maybe he can stomach a cheating wife and jokes about his suits for a fat paycheck and penthouse suite, but at this point he’s facing a humiliating resignation at best. More likely it’ll be jail time.
I’m entirely convinced at this point that Tom is going to end up in prison. It’d be the logical, tragic end for the enthusiastic Yes Man who realizes too late he’s been cast as a scapegoat. I’m still holding out hope that he’ll protect Greg, like he did when Logan tried to root out the “traitor” who spoke to his biographer. But I’m not counting on it. For 17 episodes I’ve viewed Tom as the baby iguana trying to blend in with this nest of vipers, but it’s getting harder and harder to turn a blind eye to the fact that he’s grown fangs of his own.
Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled Tom’s last name. It is, in fact, Wambsgans.