It’s that most wonderful time of the year.
No, not the pre-holiday giddiness that strikes when a Mariah Carey jingle blasts through our radio speakers or the mouth-watering anticipation that comes with gorging ourselves on canned cranberry sauce and overdone turkey. No, that kind of wonderful is for the peasants, the people whose sweaty palms you’d shake on the street before jumping into your chauffeured black car and being offered hand sanitizer by Shiv Roy.
The kind of wonderful we’re talking about is the multiple-episodes-deep binge-watching point we’ve reached in HBO’s Succession — the rising climax peppered with Little Lord F***leroy conference-line quips and Logan Roy’s “everything’s coming up f*ck” recaps. It’s here, in Succession’s fourth episode, that the tragi-comedy about an aging patriarch clinging by his fingernails to the conservative conglomerate that is his life’s work transforms, into a tragi-romance about two company men on very different paths whose bro-ship might bring down a Waystar Royco empire.
We’re talking, of course, about Tom and Greg and that absolutely bonkers interaction between Tom and Greg. While Logan and Kendall made nice(-ish) over a billionaire’s clam-bake hosted on Adrien Brody’s private island, things at ATN took a turn for the worse. A still-spiraling Tom was pushed to the brink by the notion that the company’s org chart might suggest his own wife was pegging him via corporate governance. He was given two directives by Shiv in this episode — the first being to curb the editorial freedom of ATN newsboy and WhitePrideFM favorite Ravenhead for Logan’s gain in the ongoing fight for the company’s future. The second, infinitely easier task to accomplish for the self-proclaimed minion wrangler, had to do with his himbo boy-toy Greg, whose loyalty is currently being courted with courtesy pastries and rum-and-coke tea-times. Shiv and Logan need Greg to sign with their lawyers, accepting Waystar Royco’s legal protection in exchange for his commitment to playing on their side of the larger Kendall vs. family feud. And, though Tom is waist-deep in prison blogs detailing how to burp his fermented toilet wine for maximum taste, he’s still the man for the job.
What transpires is one of the strangest showdowns we’ve seen on this drama series to date — a back-and-forth flirt-a-thon filled with thinly-veiled threats, mock cock-fights, history lessons in Roman succession, and, perhaps, the most romantic thing we’ll ever hear any person say on this show.
But what does it all mean? We’ve dusted off our history books and refreshed our Wikipedia searches to find out.
Nero & Sporus
As he laments their separate futures — Greg will be living in a theme park castle of his choosing somewhere upstate while Tom will be “sucking off ogres for phone cards” in the dungeons — Shiv’s errand boy begins to spin an unsettling yarn about the fifth Emperor of Rome, Nero. Now, Nero suffered from some serious mommy issues — she schemed and murdered to put her son on the throne when he was just 17-years-old — and he had a lecherous reputation, mostly because he preferred to act in stage productions amongst the commoners rather than do any sort of real ruling. He had a fairly mild reign until he ordered the death of his mother and the slaying of his first wife so that he could remarry a woman named Poppaea Sabina, who he most likely sincerely loved. Unfortunately for Poppaea Sabina, Nero had a temper and during a marital spat, he kicked his pregnant wife in the stomach, effectively killing her and his unborn child. This is where Sporus comes in.
Not much is known about the young man’s life — some claim he was a slave boy, others a freedman — but we do know that he likely had beautiful, delicate features that closely resembled Sabina’s. Nero had Sporus castrated, dressed him in women’s clothing, and quickly married him — announcing the young man was now, essentially, his wife. He instructed everyone to refer to Sporus as “lady” and “empress” though he himself may have called him Sabina. It’s likely that Nero’s decision to marry Sporus was his own way of coping with the death of his previous spouse, though it could have also been a power play if Sporus, who looked so like the late royal, had some sort of claim to the throne.
Sadly, their twisted love affair would come to an end when Nero, out of favor with the Senate and the Roman public following a disastrous fire that wiped out much of the city, committed suicide, ushering in a period of violence and war that would come to be known as the Year of the Four Emperors. Four separate rulers vied for succession rights marking the empire’s first Civil War and the end of a dynasty.
So, heavy, foreshadowing stuff. But what might it mean for the bromance between Greg Sprinkles and our depressed shame sponge, Terminal Tom?
The power plays happening within Waystar Royco are clearly warping each of the Roy family members, but Shiv seems to be faring the worst. Once independent and fairly removed from her father’s stifling influence, she’s now transformed into just another in a long line of lackeys vying for a bit of praise from a man who doesn’t view any of his children as fit to inherit his greatness. Her obsession with pleasing her father and seeming worthy of being passed his company mantle is fraying the already-fragile tightrope her marriage rests upon. Near the end of season two, we saw Tom assert dominance by way of stolen yacht chicken and depressingly honest truth-telling — he’s not happy in their marriage, both the personal and professional one. He’s also not too pleased that he might one day soon be offered up as a sacrificial lamb should the FBI and DOJ come looking for a scapegoat to this whole cruises mess.
Tom’s head is on the literal chopping block, so, when he lovingly tells his former protege, “ I’d castrate you and marry you in a heartbeat” the sentiment is laced with frustration over their separate futures and anxiety over their flip-flopped positions on the food chain. Tom likely views Greg as a genuine friend, mostly because he knows that he controls that relationship — for now. Their bond is the polar opposite of the power struggle he experiences with Shiv and it’s likely something he’s come to count on amidst the corporate takeovers and Congressional hearings he’s had to suffer through. Tom isn’t suited for the corporatized gladiator-like arena that is Waystar Royco but he claws for a place amongst the lions anyway because greed and power are intoxicating drugs. He’s coming down from that high at the moment though thanks to an impending criminal trial which might be enough to push him over the edge. If Tom has cast himself as Nero in this debauched comeback story, and Greg his Sporus, what does that mean for Shiv and the rest of the Roys?
The assumption is that, when the time comes, Tom will fall on his sword for the good of the company and the good of the family. Most of his in-laws see him as a simple-minded, lovesick puppy willing to do Shiv’s bidding. It’s a narrative she’s helped push along with how she publicly humiliates him in front of her family members — whether it’s an intimate dinner at Roman’s place or a brunch-timed culling in the middle of the Mediterranean sea. But, what if Tom decides not to play the part he’s been assigned? What if, instead of resigning himself to dungeons and toilet wine, he instead kills Shiv (metaphorically) and kickstarts another civil war within the Roy empire? And what if Greg, who obviously can’t keep finding a home on both sides of the fence now that he’s legally locked in with Waystar Royco, ended up aligning himself with Tom against, not just Kendall, but Logan as well?
Either way, the pair is still doomed — but maybe they burn the company and the Roy family to the ground on their way out?