A Toast to Tom Wambsgans Eating His Feelings
He’s been getting his melancholy everywhere since episode two.
As this week’s episode, “Honeymoon States,” proved, when things are tense on Succession, there are two things we can count on Tom Wambsgans to do: offer to be of service and eat a little snack.
Despite his insistence throughout the series’ four seasons that all he wants is an opportunity to serve whoever will have him, Tom is perpetually the odd man out among those at the top of the Waystar Royco food chain, and actor Matthew Macfadyen sells that identity with his flat “uh huh” line deliveries, his shrugging shoulders, and the occasional outburst of incandescent, office-furniture-destroying fury. But Macfadyen is great at something else, too: shoving food into his mouth.
Compared with the rest of the Roys — who barely seem to prioritize meals, consider déclassé those who dare to order fresh ’za for a long night in the office, and are overly fond of using “trough” as an insult — Tom’s willingness to indulge in a nosh makes him only more of an outsider. It also provides Macfadyen with opportunities to go performatively big with a chomp or chew, to reflect Tom’s humanity, and occasionally to project Tom’s discomfort through the food-based torment of others, usually Cousin Greg. Let’s revisit some of the most memorable ways Tom has used food and drink to convey his headspace. May his plate forever groan.
S1E2, “Sh*t Show at the F**ck Factory”: The cake
Yes, Logan has had a stroke that lands him in the hospital with wife Marcia and the Roy children at his bedside. You’re saying this isn’t the time to eat a piece of cake and then randomly propose to Shiv outside a hospital bathroom? Why did no one tell Tom? There’s a brief cutaway back to him later when the plate is on a table next to him and he longingly looks at the last few bites; that’s far more relatable than any of the scheming machinations the Roy children are already entangled in.
S1E3, “Lifeboats”: The doggy bag
I’m sorry, but Tom isn’t wrong. If you’re going to take the free food from work home with you, you gotta do it in something other than a receptacle specifically designed for feces. This is one of Tom’s first lessons to Greg about Waystar Royco’s emphasis on optics, and, of course, it involves Tom humiliating Greg for probably reminding him too much of himself. Get ready for a lot more of this.
S1E5, “I Went to Market”: The Thanksgiving toast
Tom and Shiv toasting at Thanksgiving dinner is simply a nice scene before Logan loses his mind and hits his grandson with a can of cranberry sauce. Normal family stuff! It’s included here as a rare instance of Tom and Shiv getting along and our first indication that wine will play a symbolic role in the couple’s relationship. Keep reading for when it goes vinegar sour.
S1E6, “Which Side Are You On?”: The ortolan
It didn’t take long for Tom to go from ridiculing Greg to trying to seduce him, did it? The ortolan scene captures so much about the Tom-Greg dynamic: Tom’s bullying of Greg, the insistence that something gross is good because rich people do it, Greg’s acquiescence because he too would like to be rich one day, and if Tom could do it, why not Greg? Succession left out some details about how ortolans are prepared — force-fed and then drowned in brandy — and the fact that the birds are on the verge of extinction because people are really into eating gamy brains while hiding behind a napkin. Thanks a lot, Tom.
S1E8, “Prague”: The load
If you swallow something, does it count as food? Discuss amongst yourselves.
S1E10, “Nobody Is Ever Missing”: The wine contribution
Let’s say your spouse has told you on your wedding night that they don’t think they’re suited to monogamy, and when you return to the reception, you see the person they’ve been cheating on you with. Wouldn’t you choose a full-on spite response too? Tom is often a braggadocious blowhard, but in this moment, it’s difficult to root against him for embarrassing Shiv’s fuck buddy, Nate, by commanding that the guy pour the wine he was drinking — to which Tom’s parents made a contribution! — back into the bottle. It’s petty and perfectly Tom; what’s more surprising is that Nate goes along with it. (This will not be the last time Tom takes his frustration with Shiv out on another man she cares for.)
S2E3, “Hunting”: The sausage and the breakfast
Logan Roy expressed many racist, sexist, xenophobic, and politically incorrect sentiments in his time, but were any of them as horrifying as “Oink for your sausages, piggies”? This is real Deliverance-style stuff, making your employees crawl around on the floor and fight over sausages as a display of humiliation and domination, and it’s upsetting watching Tom vacillate between refusing and giving in to the peer pressure.
But Tom does protect Greg by letting him take one of the sausages, another example of food playing an outsize role in their bond. Tom putting his hand on Greg’s arm at breakfast the next morning probably launched a thousand fanfic ships.
S2E4, “Safe Room”: The water bottles
How does Tom keep missing on these throws when Greg is such a gigantic target? Isn’t the Midwest baseball country? I would have expected better form!
S2E5, “Tern Haven”: The monarchal vegetable
The Pierces may see themselves as better than the Roys, but they do deserve Tom, of all people, poking fun at their penchant for quoting Shakespeare at the dinner table with his delivery of “Ooh, king of edible leaves, His Majesty, the spinach!” Get over yourselves. You’re still billionaires with inherited fortunes! There’s no real moral high ground here!
S2E9, “DC”: The finger licking
Sure, this 60 Minutes–like segment on Waystar Royco’s cruises, the legacy of Lester “Mo” McClintock, and the “no real person involved” designation is damning, but what better way to signal your unimpressed reaction than eating from a communal bowl of tortilla chips and licking your fingers in mixed company?
S2E10, “This Is Not for Tears”: The chicken
You know how Pride & Prejudice devotees love to share the GIF of Macfadyen’s hand flexing after his Mr. Darcy touches Keira Knightley’s Elizabeth for the first time? My hope for our World Wide Web is that Macfadyen’s work as Tom chowing down on Logan’s chicken will have the same long internet life. This is a step up from when he was angry at Shiv and took it out on Nate at their wedding; what better way to hurt his wife than embarrass her father? The unbroken eye contact, the sequential bites, that little nod to Logan after he puts the bone back on his plate! Logan has never been this thrown off his game. Congratulations to Tom for achieving that.
S3E4, “Lion in the Meadow”: The muffin
Everyone remembers this scene because it’s when Tom tells Greg the story of Nero and Sporus (“I’d castrate you and marry you in a heartbeat”). But in typical Tom-feeds-his-feelings fashion, that HR-unfriendly declaration of love arrives after he pilfers a muffin from Greg’s pastry basket. This may be his most midwestern moment of all — eschewing some very luxurious-looking croissants and danishes for a humble frostingless cupcake.
S3E6, “What It Takes”: The Griddle Hero special
“What It Takes” arrives at the height of Tom’s personal and professional insecurity, which results in a food-packed episode where Tom tries to wrap his mind around his potential prison time, the dissolution of his marriage, and his own inconsequence through various shared meals. It’s all very self-involved, but it also makes for the saddest waffle ever ordered. Consider Tom’s dejected assessment of the terrible wine from his and Shiv’s vineyard, a symbol of their failed union; his bizarre denial to Greg of never before having a diner breakfast of mostly brown foods, as if his midwestern childhood didn’t happen; and the practiced resignation with which he orders a second breakfast with Kendall, as if he’s actually in training. Given Tom’s emotional eating in this episode, Ron Swanson is perhaps not the only midwesterner who can put away a stunning amount of breakfast food.
S4E4, “Honeymoon States”: The fish taco
There’s no way this dainty canapé is actually a fish taco because Marcia would never order such a thing. But it’s perfectly in line with Gerri’s whip-smart diminishment of all the men in the room that she would suggest a chain-restaurant appetizer, a happy-hour two-for-one special, as Tom’s snack of choice, a subtle Who is this guy? dig before he dares to throw his hat into the proverbial ring. If Tom has finally bitten off more than he can chew, well, he had a good run there, didn’t he?