Tom and Shiv’s Weird Earlobes ‘Like Barnacle Meat’ Line newsusface

A fun game to play on Monday mornings is trying to guess which moment from Sunday night’s episode of Succession is the one that’s going to get the most memes made out of it. It’s a rough race on any given week, but Sunday night’s episode provided a contest as brutal as, well, competing to be the interim CEO of Waystar Royco, following the death of Logan Roy.

If you were watching Season 4, Episode 5 of Succession, titled “Kill List,” along with me in my home, you would have been treated to a supplementary soundtrack to the night’s drama: a series of “ahs!” “eeks!” “oh my gods!” and the evergreen, “What are you doing, Shiv?!”

In the episode, the gang—the Roy siblings and the coterie of thirsty board members—was cruelly made to fly to Norway, while Logan still laid in a casket awaiting his funeral, in order to meet with Scandinavian GoJo CEO Lukas Matsson about purchasing the majority of Waystar. It’s an outrageous power move, forcing the team to cross the ocean while still grieving. The result was that everyone’s moods were a bit frantic and wacky, especially once talk of a “kill list”—the people who would be fired after the sale—started to go around.

As such, there were numerous standout, memeable moments.

There was Tom’s cringey attempt to mingle with the Swedes, interrupting their outrageously smug conversation—“Is France going to make it? Or are they going to pull a Greece?”—and offering his batshit, though kind of baller, take: In America, “We don’t give a fuck.”

After seeing Kendall write the number “144” on a piece of paper on a clipboard, asserting that as his negotiation tactic, I wonder if I am more equipped to broker nine-figure corporate takeovers than I thought.

Karolina meeting GoJo’s comms director and remarking, “You look refreshed,” is one of the most savage and also unhinged pieces of behavior I’ve seen, from one of the more quietly fun characters on the show.

When Lukas took off his fleece pullover to start negotiations, revealing a hint of Skars-ab, I gasped. When Frank and Carl sat outside the sauna in their robes, judging everyone sweltering inside, I guffawed. And when Cousin Greg referred to himself and the Roy kids as the “Quad Squad,” I shook my head in second-hand embarrassment. The cycle of emotions I went through during Shiv and Lukas’ cocaine-and-whiskey talk about how to sweep his bad habit of sending bricks of frozen blood to his direct report (?!) was too complicated to describe at this moment. (Shiv, you’re pregnant!)

But there is one moment that I, nor any of us, will soon forget from “Kill List.” I am, of course, talking about the barnacle-meat earlobes.

Shiv and Tom, the former married couple, are in a weirder place than ever in Norway. They are now in a state of tortured limbo as they figure out how to divorce while grieving Logan’s death, alternately hating and needing each other desperately.

Shiv picks a fight with Tom, drunk with power—or possibly still just drunk—from the night before. Tom, in retaliation and possibly out of jealousy, confronts her about her rendezvous with Lukas the previous night. “Your earlobes are thick and chewy, like barnacle meat,” he tells her.

What in the world???

It’s meant as an insult. It’s meant to be kind of erotic. Their interaction is so heated, you could cut through the sexual tension like, I suppose, it was barnacle meat. She gets a barb back at him, telling Tom that Lukas is boring, but “conventionally attractive” and “broad,” unlike him who is “wiry, like a fucking spelunker.”

As Emma Fraser wrote in a piece for The Daily Beast’s Obsessed, there’s something clearly sadistic and twisted about Tom and Shiv’s relationship, especially at this point in the series. But there’s also something that is, somehow, relatable about it, too. Would I ever compare my partner’s earlobes to a bulbous arthropod? No, not as a passion-fueled insult, and certainly not as some bizarre fetishy turn-on. But the messiness of their swirl of attraction, cruelty, codependence, and resentment is a complicated cocktail that I think a lot of people know well.

In any case, Succession fans on Twitter lit up with the bewildered excitement that you would expect from a reference to barnacle-meat earlobes.

The effect of all of this is that I googled images of barnacle meat, to see what the hell it looks like. (I do not recommend doing this.) More pressingly, it has me wondering what could possibly be in store for this couple.

The most realistic thing about this relationship, for all of the outlandish lines dialogue and bizarre dynamics, is how inscrutable it is. Too often on TV, a couple is clearly doomed or obviously fated to be. This one? Not a damn clue. But I’m excited to channel my inner wiry spelunker and dig through the last few episodes to find out.

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