Warning: This post contains spoilers for Season 4, episode 5 of Succession
The fifth episode of Succession’s final season isn’t necessarily the show’s most pivotal hour, but it’s easily the funniest one we’ve seen in a while. Titled “Kill List,” it brings the Roy heirs, their dead dad’s long-serving deputies, and a dozen or so other Waystar Royco bigwigs to GoJo’s retreat in the Norwegian mountains for 36 hours of hiking, spit-roasted meat, and mind games. And it features some of the sickest one-liners in the series’ history, from Connor’s complaint that Marcia’s funeral plans include putting Logan “in a kilt like a f-cking Bay City Roller” to Tom’s casual observation that Swedes and Norwegians are “all descended from the same rapists.”
More importantly, plot-wise, we’d been waiting for closure on the GoJo deal since the Season 3 finale, which saw Logan selling out his kids in hopes of offloading the company. “Kill List” sort of resolves that negotiation—though not in the way that newly anointed co-CEOs (or, as Hugo egregiously phrases it, “CEBros”) Kendall and Roman had hoped. What’s fascinating is how brilliantly GoJo founder Lukas Matsson, portrayed by Alexander Skarsgård in all his alpha-male glory, manipulates the two of them and their relatively disenfranchised sister, Shiv.
In fact, Matsson resembles no one so much as Logan. His greeting when Ken and Roman join him on the mountain ridge—“People are f-ckin’ tiny, right? But not us”—even calls back to Logan’s diner monologue from the season 4 premiere: “I’m a hundred feet tall. These people are pygmies.” So it makes sense that the Roy siblings respond to him precisely the way they always responded to their father. By the end of the episode, Matsson is poised to get exactly what he wants: the whole company, including ATN, in a deal the Waystar board is likely to approve.
“We raided the vikings!” Karl exclaims, on the plane home. Did they, though? It’s worth parsing out how Matsson plays the Roy kids to come out on top.
Matsson wounds Kendall’s pride
Ken is the first character we see in the episode, blasting Jay-Z’s “Takeover” in his private car to psych himself up for his return to Waystar Royco in the role of co-CEO. He’s clearly feeling himself as he welcomes his new minions, then tells them to “f-ck off.” This is, after all, what he’s always wanted—albeit not under his ideal circumstances, as Logan’s hand-picked successor—even when he was pretending very hard to want to burn it all to the ground.
But the power balance shifts when the Waystar delegation arrives on Matsson’s turf. Matsson doesn’t have to pretend Ken is brilliant. In fact, he immediately homes in on Ken’s fatal flaw—his pride, and specifically his need to believe he is his dad’s equal. Waystar stock dropped 20% the day Logan died, Matsson points out. He takes swipes at the brothers’ negotiating prowess: “Maybe you guys haven’t done this before, but how it usually works is: I say something, and then you say something.” He mocks Ken’s personal projects (“Sure, lecture me, Vaulter guy”). Matsson’s most brutal insult of all: “I don’t care what you think. You’re a tribute band.”
It might be that last comment that finally convinces Ken to try and tank the GoJo deal entirely. Matsson doesn’t understand Waystar, he tells Roman that evening. Besides: “I like running the ship, I think we’re good at it, and I don’t wanna stop.” (Never mind that this is their very first day “running the ship,” so how could he possibly know they’re good at it?) With Roman in agreement, Ken uses “Quad Squad” Greg to plant a story in the media that “the deal vibes are bad.” But Matsson sees these reports for what they are and sniffs out the brothers’ scheme: “Are you Scooby-Doo-ing me?” he demands in the ridge scene.
Matsson hurts Roman’s feelings
Now, why would Matsson—who suddenly, for reasons that remain murky, wants to get the acquisition moving ASAP—purposely sour the Roy boys on the deal? It seems pretty clear that Ken and Roman are not the Waystar reps he wants to be communicating with—not because they’re great negotiators, but because they are inexperienced and emotional, which makes them unpredictable. The thing is, they’re in charge now, so he’s going to have to figure out what the Waystar board wants and find a reason to offer it to them without going through the brothers.
It’s Roman, the spikiest but also the most loyal and sensitive sibling, who gives him that excuse. Roman is driven less by pride or ambition than by love for his father—despite the fact that he’s borne the brunt of Logan’s abuses over the years. He’s furious that Matsson has chosen this particular moment to drag them halfway around the world. “It’s not like our dad died yesterday. It was a couple of days ago,” he grumbles sarcastically. Matsson’s reply: “Well, at least you didn’t find him yourself, BMW still running. That sh-t can be traumatic.” Then, when the brothers fail to muster much empathy, he needles them: “No sorrys for Lukas?” Matsson can play the Logan role, ripping into Roman to make him fall in line, but he also shares Roman’s depressive, mercurial, edgelord sort of temperament. Here, he’s twisting the knife by out-Roman-ing Roman.
Read more on Succession:
- Gerri Is Using Fashion to Assert Her Power
- The Succession Timeline Is Much Tighter Than You Think
- The Case for Betting on Tom Wambsgans
- Roman Roy Has Always Been Succession‘s Most Empathetic Character
- Succession Was Never Really About Logan Roy
What really seems to upset Roman, though, to the extent that he lets go of his objective to “do Dad’s deal” and joins Ken in trying to tank it, is Matsson’s constant undermining of Logan’s legacy. The Swede belittles ATN as “news for angry old people” that, under the GoJo umbrella, would be “IKEA’d to f-ck.” Waystar as a whole? “It’s a parts shop. Good parts, bad brand.” Logan as a human being? “A prick.”
Ken doesn’t have to work hard to convince Roman that Matsson is “gonna destroy everything Dad built.” So, when the negotiators are on the ridge and Matsson calls the brothers “two big boys playing Scooby-Doos,” Roman can’t help but explode: “You just drag us out here, you inhuman f-cking dog man… You f-cking killed him, too… We’re not f-cking selling to you… It’s not happening… I f-cking hate you. And if you tell the board I said any of this, I’m gonna say it was a negotiating tactic.” Of course, it’s precisely this tantrum that gives Matsson an excuse to sidestep the CEBros. “You just f-cked yourself,” he announces.
Matsson makes Shiv feel special
Why is Matsson so sure he doesn’t need Ken and Roman to get the deal done? Because he’s already made a point of reaching out to Shiv, who feels resentful and out of the loop at Waystar. By making her feel smart and savvy (not to mention attractive) he gives her what she used to get from Logan: the respect of a powerful man whose worldview could not be more different from her own. And she gives him precisely the information he needs to make his counteroffer.
Shiv is not happy with where she has landed on the Waystar org chart in the wake of her father’s death. On the plane to Norway, she tries to update her brothers on some worrisome posthumous media narratives surrounding Logan; they don’t have time for it. They do, however, try to appease her with a casual offer to “cut Tom’s throat.” Shiv brushes it off—not because she still cares about Tom, but because if anyone is going to ruin him, she wants to do it herself.
In Norway, Matsson makes a big show of letting her win him over. “Am I gonna get a lawsuit if I hug you?” he greets her when the siblings arrive. Later, however, when he invites her to his lodging for a private chat, he appears to take her into his confidence. There’s booze and drugs. It’s not clear whether Shiv, who is pregnant, actually partakes or just pretends to; what’s more important is that she wants him to think she knows how to party. Matsson tests her with a story that should disgust her—he says he’s been sending his blood to an ex, who also happens to be a high-level GoJo employee. Instead of throwing her drink in his face, she offers “some informal advice” on navigating potential bad press. And she’s rewarded with his approval: “I would like that. I would. I like you, you’re cool. You’re not judgy,” he says. “You can take a joke. I like that. Like your dad.” This is everything she’s ever wanted to hear. It doesn’t hurt that he’s hot and she can throw her flirtation with him in Tom’s face.
While he’s flattering her, Matsson gets some other crucial tidbits out of their conversation. After inquiring about her marriage, he can deduce that she’s not likely to stand in the way of GoJo buying ATN on Tom’s account; on the contrary, selling what she calls a “toxic asset” out from under him would be a power move on her part. And although Matsson shrugs off her prediction that the board will come around to a deal that includes ATN if he just ups his offer a bit… well, that’s exactly what he does in the end. Frank fields the call on the plane back to New York, with many of the stakeholders present, and everyone is so excited about Ken and Roman’s apparent success that it’s simply too late for them to kill the deal. Matsson cements his conspiratorial relationship with Shiv by requesting a photo of her brothers’ devastated faces. The episode’s final shot is a closeup of her own smile—but Matsson is the real winner, and he knows it.