‘Succession’ Season 4, Episode 5 Recap: Bleed the Swede
Season 4, Episode 5: ‘Kill List’
If you were to make a list of all the terms and phrases used most often in “Succession,” the word “yeah” would probably be at No. 1, followed closely by the most unprintable of profanities. But not far down the list you might find this: “I like you.”
People in the Roys’ orbit say “I like you” a lot. Kendall said it to Tom last week, when his brother-in-law was trying to make peace — and save his job — at Logan’s wake. Lukas Matsson says it to Shiv this week; and he has said it before to both Kendall and Roman. “I like you” in “Succession”-speak is a way of communicating something sincere (ish) amid the bluster of corporate wheeling and dealing.
But what does it really mean? “I think I can do business with you?” Or, “What I’m about to do to you isn’t personal?”
“Succession” returns to one of its most common storytelling conceits this week, as the Roys and their entourage gather in a spectacular location, to celebrate and to scheme. This time they’re off to the scenic mountains of Norway, where Matsson’s GoJo team has assembled for their annual retreat, hoping to toast a successful Waystar acquisition. The guests are a bundle of nerves when they arrive, still reeling from Logan’s death and their subsequent hurried, haphazard burying of various hatchets. By the time they head back home, though? Things have changed.
The trip is the first big test for Kendall and Roman, who spend the first part of this episode scrutinizing emails and complaining about keeping the numbers straight across five Waystar divisions. Kendall says they are “death-wrestling with ogres.” (Shiv, rolling her eyes: “You’re reading documents.”) Roman cracks jokes about playing boss, describing his approach to Waystar’s movie business as, “I will say no a lot and shout, obviously.” But it’s clear he takes his new job seriously.
That could be why it rattles the Roy boys a bit when they hear that Matsson has a list of Waystar personnel he needs to see, and that it includes the likes of Frank, Karl and Gerri — “the Grays.” Shiv jokes that maybe Matsson doesn’t want to deal only with “the B-roll Brothers,” but she’s unsettled too at not being copied on important Waystar emails.
All this toxic anxiety is airborne as the Waystar core arrives at GoJo’s retreat and gets sorted into their own individual wooden cube-cabins. The American side is afraid of looking like clods (and they do not help their cause when during their first public interaction with GoJo they have way too much food from the brunch buffet piled onto their plates). Gerri though, on the plane ride over, encourages her people not to be so worried about these smug Swedes.
“We’ve been raised by wolves,” she says. “Exposed to a pathogen that goes by the name Logan Roy.”
For his part, Kendall seems laser-focused. Matsson pledged to buy Waystar Royco (minus ATN) for $144 a share. If they can get him to go up even $1, the board will be thrilled. In a private meeting with Matsson, Kendall casts a steely eye on him and remains unfazed even when the flighty tech billionaire makes a snide comment about Waystar’s sliding stock price. (“I feel like I’m going to checkout during a sale and getting asked to pay more.”) Kendall does not flinch either when Matsson says he wants ATN back into the deal … now at $187 a share.
So ends Round 1 of this negotiation, with Matsson slightly ahead, if only because he asked for something Kendall and Roman were not prepared to give.
Round 2 is messier, thanks to Tom. Worried about his future — and annoyed that the first GoJo person he meets calls him “Tom of Siobhan” — he concocts a plan to look cool in front of Matsson by using Greg as a “pawn sacrifice.” Tom sits at Matsson’s table and signals Greg to come by and say something stupid, so he can bond with GoJo by making fun of an underling.
But Kendall is in the area; and whatever his (many) faults, Kendall is not inclined to stand by idly while a family member is getting bullied. “Maybe it’s funnier with subtitles,” he growls when he hears Matsson and his men mocking Waystar’s nepotism in Swedish. With tempers high, the negotiations resume. Matsson calls ATN an expensive outrage machine with a literally dying audience, and says Waystar is a “bad brand.” Kendall pushes back, calling ATN a “phenomenally lucrative and influential news operation.” Matsson scoffs, saying, “I don’t care what you think. You’re a tribute band.”
Round 2, it would seem, has gone to Matsson. Yet right before Kendall walks away, Matsson notes that he is “trying to make you rich,” to which Kendall mutters, “Already rich.” Perhaps that gets Kendall thinking. They don’t have to do Logan’s deal. As Shiv says, their old man wanted “to poison Brezhnev and hang Mandela,” so navigating by what Kendall calls “Dad maps” may not always be the best idea. What if they just … tank the deal?
So we move to Round 3, which takes place on one of the highest mountain ridges at the resort. There, Matsson asks if the Roys are “Scooby Doo-ing me” (as in “telling me the theme parks are haunted”) by spreading poisonous rumors in the press about how GoJo hates Waystar’s assets. When Kendall plays it cool and talks about slowing the deal down, an enraged Matsson says Logan would be “embarrassed.”
That’s when Roman loses his cool — and when Kieran Culkin delivers one of his best performances of the series. Cornering Matsson (who is urinating at the time, just like when Roman first met him), Roman goes in for the shame-kill, unloading his anger over the GoJo boss dragging his feet on the deal for six months then demanding action the day after Logan’s death. “I hate you,” Roman says, adding with a satisfied grin that this deal will never happen.
Is he for real, or is this just — as Logan might say — a play? On the return flight, the Waystar execs take a call from Matsson. He still wants everything, ATN included, but now for $192 a share. Everyone is ecstatic (except for the senior employees who find out that they are on GoJo’s “kill list”). Was this Kendall and Roman’s plan all along, to be so obstinate that Matsson would give them more money just to shut them up?
Or — and here is a twist — was it Shiv’s? Shiv seems eager to jettison ATN after she hears that the network is working closely with a far right presidential candidate, so she cozies up to Matsson after his disastrous Round 2 with her brothers. He finds her to be a good listener, sharing a weird tale of woe about sending a female employee multiple packages of his blood. But did they talk about something else, offscreen? After the new offer, Matsson calls Shiv and asks her to send him a picture of her brothers’ sour faces, knowing that they failed in their mission to make him blow up the deal.
We don’t know for sure, but perhaps he outplayed them, with some suggestions from Shiv for how to needle them. After all … he likes her.
My TiVo’s description of this episode: “Logan is wary about the purpose of the team-building retreat for the company’s key people.” I’ve heard of hiding spoilers but this is ridiculous.
Greg, trying to force his way into the inner circle of Roy siblings, tries out a group name: the Quad Squad!
When Tom tries to befriend the GoJo crew, they ask for his opinion about the future of France and rather than trying to sound smart he changes tactics and plays the part of the cocky American news boss who does not care about Europe. (“We have our own Paris and when it burns we’ll build another.”)
Are Shiv and Tom an item again? They both seem aroused by their bickering at the retreat, where she kicks gravel on his shoes because they are “so white” and he responds by flicking one of her earlobes and calling them “thick and chewy, like barnacle meat.” (Also, perhaps another indicator that Shiv and Matsson have a private deal is that Tom’s name is not on the kill list.)
Throughout this episode the Waystar folks mention the problems with their big-budget movie about a sleepy robot. Lest you think that they are speaking metaphorically, when we finally get to experience a snippet of the film, we hear a booming metallic voice shouting, “You awoke me from my hibernation!”
When does Kendall realize Matsson is, as he says to Roman, “a card trick?” Could it be when the Swede tries to compete with their sad story about a dead father by casually confessing that he found his own father’s corpse? (Matsson, when the Roys do not immediately react: “No sorries for Lukas?”)
Kendall tellingly uses Logan’s nickname for Shiv when he asks Roman if their sister should join their deal-tanking plan. “Can Pinky dance?” Kendall wonders. If the end of this episode is any indication, she can boogie.