Recap: Succession (S4, Ep5) — Shiv Finds Her Footing While Her Brothers Stumble
I really thought things were going to be different this time, you know? A lot of Succession is spent watching Kendall (Jeremy Strong) try and fail to run Waystar Royco, whether it be attempting to usurp leadership from his father Logan or to take the power that Logan gives him and do something with it. Tech giant and aspiring Waystar owner Lukas Matsson (Alexander Skarsgård) references Kendall’s failure to salvage media startup Vaulter at the beginning of season two during an argument over whether Matsson is qualified to reboot Waystar, and the comparison of the two events isn’t unintentional. It’s as though Succession itself is reminding Kendall—both in this moment and throughout the entire episode—that even if he hacks away at Logan’s kilt-clad corpse as much as he wants, it won’t change the fact that he’s not ready to take on people outside the submissive Waystar bubble.
“Kill List” simultaneously feels like it doesn’t do much while also doing a lot. I assumed that whenever we got back into Matsson’s plot to buy Waystar, we would get a much showier episode, but Succession treats it with the same underhanded calm as when Logan died. The Waystar team is traveling to Norway at Matsson’s invitation, knowing full well that he’s itching to buy the company two days after its patriarch’s death. Kendall and his fellow sibling and co-CEO Roman (Kieran Culkin) aren’t having it and scheme to tank the deal in a way that won’t get them fired. Mayhem (and a bit of underhand racism by Tom [Matthew Macfayden]) ensues.
It’s also a really funny episode. Tom trying to fit in with people far above his pay grade will always be funny, as are Greg’s (Nicholas Braun) ramblings about how Matsson enjoys listening to podcasts as he “watches ‘em slide on the beanpole” and how “the baguette might be mightier than the bagel.” Neglected sister Shiv (Sarah Snook) finds herself hanging around with Matsson after being once again excluded from her brothers’ schemes, and he reveals that he’s been making a habit of sending his PR woman several liters of his blood, giving a new meaning to the “bleed the Swede” line from the beginning of the episode. (“Deniability is difficult given she has so much of your blood,” Shiv notes when he asks if he’s in trouble.)
But as funny as it is, Kendall and Roman still get completely outplayed by Matsson throughout. When Kendall has Greg leak to the press that Waystar and Matsson’s team aren’t getting along, Matsson sees through the trick instantly. He takes the brothers up into the mountains and (literally, he turns away from them to relieve himself) pisses all over their plans.
“I think he’d be embarrassed if he saw you two now,” he says of Logan, and this is when Roman snaps at him, blaming the stress of the acquisition deal for Logan’s death and lambasting Matsson as an “inhuman fucking dog-man.” After spending last episode relatively tame when you compare it to, you know, any other scene featuring Roman in the series, he erupts in a torrent of casual profanity, as he is wont to do. It’s only been two days since Logan’s death, and last week’s “Honeymoon States” was more focused on which character would seize power as opposed to how his children felt about him being no longer here. Now that Roman’s snapped back into reality and is doing what he does best, he can finally start to let out some of that emotion.
It’s worth noting that Kendall barely gets a word in up there in the mountains, despite all the power that he commanded last episode. I was confident that he would continue his winning streak in “Kill List,” but the episode forces us into Kendall’s shoes as we get to see just how unqualified he is to take on someone like Matsson. Logan would’ve shut him down without a second thought, but Kendall is sloppy and leaves room for Matsson to mock him right to his face, albeit in a language he doesn’t understand. It harkens back to Logan’s affirmation that his children are “not serious people,” because the brothers end the episode completely outplayed. Instead of withdrawing the deal, Matsson ups how much he’s willing to pay for shares—only the brothers will know that they’ve lost, while everyone else believes that they’ve secured a huge victory for the company they’re so desperate to keep, and yet may be losing any day now.
This episode’s victor is Shiv. She gets in good with Matsson—he asks to see a picture of her brothers’ forlorn faces as the family fles back to the States, trusting her to get him proof of his victory so he can presumably gloat and send more blood to PR women—and as a result, she gets the employees she vouched for taken off Matsson’s titular kill list, including Tom. When they land, she tasks Tom with firing an ATN higher-up for mixing with the fascist presidential candidate she hates, and then invites him to dinner—and so, things may be going back to normal with them. The repair of their relationship felt inevitable. Tom and Shiv have always stuck together as characters, so it would feel weird to not have them go back to each other when Shiv is on the outs with her brothers and Tom is worried he’s about to be fired.
On Succession, it’s another day, another complete and total shift of power. Last week, the show seemed confident that Kendall was well on his way to replace his father, but now Shiv is getting along quite well with the most powerful figure currently on the show. I have my small complaints with “Kill List”—it takes a while to get going, really only picking up when Tom tries to befriend Matsson’s team—but once it starts, it doesn’t stop. Leave it to this show to remind us just how easily power can be taken, chopped up, and given back to different people.
This episode of Succession is now available on HBO Max.
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