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‘Succession’ season 4 recap – episode 5: ‘Kill List’

Alexander Skarsgård plays Lukas Matsson in “Succession.” The fifth episode of the fourth season of the HBO series premiered Sunday.(Courtesy of Graeme Hunter/HBO)

“Kill List”

Directed by Andrij Parekh 

HBO

April 23

By Natalie Agnew

April 24, 2023 5:23 p.m.

Deal or no deal, the Roys find themselves in mountains of trouble to match the imposing landscape.

In this week’s installment of “what would dad do?” the fifth episode finds Waystar’s top minds jet-setting to Norway for GoJo’s annual retreat in a prototypical “Succession” setup. Newly appointed CEOs Kendall (Jeremy Strong) and Roman’s (Kieran Culkin) obvious discomfort confronts their harmonious, picturesque surroundings, and this air of dissonance is an unshakeable presence in every piece of dialogue. There’s a “Kill List,” and the brothers are ready to do the deal.

Pan to Kendall listening to rap in the backseat heading to the office, a distinct callback to the series pilot. This time, he’s swapped out his oversized headphones for sunglasses, and he’s finished shadow boxing – the role-playing is over, and he’s taking a swing at CEO. His first act will be solidifying the GoJo deal and to “bleed the Swede.” The only wrinkle is a request for everyone, the Roy family and company executives, to go to the retreat for a “cultural compatibility check.”

[Related: ‘Succession’ season 4 recap — episode 4: ‘Honeymoon States’]

Logan’s ghost haunts them all the way onto the airplane, with close-ups of Karl (David Rasche) and Frank (Peter Friedman) securing their compression socks and Roman staring blankly in the direction of the bathroom. Kendall and Roman are busy “death-wrestling with ogres,” or as Shiv (Sarah Snook) puts it, reading documents that detail the studio disaster that is Waystar’s “Kalispitron: Hibernation.” Meanwhile, Kendall’s “operation shit on dad” from the previous episode is in full effect, and Shiv has taken notice of the two’s potential scheming, though they do offer to kill Tom as a consolation prize.

Suffocated by his seatbelt, Roman’s initial anxiety is clear as they arrive for their impending meeting with Lukas Matsson (Alexander Skarsgård). Frank, Karl and Gerri (J. Smith-Cameron) shepherd the children to the negotiation with one goal: to move Gojo’s initial offer of $144 a share a little higher to $147 or $148 a share. Surprisingly, Roman and Kendall leave the meeting with Matsson with more than they bargained for.

The negotiation scene artfully navigates natural yet tense dialogue, with Skarsgård’s performance stealing the screen. With the potentially upped acquisition cost, Matsson says he feels as though he was going to check out during a sale and is now being asked to pay more. Further, he jokes that he will “buy your entire operation for the price of,” insert dramatic pause, “one single dollar,” but the Roys aren’t laughing. In the end, he offers them $187 per share. The catch is that this includes ATN, which the brothers say they need time to consider, their faces unreadable.

Debriefing with Shiv, the three-sibling alliance has reached an impasse as they debate over what course of action their father would take. Shiv is completely on board with axing ATN with word the editorial team has an “open line” to the Mencken campaign, and she views it as a “toxic asset.” But Kendall and Roman are more hesitant – Roman wants to keep ATN since that is what Logan died holding onto, while Kendall is unsure which path his father would take.

Ever the opportunist, Tom tries and fails to suck up to Matsson and the GoJo executives, who end up insulting him and the Roys in Swedish – not a promising start to another set of failed negotiations. Matsson does not like ATN’s brand as news for “angry old people” and wants to modernize the parts shop of a network by making it “IKEA’d to fuck.”

Kendall is not so eager to let go of steering the ship, and insult after insult from Matsson prompts a risky endeavor, tanking the deal completely. He argues to Roman that Matsson is not a good fit, rather he is a “card trick, and he’s going destroy everything dad built.” With a trick of his own, Kendall knows exactly what card to play to convince Roman. Now all they need is to get Matsson to walk away, with the assistance of the three-hour uncut “Kalispitron: Hibernation” slugfest of a screening.

As the sun sets on their new plans, Matsson has a disconcerting one-on-one conversation with Shiv to get a read of her brothers. In it, he discloses he has found himself in a tricky situation, and for good reason. Apparently, he sent a female employee “half a liter frozen blood brick” post-breakup as a joke multiple times. Shiv offers her take on the situation, and Matsson claims he likes her and that she is like her father. Whether this is yet another manipulation tactic is left up to the imagination, much like the rest of their interaction.

[Related: Q&A: Scott Z. Burns discusses human nature, climate change in ‘Extrapolations’]

That morning Kendall, Roman, and Matsson meet for the final time standing on a ridge overlooking the precipice of failure, with Matsson asking if they are “Scooby Doo-ing” him with bad press about the deal while Kendall claims it is for the sake of honesty. Failing to read the room, Matsson takes it one step too far when he says that Logan would be embarrassed by the two of them now.

Roman snaps, and Culkin recites the monologue that will define his characterization thus far. He sheds his guise of numbness with the confession that he is already “dead” and that it’s “OK” but that Matsson is responsible for his father’s death, directing his anger and guilt at the target in front of him. Believing they have derailed the deal for good, the brothers are shocked when Matsson calls to give Frank an offer they would be morons to refuse. He effectively delivers the killing blow though the Roys weren’t on the “kill list.”

They may have wanted to “bleed the Swede,” but Kendall and Roman got knifed, $192 a share at that.

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Natalie Agnew
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