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'Succession,' Season 4, Episode 5, 'Kill List'

Roman (Kieran Culkin) really wants this deal to happen, but ... then again, does he?
Graeme Hunter
/
HBO
Roman (Kieran Culkin) really wants this deal to happen, but ... then again, does he?

The gist of it

In this episode, Team Waystar heads for Norway to meet with Matsson and knock out the details of the GoJo deal. Kendall and Roman try to play hardball, but Matsson prefers what he's hearing from Shiv. And in the end, he offers so much money for the company that it doesn't look like anybody is going to have a choice other than to let it go through.

Let's go to Norway

The first time we ever saw Kendall, he was in the back of a car on the way to Waystar, rapping along with music that only he could hear. Now, with half a season to go in his hell-ness journey, he's in the back of the car again, and he's on the way to the office again, but he's not rapping. He's being serious. It's his first day as co-CEO.

As soon as he hits the executive floor, though, Kendall winds up in a discussion about the unfolding disaster that is the Waystar-produced movie Kalispitron: Hibernation. The way Roman and Kendall coldly discuss what kinds of overages to approve will make a creative person's blood run cold. The next wrinkle in the day is that Matsson wants the whole team in Norway, where GoJo's retreat is still underway, to try to get the deal done. Only Tom feels relaxed, because as he tells Greg, with ATN being spun off, he doesn't have to worry so much about Matsson. His issue will be the sibs, including the one he's divorcing.

Logan haunts the flight. Eager to avoid his fate (explained last week as a pulmonary embolism), Karl and Frank are both pulling on their compression socks. The damaging stories about him that Kendall quietly ordered Hugo to leak have begun to appear. Fates still hang in the balance — Kendall and Roman tell Shiv that when things settle, they're perfectly happy to throw Tom overboard if that's what she wants. She smiles enigmatically — and when she passes Tom on her way to another part of the plane, she smiles enigmatically again.

Elsewhere, the lackeys are insecure about their future in a merged company. It turns out GoJo has a robust comms department, including a former Olympic ski jumper who becomes Hugo's mortal enemy, sight unseen. (Fisher Stevens getting to do more comedy is such good news.)

Kendall (Jeremy Strong), Shiv (Sarah Snook) and Roman (Kieran Culkin). You can really notice in this scene how putting them outside walking in the lush woods makes this conversation seem warmer.
Graeme Hunter / HBO
/
HBO
Kendall (Jeremy Strong), Shiv (Sarah Snook) and Roman (Kieran Culkin). You can really notice in this scene how putting them outside walking in the lush woods makes this conversation seem warmer.

Negotiating tactics

It takes a parade of golf carts to get Team Waystar to what seems to be a retreat center buried in cliffs, where glass-walled cabins jut out into the air. (The defiance of gravity! The sense that you could fall at any time! Oh, visual metaphors.) It's a stunning location, but all Kendall can do is complain about his small room. Unable to enjoy anything, no matter how beautiful: Kendall Roy's life, defined.

The gist is that the previous offer from GoJo was $144 a share. "Aiming for 147, hoping for 148," Kendall says of his plans. Just then, Connor calls from the funeral home. He says that Marcia wants to bury Logan in a kilt, "like a Bay City Roller." Connor is willing to fight this battle, but he wants a promise from his siblings that they won't blame him for however the funeral turns out. They agree. We'll see.

At an uncomfortable brunch, the Waystar suits are eyeing the GoJo fleece vests, trying to size them up. Teased about his very full plate, Hugo says, "I metabolize fast, because I'm dynamic." I'm not going to lie, this is not the most dynamic Hugo has ever looked.

Who says nobody cares about the news?

Kendall and Roman meet with Matsson. There, after some veiled hostility in both directions, he drops this bomb: He's willing to pay $187 per share, but that's because he wants to put ATN back in the deal. When Kendall and Roman share this news with Gerri, Frank and Karl, they're all very excited. They don't mind losing ATN. But Roman, while he doesn't need ATN, cares about hanging onto his father's "pride and joy," and about concluding the mission Logan was on when he died. Shiv is entirely happy to dump ATN, which she claims she doesn't like anyway. And she particularly doesn't like it in light of new information she has that the Mencken campaign is being allowed to dial into ATN editorial meetings. (Yikes.)

There's a great exploration here of how this negotiation is influenced by people with a wide variety of incentives. Both the CEOs have their feelings about their dad involved, but Roman wants to represent the actual Logan and his desires and behaviors, while Kendall wants to (or thinks he wants to) be like Logan — but be better at it. So Roman wants whatever Logan wanted, while Kendall cares what he thinks Logan should have wanted. My sense is that Shiv, on the other hand, wants the deal to go through in part because she ran point on the Pierce thing, and that's where she sees her future. Her feelings are also, of course, complicated by Tom.

The staff has its own worries. Karl and Frank seem ready to take their money and retire. Hugo and Karolina don't want to lose their jobs. So even though all these folks are consulting on the same central question, which is the sale of their huge company to another huge company, they're all worrying about different things. The only thing we can say for sure is that whatever the consequences of this decision are for the billions of people it directly and indirectly affects, nobody cares about them.

Greg (Nicholas Braun) has been doing some intel work for Tom (Matthew Macfadyen), which is tricky since "intel" is short for "intelligence."
Graeme Hunter / HBO
/
HBO
Greg (Nicholas Braun) has been doing some intel work for Tom (Matthew Macfadyen), which is tricky since "intel" is short for "intelligence."

That'll do, pigs

The day remains tense as we move to an afternoon of festivities, including archery and roasting pigs on spits. Speaking of pigs, Greg gives Tom some scuttlebutt he got on Matsson, which is that he wears noise-canceling headphones during sex so that he can listen to podcasts. (I cannot stress enough: If you do this, never ever tell anyone, especially if they have ever appeared on a podcast.) Greg also spills that he's heard tell of a "kill list" — the higher-ups at Waystar who will be laid off. (Below the higher-ups, who cares?)

Finally, as everybody eats and drinks, Matsson pushes for an answer to his $187 offer. Kendall and Roman don't want to give up ATN. Matsson thinks ATN needs him: "I don't think news for angry old people works," he says. Kendall wants Matsson to respect their "good brand," and Matsson laughs in his face. He calls Waystar a "parts shop" — a place with good parts, but, in fact, a bad brand. Kendall disagrees. "I don't care what you think," Matsson says. "You're a tribute band."

Yyyyyyyikes.

As this starts to get heated, Shiv steps in with a little "Are we OK?", filling the role of the facilitator and the temper-tamper, both because she's the political operative and because she's the woman. In doing so, she opens a door between herself and Matsson.

A little later, at a sort of cocktail gathering (this event seems to be mostly an endless progression of receptions), Matsson introduces Shiv to Ebba, who works for him in comms, whom he calls "an estrogen air freshener" they keep around so things smell good. (How many "yikes" are in this episode?) Ebba breezily says she keeps notes, and when she walks someday, everything will go in her book unless she's paid off. When she's gone, Matsson zeroes in on Shiv, having picked up on the tension among the sibs, and says he really wants her opinion on whether the deal is there. She says yes, despite the pushback, it's "potentially there."

Outdoors somewhere, Kendall and Roman chat. Kendall says he wants to tank the whole deal. He's enjoying running Waystar with Roman (after ... a day), and he thinks they should just do that. Forget it, keep the company. It doesn't take much to convince Roman. The two of them — making their first big decision not to include Shiv, which took them all of maybe a day and a half — decide they need to set it up so that Matsson will walk away, because if they try to walk away, the board will intervene and replace them to get the deal through.

What Kendall and Roman do not know is that Shiv has gone back to Matsson's place (... suite?) with him. There's clearly an attraction, but mostly, they're talking about the deal. Shiv tells him that just offering more money is his best option to get it through. He asks her about her marriage, and she offers up a summary: "I broke his heart, he broke mine. We lost our footing." But perhaps the most important information we get in this scene is that Matsson used to be in a relationship with Ebba from comms. And after the breakup, he got maybe a little weird with her. How? He kept sending her frozen blocks of his blood. Hey, remember how I said "never do that" about the podcast thing? Never do this even more.

On another note, Matsson offers Shiv some cocaine in this scene, but we don't see her do any. It's interesting to note, though, that she seems to be drinking normally. Television often uses drinking or not drinking as a signal about pregnancy, but assuming she's still pregnant, Shiv seemingly hasn't stopped.

Then again, maybe we won't

While Shiv makes nice with Matsson, Kendall initiates Operation Tank That Deal by having Greg plant a story that everything is going very badly in Norway. He also tells Jess to set up a screening of the rough cut of Kalispitron: Hibernation. In other words, nothing is going to kill Matsson's interest in the company like giving him a really good look at it. So Kendall is showing GoJo the movie. All of it. "Full three hours," he says ominously, speaking directly to my heart.

Perhaps the strangest moment in the episode (other than the frozen blocks of blood) comes when Shiv and Tom coolly check in. They exchange words, he slaps her on the ear (?), she kicks dirt on his shoes (??), and she taunts him about how attractive Matsson is. So ... just Shiv and Tom stuff (???).

I absolutely love this shot of Roman (Kieran Culkin), Kendall (Jeremy Strong) and Matsson (Alexander Skarsgård). The three of them look so puny in front of this amazing mountain they don't care about.
Graeme Hunter / HBO
/
HBO
I absolutely love this shot of Roman (Kieran Culkin), Kendall (Jeremy Strong) and Matsson (Alexander Skarsgård). The three of them look so puny in front of this amazing mountain they don't care about.

Kendall and Roman are in a gondola car heading for a meet with Matsson when Roman gets a photo from Connor. It's apparently a picture of Logan's body. Bad timing. When the brothers finally get with Matsson, they realize he's onto them. Are they trying to undercut the deal? he wonders. Matsson tries to taunt his way through it, saying that Logan would be embarrassed by these "Scooby-Doo" efforts that Roman and Kendall are making.

Roman, who has been struggling for days and just saw his father's body, hits his limit. As Matsson relieves himself literally, Roman does the same mentally. He brings up the time (during "Too Much Birthday") when Matsson asked when Logan would die. He rails about the fact that Matsson messed around with the deal for months, and then when Logan died, he suddenly couldn't give them a few days; the deal had to happen right now. Roman makes it plain: the deal isn't happening, they will stop it, and they hate Matsson. He and Kendall leave. Kendall comforts his brother, kind of, by saying of his outpouring of emotion, "It wasn't the plan, but maybe it plays."

For all that I appreciated and admired everybody's work in "Connor's Wedding," I think Culkin is at his very best right here. He's appalled by Matsson's lack of decency, and I think he hates that he's appalled, because being appalled isn't cynical, it's weirdly optimistic. "How are you not more compassionate than this?" is the question at the heart of this rant from a kid who spent his whole life with a father who trained him not to be compassionate. And it seemed to have worked, to the point where Roman gave his own brother a kiss-off note at his birthday party. Matsson, not Roman, is the one acting like Logan here. Maybe it makes Roman feel both like he's failing his father and like he's seeing his father clearly for the first time. Naturally, because he's the Logan in this sequence, Matsson tells Roman in no uncertain terms that he and Kendall are going to lose.

On the plane back to the United States, Roman and Kendall are staying mum. Shiv is curious — and she has a self-satisfied look, since she has this new relationship with Matsson that they don't know about. When the team on the plane does hear from Matsson, he calls Frank. Not Kendall, not Roman — he calls Frank. And, we soon learn, he tells Frank the offer is now $192 a share, which is a lot of money, for a deal that includes ATN. As far as the lackeys are concerned, this is great. Kendall and Roman achieved a bump of five bucks a share over the offer Matsson gave them when they got there. Everybody is all smiles, except for Kendall and Roman.

Frank (Peter Friedman), Gerri (J. Smith-Cameron), and Karl (David Rasche). I couldn't find out where this was shot, but both indoors and outdoors, they do this very Scandinavian, non-Manhattan look that emphasizes how far from home Waystar is.
Graeme Hunter / HBO
/
HBO
Frank (Peter Friedman), Gerri (J. Smith-Cameron), and Karl (David Rasche). I couldn't find out where this was shot, but both indoors and outdoors, they do this very Scandinavian, non-Manhattan look that emphasizes how far from home Waystar is.

Shiv, in fact, is in such a good mood that she tells Tom he can fire Cyd. She also asks him if he wants to have dinner, but before she can get an answer, her phone rings. It's Matsson. He wants her to send a picture of her brothers' faces, which she is kind enough to provide. Those faces do not look happy.

Matsson has basically bullied Roman and Kendall with money here, offering so much (and offering it directly to Frank to prevent them from maneuvering) that they don't have the option of passing. You may have heard of other large acquisitions that leave existing leadership no choice for the same reason — whether you want to do it or you don't for business reasons or mission reasons, the deal will make money for your shareholders, so you have to. You can be sued if you don't. Remember when Roman talked at Connor's wedding about stuffing Gerri's mouth with gold so she wouldn't complain about her firing? In a way, he's got a mouth full of it himself.

As it turns out, the kill list does include Karl, Frank and Hugo, but it does not include Tom, Karolina or Gerri. And why? Maybe because of Shiv, who talked up Karolina and Gerri — and perhaps, in her way, Tom — during her little meeting with Matsson.

What's interesting about this episode is that the relationships between the sibs are fracturing, but not with the viciousness they had before. Nobody is doing anything to each other on purpose. They're all just gradually chasing little sub-agendas, keeping secrets, putting each other on a need-to-know basis. Hey, they meant well.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: April 24, 2023 at 11:00 PM CDT
A previous version of this story incorrectly identified the characters who were on the plane back to the United States in this episode. It was Roman and Kendall on the flight, not Logan and Kendall.
Linda Holmes is a pop culture correspondent for NPR and the host of Pop Culture Happy Hour. She began her professional life as an attorney. In time, however, her affection for writing, popular culture, and the online universe eclipsed her legal ambitions. She shoved her law degree in the back of the closet, gave its living room space to DVD sets of The Wire, and never looked back.