Succession Season 4 Episode 5: Kill List
“I don’t care what you think. You’re a tribute band.”
When I was in high school, I found out that the largest customer base for American Black Rap music, were White people. They were the people who bought the most tickets for shows, bought songs, and probably merch too. The theory goes: inertia from an idle life inspires people to develop a fetishization for the capriciousness of struggle. In this way, a fascination with Black culture comes from the shock of its continued existence and pride since, Black culture is automatically positioned against the reign of White culture, which consistently needs to engorge and upend. Anything deemed as antagonistic to this persistent goal is therefore, rebellious, powerful, and often revolutionary because it takes all of these features to withstand continued blows of oppression. Rap music was, and continues to be counter culture (to White culture), and a gateway for White people to enjoy the illusion of experiencing the perceived “rush,” and “rebelliousness” from the pain and suffering that comes with being oppressed, but in a controlled way. They can tune in when they want to, wear the identity of a “cool” disenfranchised person for a moment, and then return to their mundane, idle lives. It’s like the rich cosplaying poverty to get closer to simulating the challenges that they believe to be, the source of great creativity. So, it’s no surprise that Kendall (Jeremy Strong) a White capitalist, would listen to Rap music to channel strength as he makes his debut as the co-CEO of Waystar. Like the rest of his family, he has fabricated a victimhood for himself into imagining that he is an underdog in this disagreement with Matsson (Alexander Skarsgård), and everything he does, that his family does, comes from this delusional perspective. This delusion sets the tone for the rest of the season, including this episode.
The audience, however, has insight into the reality of things for them. In fact, when Kendall walks into the Waystar office for the first time as co-CEO, no one responds to his presence until, of course, Hugo (Fisher Stevens) clears his throat and leads a reception for him. Kendall, on the other hand, thinks they are in awe of him, and he’s slightly embarrassed. Roman (Kieran Culkin) who is already there in a huddle with his “A-team” in his office, looks on in light annoyance. Before Kendall can protest, Roman asks for Shiv (Sarah Snook) to join their discussion to keep their promise to include her in everything. It’s their first day on the job and there are already problems to solve: for one, there is a studio problem and they need to prepare to negotiate with Matsson, but before they can even get a foot hold on their new role, Gerri (J. Smith-Cameron) and Karl (David Rasche) do a “check in” to prepare for negotiations with Matsson. They’ve assumed the role of parents at this point and they want to oversee everything. When Shiv walks into this scene, she looks a little unbalanced to be out of the loop and she is already on alert in case her brothers betray her.
Roman receives an email from Matsson and Frank (Peter Friedman) walks in to clarify that Matsson is requesting that all the top executives of Waystar need to go to his company retreat in Norway. This is unusual, so although they try to convince themselves otherwise everyone is put on edge. But they decide that they can’t get out of this meeting.
While the entire Waystar executive team boards planes to Norway, Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) discusses his position with Greg (Nicholas Joseph Braun). Tom tells Greg that he is not worried about his position, but he is worried about the Roy siblings. The siblings are doing their own sort of prep too. Shiv is concerned about Hugo’s stealth bashing of Logan (Brian Cox) to boost the morale around Ken and Roman’s leadership while Roman and Ken are trying to read documents to prepare for their negotiation with Matsson. Since this is the only thing Shiv has to do, she’s quick to disturb their focus. To pacify her, Ken and Roman offer to get rid of Tom. At the back of the plane, Karolina (Dagmara Domińczyk) debriefs the core Waystar team about Matsson’s people as they all come to realize how insecure their positions are.
At the retreat site, Matsson has ensured to make the brothers as uncomfortable as possible. It’s not enough that these city boys have been displaced in the woods, he made sure that their rooms are small. Before the Waystar team can really settle in, they are told to meet Matsson’s team at brunch for negotiations. The symbolic meaning of literally having the brothers ride a ski lift to see him, shows the power imbalance and the intimidation tactic that he is already trying to use. As a result, Frank feels the daunting nature of their task and requests more practice for Ken and Roman’s pitch. It is true that the brothers are new to the job, and at this point, everyone is trying to play the puppeteer, but Roman and Ken won’t have it. While this is going on, Connor (Alan Ruck) calls to interrupt with a question about what to do with their father’s remains. At the same time, the Waystar team finally meet Matsson’s team.
At the top of the mountain, Matsson greets the boys and immediately unsettles them with a joke. With that, Matsson is able to get Roman and Kendall exactly as he wants them. When the brothers finally get ready for talks, Matsson tries to downplay their tragedy by bringing up the fact that he found his father dead in a BMW. Roman and Kendall don’t know what to do with this information. They stumble for a bit, trying to figure out if they should sit down or when they should speak. The great thing for the Roys’ is, Matsson is such an asshole, he is able to get the brothers to find confidence in themselves every time he speaks. Ultimately, they finish they’re conversation at an impasse because Matsson randomly decides he wants ATN.
Kendall is open to selling ATN, but Roman isn’t, so they decide to talk to the parents and Shiv about it. When they meet Shiv, they learn that presidential hopeful Jeryd Mencken (Justin Kirk) is being allowed a say on editorial content for ATN, a no-no for Shiv (and journalism). When Roman and Ken finally get around to asking Shiv how she feels about selling ATN, she immediately says to get rid of it. The brothers clearly want a longer discussion about if it’s worth it, if it’s worth ignoring their father’s wishes, and if in the long run it would be better to keep it as an asset, but after a little back and forth, Shiv decides she doesn’t care and walks off. The writers seem to hate Shiv because she is characterized so poorly in this moment. Remember, Shiv wanted to be part of the decision making and yet, when the brothers decide to discuss things with her, she walks away in frustration telling them “Whatever. Just get the deal done.”
Back at the resort site, we find Tom strategizing with Greg about how to best engage the Swedes. Tom decides he will just interrupt a conversation and see if it goes smoothly. If he fails, Greg is meant to rescue him once he sees “the eyes.” Unbeknownst to the audience, Greg is able to determine that there is a “kill list” for Waystar executives and everyone’s job is on the line, but it doesn’t really concern Tom (Tom thinks). Tom’s focus is Matsson, the new (potential) owner of Waystar and it doesn’t matter how corny and awkward he is, he is determined to make a mark. Sadly for Tom, when he joins Matsson’s conversation, he ends up interrupting a discussion about global affairs, which for a guy in the American news business, is something he knows nothing about, so almost immediately after joining the conversation, Tom sends for Greg to save him. Greg attempts some form of rejigging, but ends up floundering too. When Matsson realizes that Greg is a Roy family member, he can’t help but say, mockingly “There’s more of them.” Kendall cuts off the insults with a very stern, “I’ve seen enough of this shit.” But still, Matsson is embolden to offend away, insinuating about the Roy family lineage, actively insulting the ATN brand whilst also asserting that it is a profitable business (for him); he is so certain that this deal is in the bag because he thinks he has the Roys’ on their knees, until they start pushing back to retain ownership of ATN. Quite effortlessly, Matsson ruins any rapport between the two parties by calling their brand a “parts shop” and then adding, “I don’t care what you think. You’re a tribute band.”
Overtime, it becomes clear that Matsson’s unusual negotiating style is a hint of a greater unhinged personality. When Matsson intrudes on a conversation between Shiv and Karolina to introduce Ebba (Eili Harboe), his head of communications, we start to unravel a bit of the mystic behind his character. From this encounter, we learn two things: his relationship with Ebba is not going so well, and he is apparently anxious about the deal so he needs help to secure it. Shiv looks so pleased that he is seeking his counsel even though, it is so obvious that he is just using her.
By the evening, the tension between the two camps is nearly tangible. While Matsson’s crew is busy partying, Kendall and Roman look down severely at the party. Kendall wants to tank the deal and after a bit of convincing, Roman jumps on board. They decide that they have to make Matsson leave the deal to keep their position. Out of the loop, Shiv is busy networking and listening to Matsson talk about himself; he hates women, blah, blah, blah. The key thing we learn is that he is sadistically harassing Ebba by sending her bags of his blood and doing other disconcerting things, and he is checking to see if Shiv is a “cool girl” who will play along with his cruelty. Against any sense of comradery or good will for other women, she advises Matsson on how to screw over Ebba and get away with it. After all, Shiv is not judgmental. Meanwhile, operation tank the deal is in full swing with Greg and Jess (Juliana Canfield). Greg is supposed to spread rumors to the media and Jess is asked to prepare a screening of a failing movie for Matsson’s crew. Somehow, Shiv is immediately alerted of Kendall’s plan and silently, she is not having it.
Reminding us that Logan is still dead, Roman shows us that he is very much disturbed and shaken by the loss of his father and Connor’s pictures of a lifeless Logan do not help. But, it sets the tone for the temperament of Kendall and Roman as they ascend to meet Matsson at the top of a ski hill to finally decide on the terms of a deal. Matsson immediately starts off hot and angry at their uncharacteristic openness about all the failures within Waystar and decides that they are a cheapened version of Logan. He knows that they want to stop the deal, but he has decided that he will get the deal no matter what, even if it means talking to the older executive members of the Waystar board. At some point, Roman decides he’s had enough and he lets it rip: the deal is not happening. Kendall just watches on the side, stunned that Roman is acting out.
Unfortunately for Roman and Kendall, they only realize that their efforts have back fired on their flight home when Frank congratulates them with the news that there’s a bigger offer from Matsson. They are incensed, but they can’t do anything about it. Shiv takes this news to Tom and informs him that he had better get in good with her. Her only conditions: fire Cyd (Jeannie Berlin) and go on a date with her. (She is so in love with him, she doesn’t know what to do.) Just as Tom stammers to respond to her, Matsson calls Shiv to request a photo of the Roy brothers in their defeat. As Shiv goes on to share the picture, in the other quarters of the plane, a few of the executive members are learning their fates and for some of them, their whole lives are unravelling. It becomes apparent that everyone is on the chopping block except Tom, Karolina, and Gerri (a nod to Shiv’s influence). So, Shiv is the only one left feeling self-satisfied. But it’s for good reason: she undermined her brothers and effectively the Roy name, but she did it for the insinuation of a promise of a potential hint towards a path near a powerful future positioning in the scenario that Matsson wins the deal, and happens to be in a good mood.