‘Succession’: The Roy Siblings Meet Their Match in Alexander Skarsgård’s Lukas Matsson
This post contains spoilers for this week’s episode of Succession, “Kill List.”
“Kill List” opens with Kendall Roy being driven to the Waystar offices for his first official day as co-CEO. He is blasting Jay-Z’s “Takeover,” because of course he is, and he is walking with unmistakable confidence through the building from which he was once banned. He and Roman are technically running the company together, but it’s clear that Kendall views himself as 1A on the org chart to his younger brother’s 1B, and it also seems as if the staff is deferring to him more. He has finally achieved his dream. He is running the family business. He is, he believes, master of all he surveys.
He is, as always, a schmuck.
Most of “Kill List” takes place at a GoJo corporate retreat in Norway(*), where Waystar’s top execs (plus Cousin Greg) have gathered for two purposes: 1)To see if Kendall, Roman, and Lukas Matsson can come to terms and close the deal for GoJo’s acquisition of most of Waystar, and 2)So Lukas and his team can get to know the Waystar people and figure out who, if anyone, they want to keep.
(*) Though last week’s “Honeymoon States” had several notable guest stars and a bunch of extras, it was basically a bottle episode (all shot on pre-existing sets to save money), which no doubt helped offset the cost of an episode featuring helicopters, bus rides up windy roads past waterfalls, and multiple scenes set on cable cars.
The desperation on the latter point is palpable, and at times deliberately unbearable. When Tom sits down at Lukas’ table and tries lamely to remind the Swede about a joke they once laughed about a million years ago, I wanted to close my eyes and cover my ears like I was watching the most grisly parts of a horror movie. Cousin Greg keeps trying to make himself part of “the Quad” with the three main Roy siblings, not realizing that if they’re never going to include Connor — who is stuck back in New York handling the funeral arrangements with Willa — in any real kind of decision-making, they sure aren’t going to include Greg. Even before several of the characters (but not, amusingly, Karl and Frank) get into the sauna, the sheer amount of sweat seems to be pouring off the screen. That Lukas is such an enigma — in part by choice, in part because he never seemed to entirely learn how to act like a human being — only makes the situation more nerve-racking for everyone involved. (Hugo, when informed en route to Norway that there is a list of potential firees floating around: “We’re snakes on a plane!”)
But there is a fair amount of desperation by people other than Kendall and Roman to close the damn deal already. Shiv — who sees through every single move and lie that Kendall tries making here — wants to cash out, say goodbye to the toxicity of her father’s company, and start something new with Pierce. “The Grays,” as Gerri, Frank, and Karl are dubbed here, want to ensure that they get their golden parachutes, whether or not Lukas intends to shove them out of the plane. And Kendall wants to prove that his name must have been underlined on Logan’s infamous piece of paper, rather than crossed out.
Things get complicated almost immediately after everyone arrives at the fancy Nordic retreat. Lukas is prepared to up his offer, but with one condition: now he wants to acquire all of Waystar, ATN included. Before he died, Logan had carved that out of the deal (in the same way the Murdochs kept Fox News even after they sold most of their other media assets to Disney), since the news operation was his pride and joy, and would provide him with something to do in his later years. The brothers don’t need it to occupy their time, but Roman remains fully in the tank for their father and his legacy, and doesn’t want to give up the thing Logan loved most in all the world — certainly more than he loved Roman and the other kids. Kendall is a lot more flexible on the subject, until he realizes that what he loves most is getting to run his father’s company — all of it. Never mind that he has been placed in charge entirely to close the GoJo deal and then move on. Never mind that he has barely done anything to run the place, that his ascension to the top spot came largely through a written codicil of questionable provenance. Never mind that, as Lukas bluntly points out by calling him “Vaulter boy,” Kendall has a really awful track record when it comes to running media companies. Kendall fancies himself the official Number One Boy — Number One Man, he hopes — of all of Waystar, and he’s not ready to let that go after only a few days. So he and Roman decide to tank the deal.
This, of course, is an idiotic plan, as well as such a transparent one that Lukas is not fooled by it for a second. He has abundant flaws as a human, which he lays bare to Shiv by admitting to not only having an affair with his communications director, but then scaring her away by repeatedly sending her bags of his own blood(*). But unlike Kendall, he was not born on third base while believing he’d hit a triple. The brothers think they have Lukas boxed in — Roman, in a monologue that’s spectacularly performed by Kieran Culkin, makes clear how much he hates Lukas and how difficult he intends to make this transaction just out of spite — never for a moment considering that he has them boxed in, since he can make the one move they aren’t expecting: he substantially increases his offer (from $187 per share to $192), and tells Frank about it, to ensure that the Waystar board will know and approve the deal. And if the brothers try to shut it down now, the board will simply send them packing.
(*) Lukas’ description of how the blood thing went from being a joke, to not a joke, to a joke again, makes him sound a bit like the Swedish tech bro equivalent of David Letterman.
“We can’t navigate by dad maps,” Kendall insists earlier. “He’s not here.” However much of a trash person Logan Roy was, though, he never would have done something this reckless and stupid, nor would he have been caught as flat-footed as the brothers are here. They’re playing checkers, and Lukas is playing the Cones of Dunshire, so many moves ahead that he knows to ask Shiv(*) to snap a picture of her siblings looking utterly ashen at how easily he called their bluff.
(*) While Shiv appears to avoid doing a bump with Lukas (she just keeps stirring the drugs with a coke spoon), we do see her drinking alcohol at the end of the episode. So she’s only so concerned about the health of the fetus. Tom, on the other hand, tries to cope with his anxiety by taking molly, which leads to an amusing scene where he playfully smacks Shiv’s earlobes, describing them as “thick and chewy, like barnacle meat.”
Ironically, in attempting to do what he believes is best for the company (leave himself in charge, no matter the financial cost), Kendall winds up doing what is actually best for the company (jack up the sale price). Even if it’s accidental, maybe he is doing a good job so far as CEO?