Welcome to the Creepiest Corporate Retreat Ever
This was one cold-blooded episode of Succession.
This story contains spoilers through the fifth episode of Succession Season 4.
Far be it from me to judge what a woman does with her body, but the sight of a pregnant Siobhan Roy swirling a glass of brown liquor and scraping a vial of white powder in this episode of Succession made my blood run cold—as cold as that of a certain Swedish tech exec in the throes of courtship. Shiv, to be clear, is only shown taking the tiniest, maybe fake, sip of booze. Obviously she is trying to blend in at the über–bachelor party that is the GoJo corporate retreat in Norway. But the show has been hinting that something dark is going on with her, and the rest of the Roys. After the death of Logan, the possibility of a different future has emerged for his kids—and now they’re debating whether to embrace it or sabotage it.
This delicious and unsettling episode opens in a rare moment of harmony. Siblings, shareholders, and the old guard alike supposedly want the same thing: for Waystar-Royco to be sold to Lukas Matsson’s streaming company, GoJo, at the highest possible price. The objective is so simple that Kendall can sum it up in a single number on a whiteboard. But of course the sale would mean more than a big payout. The Roy kids face the prospect of being ejected—or, more optimistically, freed—from the company and the literal succession drama that has shaped their entire lives. Theoretically, they could embrace the clean break, like CFO Karl, who greets the possibility of being terminated (with a hefty severance package) by declaring, “Let the good times roll.” When Matsson insists on acquiring the whole firm, not carving out ATN like Logan had hoped, the show’s core question becomes urgent: What do the Roys really want?
Surely what Kendall really wants is to exist as he does in this episode’s first scene: blasting anthemic hip-hop (Jay-Z’s “The Takeover”) in a black car on its way to corporate headquarters, where he’s greeted by a squad of flunkies that he gets to tell to fuck off. We’ve seen Kendall as an enthusiastic “C.E.Bro” (to quote Hugo) before, including in the Succession pilot. He’s the Roy kid most driven by status, the one who will earnestly carp about the size of the cabin GoJo put him in. So for him, the decision to scuttle the deal is simple: He wants to keep playing boss. The problem is that Kendall doesn’t have Logan’s comprehensive, fearsome brilliance. His version of leadership comes down to jargon, PR tricks, and bald-faced lies. Matsson sees through this “Scooby Dooing” immediately and outmaneuvers him on the sale—likely ensuring that Kendall again crashes from the only high he’s ever really wanted to chase.
A little more complexity underlies Roman’s interest in screwing the deal. Whereas Kendall possesses Logan’s deviousness and ego, Roman has his dad’s quiet focus—the kind that means showing up to the office early and hunkering down with his team before a business trip. The most emotionally transparent Roy, he has also inherited—or, more accurately, has been traumatically inflicted to possess—a puppy-dog sense of loyalty. (“Our dad was not a prick,” he says, preposterously.) He just wants to do a good job and be loved, which is an impossibility in this family, which maybe explains why he’s taken on a new air of tragedy this season. (What’s in his pill bottle?) For now, he’ll do whatever keeps him aligned with his brother, including by unleashing a pissed tantrum at Matsson. But deep down, Roman believes that without Logan, “I’m dead. It’s over for me.”
Shiv has always been the sibling least sure of her aspirations, rarely willing to show the vulnerability it takes to admit any desire at all. (Note the origin story of her marriage, revealed in last week’s episode: Tom coaxing her to answer, “Do you like this?”). Her political sensibilities offer a patina of purpose that is, we’ve seen, rather flimsy. Frozen out from the leadership roles her brothers have been handed, she’s not particularly interested in the GoJo deal’s fate. And so far, she seems ambivalent about the imminent prospect of motherhood. But as Matsson cozies up to her and Tom’s wriggling for power turns into a kind of gang humiliation, she seems to rediscover her main imperative: dominance, in the sadistic sense. She’s now toying with rekindling a marriage in which she can toy with another person all the time. Tom might flick her earlobe made of chewy barnacle meat, but she has the power to fire him—or buy back his fealty by firing Cyd.
So what the Roys each want, as my colleague Shirley Li suspected after last week’s episode, is not a new start but the opportunity to revert to patterns Logan taught them. The irony is that they may be thwarted by the man who could be their dad’s purest successor, Lukas Matsson. A ruthless media magnate who oscillates between monstrousness and charm with slimy fluidity, he’s in a mold familiar to this show’s world and our own. Logan never sent underlings vials of blood, but he did partake in his own creepy abuses (see: Boar on the Floor). And like Logan, Matsson has business instincts that could have world-shaping repercussions. Dare a liberal viewer, a little disappointed from the Fox News–Dominion settlement, root for Matsson to scrap ATN’s “news for angry old people” model in favor of the “Ikea’d to fuck” treatment? Eh, seems a bit too easy.
Really, with the election approaching and the most cunning of Waystar-Royco’s top brass—Karolina, Gerri—surviving the post-merger “kill list,” Succession may turn out to be a show about multiple successors. The kids can still try to sabotage the deal, or strike off on their own, or fall into an abyss of purposelessness. In any case, Logan’s legacy is likely to grow in multiple directions, across time. He was a man who, as Kendall noted in this episode, did whatever he wanted—commanding people, swaying people, harming people. Now his lieutenants are pursuing those missions in his absence.