‘Succession’ Episode 5 Goes Full Boar in Negotiating the Deal (Almost) Everyone Wants

After death wrestling with ogres on top of an actual mountain, the Roys' B-roll brothers manage to bleed the Swede — but to what end?
Succession Season 4 Episode 5 Kendall Shiv Roman
Courtesy of Graeme Hunter / HBO

[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “Succession” Season 4, Episode 5, “Kill List.”]

And on the third day, Shiv rises.

Last week (or, in “Succession’s” timeline, yesterday), Logan Roy’s only daughter took a figurative and literal tumble. She saw her brothers ascend to their father’s CEO chair, while she sat in limbo, wondering if Kendall (Jeremy Strong) and Roman (Kieran Culkin) would honor their promise to honor the sibs’ equal status. Paired with the “good news” from her doctor about her nearly five-month old embryo and her soon-to-be-ex-husband’s manipulative consolations (in the hope of keeping his job), it was a difficult day — even before insult was added to injury when Shiv tripped and fell in the middle of her father’s unofficial wake.

But that was last week. Or yesterday. Whatever. Today, Shiv (Sarah Snook) is smiling again. She’s smiling when she walks into her bros’ joint office to plan for their pivotal trip to see Lukas Matsson (Alexander Skarsgärd). She’s chuckling on the PJ when Kendall offers to “cut Tom’s throat” (as “a nice thing” for her) and even holds a pleasant smirk when Lukas says hello via a sexual harassment joke. (“Am I going to get a lawsuit if I hug you?” he asks. “Maybe,” Shiv says. “Want to find out?”) She more than holds her own during their one-on-one time as well, which is no small task when the man who’s about to buy your company starts talking about “frozen blood bricks.” Shiv is loose and confidant and ready for Royco to crash GoJo’s corporate retreat in a way her brothers aren’t, despite “death wrestling ogres” as preparation for their great negotiation.

So it should be no surprise that at episode’s end, she’s the only sibling still smiling. Yes, technically, Kendall and Roman accomplish what they set out to do. More, even. They snag an offer five points above Lukas’ initial number and a whopping 48 points above their own metric for success. That the champagne-popping proposal includes ATN, a segment Logan (Brian Cox) originally intended to keep, is concerning — Lukas flat-out refuses to explain why he must have the news network “for angry old people” — but it doesn’t stop Gerri (J. Smith-Cameron) and the surviving Royco staffers from clinking glasses.

While Frank (Peter Friedman), Hugo (Fisher Stevens), and a pleased-as-pink Karl all end up on GoJo’s kill list, it was GoJo itself that Kendall and Roman really wanted to axe. For the eldest sib, it’s no surprise. Kendall is enjoying life on the throne. If it wasn’t clear when he maniacally grinned while blackmailing Hugo to close Episode 4, it’s all the more evident when he struts into the office, spouting cocky orders and blasting Jay-Z’s “Takeover.” (The song choice tips off Kendall’s state of mind, too, since the hard-hitting diss track is hardly the banger someone puts on when they’re ready to relinquish control.)

Like many a moment so far in Season 4, the opening to Episode 5 hearkens back to the pilot, when Kendall blasts the Beastie Boys on his headphones to get amped up for the Vaulter acquisition. Then, he was jittery, punching the back of the seat in front of him and taking a single drag off a cigarette to steady himself before walking into work. Now, he’s calm. Assured. Daddy isn’t there to take back what was once promised to Kendall, and the anointed-but-never-appointed heir strides into Royco savoring his unchecked authority.

Well, almost unchecked. Roman is already there, meeting with his team to get ready for GoJo. Notably, neither son is willing to sit in their father’s chair, but for now, it reflects their mutual respect more than timidity. They have each other’s backs, and they still do throughout a very rocky series of meetings with Lukas. Hearing his first offer, the B-roll brothers are too tight. They’ve over-prepared to the point they can’t imagine he’ll say anything they aren’t ready for, and yet that’s exactly what Lukas is counting on. (“Nice dossier,” he quips, when Roman tries to compliment his soccer club.)

Succession Season 4 Episode 5 Alexander Skarsgard Lukas Matsson
“Succession”Courtesy of Graeme Hunter / HBO

Lukas is an agent of chaos. He wins negotiations by confusing and overwhelming his opponent, which is how Kendall and Roman feel after hearing a “joke” offer for “one single dollar,” Lukas’ surprise insistence on including ATN in the deal, and then a whopping number of $1.87 per share. Director Andrj Parekh brings us uncomfortably close to Kendall and Roman’s unflinching faces. They’re left speechless and retreat, while their attacking opponent still looms over the battlefield. (Again, an excellent blend of smart framing from Parekh and physical performance from Skarsgärd.)

But it’s the second meeting — ostensibly another defeat — that gets them back on track. Once Lukas calls Kendall and Roman “a tribute band” in comparison to their father the rock star, it’s game over for Kendall. He’s done pretending he wants to sell and tells Roman they should tank the deal. To Kendall, it’s all upside: He can either keep the company, keep his father’s seat, and prove he’s always been worthy of it, or he can watch as the whole thing burns to the ground. Sure, he risks a “500-foot reputational drop” if things go south, but Kendall has bottomed out before. He’s not scared of it anymore.

Ol’ non-confrontational Roman feels otherwise, but he agrees to support his brother and, poked one too many times by Lukas, goes full boar on the unsuspecting Swede. “Do you remember when you asked my dad when he was going to die?” Roman says, striding over to Lukas mid-piss. Clearly, his hatred for the mad tech mogul has been brewing for a while, and he lets it all out. “You fucking killed him,” Roman says. “You inhuman fucking dog man.” By the time he wraps up with a make-or-break “negotiating tactic” — telling Lukas they’ll never sell to him, simply because Roman “fucking hates” the guy — the ensuing fallout already feels worth it. For as bad as the Roys are — and they are bad — Lukas, in this moment, is worse. He’s trying to bend them over a barrel to buy the company a mere two days after their father died, and he didn’t go to them, he didn’t wait for the funeral, and he didn’t even offer actual condolences. (He used his own dad’s suicide to win a trauma competition he instigates.)

In a battle of bad men fighting over many, many billions, Roman’s outburst is glorious, and handled exquisitely by Culkin. That it proves to be the exact tactic needed to make Lukas pay up is even better, if only because it further complicates the back-half of “Succession’s” final season. Kendall and Roman don’t want to sell. They want to keep the top job, but the path to doing so just got a lot harder. Meanwhile, Shiv does want to sell, and she’s entered a similar wild-card state as Lukas.

Shiv embarks on the journey to Norway looking to get the deal done, and — unlike her rebellious, duplicitous brothers, the “majestic stags sparring with their memory foam hard-ons” — she returns with a lucrative offer and a new ally in Lukas Matsson. While one should never trust a man who readily admits he “likes to fuck around,” be it with billion-dollar acquisitions or mailing frozen bodily fluids to his ex-girlfriend/communications chief, having a powerful lunatic in your corner still counts as added power. What will she choose to do with it? Will she help Lukas in order to snag her own plum role at the beefed up GoJo? Will she burn him to help her brothers and preserve the sibling’s pseudo-harmony? And what’s to be done with Tom, a man she’s always loved fucking with and has never had more barbarous thorns with which to prod?

It’s hard to say. I’d argue even Shiv doesn’t really know her long-term intentions. But it’s nice to see her smiling again.

Grade: A-

Succession Season 4 Episode 5 Tom Greg Matthew Macfadyen
Nicholas Braun and Matthew Macfadyen in “Succession”Courtesy of Graeme Hunter / HBO

Greg Sprinkles

Greg dancing. That’s it. That’s all there is to say about Greg this week, but here’s your requisite shout-out to his lame attempt at making “The Quad Squad” a thing. (OK, OK, Lukas’ quip upon learning who Greg is — “There’s more of them?!” — is also the only moment I liked Lukas all episode. Solid burn.)

Tightrope Tommy

I don’t know if you have to admire Tom’s martyr-like audacity in the face of near-certain annihilation, but… I do? Imagine sitting down to make small talk with a psychotic tech zillionaire — in the hopes of saving your livelihood — and all you’ve got to offer as a discussion topic is… that time you once talked about cargo shorts? In a way, he’s behaving just as insanely as Lukas often does, so perhaps he’s hoping for points based on gall alone, but it doesn’t matter in the end. All that matters to Tom is Shiv — not that he knows it.

Well, he kind of does. Before their flight, Tom tells Greg he’s not worried about Matsson or his Viking crew; he’s “worried about being whacked by the cast of Bugsy Malone,” aka the Roy sibs. And he’s right to be concerned. Kendall and Roman will throw him out of the plane as a divorce present to their sister. Lukas, later on, implies he’ll do the same. But each time, Shiv balks. She keeps him alive, only to pull his pig-tails on playground — aka kick dirt on his blinding-white sneakers — and invite him to dinner during the PJ ride home. She keeps his name off the kill list simply by abstaining from putting his name on the kill list, while retaining the right to do so at any time, for any reason.

Watch out Tommy. That tightrope is only getting thinner.

Do You Have Any Jokes?

“As sort of a joke of what we shouldn’t do, I sent her some of my blood. Half a liter frozen blood brick,” Lukas says. “I just kept doing it… it became not a joke, then a joke again, and now it’s apparently not a joke.”

In the immortal words of Shiv Roy: “First of all: Good one!”

The Best Line That Could Still Air on ATN

“If a deal collapses in the woods and no one hears it, is it an SEC violation?” – Roman

“Succession” Season 4 releases new episodes Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO and HBO Max.

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