Warning: Major spoilers for Succession Season 4
Four series and the show finally has its run with Kendall and Roman crowned the new bosses of Waystar Royco. But will they prove to be captains of industry or corporate Chuckle Brothers? Guess.
Episode five opens with Kendall on top of the world, chauffeured to Waystar HQ as Jay-Z’s Takeover plays on the soundtrack. Arrived at the office, he is calm and in control, barking orders, making decisions.
Still, one look at his dead father’s empty chair is enough to make him lose his mind. And from there, both his and Roman’s control begin to fade, slowly at first, before the dam completely collapses.
With internal wrangling (presumably) laid to rest, this episode sees the old guard and the brothers – “Boomers versus Zoomers” as Shiv puts it – heading to the green, misty peaks of Norway, as they try to negotiate the sale of Waystar to the incredibly strange Lukas Matsson, the billionaire CEO of the streaming tech giant GoJo.
They’re out of their comfort zone and into Matsson territory to negotiate a deal that will change the media landscape, make them even richer than before, and potentially rewrite their father’s legacy.
Again – and stop me if you’ve heard this – there’s really nothing that touches the sheer quality of the Succession. The writing is perfect, with characters so gloriously and grotesquely drawn – and indeed played – and a plot that constantly throws the viewer off balance. This is aided by the gatling gun punchlines throughout. It’s hard to guess what will happen next as you desperately try to remember yet another cutting joke to quote.
Most of the best zingers come from characters who trade shots. From Roman calling the arrival of Carl, Frank and Gerri “the march of the amber penguins” to Shiv calling his brothers the “b-roll brothers” – and then there’s Tom. For such a beleaguered character, now largely on the outside looking in, he gets some of the best lines.
When Greg asks if he’s worried about his job after the deal goes through, Tom says “I’m not worried about Matsson,” then gesturing to the brothers who are boarding a private jet, “I’m worried about getting hit from the cast of Bugsy Malone.”
The writers know that people don’t really talk like that – when Kendall describes trying to understand the company’s financials as “We’re in a fight to the death with ogres” he is shot down by Shiv, “You’re reading documents, that’s what you’re doing ” – but this is the world of Succession and it is worth suspending disbelief for such glorious jokes, for the sadly few episodes that we have left.
Matsson is a tough opponent, and Alexander Skarsgård brilliantly plays this abrasive, self-possessed but damaged character – we learn a number of surprising and unusual things about the character in this episode, relating to traumas in his past and potential troubles to come. He’s a power player – he sends a list of Waystar names he wants to Norway for a “cultural compatibility check” which translates, according to Hugo, as “musical electric chairs” which will ascertain who gets fired after the deal – a skilled negotiator , continues to surprise the brothers.
Despite the surroundings, the negotiations – on the surface friendly and relaxed – are claustrophobic and tense. The privileged brothers, born into wealth and consigned to a corporation based on blood and a few dubious scribbles on a piece of paper, versus the self-made tech billionaire. There is no match.
Matsson throws the brothers again (negotiating on his own, without his sister or the rest of the team, all of whom are anxiously left out) saying he wants the whole company, including the ATN journalism arm, which they previously had to maintain, and raising his offer. He plays into issues of inheritance, of what his father wanted for the deal and the news company, and the two negotiating sides couldn’t think more differently about the future of media.
Considering the Roys see the future of news as high-end, remember their planned venture The Hundred: Substack meets Masterclass meets The Economist meets The New Yorker? – Matsson wants to take the news arm and make it “simple, cheap, huge. Ikea-d to fuck. In the long run, he says, “I don’t think news for angry seniors works.”
It all adds up to Kendall’s attempt to fully complete the deal so he and Roman can run Waystar on their own. And this is where the Chuckle Brothers company really comes to the fore as stories of infighting among the negotiators begin leaking and they hint to Matsson that there are huge problems at the company and that he is buying a puppy.
In the 1967 black comedy The Producers, fraudulent stage producer Max Bialystock and accountant Leo Bloom hatch a plan to create a huge Broadway flop so they can swindle investors when it inevitably closes on opening night. Except the show, Springtime for Hitler, becomes a huge hit.
The Roys may also have involved Bialystock and Bloom in their negotiations with Matsson, who sees right through them (“you’re a tribute band”). Not only does their nefarious machinations not nullify the deal, but Matsson raises his price above what he originally offered. Everyone on the Waystar team is jubilant. All except the grim-faced brothers whose plan has spectacularly failed.
There is, of course, the usual comic relief of Greg lashing out at everyone, while Connor found himself dealing with what Logan should wear for body viewing. He is upset that Marcia wants him in a kilt “like a fucking Bay City Roller”.
As it progressed, re-watching this Succession series at times turned into an exercise in trying to tone down superlatives for fear of sounding sycophantic, but what the hell… This is prestige drama at its absolute finest.
There are simply too many lines to quote that make the point, but this pep talk from Gerri blew me away “They’re young and they’re fit, but they’re European,” she tells her colleagues as they prepare to face the GoJo negotiators . “They are soft; piled into their social safety net, sick on vacation craze and free health care. They may think they’re Vikings, but we’ve been raised by wolves, exposed to a pathogen that goes by the name of Logan Roy, and they have no idea what’s going on with it. This is writing.
The succession is on Sky Atlantic and NOW