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Half a Liter of Frozen Blood: Breaking Down Episode 5 of ‘Succession’

As CE-Bros Kendall and Roman negotiate with Lukas Matsson in Norway, Shiv spots an opening to make a move

HBO/Ringer illustration

Television’s most miserable wealthy family is back for one final season of scheming, and The Ringer will be following their tragicomic power struggle every step of the way. Each week, we’ll break down the biggest developments, track who’s leading the literal line of succession, and catalog each episode’s most savage burns, best Cousin Greg–isms, and more. Let’s continue with the fifth episode, “Kill List.”

Succession’s Line of Succession, Week 5

Technically, Logan Roy’s successor—or rather, successors—have already been named: Kendall and Roman are officially filling their father’s shoes as interim co-CEOs. (Waystar Royco PR lackey Hugo wants to set up a candid “CE-Bros” photo shoot for them, which Kendall is mercifully smart enough to stamp out.) But Succession has shown that those in formal positions of power don’t necessarily wield the most influence in the room, and that certainly rings true in “Kill List.” The first order of business for the new CE-Bros is to jet off to Norway, where they’ll meet up with GoJo founder Lukas Matsson during an annual company retreat. The plan is to put the finishing touches on the Swedish tech mogul’s acquisition of Waystar’s assets—with the exception of ATN.

Kendall and Roman assume they’ll take the lead during the negotiations, but Matsson has requested that all the company’s higher-ups make the Scandinavian voyage with them. While this could be interpreted as a slight against the brothers—they can’t be trusted to seal the deal without Logan’s C-suite cabal in tow—Frank believes it’s GoJo doing a “cultural compatibility check,” similar to the Pierce family inviting the Roys for a tense countryside getaway in Season 2. This development is a greater cause for concern for Waystar’s corporate underlings, some of whom will probably be on the chopping block if the acquisition goes through. (More on that later.)

Once the Roys and their entourage arrive in Norway, Matsson wastes little time going to the negotiating table with the CE-Bros. Instead of sticking to the original parameters of the deal he was making with Logan, Matsson would rather fold ATN into the acquisition. Kendall and Roman initially balk at the offer—it strikes an emotional chord, as their father wanted to keep ATN—while Shiv is more inclined to sell what she perceives to be a “toxic asset.” (It’s hard to disagree with her assessment, especially when it’s revealed that ATN is allowing far-right presidential candidate Jeryd Mencken’s campaign staff to dial into their morning editorial meetings.) Matsson quickly discerns that Kendall and Roman are both out of their depth and emotionally compromised, so he begins a more casual dialogue with Shiv during the retreat.

Matsson and Shiv have a good rapport—at one point, he delivers the ultimate compliment and says her wry humor reminds him of Logan. (It’s also worth noting that Matsson is definitely attracted to Shiv, which adds even more intrigue to their interactions.) Meanwhile, Kendall and Roman are so pissed off by Matsson’s abrasive persona that they now prefer tanking the entire deal and keeping Waystar for themselves. (They also think they’ve been doing a great job running the company … for the past 24 hours.) Kendall and Roman can justify doing this under the pretense of protecting Logan’s legacy as a media titan, but it’s more accurate to say that they’re still caught up in Dad Feelings. Considering everyone else, including the little-seen but all-powerful members of Waystar’s board, wants the deal to happen, the CE-Bros have to tread carefully and make it seem like everything is falling apart organically.

Alas, a few more nasty comments from Matsson at the end of the episode—he says, not inaccurately, that Logan was a “prick”—send Roman over the edge, and he openly admits that he and Kendall are going to sabotage the deal. “I fucking hate you, and if you tell the board I said any of this, I’m just gonna say it was a negotiating tactic, and you know what, maybe it is,” Roman says. “But it’s not, so fuck you.” By explicitly laying out their intentions, Roman gives Matsson the ammunition he needs. As the Waystar gang jets back to New York, Frank gets a call from Matsson, who offers a premium for Waystar—ATN and all. In other words, Matsson forces their hand: Kendall and Roman can’t admit that this isn’t what they wanted, so they must awkwardly bask in the glory of a deal they were trying to destroy.

Even if Kendall and Roman aren’t aware of it, the final nail in the coffin is the implication that Shiv finalized the deal with Matsson from the shadows. After hanging up on Frank, Matsson calls Shiv and asks her to send a photo of her brothers. It’s like a really depressing Renaissance painting:

Finally, after Kendall ended last week’s episode by sporting a Logan-esque grin at Hugo, who was effectively blackmailed into servitude, Shiv has a subtle smirk of her own before the credits roll on “Kill List.” Between an impending divorce with Tom and the CE-Bros taking over at Waystar, Shiv didn’t get off to the most encouraging start in Succession’s final season. But as we hit the midway point, it sure feels like Shiv’s got her mojo back—and is living up to her name by knifing her brothers in the back.

Takeaway of the Week: Survival of the Fittest, Media Edition

Obviously, no matter what happens during the GoJo negotiations, the Roys will remain obscenely rich. It’s a much different story for Waystar’s higher-ups, whose trip to Norway is a genuine fight for survival—the episode gets its title from an apparent “kill list” that GoJo has cooked up if the deal goes through. Naturally, everyone is freaked out. “Sure, they’re young and they’re fit, but they’re European,” Gerri says of the folks at GoJo, in an effort to rally her fellow underlings on the plane. “They’re soft, hammocked in their social security safety nets, sick on vacation mania 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 Logan Roy, and they have no idea what’s coming to them.” (Gerri’s battle cry, which genuinely rules, is like Braveheart for corporate sycophants.)

Arriving in Norway, the Waystar lackeys display some varied, and hilarious, survival instincts. Hugo, who is intimidated by the fact that one member of GoJo’s communications team is a former Olympic ski jumper, tries belittling the dude for failing to win a medal at the Sochi Games. (“That’s almost huge, man.”) Others, like the occasional background character Ray, fake laugh alongside the folks at GoJo, even if their conversations are in Swedish. You can tell a lot about a person when their back’s against the wall—unfortunately, most of the Waystar team inadvertently make the case for staying on, or being added to, the titular kill list.

On a similar note, it’s quite telling that when Kendall and Roman finally get what they want—control of their dad’s company—they fold under pressure. The duo are so preoccupied with what Logan would do that they lack any agency of their own, something that Matsson picks up on immediately. “Maybe you guys haven’t done this before, but how it usually works is, I say something, and then you say something,” Matsson tells them at the start of negotiations, an ominous tone-setter for the rest of the episode. Kendall and Roman fail to step out of Logan’s shadow just as much as the people who work under them.

In the end, not only does Shiv prove to have better business acumen than her brothers, but a number of Waystar higher-ups are going to be put out to pasture. Assuming the GoJo acquisition does go through, the only survivors will be Karolina, Gerri, and Tom. (“That slalom motherfucker!” Hugo says upon learning his fate, a line so perfect I hope this isn’t the last we see of him.) The Waystar employees might have been raised by wolves, but when left to fend for themselves, most are destined to become prey for the Northman and his Vikings.

The Most Callous Display of Wealth

Succession loves to jet-set its ensemble of 1 percenters across the globe on HBO’s dime. Just as the third season delivered some sumptuous Lake Como vacation porn, “Kill List” is like an extended bit of sponcon for visiting Scandinavia. It’s a development I’m personally invested in—allow me to explain, with a peek behind the Ringer curtain.

This year, several employees (myself included) will be heading to Sweden for an onboarding trip to visit our parent company, Spotify. (While The Ringer was acquired by Spotify in 2020, the onboarding process for many of us was delayed on account of COVID.) I honestly don’t know what to expect—please don’t take us to the Midsommar village, Swedish overlords—but GoJo’s annual Norway retreat does make the case that Scandinavia is where it’s at. Just look at the stunning views during the first negotiating session between the CE-Bros and Matsson:

As for the employees at both companies, they get to enjoy outdoorsy activities like axe throwing and archery, along with what appear to be drone-flying sessions. (Call me old-fashioned, but I’d rather go full Robin Hood with a bow and arrow.) The whole experience splits the difference between rustic Scandinavian charm and the kind of modern amenities one would expect from an upstart streaming company:

Unsurprisingly, Kendall and Roman aren’t enamored by the GoJo retreat. The brothers complain about their accommodations being too small—“When a bear shits in the woods, it uses one of these, I think,” Roman says—and are incapable of appreciating the natural beauty they’re surrounded by. Seriously, imagine having a bedroom overlooking a forest straight out of a fairy tale and not getting any enjoyment out of it:

My brain is telling me to be way more skeptical about GoJo’s whole vibe—Ray mentions on the plane that the company previously acquired a video game publisher and gutted 90 percent of its workers, which is fucking brutal—but my heart wants to submit an application so that I can tag along at the next retreat. As the old saying goes: Once you go Scandi, you’ll always feel dandy. [Editor’s note: On account of his consistently awful wordplay, Miles has been uninvited from Spotify’s onboarding session.]

The Most Brutal Insults of the Week

5. When Gerri, Frank, and Karl approach him and Kendall: “Here we go, march of the emperor penguins.” —Roman

4. In the aftermath of witnessing Matsson and her brothers bickering over the deal: “The majestic stags sparring with their memory foam hard-ons? It was a breathtaking spectacle.” —Shiv

3. When Tom discovers that his estranged wife has been spending one-on-one time with Matsson at the retreat: “I mean, he’s boring, but he’s very conventionally attractive. He’s broad. I used to think you were broad, but you’re, you know, compared to him, you’re wiry. You’re like a fucking spelunker.” —Shiv

2. After Kendall disagrees with his assessment of the Waystar brand: “Yeah, well, I don’t care what you think. You’re a tribute band.” —Matsson

1. On Scandinavia: “Norway, Sweden, what’s the difference? They’ve all descended from the same rapists.” —Tom

The Cousin Greg Corner

With virtually every character the audience knows from Waystar attending the GoJo retreat, it’s no surprise that Cousin Greg is along for the ride. “Excited to get a feel for Scandinavia and some hotties,” Greg tells his fellow Disgusting Brother, Tom, before boarding the jet. “The arctic foxes, bit of Norwegian wood.” Even Tom appears to be tiring of Greg’s new horndog swagger, but Greg does prove useful in gaining some intel during the retreat, including Matsson’s own sexual proclivities. In a nod to the infamous Leonardo DiCaprio rumor, Greg tells Tom that he heard Matsson wears noise-canceling headphones while sleeping with women—as if we needed any more proof that this dude is a total weirdo. (Matsson also confesses to Shiv that he’s repeatedly sent his blood to GoJo’s head of communications, whom he used to be in a relationship with. He should be put on a government watch list?)

In another moment that demonstrates Greg’s unique utility, he waits in the wings as a “pawn sacrifice” while Tom tries ingratiating himself to Matsson and his GoJo inner circle. When Matsson asks Tom for his thoughts on whether France is doomed—in an economic and societal sense, like Greece—he stumbles through an explanation that people in the United States don’t care about the rest of the world. Thankfully for Tom, Greg intervenes. “Just in terms of education and quality of life, Old Lady France fucking, don’t fucking bet against the old fucking, uh, the baguette—you know, the baguette might be mightier than the bagel,” Greg says, letting Tom off the hook in spectacular fashion. Not gonna lie, Nicholas Braun’s stuttering line delivery on the state of France was the funniest thing I’ve seen in weeks—it’s scenes like this that underline why Greg is still a Mount Rushmore–level Succession character.

Greg also becomes a helpful tool for Kendall, who uses his unwitting cousin as an anonymous source for journalists to report that the vibes are off between Waystar and GoJo. (Not that it matters much after Matsson seals the deal behind Kendall’s and Roman’s backs.) I’m not sure what Greg’s actual job title is at Waystar these days, but in addition to his absurd libido, it seems like he’s blossomed into a jack-of-all-trades subordinate. Greg’s name doesn’t come up on GoJo’s climactic kill list, but considering he’s both a Roy relative and Tom’s closest confidant, it’s safe to assume he’s got a place in the company’s future.