Succession Season 4 Episode 5 review: A searing throwback

Kendall in Succession Season 4 Episode 5HBO

Succession Season 4 Episode 5 is the best possible version of the show’s early ultra-business vibes; the dialogue is fast-paced and searing, nobody’s footing is stable, and it has the momentum of a bullet train.

Jesse Armstrong asked a lot of audiences with the first season: here’s one of the worst American families to grace the screen, emblematic of so much that’s wrong with the world. They’re greedy, nasty, and their squabbles are genetically linked to the et-tu day-to-day of their sprawling business empire.

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There’s a rhythm to Succession that demands your calibration and attention. It doesn’t matter if you don’t understand a word they’re saying – by and large, that’s the point, especially with Kendall’s grandiose peacocking and industry mumbo-jumbo.

Atmosphere is more important; reading the room, recognizing the tension and treachery between the lies, or vicariously wishing for a nuke to save you from the cringe. Episode 5 has all of its early hallmarks executed at the peak of the show’s powers. Spoilers for Succession to follow…

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Succession Season 4 Episode 5 “bleeds the Swede”

Succession’s second-ever opening saw Kendall in a car hyping himself up with rap. Four seasons and five episodes later, we’ve returned to the backseat with Jay-Z’s ‘Takeover’, but the energy is different; more composed, focused, and ready. He’s suited and booted, but he doesn’t have swagger – the gravity of his first day as co-COO is all around him, starting with Hugo introducing his “additional manpower” before he’s even stepped in the elevator.

This is Kendall in boss mode, but with the exception of a “f*ck off” here and there, he’s not throwing his power around. As he walks into the office, he’s met with the jungle drumming of desk-rumbling and applause, which he politely acknowledges. While disconcerted by the sight of his dad’s chair, it’s only when he passes through the glass-door barrier into an office with Roman that he flexes his chief-exec muscles.

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There’s already a lot of moving parts: the next entry in the Transformers-lite Calispatron franchise is undergoing reshoots, and there’s said to be “panicky vibes” on-set; while Karl, Gerri, and the rest of the “old guard” have nothing to do but hover around the two brothers and hope they land the GoJo deal. “Mom and dad just stopped by to check we have food in the fridge,” Roman jokes to Shiv.

They receive an out-of-the-blue email from Lukas Matsson asking the whole top brass to come to Norway as part of the company’s annual retreat, so they can check “cultural compatibility” between the two workforces. Kendall weighs up whether it’d be worth telling him get lost, but they agree to the trip. “Let’s go get the deal, let’s bleed the Swede.”

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Succession puts its “snakes on a plane”

Everyone’s invited: the sibs, Gerri, Karl, Frank, Karolina, Hugo, Tom, Greg, and other comms officers. The plane journey plays host to some exceptional, hilarious dialogue: Tom says the difference between Norway and Sweden doesn’t matter because they “all descended from rapists”; Hugo describes the trip as a game of “musical electric chairs”; and Gerri goes off on a diatribe about “soft Europeans” and how they’ve been baby-fed by free healthcare and vacation days.

While Kendall and Roman peruse documents concerning Calispatron’s production woes, lamenting the $300 million price tag to fix a movie about a “sleepy robot in cage”, Shiv alerts them to reports of Logan seemingly relying on Kendall and Roman towards the end of his life. Unbeknown to her, this is a post-humous smear campaign ordered by her brother, but he plays it coy. Instead, they change the subject by offering to “cut Tom’s throat” with them in charge, but Shiv seems more insulted by the offer; in a brief moment, she’s nothing more than their little sister, and she hates that.

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Shiv in Succession Season 4 Episode 5HBO

They soon arrive in Norway, ascending windy roads carved out into hills between cliffs and waterfalls. Nicholas Britell’s score swoons with the beauty of the scenery; this season may be his best work to date, instrumental to the very fabric of the show. The brothers look dissatisfied, but for different reasons; Kendall constantly suspects he’s being played and has warmed a little too quickly to being the top dog, while Roman looks like he wants to crawl out of his own skin just so he can be anywhere else.

Meanwhile, Waystar’s staff have a delectably awkward face-off with Matsson’s equivalents: Karolina meets Eba, Tom meets Oscar (who calls him “Tom of Siobhan”), and Hugo meets Andreas, a PR officer who nearly won at the Olympics. “That’s almost huge, man,” he says, before whispering to Karolina: “That guy’s a dick.”

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The Roys vs Lukas Matsson

The kids take a cable car to see Matsson in his “50k wedding mill.” When they meet, he gives them all a hug, but first asks Shiv if he’ll get a sexual harassment lawsuit. “Maybe, wanna find out?” she quips, before giving him a pat on the back. He’s taken aback by Kendall and Roman bringing such a large grip, especially when he’s “solo, baby”, and they go off to a private room to talk about the deal.

After an uncomfortable back-and-forth about Matsson finding his dead dad in a BMW, his “kicky ball team doing a win”, they get into it: Kendall and Roman don’t think his offer reflects the value of the business, but Matsson feels like he’s “going to the checkout during a sale and being asked to pay more.”

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Then comes the confession: after joking about buying everything for a dollar, he reveals he wants ATN folded back into the deal, despite the carve-out originally negotiated by their dad. Matsson’s charisma is a world apart from the brothers: they’re nervous, shaky-voiced, and unconvinced, while he has intimidating resolve. He refuses to say why he wants it back in, but he has a compelling offer: $187 per share, “50/50 cash stock for the whole thing.”

In layman’s terms, it’s a f*ck-ton of money. Roman is uneasy about betraying their dad’s memory, but Kendall is harder to read. “You like it a little bit, don’t you?” Matsson says, but Kendall holds his poker face. They go back to Karl, Frank, and Gerri, who are absolutely delighted with the offer. Kendall suspects Matsson knows “ATN is an emotive issue and he’s being an asshole”, but their elder colleagues don’t care.

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They take it to Shiv, who’s furious about ATN having an “open line” to Jeryd Mencken’s campaign team (the far-right, fascist presidential candidate) and they basically orchestrate in the daily news cycle. She’s happy for ATN to be binned off because it’s a “toxic asset”, but Roman says it’s their dad’s “pride and joy” and they’ve stabilized the market, so if the deal falls through they’ll be fine.

“You’re a tribute band”

Back at day-care for the lower-level staff, Greg tells Tom that Matsson has a “kill list” that’s “evolving”, so he tries to cozy up to the Swede in a knuckle-whitening, cringe-worthy conversation about “whether France will make it” while Greg tries to insert himself into the siblings’ dynamic, even referring to them as the “quad.”

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Greg then walks over to Tom as he’s sitting with Matsson and quickly becomes the brunt of jokes in a language they don’t know (that said, “incestuös” doesn’t leave much to the imagination), and Kendall, like a good big cousin, protects him. “He’s good,” he tells Matsson, but they continue laughing like they’re not there. “Are you done, or maybe it’s funnier with subtitles?” Kendall then curtly says.

They sit down to present their counter: they don’t want to give up ATN, so they want to hear Matsson’s price for buying Waystar without it. “Bad,” he muses to himself, before lamenting ATN’s actual worth as a “trusted brand” and explaining how he’d transform it from “small men, big veins, and a lot of yelling” into a Bloombergian news outlet. “Long-term, I don’t think news for old people works,” he says. “Simple, cheap, huge, IKEA’d to f*ck.”

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Kendall says there’s a disconnect and doesn’t agree with Matsson’s assessment. “Well I don’t care what you think, you’re a tribute band,” he replies, in perhaps the season’s greatest line so far.

Shiv discovers Matsson’s pound of flesh

Later that night, Kendall and Roman discuss the deal. Kendall wants to tank the whole thing, an idea Roman describes as a “high-rise piece of sword-swallowing.” Kendall says Matsson is nothing but a “card trick” and it doesn’t matter what their dad wanted, and while Roman initially says they should “finish his breakfast”, he agrees to “f*ck the living sh*t out of this thing.”

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Shiv has a fascinating conversation with Matsson, one we’ll be dissecting obsessively until the next episode. He introduces Shiv to Eba, his head of comms and “estrogen air freshener.” She says she “keeps notes… when I walk, it either goes in my book or they pay me off.” She smiles at Shiv as she walks away, but Matsson doesn’t look at her shadow with anger; he’s clearly concerned about something.

Alexander Skarsgård as Lukas Matsson in the Succession Season 4 Episode 5 trailerHBO

They go to a private room, where Matsson asks Shiv what happened between her and Tom. “I broke his heart, he broke mine, and we lost our footing,” she says. He goes on to tell her his own disturbing love story: he was seeing a girl, and after their “nasty” break-up, he started sending her half-litre frozen bricks of blood. It started as a joke, “then not a joke, then a joke again, and now it’s apparently not a joke.” And then comes the bombshell: that girl is Eba, and Matsson wants Shiv’s advice.

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“Deniability is difficult, given she has so much of her blood,” she says, warning him that US media will be all over him once he buys Waystar and it could have an economic impact if it comes out. “I like you. You’re cool… you can take a joke, like your dad,” he says. I really, really hope this isn’t setting up some awful romance between them, especially after, you know, the blood bricks.

Kendall gives Greg a sneaky task: he wants him to secretly talk to a journalist and tell him the deal is looking a bit wobbly because the two cultures don’t get along, and he gets a screening of the new Calispatron movie organized for the GoJo staff to distract them.

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Kendall and Roman pull off the impossible

While Kendall and Roman head up to the ridge to see Matsson for the last time before shooting off, Shiv and Tom trade insults and ear-flicks. “Your shoes are like looking at the sun… this is why people don’t take you seriously,” she says. He asks how her “little chat” with Matsson went. “He’s broad, I used to think you were broad, but compared to him, you’re wiry… you’re like a f*cking spelunker,” she says in a line worthy of spluttering your tea.

As Kendall and Roman ride the cable car, they receive a photo of Logan’s body from Connor (he’s being prepared for his funeral). They meet Matsson alone and start smothering him in Waystar problems; their “everything is fine” attitude to Calispatron and cultural issues with studios. Matsson sniffs them out immediately. “Are you Scooby Doo’ing me here… are you tanking the deal?” he asks, and they insist they’re just being honest, but they also want to slow things down.

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“I preferred doing this with your dad. I mean, he was a pr*ck, but at least he knew what he wanted… I think he’d be embarrassed if he saw you now,” Matsson tells them, which rattles Roman’s cage. He storms over and completely loses it. “You inhuman fucking dogman,” he snipes, even blaming him for his dad’s death. “Sh*t the fuck up, man. We’re not selling to you… you’re gonna get bored and move on. I f*cking hate you.”

“It’s a negotiating tactic, you stupid c*nt,” he adds as they walk away. “If a deal collapses in the wood and nobody hears it, is it an SEC violation?” he then jokes to Kendall.

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As they get back on the plane, the mood is “solemn” – they assume they torpedoed the deal, but a call from Matsson comes in: $192 for the whole thing. Again, in layman’s terms, a f*ck-ton of money. Kendall and Roman can’t believe their ears, and while everyone celebrates “Raiding the Vikings”, they sit across from one another in disbelief at what they achieved. Shiv tells Tom the news, and he’s unmoved; his silence speaks to his worries about being dumped on the street. But Shiv is suddenly a power player once more, and whether it’s a con to reveal her pregnancy or she’s actually attracted to him again, she asks him to go for dinner when they get home.

Before the episode ends, Matsson phones Shiv and asks her to take a photo of her brothers’ faces: they don’t look happy or sad, they just can’t comprehend what’s happened. Down the plane, they find the kill list: Karl and Frank are on their way out (they don’t care), Gerri and Karolina are safe, and somehow, Tom has evaded the purge – for now.

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Succession Season 4 Episode 5 review score: 4/5

The only thing that’s missing from Episode 5 is the same emotional potency as the beginning the season. Otherwise, this is another incredibly strong, intricate chapter.

Succession Season 4 Episodes 1-4 are streaming on HBO and Sky now. Episode 6 will be available to watch on April 30 in the US and May 1 in the UK. Check out our other coverage below:

Season 4 cast | Season 4 release schedule | Season 4 runtimes | Is Succession based on a real family? | Who will succeed Logan Roy? | What time does Succession drop?

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