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Succession Season 4 Episode 5 Review: The Show Travels To Misery With A Norwegian Getaway

  • The season continues to fire on all cylinders as it explores the Roy family's struggle to conduct business as usual
  • The ensemble is once again uniformly excellent — and Alexander Skarsgård is much better in his return than he was in his third-season appearances
  • Contains some of the show's best-ever writing for Roman
  • After the events of "Connor's Wedding" a couple of weeks back, it might take a while for the show to offer a gut-punch quite as powerful again

One of the biggest triumphs of the final season of "Succession" so far is how it's managed to make the most obvious narrative path the most dramatically powerful. In an era where every television show is subject to a multitude of online fan theories about how they're going to end, creator Jesse Armstrong and his army of writers have chosen to stay on the path the show was always heading down from its first season, the inevitable only feeling unpredictable due to how quickly it's sprung upon viewers.

The show premiered with Logan Roy (Brian Cox) taken to the hospital, the wider family assuming the worst and preparing their next steps — a clean transition that had been at the forefront of their mind for years. Following his death two episodes ago, the same arc has manifested; Kendall (Jeremy Strong) is now the newly appointed leader with Roman (Kieran Culkin) as his second-in-command. The brothers have found themselves out of their depths as they inherited a company with a falling share price and numerous financial troubles they never personally planned for.

An Indecent Proposal

This week's excursion to Norway to hammer out the final takeover deal with Lukas Matsson (Alexander Skarsgård) effectively returns Kendall back to the same dilemma he faced in the show's pilot: how to play hardball when the person sitting across from him knows he's still stuck in his dad's shadow.

With each episode in this fourth season taking place on a consecutive day — meaning we're still less than 48 hours removed from the siblings' final, silent phone call with their father — that shadow looms larger than ever despite Logan's absence. When they were still firmly within the WayStarRoyCo umbrella before, the children were ridiculed for effectively running their father's errands whenever attempting to do business. Now, there's no secret that they are only in a position of power by default, with the combination of stress and complicated grief making Matsson view them as easy targets to manipulate; why else would he insist on the whole team flying over to Scandinavia while he knows they're all in mourning?

This is the driving tension of this week's episode, the dramatically titled "Kill List," which while not as emotionally brutal as the season's high watermark "Connor's Wedding" does further unpack how the family's personal trauma is continuing to affect their professional takeover. We know from last week's cliffhanger that Kendall is back to trying to get one over on his dad from beyond the grave, quietly starting to brief against the final months of his leadership to the press, but that patriarchal rivalry remains largely relegated to the back seat this week. Quite pointedly, each time Shiv (Sarah Snook) brings it up, Kendall aims to act like he's in control of the situation, even as he's barely in control of each new problem presented to him (on a side note: I would love to see the $200 million "lonely robot" movie that's putting the family's film studio in financial turmoil).

The shifting family dynamics are lingering in the new proposal Matsson pointedly offers, demanding that ATN (the only arm of the company Logan wanted to remain within the family) be rolled into his deal. The brand is, of course, toxic, with Shiv eager for it to exchange hands — but Roman and Kendall are more attuned to the symbolic weight it holds, with giving it away representing them finally moving on from their father, even as his body is still warm. It's the tale of two nepo babies coming of age, children whose careers have been defined by just how amicable their relationship with their father is having to decide whether to act against his wishes in one final twist of the knife. It's not like he's going to be around to see it, but it does draw up future conflict between a brother already briefing against his dad, and one who was planning on leaping back into the family business and abandoning his siblings' latest venture before Logan's death disrupted everything.

No more business as usual

It all comes to a head in the episode's most spectacular sequence, a clifftop confrontation that features some of the best writing ever afforded to Roman. This has already been the strongest season so far for Kieran Culkin in terms of his performance, but his grief-stricken meltdown amid a tense negotiation is one of his high watermarks in this role — a character long defined by his aloof, foul-mouthed detachment from every situation no longer able to keep things bottled up. Whereas the other siblings have reverted to business as usual despite their grief, Roman's feelings are considerably more complicated, his hopes for a fruitful career and a family reconciliation all jettisoned in such quick succession (no pun intended) that even he can no longer keep up with the ramifications.

Elsewhere on the retreat, Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) seems to be going through the exact same arc that befell Kendall in Season 3, at face value at least; set up in a prior season cliffhanger is the likely next-in-line to the throne, only to find nothing going as planned. Fans have speculated he has a cunning plan up his sleeve, but so far, everything going his way feels like a red herring. With how his colleagues are undermining him and later questioning why he's not on the "kill list" of potential WayStar employees to get the boot, it would be easy to assume he's working on a Machiavellian plan, just like how he managed to get Logan to keep him on after the family blowout last season. I can see the seeds of it — like him openly liaising with the GoJo team — but currently, his continued presence seems to be in spite of his brown-nosing behavior. Admittedly, he did manage to endear himself to Logan in the first place by eating chicken directly off his plate, so stranger things have happened when it comes to Tom making new alliances.

The episode is called "Kill List," but the reveal of the at-risk WayStar employees in the final sequence might not be worth diving into too much — this could be the archetypal "Succession" closing scene that welcomes fan speculation, only to pull back the curtain and reveal it holds less weight than previously assumed. But then, that continues to be the beauty of this show, where each narrative left turn always manages to be the one that should be the most predictable, and this episode is rich with storylines that could lead to the downfall of the company or at least several of the people in it. As we sail past the midseason point, I suspect my theory that this season is a warped mirror of the first will begin to hold less weight. Of course, the joy of this show is that it makes you second-guess the inevitable, making each logical reveal feel like a gut punch every time it finally manifests itself. 

"Succession" airs every Sunday at 9 p.m. EST on HBO and HBO Max.