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Shiv Roy Outplays the Boys

In season four: episode five "Kill List", Succession's perpetual also-ran uses her perceived weakness as an advantage

By Steffany RitchiePublished 12 months ago Updated 12 months ago 7 min read
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This article contains spoilers for season four of Succession

"Let's bleed the Swede" smugly intones Kendall Roy at the start of episode five of this, the fourth and final season of Succession, with a cocksure attitude he has only acquired in the last few days since his dad died. Kendall is sad, but also riding high (it helps he has "the best grief guy" as per the previous episode!).

We should be more suspicious by now when Succession gives us a nostalgic throwback to the pilot intro of Kendall's character. 

Jeremy Strong as Kendall has, against some odds, created a loveable loser arc for the world's richest sad boy. So when we see him cruising up to the Waystar skyscraper, with his Jay Z. hype music playing in his chauffeured chariot, it's a red herring by design. 

In the pilot of season one Kendall is shown in a very similar circumstance. He is wearing headphones, listening to the Beastie Boys, psyching himself up for a meeting by rapping anxiously and shadowboxing. In contrast, in the latest episode "Kill List", he looks cool as a cucumber. 

His suit has never been a better fit, his black tailoring and designer sunglasses against the Manhattan skyline make him seem very much like Kendall Roy in his glow-up mode. 

Kendall has been anointed the interim CEO by merit of having his name written on a piece of paper in his father Logan Roy's safe (which was either underlined or crossed out, depending on who is looking at it). It seems as if the keys to the kingdom have been all but handed to this young prince of New York. 

I admit as a Kendall fan there is some small joy in seeing Kendall winning, as goofy and un-self-aware as he is. But if this show has taught us anything, it's never to get too comfortable.

With younger brother Roman folded in as a co-CEO to bolster the decision, sister Siobhan "Shiv" has effectively been left out in the cold in the power player stakes. This is despite the "sibs" finding something like a unified front in the months before Logan's death. Boys rule, girls at the back of the line, a story as old as time.

In the immediate aftermath of her Dad's passing, Shiv is also dealing with a looming divorce and a presumably unplanned secret pregnancy. The old guard and the new of the company have been summoned to Norway to try to finalize the deal before they have even had a chance to bury their father.

Lucas Matsson (played with entertaining glee by Alexander Skarsgård) is the aloof, tech-brained Swede who has agreed to buy out most of Logan Roy's Waystar-Royco empire prior to Logan's death. Before long he has Kendall and Roman on the ropes, with a wormy ability to expose weaknesses that only the recently departed Logan's Teflon skin was able to deflect and outmaneuver. 

Kendall's vain desire to be the top dog and total lack of a poker face quickly undoes him. Roman, formerly able to charm Lucas Matsson with his willingness to stoop as low as required, is in too much pain not to eventually snap at Matsson's unbridled barbarism. 

Roman's dad's passing has made him vulnerable and emotional, not a side of him we are used to seeing. He is telling the truth about how he feels, possibly for the first time in his life. He is not as in control of himself as usual, and cracks, giving away his and Kendall's secret plan to trash the deal.

Roman fans will have enjoyed seeing him have a human side, and Kieran Culkin delivered one of his best performances of the series here. In (understandably) failing to control his rage at Lucas forcing them to do the deal before their dad has been buried, he lost the battle.

Meanwhile, Shiv is coolly floating around the outskirts of the proceedings. She's grieving, but she's irritated at her casual sidelining by her brothers. She picks little fights with her estranged husband, who she normally gets the better of, to find he is now biting back. She gives Lucas Matsson an awkward but amusing bro hug when they are introduced, slapping him on the back in a mildly aggressive manner.

Like Logan, Lucas fancies himself an alpha dog conqueror. It turns out that also like Logan, he has a potentially fatal weakness: women. He asks Shiv to have a solo cocktail with him, a confident move likely motivated by his success rate at conquering the Roy team so far. 

Lucas compliments Shiv by saying she is the most like her dad of all of them, that "she can take a joke." Shiv smiles despite herself, she was after all Logan's favorite, or so he told her at various points, so this seems like a sincere moment.

Shiv convincingly mimes drinking and even doing a little class-A narcotics to show face, so while Lucas is likely drunk and high, she is stone-cold sober. 

Shiv opens up about her divorce, enough to make Lucas feel safe making his own romantic confession. Lucas knows about Shiv's past as a political p.r. woman, and poses her with a quandary he is in. He has been dating a woman who has dumped him, largely because of his obsessive stalker behavior. This involves him sending her "frozen half-liters of my blood".

Skarsgård delivers these lines in a cool, eerily calm manner that makes them more believable for it. It's the kind of crazy billionaire sh*t you hear about that someone in his position, used to doing whatever the hell he wants, can get away with. 

He's not really ashamed or worried about his own behavior; he merely needs advice on containing any fallout from the matter because the woman works for him. 

Shiv absorbs all of it with the calm manner of a woman who has been underestimated her whole life. Is Shiv often a fuck up? Yes. But in previous episodes, we have seen her ability to be arguably as ruthless as her dad is when required. 

In season two, Shiv was responsible for making the sole credible witness for the prosecution against the historic sex and other crimes at the family cruise line go away, merely with the power of persuasion. It made her skin visibly crawl to do it, but she succeeded. 

She coolly assesses Lucas's situation in a matter-of-fact way. She tells him exactly what needs to be done to avoid fallout, without letting a hint of judgment slip. Some might argue it was a test, that Lucas has further divided the siblings, but regardless, Shiv has salvaged the deal and the brothers' plan to sabotage it has failed miserably. 

In the midst of this Shiv has also laid the groundwork for the new layout of the company by telling Lucas who she would fire and keep. At the end of the episode, we learn that Lucas has taken all of her advice about who should be on the takeover's "kill list" and who has been saved. The old men of the board are out, the women are in.

Shiv was always mocked for being politically liberal by her family, whose bread and butter is a Fox News-type media conglomerate. But she is the only one of her siblings to have had a successful career outside of the family business as a political p.r.

She is also the only one who has ever dealt with not being largely surrounded by yes men (other than their dad, who tried and failed to beat them down enough to counter the obscenity of their privilege). 

As cruel and manipulative as he was, (what turned out to be) Logan's final words to his children that "I love you, but you are not serious people" were not uttered insincerely or without merit.

So for all of the times that we have witnessed Shiv try and fail to succeed at business in the style of her father, perhaps the final end game was her playing her own game all along. Time will tell if Shiv can utilize her seeming upper hand or use the dirt she has on Matsson to the family's or her own advantage.

This episode was a superior example of surprising the audience with an unexpected win for a character who has been all but written off by many. 

The fact that Succession is still delivering these twists and turns so effectively as it heads for the home plate is seriously impressive storytelling. I am deeply sad it has to end, I will miss these billionaire brats more than I ever could have imagined.

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About the Creator

Steffany Ritchie

Hi, I mostly write memoir, essays and pop culture things. I am a long-time American expat in Scotland.

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