This post contains spoilers for the "Succession" series finale.
"Succession" finally brought everything to a close in epic, devastating fashion in the series finale, "With Open Eyes." In the final episodes after the death of Logan Roy from what was officially deemed a pulmonary embolism, his three adult children, Shiv (Sarah Snook), Roman (Kieran Culkin) and Kendall (Jeremy Strong), finally get a chance to see what life is like after stepping out from under the shadow of their monstrous billionaire father. Their sibling rivalry comes to a weary truce for a moment, only to be upended once again when Roman and Kendall go against Shiv to try and blow up the GoJo merger with Waystar Royco spearheaded by the eccentric tech CEO bro Lukas Mattson (Alexander Skarsgård). For all the posturing between the Roys about who wants to succeed their father as the head of the company, they are really only interested in one thing: survival.
Mattson takes clear advantage of this going back to season 4, episode 5, "Kill List," wherein he starts to play mind games with the Roys and every other character connected to Logan's crumbling media empire. With any corporate merger on this grand of a scale, trimming the excess of the budget and streamlining productivity is a must, but that comes at a very human cost. A so-called "kill list" is said to be in motion when Mattson "invites" the Waystar team for a mandatory retreat in Sweden that will decide the fate of everyone, but then it's never really mentioned again in any of the episodes moving forward. Was the list really that important, or was it just a means to an end for Mattson?
Paranoia Will Destroy Ya
In "Kill List," the seeds start to be planted and sides are chosen. The old guard consisting of Karl, Frank, and Gerri look like dinosaurs to Mattson and all three seem perfectly happy to jump out of the Waystar Royco private jet and pull their golden parachutes. Once Shiv starts to befriend Mattson and tolerate his creepy interpretation of flirting, the kill list starts to come into focus with Karl, Frank, and Hugo on the chopping block. During Shiv's impromptu meeting with Mattson, she talks up Karolina and Gerri just enough to keep them from being added to the corporate restructuring bonfire, at least for the time being. Tom also seems to be spared based on Shiv's backhanded compliments.
But was there ever a real need for an official kill list? In my opinion, not really. Mattson was only pitting everyone against each other to sow division and cultivate an even greater level of paranoia before the deal actually goes through. Tom and Greg are the biggest worry warts of them all, yet somehow they manage to stay afloat and hover just outside of Mattson's inner circle long enough to ensure their own survival. As he says during his clandestine dinner with Tom in "With Open Eyes," Mattson only needs a stand-in CEO for the ATN right wing network that can act like a "pain sponge" while he goes in and does the real work of cleaning house and gutting the company from within. That's when Mattson is ready to become a true killer with a kill list that's more than a mile long instead of consisting of just a few throwaway names.
Was The Kill List An Early Headcount For The Board Of Directors Vote?
Understanding the unethical framework that Waystar Royco and especially ATN are built on is key to understanding why Mattson is able to swoop in and cause so much chaos and mistrust in such a short amount of time after Logan's death. Inspired, of course, by the Murdoch family's questionable journalistic practices, ATN has garnered a reputation for misinformation, half-truths, and sensationalism all in the name of ratings. That's never been more apparent than it was during episode 8, "America Decides," where Roman and Tom call the presidential election for Jeryd Mencken, an apologetic fascist who becomes anointed by the network after a fire destroys over 100,000 absentee votes in Wisconsin.
The entire Roy family has always been on shaky ground as well, never being able to trust each other thanks to a lifetime of manipulation and abuse from a father who was always too busy to care and a mother who never wanted them in the first place. Knowing all of this, Mattson takes a certain amount of pride as a foreign infiltrator that has the ability to take down a corrupt American dynasty. The kill list then just becomes another way to drive in the knife just a little bit deeper. Mattson is a tinkerer more than a businessman and he thrives on mayhem.
The ultimate kill list is created when Shiv names the board votes that she thinks she and Mattson have nailed down to secure the GoJo deal at the beginning of "With Open Eyes." All the major players are named, including Frank, Stewy, Dewi, Sandy, the other Sandi, and Ewan as the seven votes needed are constantly bandied about throughout the entire episode. In a series finale drenched with so much internal drama, it's Shiv who becomes the true killer with the deciding vote. Her Dad would be proud.
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