Ilike all really great TV series, Succession concerns many things. It’s about generational trauma, ambition, betrayal, self-destruction, family and capitalism. It’s also a show about male predation. While nearly all of his characters are problematic in one way or another, the concept of specifically masculine toxicity is ubiquitous but rarely explored. From the unsolicited “dick pic” of Roman Roy (Kieran Culkin) last season, to the cruise-ship rape and murder cover-up that simmered in the background of the first three seasons, and the Logan Roy affair ( Brian Cox) with his much younger secretary, Succession took a cynical view of sexuality and harmful male behaviors. In the character of Lukas Matsson, however, the show may have introduced a whole new type of toxic man.
Matsson, played by Alexander Skarsgård, was introduced last season as an erratic Swedish tech billionaire interested in buying WayStar RoyCo. Episode five, “Kill List”, is a showcase for the character, as the Roys fly to Norway to negotiate with Matsson (to “bleed the Swede”, in Kendall’s words). Over there, the Roys – and we – take a closer look at the man who is about to take over their business: it’s not pleasant to see. At one point, he is seen making a sexist joke about and in front of his communications chief Eva (Eili Harboe). Later, a coked Matsson confides in Shiv (Sarah Snook) that he was dating Eva and, after a bad-tempered breakup, had taken to repeatedly sending her half-liter “bricks” of his own frozen blood. “Yikes” doesn’t quite cut it.
Naturally, and as always in Succession, the ensuing conversation is not about this disturbed and abusive behavior, but about the optics of such behavior. Shiv – whose conversation with Matsson had its own palpable sexual element – simply suggests he stop sending blood and says she will offer pro bono advice on how to navigate the impending scandal. Whether or not this will return to the series remains to be seen; Succession is prone to leaving character threads like this untouched. But it confirms what many may have already assumed about Skarsgård’s character: he’s a guy with some serious skeletons in his closet.
There are other parts of the episode that touch on Matsson’s problematic habits. At one point, cousin Greg (Nicholas Braun) says he heard Matsson having sex while wearing noise canceling headphones and listening to podcasts (a line surely rooted in a well-known rumor about a real Hollywood A-list). Near the end of the episode, Matsson is seen beginning to urinate against a rock in the midst of a hostile negotiation with Kendall (Jeremy Strong) and Roman. (Last season, the character was seen relieving himself on Roman’s phone, but with his consent.)
Matsson is a self-proclaimed alpha male, a repulsive mix of privilege and ego that makes even the Roy brothers seem reasonable by comparison. Skarsgård’s casting also adds another layer of intrigue. A virile and handsome man in films such as The man from the north Or TarzanSkarsgård here is hunched and austere, its sexiness almost completely negated.
For all the terrible men Succession has come to light over the past three and a half seasons, there has been none quite like Matsson. To some extent, he – or a character like him – was inevitable. This is a series about the uber-rich, and part of what defines the uber-rich is the propensity to commit terrible acts of abuse and presume to get away with it. In a post-Epstein world, this is widely accepted as fact. Succession never claimed his characters were innocent. But in Matsson, we may finally see a level of toxicity that even Roman couldn’t make a dirty joke about.