Roman Roy May Have Just Blown Up The World Of Succession, And It Feels Good

This post contains spoilers for the latest episode of "Succession."

This week's episode of "Succession" is, in a word, awkward. When the Roy family heads to Norway for a "cultural compatibility check" with the team set to acquire a large chunk of their company, viewers likely figured we knew what we were in for; after all, the show did the same thing with the Pierce family back in season 2. Except, as the Waystar head honchos set foot in the treehouse-like cluster of mountaintop cabins where they're set to meet with tech weirdo Lukas Matsson (Alexander Skarsgård), it quickly becomes clear that nothing here feels familiar at all. Logan Roy is dead, and his kids have lost their footing.

Just as the world of "Succession" looks to the Roy siblings for signs of failure, nervous audiences watching the show seem poised to jump at any chance to declare its narratively experimental, patriarch-free final stretch a failure. This latest episode does very little to set our anxious minds at ease -- until its final moments. In fact, it's probably the most off-kilter "Succession" has ever felt, but that seems to be entirely by design.

This Week's Episode Is Purposefully (And Painfully) Awkward

It's a testament to the talents of the "Succession" writers' room that this episode is able to convey through every line and beat just how much Matsson sucks, and not even in the stylish-but-soulless billionaire way we've seen on this show before. In past episodes, the tech creator seemed eccentric but enigmatic. Here, he comes across as a petulant, bizarre, deeply un-self-aware man with zero charisma and a shaky attention span. Sitting through this episode feels a bit like being on Twitter in 2023; it's a self-punishing exercise in embarrassment, but at least "Succession" fashions itself this way on purpose.

By the time Matsson steps away for his final face-to-face with Kendall (Jeremy Strong) and Roman (Kieran Culkin), the tension in the episode has risen to a fever pitch. It's a strange tension, though, fueled not just by Matsson's half-assed mind games and simmering divisions among the Roys, but by a Logan-shaped void that casts an uneasy pall over the occasion. The script for this episode has fewer wild flourishes than usual; characters communicate in an unnervingly straightforward way, as if they're altogether too on edge to fling the insults that typically form the basis of the show's language.

Roman Is Over It

Every subtle factor at play here makes the episode's climax, in which Roman abandons negotiating entirely to tell Matsson what a flaming trash heap he is, feel spectacular. The youngest Roy brother has always had a knack for breaking tension, even if it's with a (typical) wildly inappropriate joke. It feels only right, then, that "Succession" lets Roman snap the tension in the latest and most uncomfortable episode of the show like a glowstick, shaking it up violently for good measure.

The showdown starts when Matsson, apparently happy to have mind-numbingly circular conversations with the Roy siblings forever, begins to take a leak mid-conversation after accusing the Roy siblings of purposely tanking their deal. The fact that Matsson is basically engaged in a literal pissing contest when Roman confronts him is incidental; the co-CEO was already out of sorts when the conversation started, thanks to a photo Connor (Alan Ruck) sent of their dead dad in his burial outfit. By the time Roman starts to lose his battle-ready veneer, it's both an unsurprising development and a deeply welcome one.

When Matsson says the pair's father would be embarrassed by them, Roman quickly weighs the odds of what he's about to say, and when he gets a clear "f*** it" look on his face, it's so obvious that Kendall says his name as a warning: "Rom." It doesn't work. Roman's over it. "Hey, I was just thinking, do you remember when you asked when my dad was gonna die?" he asks Matsson plainly, and it's just the windup for the emotional knuckleball to come.

'I'm Dead, It's Over For Me'

There's a genuine sense of spontaneity, even near-improvisation, to Culkin's fantastic performance here. Roman at first comes for Matsson not with an insult or a threat, but with the truth: he's hurting badly. "I mean, my sister's kind of, she's f***ed up about it and my brother's a mess," he says, breaking through the artifice the strange episode has set up. He nearly cries when he touches on his own response to Logan's death: "And I'm f***ing, I'm gone," Roman says. "I'm like, I'm on the f***ing--" he starts to point upward, but doesn't finish the thought. He's speaking stream-of-consciousness now, and accidentally revealing more than he probably meant to. "I'm dead, it's over for me, it's okay, it's fine," Roman finishes, the words practically falling out of him.

Culkin's performance here feels especially affecting because it's a rare moment of unvarnished truth after the mountain of BS the episode has put us through. Yet it also makes clear just how completely Roman (and by extension, Culkin) has become the heart of the series this season. When Logan responded to Roman's plea for peace in Italy with a devastating rejection, spitting, "You come to me with love?" it seems to have cracked something open inside the guy, and the abusive old man's death did nothing to staunch the flow of feeling coming from the character who was once known only for comedic deflection. Now, he can't help but reveal how completely his world has fallen out of orbit, even if it does happen mid-conversation with the enemy.

This Is Exactly The Tension Break We Needed

By letting Roman break this episode's painful sense of tension, "Succession" sets up a final arc that's motivated by entirely understandable emotion. Over the course of roughly two minutes, the youngest Roy son all but tanks the company's future, committing an SEC violation by admitting to Matsson that he's going to derail the deal by any means possible (a statement he warns he'll play off as a negotiating tactic if questioned). He also calls the guy an "inhuman f***ing dogman" and tells him he's responsible for Logan's death. Hey, all in a day's work.

As "Succession" inches towards its curtain call, every move the show makes is under scrutiny, and this week's episode offers one of its most slyly clever maneuvers yet. Audiences are forced to sink into the feeling of discomfort its characters are trapped in, and we're only shaken free of it in the hour's final moments. Yet that anxious slow burn makes Roman's emotional outburst feel all the more vital and understandable; he just wrecked his whole world for the sake of a sliver of catharsis. It's reckless and hot-headed and ill-advised, and for once, we probably would've done exactly the same thing.

"Succession" airs new episodes on HBO and HBO Max on Sundays at 9 p.m. ET.

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