swede talk

Succession’s Next Top Weirdo

And here Logan thought Roman was the sicko. Photo: Graeme Hunter/HBO

Tom Hanks would say he has “dead eyes,” but in this case, it’s an asset. Alexander Skarsgård, who’s become Hollywood’s go-to Übermensch (see The Northman, Infinity Pool), plays Succession’s Swedish tech overlord Lukas Matsson with a restless detachment that’s equal parts creepy, mercurial, and pure, uncut weirdo. Skarsgård is a pretty good-looking dude if you’re into the whole “broad Scandinavian” thing, but it’s the guy’s steely, serial-killer eyes that give him a certain frisson as an actor. And within the context of Succession, those same eyes imbue Lukas with a particular Thanosean edge as the mogul shepherding the end of the Roy empire as they know it.

I’ll admit: I didn’t think the character worked when Lukas made his first appearance in the late-third-season episode “Too Much Birthday,” not least because his energy is just so jarringly different from every character that’s come before. Much of this has to do with Skarsgård’s halting Scandinavian accent, which doesn’t mesh all that well with the show’s signature floral verbosity. In basketball parlance, Succession tends to play a flowing game, while Lukas is the equivalent of a ball-stopper. But as we got a fuller view of the GoJo-merger plotline, in which Lukas reverses the direction of the original deal — from Waystar Royco ingesting GoJo to GoJo being in the power position — that mismatch takes on greater thematic weight. Logan might’ve hated the Pierces, Sandy Furness, and any number of contemporary rivals, but they all mostly operate within a shared patrician media-conglomerate language. Lukas represents something completely different. An adversary who hails from beyond the Roys’ orbit, he is the digital existential threat that Vaulter’s Lawrence Yee promised but never stuck around to realize. (Whatever happened to that guy, anyway?)

He’s also quite a bit weirder than all the Roy boys combined. Up to this point, Lukas’s presence on Succession tended to take the form of volatile bursts. During Kendall’s “all bangers all the time” birthday party, one of the first things Lukas does when he meets with the brothers is ask when their father is going to die, likely in jest but most definitely to fuck with their heads. His FaceTime tête-à-tête with Kendall in “Rehearsal,” in which Lukas threatens to pull out of the deal should there be any further shenanigans, opens with an odd bit of peacocking about their respective insomnia. “I’ve never met anyone I respect who sleeps good,” he says inelegantly, dressed in a tank top, eating popcorn.

Lukas oozes a wily creepiness, one rooted in the kind of social awkwardness we’ve become conditioned to expect from coders turned masters of the universe. But in “Kill List,” when the Waystar Royco crew are summoned to a Norwegian retreat to finalize the negotiation, we’re treated to a more complete and ornate view of Lukas’s weirdness, which is dramatically elevated from tech-bro affectation straight up into Stellan Skarsgård in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo territory. Forget mailing liters of blood to an ex who’s also his employee; that’s pubescent stuff. But having sex with randos while wearing noise-canceling headphones blaring podcasts? Truly disgusting. And Logan thought Roman was the sicko.

It’s fun to play the “Who inspired this character?” game with Lukas. One can detect obvious traces of Elon Musk in his erratic market-moving tweets, not to mention the GoJo chief’s casual, um, “political incorrectness.” Any fictional tech billionaire naturally evokes the usual antecedents: Zuckerberg, Dorsey, the Google boys. Because he’s Scandinavian, there is the temptation to bring up Spotify CEO Daniel Ek, but that wouldn’t really work, because Ek’s public persona is defined by a thoroughly uninteresting opacity more than anything else. The more precise Scandinavian reference point that comes to mind would be Markus Persson, the Minecraft creator also known as “Notch,” who sold his video-game studio Mojang to Microsoft for a cool $2.5 billion in 2014, after which he proceeded to party himself into oblivion, slip into wealth-induced loneliness, and tumble into a perfectly predictable transformation from online troll to QAnon conspiracy promoter.

Lukas comes across less brain-wormed, at least based on what we’ve seen of him thus far, but he does project a similar mental vibe, seemingly living in a constant swirl of apathy and exasperation. For all their defects, at least the Roy children have clear goals: to earn recognition from their father and, now that he’s dead, to match or transcend their ideas of what he envisioned of them. The most unsettling quality about Lukas is the lack of clarity around his motivations. For the most part, he just seems bored and listless, though still vulnerable to bouts of spiraling anchored by a desire for things that make him feel momentarily alive — like, you know, sending frozen blood bricks to his comms chief. This quality makes his late-night confab with Shiv all the more interesting. He responds to her lack of “judgment” toward his episode of hemoglobin-related eccentricity; perhaps there’s even an air of flirtation. Is Lukas, too, just looking to be seen a little?

However else his psyche may be constructed, Lukas’s most dependable spark of life appears to lie in doing business. This contextualizes the rare instance he exhibits any sense of deference, directed toward Logan during their Italian summit in “All the Bells Say.” That encounter produces an illustrative exchange: “Everything is boring, isn’t it?” says the Roy patriarch. “Yeah, everything is pretty fucking boring,” Lukas replies. “Except this,” says Logan, referring to the merger. It’s a bit of showmanship, and a whole lot of bullshit, but it establishes a bridge-crossing wavelength between the two men: Both recognize each other as ruthless businessmen, and both are individuals who have staked the substance of their lives within the affordances of their corporate empires. It also contextualizes the equally rare instance where Lukas comes off as genuinely flustered, as he briefly does during the mountaintop standoff with the Roy brothers. There’s a clear mismatch in deal-making rationality between the two parties. Lukas has the superior argument, but Roman’s lashing out of hazy piety to his late father, while Kendall’s sky-high off the fumes of Logan’s letter.

Did Lukas “win” the negotiation? Well, the deal’s done with ATN in tow, even if GoJo does have to pay more. Though, really, what’s a few tens of millions more to a megaconglomerate? Of course, it’s never about the money. Kendall ultimately doesn’t get to tank the deal and ascend the Waystar Royco throne in the way that he impulsively desired, but he gets to walk away looking like a killer. Lukas gets the whole package and sinks the Roy boys’ hopes, but one imagines he probably still feels like he conceded too much to two idiots. (Only Roman is an unambiguous loser here.)

More to the point, though: Will any of this really matter to Lukas? Let’s be clear: Succession is far from any “eat the rich” fantasy. Lukas runs little risk of suffering true comeuppance in this particular moral universe. But insofar he feels any kind of torment, it’s the spiritual equivalent of gout, arising from feasting on way too much for way too long. In this, the Scandinavian shares, once again, an aspect of Logan’s interiority. “Nothing tastes like it used to, doesn’t it? Nothing is the same as it was,” muses the Roy patriarch in fourth-season premiere “The Munsters.” Lukas might have pulled off the Waystar Royco merger, and it’s probably safe to assume he’ll go on to further corporate dominance, but in the end, he’ll still be listless, frustrated, and having sex with randos, blaring How I Built This on his noise-canceling headphones.

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Succession’s Next Top Weirdo