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In Succession’s world of toxic men, Alexander Skarsgård’s Matsson hits a chilling new low

The biting HBO drama has featured its fair share of problematic men in the past. But the sinister Scandinavian tech billionaire epitomises a dimension of the uber-rich that ‘Succession’ has mostly skirted around, writes Louis Chilton

Wednesday 26 April 2023 12:28 BST
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<p>Alexander Skarsgård as Lukas Matsson in ‘Succession'</p>

Alexander Skarsgård as Lukas Matsson in ‘Succession'

Like all truly great TV series, Succession is about a lot of things. It is about generational trauma, ambition, betrayal, self-destruction, family, and capitalism. It is also a show about male predation. While pretty much all of its characters are problematic in some way or another, the concept of specifically male toxicity is ever-present but seldom explored. From Roman Roy’s (Kieran Culkin) unsolicited “dick pic” last season, to the cruiseline rape and murder coverup that simmered in the background of the first three seasons, and Logan Roy’s (Brian Cox) affair with his much-younger secretary, Succession has indulged a relentlessly cynical view of sexuality, and of harmful male behaviour. In the character of Lukas Matsson, though, the series 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 out to Norway to negotiate with Matsson (to “bleed the Swede”, in Kendall’s words). While there, the Roys – and we – get a closer look at the man who’s set to take over their company: it’s not a pleasant sight. At one point, we see him crack a sexist joke about, and in front of, his communications chief Ebba (Eili Harboe). Later, a coked-up Matsson confides to Shiv (Sarah Snook) that he had been dating Ebba, and, after a bad-tempered breakup, had taken to repeatedly sending her half-litre “bricks” of his own frozen blood. “Yikes” doesn’t quite cut it.

Naturally, and as ever in Succession, the ensuing conversation is not about this disturbed, abusive behaviour, but about the optics of such behaviour. Shiv – whose chat with Matsson had its own palpable sexual element – simply suggests that he stops sending blood, and says she’ll offer some pro bono tips on how to navigate the looming scandal. Whether or not this will come up again in 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: this is a guy with some serious skeletons in his closet.

There are other parts of the episode that touch upon Matsson’s problematic habits. At one point, Cousin Greg (Nicholas Braun) says that he’s heard that Matsson has sex while wearing noise-cancelling headphones and listening to podcasts (a line surely rooted in a well-known rumour about a real-life Hollywood A-lister). Towards the end of the episode, we see Matsson begin to urinate against a rockin the middle of a hostile negotiation with Kendall (Jeremy Strong) and Roman. (Last season, the character was seen relieving himself on Roman’s phone, albeit with his consent.)

Matsson is a self-styled alpha male, a repellent mixture of privilege and ego that makes even the Roy brothers seem reasonable in comparison. The casting of Skarsgård too, adds another layer of intrigue. A virile, hunkish leading man in movies such as The Northman or Tarzan, Skarsgård here is hunched and dour, his sex appeal almost completely nullified.

For all the terrible men Succession has spotlighted over the past three-and-a-half seasons, there have 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 acknowledged as fact. Succession has never pretended its characters were innocent. But in Matsson, we may finally be seeing a level of toxicity that even Roman couldn’t make a dirty joke about.

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