This article contains details about Episodes 5 and 6 of the final season of “Succession.”
Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that the heart, a.k.a the most widely recognized symbol of love, just so happens to be the organ that pumps blood across our bodies and keeps things viable. And blood, by association, can sometimes be romantic — or creepy, depending on how you share it and whether the recipient wants it.
On a recent episode of “Succession,” the antagonistic tech giant Lukas Matsson describes to Siobhan (Shiv) Roy how he sexually harassed one of his employees.
“I was seeing this girl and after we broke up, because of some things that we said when things were nice and intense, as sort of a nasty, uh, friendly joke about what I shouldn’t do, I sent her some of my blood,” he said.
“A half a liter frozen blood brick. As a joke, obviously,” he added.
The ex-lover, who he later revealed is the head of communications for his company, wasn’t amused (shocker) and found the gesture weird. But he said he continued to send her bricks, “again and again.”
Without delving into what’s at risk for Matsson professionally (or physically — the American Red Cross recommends waiting at least eight weeks between blood donations), let’s look at blood and its use as a symbol of desire.
During their relationship in the early aughts, Angelina Jolie and Billy Bob Thornton made headlines after wearing vials of each other’s blood hanging from necklaces. In 2014, almost a decade after they divorced, Mr. Thornton said in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter that Ms. Jolie had bought the necklaces for them to wear while they were apart filming.
“She thought it would be interesting and romantic if we took a little razor blade and sliced our fingers, smeared a little blood on these lockets and you wear it around your neck just like you wear your son or daughter’s baby hair in one,” he said.
Indeed there is something uncomfortable and powerful about giving someone else your blood. According to Natalie Jones, a psychotherapist in California who specializes in relationships and narcissism, the type of person, like Matsson, who would send “bizarre things,” especially in a nonconsensual manner, is calculated, disruptive and willing to go to extremes to influence or seek sympathy.
“It says, hey I’m still here, I’m still in control. I am still using these things to intimidate you and remind you that I can have whatever I want,” she said in a phone interview.
Theresa DiDonato, a psychology professor at Loyola University Maryland, said that unwanted pursuit behaviors, which can include giving undesired gifts or engaging in undesired contact, could be an exertion of power in the face of the helplessness of the breakup. It can also make an ex-partner feel victimized.
“In the case of this show, even undesired flowers could represent a threat,” Dr. DiDonato wrote in an email. Blood, she said, could be especially alarming.
“Perhaps the act, which he knows will cause fear, makes him feel powerful because it lets him control her emotions,” she added.
In the case of consensual romantic partnerships, a blood kink or fetish is when one or both partners have sexual fantasies about it or engage in behaviors involving blood to produce or to enhance the sexual arousal, according to Dr. Elisabeth Gordon, a sexual health psychiatrist and sex therapist.
“Or for some people it could be that the blood is symbolic and whatever it is symbolizing is arousing,” Dr. Gordon said in a phone interview. She said that it could be seen as sharing an “essential part of you.”
In a survey on sexual fantasies, which polled more than 4,000 people, 17 percent of women and 9.5 percent of men reported having blood fantasies, according to research by Justin Lehmiller, a fellow at the Kinsey Institute and the author of “Tell Me What You Want,” a book on the science of sexual desire.
Dr. Gordon also emphasized the importance of safety in these acts because of the risk of bodily harm or the spread of infectious diseases.
In an interview with Glamour magazine, the actress Megan Fox said that she and Machine Gun Kelly, a musician, would drink a few drops of each other’s blood on occasion, including after his marriage proposal in 2022, for “ritual purposes only.” (Their relationship status is currently unclear.)
And in the most recent episode of “Succession,” nods to the inflicting of pain and its correlation to romance make another appearance. In one scene, Shiv and Tom play a game in which they bite each other, and the first person to say stop loses.
Although Matsson is a fictional depiction of a so-called tech bro, the idea of sending someone frozen blood doesn’t even seem to be that weird in Silicon Valley: On the HBO podcast that accompanies “Succession,” the host Kara Swisher said she could “make a list of four people” who would do such a thing.