It’s the big 4-0 for Kendall Roy, and he’s the one giving us a present: the best episode of this season of Succession. I feel like I write that every week, but this time it’s truer than ever. The third season has been stellar, but something kicked into overdrive last night.
The episode, titled “Too Much Birthday” (a Carly Rae Jepsen reference? Definitely not, but a girl can dream), was directed by Lorene Scafaria. If you need a full rager to be the setting of the most depressing story you’ve ever seen, she’s your woman — if you haven’t seen Hustlers, first of all what are you doing, and second of all stop reading this recap right now and go watch it — and she proved it once again last night.
So let’s dive into the disaster of epic proportions that is Kendall’s birthday party.
We start with the greatest opening scene in Succession history. This is not so much opinion as a fact. Kendall is on stage at his party venue, and he’s practicing a gut-wrenchingly pathetic performance of “Honesty” by Billy Joel for later that evening. Offstage, the crew is preparing a literal wooden cross for his theatrical crucifixion that will accompany the song. It’s chaos. It’s madness. It’s Kendall.
Naomi is there, enabling him as usual. They agree after a brief conversation (if you can count two people saying different variations of “yeah no” and “no yeah” back and forth at each other as a conversation) that it’s a good look. I would disagree, but I also would not be invited to this party.
As Kendall readies himself for “the full fucking thing,” Shiv and Roman are busy finalizing the details for a deal with a company called Gojo. I’m not embarrassed to say I have no idea what they’re talking about. I’m sure it was mentioned along the way but I was probably too busy doing breathing exercises to get through all the incest jokes for it to make an impact. They go to share the plan with Logan, but are instead met with an exciting update: their White House contact just passed along some intel that the DOJ is looking at a fine rather than jail time for their illegal cruise ship activity.
Everyone’s thrilled, but no one more so than Tom Wambsgans. He quietly excuses himself, quietly walks to Greg’s office, and then loudly engages in what I like to call “the full Teresa Giudice,” aka flipping over his cousin-in-law’s entire desk with apparent superhuman strength. He continues his tirade, knocking down everything in sight before jumping on top of a filing cabinet with an animalistic roar. In closing, he quietly gives Greg a little forehead kiss. Once again… Emmy for Matthew Macfadyen.
Back in Logan’s office, the patriarch refuses to meet with the so-called underlings the CEO of Gojo has sent to make the deal (for the record, he sent the CFO). Roman and Shiv, desperate to make this work, agree to go to Kendall’s birthday party to convince the CEO in person of the need for a sit-down with their father.
Kendall is now in party-planning mode, which involves wearing a green turtleneck and chain and saying things like “there’s no boundaries if you’re cool.” He is particularly concerned about his siblings’ attendance, which as of yet are not confirmed. The first pangs of tragedy begin to strike, and yet at this point I still thought the episode was going to be fun. How wrong I was.
And so, to the party. Let me describe this if I can. First of all, it is at Hudson Yards, because of course it is. As a New Yorker, I can say that there is nothing good in Hudson Yards, a sterile, empty hub of vapid capitalism. So, perfect for the Roy family. Once inside, jackets and phones are promptly confiscated, because “Kendall would like his present to be everyone being present.”
Guests enter the party through a winding, blow-up birth canal (naturally Roman has a lot of fun with this one), and are birthed into a room where cocktail waiters hand out baby bottles full of liquor. You are then free to wander theme rooms, including “Dad’s office on fire,” “the tunnel of compliments,” and “a treehouse for very cool people only.” To summarize: this birthday party is a full designer luggage set of psychological baggage to unpack.
The first gathering of all the Roy siblings (yes, even Connor!) is the perfect encapsulation of what is to come the rest of the night: namely, all four of them out for each others’ blood. At first, they share a few playful jabs, and even some hugs — Kendall and Shiv’s embrace, in particular, calling us back to the one they shared when he was last at rock bottom, asking for her support. It seems unlikely they’ll ever get back to that point again, even if he will soon need it. Kendall continues talking up his party’s success, rhetorically asking, “who isn’t here?” In rapid succession (hah), his three siblings each offer: “Your dad.” “Your mom.” “Your wife and kids.” It’s hilarious, but brutal.
Ken then brings his brothers and sisters into a room made specially for them: a series of giant newspaper headlines from the likely future, about each of them. I thought referring to Shiv as “Tom Wambsgans’ wife” was the harshest of the bunch, but it’s Connor who is most offended. His reads: “Connor Roy Elected President (of shitting his bag).” We learn that this was an actual thing that happened on yet another childhood camping trip he took his brothers on — which is how we learn that Connor seems to have been his siblings’ de facto father growing up, in absence of any emotional support from Logan.
On the way out of the room, Roman gives Kendall a gift from Logan, which Kendall opens in the “Dad’s office on fire” room. It’s a letter, Logan’s revenge for season one’s bear hug — he’s offering to buy Kendall out of the company. He tells Naomi that it’s just a psychological play to throw him off. If he’s right, it definitely seems to be doing the trick!
Of course, the real reason Shiv and Roman are at the party is not to celebrate their brother, but to meet with Lukas Mattson, the CEO of Gojo (Alexander Skarsgård). Kendall finds out and sends Lukas to his super exclusive treehouse, then bars his siblings from entering (“if you guys were in the treehouse, it kinda wouldn’t feel like the treehouse.”) Truly, they are children.
Roman still manages to aggressively push his way into the treehouse, probably because the security guards do not get paid enough to deal with adult babies, and he sits down with Lukas. Like Mencken before him, Lukas Mattson makes the Roys look normal. He is vacant, robotic, and sociopathic, telling Roman frankly that he hopes Logan dies soon. That said, if anyone is equipped to deal with a hot scary man, it’s Roman Roy. He (almost too quickly and naturally) suggests that the two of them go to the bathroom and pee on his phone while it loads the notoriously slow Waystar Royco streaming app. Lukas loves this, and while he urinates, Roman convinces him to meet Logan. It’s a match made in hell!
Kendall, meanwhile, chats with Rava, who has a new man (feeling GREAT for her, she deserves the best). Unfortunately, she also shares that his children made him a gift that he never received, and that those same children are being stalked by Waystar Royco goons. Kendall is completely thrown by this news, and it shakes his confidence in the entire party. He makes the last minute decision not to do his Billy Joel performance (RIP), which also means abandoning the collab with Tiny Wu-Tang, the baby Wu-Tang Clan (double RIP). It’s a rare moment of self awareness from Kendall — one that also reveals that his crisis PR team is definitely not on his side, as they were about to let him go through with something they both thought was stupid.
He makes his way to the gift room and starts frantically tearing through the pile of presents in search of his kids’ gift to him (wrapped in rabbit paper, to add insult to injury). Naomi tries to soothe things over with her present to him, a watch. But this only causes Kendall to say, “I’m just trying to get inside your head and figure out why you would give me this gift.” Ouch. He resumes his breakdown in the gift pile until he starts to cry, exhausted. He tells Naomi he doesn’t want to be at the party, but with enough pause to make it pretty clear that the “party” isn’t the only place he no longer wants to be.
Birthdays can make you reflect on your life, but this one seems to have given Kendall a sense of self-awareness that is simply too much for him to handle. He realizes how pathetic he’s become (his words, not mine… but also mine) — and how the few people he hasn’t cut out of his life hardly know him. His loneliness really is killing him. Unfortunately, it only gets worse.
Naomi tries to walk Kendall out of the party to go home, but first they run into his siblings. He asks if any of them came to the party for him, or if it was just for Lukas. While Shiv seems to see his fragility, Roman is riding the high of being his dad’s preferred choice again and again, and it’s giving him a god complex (or just a Logan complex). He tosses barb after barb at his brother, and even downplays the seriousness of his sending company goons to harass Rava and the kids — a fact that shocks Shiv. Kendall tries to walk away, but Roman pushes him to the ground. It’s ugly.
Shiv is drained on her way home, and even more so by the prospect of continuing to live with Tom. Roman, on the other hand, is energized, calling his dad to share the good news (MAJOR questions around whether he is making this call from the pee phone). Kendall ends the night on his noticeably precarious balcony, wrapped in his childhood comforter, and leaning on Naomi for support.
It seems that the entirety of each Roy sibling’s childhood trauma came crashing out in a way that was probably long overdue, but no less difficult to watch — even when you’re not rooting for any of them.
Greg: as always, Cousin Greg is off doing his own thing the whole episode. This time, his quest is to ask Comfrey out on a date. Both Tom and Kendall are adamant that she’s out of his league — like, aggressively adamant in unique but equally detailed ways. My dudes, do you not see his 6’7” stature? Do you not know the power that has? Luckily, Greg seems to have an idea, and he boldly goes after the girl. And guess what? She agrees! Yes, it seems primarily motivated by her desire to get revenge on Kendall for being a terrible boss, but we’ll give Greg the win anyway.
Comfrey: she gets to date Greg. I said what I said.
Willa: our theater queen went OFF this episode. When Comfrey comes by to try to get Connor to take off his coat, which is inexplicably driving Kendall absolutely out of his mind, Will is having none of it. She snaps: “Hey, my partner is cold and he’d like to keep his fucking coat on, okay?” I may not respect her man, but I respect her!
Tom: he may have taken his drugs in the wrong order, but at least he’s not going to prison! We also now know how he got Shiv to date him… and that Greg wants to see the proof. Please… when will they kiss???
People who think Alexander Skarsgård is hot: we got to hear him say “Privacy. Pussy. Pasta.” As always, we stay winning.
The Roys: all of them. Every last one. What they might have thought they gained by getting ahead in the business or hosting a cool party, they lost in being yelled at (Connor), pushed aside (Shiv), pushed over (Kendall), or acting genuinely evil (Roman). A deeply pathetic night for them all, and a loss for Logan because it’s really all his fault.
“I Can Fix Them” of the Week
Friends… I’ve given this family all I can give, but they’re all past saving. I’ve got nothing.
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