REVIEW: Succession’s ‘Too Much Birthday’ sees the Roy clan at their most beaten down.

by | Nov 29, 2021 | All, Reviews

Jackson is away this week so, I’ve stepped in to cover the seventh episode of Succession’s third season, Too Much Birthday.

I’ve had a nagging feeling in the pit of my stomach over the last few episodes, that one or more of the Roy Family won’t make it to the end of the season. Much has been made of Logan’s fragility of late. His near collapse on a convoluted hike and at one point in this episode, Alexander Skarsgård’s tech billionaire Lukas Matsson asks a shaken Roman when he thinks his father will die. Death and ill-health have lingered over the season far more than it has before. Logan might be the fragile old man, but watching a dejected, broken down and demoralised Kendall being cradled in his girlfriend’s arms just before the credits rolled it’s not impossible to believe that Kendall’s time may well be up.

The central theme of this season appears to be one of building Logan’s second eldest up and watching him come tumbling down. Kendall begins the episode energised, rehearsing his ironic take on Billy Joel’s ‘Honesty. A knowing smile creeps over his face as he sings, “Honesty is such a lonely word. Everyone is so untrue. Honesty is hardly ever heard. And mostly what I need from you” His fortieth birthday is, as with every other Roy engagement, a lavish, OTT and self-indulgent affair. Checking in with his PR and coordinators he’s happy that most of the influential and mega-wealthy people he wants to surround himself with will be attending, but it’s his siblings he really wants to share his milestone Birthday with.

Shiv, Tom, Gregg, Roman and a permanently ‘coated’ Connor do begrudgingly attend but only after Logan discovers streaming tycoon  Lukas Matsson will be there. Waystar’s acquisition of the tech company GoJo is about to fall apart, they need to shore up GoJo’s CEO, Lukas Matsson and so Logan sends Shiv (but really Roman) to negotiate with Matsson about joining forces with Waystar, who don’t currently have a streaming arm. Kendall takes pleasure in showing off the room in which he has ‘mocked up’ newspapers showing his siblings being arrested or caught, “sh**ting in a bag!” His pleasure at seeing them uncomfortable doesn’t last long.

It is truly upsetting to see it slowly dawn on Kendall that his siblings are only with him on his big night so they can carry out business for their father. I “think”, and it’s always difficult to tell whether or not any of the Roys are capable of a particular emotion or not, but I “think” Shiv does feel a pang of guilt and embarrassment that she’s there to ‘work’. Roman, on the other hand, is relishing being Daddy’s No. 1 boy. Roman is at his best and most maniacal when he feels Logan has put him in charge of getting a job done. He proves surprisingly adept at winning Matsson over. He’s able to brush past the offensive question about how long his father has left on the planet and challenge his prey to a literal ‘pissing contest” When Matsson denigrates Waystar’s streaming app, StarGo, Roman says he’ll open it on his phone and they can both go “stream some piss on [Waystar’s] little streaming platform.” Roman can’t pee around other men (Roman’s shy genitals strike again…or don’t), but Matsson loses an aggressive blast. He’s not quite ready to agree to a sale, but he’s “in the conversation.” This is a win for the youngest Roy and pushes Shiv further from the conversation. If I have a niggle about this season it’s that Roman hasn’t had a great deal to do. His role has often been to sit on the sidelines with a clever quip whenever one was or wasn’t required, but this episode is as much about Roman as it is about Birthday Boy Kendall

Logan features very little here. Obviously, his son wasn’t going to extend an invite to his father, but as always the siblings can’t escape Logan’s shadows which looms large over the proceedings. Particularly when Roman hands his brother a card from his father which reads, “cash out, and f**k off!”

Shiv’s role here seems more uncertain. The chasm that has been forming between father and daughter throughout the season grows ever wider. So much so, that after failing to find Matsson she takes to the dancefloor appearing, at least on the surface, to let her hair down and actually enjoy the party. Her time on the dancefloor appears to signify a symbolic throwing in of the towel. Her ‘party’ is short-lived when she discovers that while she was dancing like no one’s watching, Roman has been handling the deal solo and won’t tell her what was discussed. Shiv is in an impossible position. She has no idea where she stands within the company. No idea how her father views her and any views or opinions she expresses are either quickly shot down or completely disregarded by the more powerful men in her life. This episode makes it clear her loyalty is teetering but Kendall hasn’t forgotten the brutal press release that she put together disparaging him. More than any other time across the series, it feels like Shiv has lost control and is a no man’s land. It seems far too late to join forces with her elder brother and take daddy down.

Her husband, on the other hand, has reason to be in a much more jovial mood when they arrive at Kendall’s bash. The DOJ has told Waystar that they are likely to drop any legal proceedings against any employee over the cruises scandal in favour of a monetary settlement. For Tom, who bravely, or foolishly volunteered to take the fall and go to jail if he needed to, the news comes as a massive relief. He has spent the majority of his screentime researching the best jails, jail wine and jail etiquette since making the fateful offer. He takes the news with good grace whilst in the boardroom, and in a very un-Logan moment, the family patriarch tells Tom he won’t forget what he offered to do for him. The moment where a gleeful Tom bursts into an unsuspecting Gregg’s office and turns over his desk in celebration of his freedom is certainly one of the best Tom and Greg interactions to come this season. Greg’s panic and bewilderment at Tom’s frenzied and boisterous behaviour is perfect and the moment proves why the dynamic between them is one of the shows’ best.

Despite that display though, Tom isn’t happy. He takes drugs that have no effect. He watches from the side as his wife loses power and even though he felt sidelined by her rise to power, he can’t take joy in her fall, either. The most galling for him is Gregg’s newfound happiness. As they walk through Kendall’s ‘compliments tunnel,’ Tom doesn’t sugarcoat his feelings: “You seem much happier than me, Greg.” This episode finds Greg, who is always the more nervous and neurotic in their relationship to be bouncy and optimistic and Tom appears to have lost the ability to pretend he’s happy about any of it anymore. In the quiet Taxi back from the party, husband and wife sit in virtual silence until Tom asks if Shiv wants to stay out and explore the night. She, as you would expect, knocks him back, but Tom seems prepared for the rejection and tells her, “I’ll be out late.” In a more understated way, their brief exchange feels like a return to the conversation they shared on the beach in season two’s finale where Tom spoke from the heart about his upset within the marriage only to have his wife dismiss his views. For very different reasons, it feels as Shiv and Tom have given up. Each is suffering from an inner turmoil that the other one is unable to fix or soothe. Will Tom’s ‘second chance’ see him abandon Waystar entirely?

Tom’s friend/nemesis Greg seems in a much better place this week. For one thing, he isn’t overly focused on suing Greenpeace instead, he has his mind focused on asking out Kendall’s employee Comfry. This is a Greg we’ve never seen before. He persues Comfry despite Tom belittling him and Kendall forbidding it. He speaks to her honestly, and to his surprise, she agrees to date him, if only because it’ll give her an opportunity to moan about Kendall when they go out. Greg has so often been the but of everyone’s jokes in Succession, but it was somewhat joyous to see this newly confident Greg appear and do something that he wanted to do and not be led by the opinions of others. It’s rare anyone in this world is given a shot at happiness, and whilst I fully expect it to come crashing down around him next week, it was nice while it lasted.

Writers Georgia Pritchett and Tony Roche pack an awful lot into this episode, but it’s a masterfully paced episode with a huge amount of action, emotion and pathos. At one point, Kendall insists to his party planners, “My thing from the very first meeting was that it shouldn’t feel like an asshole’s birthday party”, and towards the end, he realises that it is. The theme here time and time again, appeared to be the characters reaching the end of their line and giving up. Though the blood running through his veins would never let him admit it, Kendall is deeply hurt that his siblings are only there to further their father’s endeavours and when he realises the staff have misplaced a gift from his children, he spirals into the breakdown that has been coming since he turned on his father at the end of season two. The gift, wrapped in bunny paper from his children is the only one he cares about. He wades through the mountain of big boxes desperately searching for it. His girlfriend Naomi feels helpless but crucially, unlike everyone else in Kendall’s life, she doesn’t walk away from him, she embraces him.

The final moments of the episode are perhaps the most brutal and difficult to watch of the entire run. Shiv and Roman are fighting — about Matsson, with Shiv feeling excluded from business decisions (including the share purchase offer Logan made Kendall, which Roman knew about and she didn’t), and about each other’s sex lives (“[Logan] loves f***ng me and he just doesn’t want to f**k you anymore,” Roman needles Kendall about his success with Matsson. After Kendall’s morosely reminded them that acquiring GoJo was his idea, he turns on Shiv, accusing her of spying on his children. This is another thing Roman knew about and that Shiv didn’t. As dishevelled and bruised Kendall leaves his celebrations early, Roman shoves him, and Kendall falls on the floor in front of all his VVVIPs. The episode ends with a reflective Kendall standing on his balcony before laying his head in  Naomi’s  lap.

Even for a show that has long conditioned us to expect no one to come out on top, this episode feels mean to everyone involved. Kendall abandons his plans to serenade his guests with Billy Joel which is further proof that he’s growing weary of the game he’s playing with his family. Shiv and Tom seem to be still desperately unhappy. Perhaps we should take solace in the fact that Greg found happiness here or that Roman seems to be riding high as the new top dog? If Roman’s happy something must be seriously wrong in the world.

Succession Continues Sunday on HBO and Sky Atlantic 

Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles

29/11/2021

Editor of the website and host of the podcast. A general TV obsessive. I've been running the site since 2008 and you can usually find me in front of the TV. My Favourite show of all time is Breaking Bad with Cracker coming a close second. I feel so passionately that television can change the world and I'm doing my little bit by running this site. You're Welcome!

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