It’s Kendall’s birthday and he’ll cry if he wants to; and even when he doesn’t.
This episode of Succession centers around Kendall Roy’s (Jeremy Strong, The Trial of the Chicago 7) 40th birthday party, a spectacle so grand it warranted reporters, and so infamous that Logan Roy (Brian Cox, Medici) need not even say his son’s name nor the actual event for everyone to know what he was talking about.
Of course, the only reason he would ever deign to acknowledge his eldest son is because he’s found his way underfoot, even if indirectly.
The episode comes in hot with Kendall preparing for the titular birthday by singing Honesty by Billy Joel, a song that hits the nail on the head when it comes to all the characters in this show, including Kendall himself.
It quickly shifts gears to the Waystar team who are preparing to make a deal with tech company GoJo, an idea Kendall had pitched back in episode four to bring Waystar into the modern world of streaming. Shiv (Sarah Snook, Predestination) and Roman (Kieran Culkin, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) are eager to please and succeed, though being on the same side doesn’t negate the fierce competition as to who the better Roy sibling is in the eyes of the company.
However, the GoJo deal was put on the back burner for just a second, as Gerri (J. Smith-Cameron, Search Party) told everyone the news that a friend of hers in the DOJ told her that Kendall overpromised and it was likely no one will be facing jail time.
Of course, she had tried to calm the excitement and keep everyone’s expectations in check since they had yet to actually be cleared, but it was too late. Logan had already told Tom (Matthew Macfadyen, Pride & Prejudice) he would remember the sacrifice he had been prepared to make for the company and Tom himself had already gone into Greg’s (Nicholas Braun, How to Be Single) office to throw the desk then kiss him on the forehead.
Tom’s preemptively found freedom is a running theme throughout the episode, and while he still believes himself to be safe by the end, it’s more than likely that this was nothing more than a fake out in order to make his inevitable jail time all the more painful.
But that news gets put on the back burner when he comes back from his victory lap to find that there’s been an issue with the GoJo deal; the “issue” being CEO Lukas Mattson (Alexander Skarsgård, The Stand) opting to send his CFO and other high ranking company members rather than going to the meeting himself.
Like the diva he is, Logan decides this absolutely will not stand and, despite Shiv and Roman’s warnings otherwise, cancels the meeting and sends the representatives home.
Logan quickly deduces that the reason Luke didn’t come to the meeting was because he was going to Kendall’s party instead—though he would never allow that name to be uttered in his presence, let alone his office.
This was when the previously indecisive siblings decide to go to Kendall’s party; not to see their brother, but to seal the deal with Mattson for their father.
The core of this episode is the family dynamic the characters have, though the four siblings take the main stage for obvious reasons. Unlike episode two, however, there’s far less solidarity and far more animosity, but that doesn’t make things any less nuanced or heartbreaking.
At the beginning of the episode, Kendall asks Comfry (Dasha Nekrasova, The Scary of Sixty-First) who has VIP’d for his birthday party. Comfry lists a variety of big names including Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, and while Kendall is happy, his true intentions are revealed when his characteristic feigned nonchalance comes out as he asks whether his siblings had VIP’d or not.
It’s obvious that, out of any and all people, Kendall wanted his siblings to be at his birthday party, and this isn’t the only indication.
When the siblings actually meet up at the party, Kendall is obviously thrilled. It’s still a stilted reunion, what with all they had done to each other since the season began, but Kendall is genuinely happy, and the others aren’t too far behind in at least being pleased to see him.
It’s clear he was hoping that they would all turn up as he immediately brings them to an art installation where newspaper headlines tout their various downfalls—save for Kendall’s own success, of course.
While this could very well just be a dig at them for being on the other team, there is no headline for Logan, which would’ve made the most sense.
While there could be a number of reasons why he didn’t include one, it seems as though this entire installation was created for the four siblings to have a laugh together; even under more amicable circumstances they probably wouldn’t have laughed, but it’s Kendall’s intention that matters. He even takes down Connor’s (Alan Ruck, The Exorcist) as soon as the man starts getting upset, trying to keep everyone positive and happy.
Unfortunately, this camaraderie is short lived, as Roman gives Kendall a birthday card from his father. While it looked like the type of card to have cash or a gift card—typical birthday presents—it has a proposal for Kendall to get $2 billion if he sells his $13 million worth of shares.
Logan even crosses the words “happy birthday” out before he writes his note, as if he can’t bear the thought of his son receiving any concept of goodwill, even if it’s from a generic gift card; he doesn’t think Kendall deserves anything, so this payout is already far more than he’d want to give.
This note trips him up considerably, but it is set aside for a moment when he meets with his estranged wife Rava (Natalie Gold, The Walking Dead: World Beyond), yet another scene that indicates just how much Kendall cares about his family, even if he has no clue how to actually show it; after all, how can you show what you were never given?
It’s an awkward encounter, what with them clearly having different ideas of a fun birthday—at least, that’s what it seems like during the scene—and Kendall pokes a few digs at her new boyfriend, but they’re both happy to see each other. Unfortunately, Kendall’s personality prevents him from being able to express that in any meaningful way, though it’s clear he’s trying so hard, which Rava probably picks up on.
Things take a strange turn, however, when Rava asks if Kendall got his present from their kids. Kendall is genuinely surprised to hear that they got him something, but the mood quickly falls when Rava reveals that Waystar had been sending people to harass the children and their nanny to try and get dirt to portray Kendall as a bad dad.
She apologizes right away for holding it against him, as it wasn’t his fault—and he obviously wasn’t aware—but the damage had been done, though it had less to do with her blame and more to do with the simple fact that Kendall’s children were being harassed by his father’s people as a result of his actions.
His mood immediately shifts and he gives an absentminded goodbye to Rava before immediately going on a search for the presents. As he walks with Berry (Jihae, Mars) and Comfry, he starts to crack, fixating on little things like whether the music is from his set playlist of “all bangers, all the time,” and asking them to get Connor to take his coat off, though he insists that it doesn’t matter and it’s a small thing, but it’s clearly a big deal to him; though if anyone asked, he’d have no rational explanation as to why.
This search for control continues when Greg approaches him to ask whether it’s necessary Kendall take Greg down publicly, as Comfry had mentioned she may need to brief him about the situation earlier when he’d been trying to ask her out, which was his primary motivation for going to the party; yet another family member who didn’t come to the party for the birthday boy.
When he realizes Greg has been trying to ask out Comfry, Kendall uses the opportunity to power trip and forbids Greg from asking out Comfry, halfheartedly trying to trick Greg into thinking he’s joking; it’s a mind game that he’s played before, but without any of the mirth or soul, it comes across as unsettling and rude.
This use of Greg as an emotional trash can, forced to accept whatever people throw at him, is a running theme throughout the entire episode. As per usual, Tom’s treatment of Greg was based entirely on his mood—though even when being supportive he was being rude, but that’s typical of their relationship. Even Comfry joined in, agreeing to go on a date with Greg after hearing that Kendall had told him he wasn’t allowed to because she was frustrated at all the ridiculous work she’s had to do for him.
The only reason Roman wasn’t also projecting onto Greg was because he was too busy convincing Luke Mattson to sign the deal with Waystar and meet with his father.
Last episode, Roman was licking the boots of neo-Nazi presidential candidate Jeryd Mencken (Justin Kirk, Kidding)—a point that Kendall actually brought up, which was an excellent way to show Shiv’s complicity by taking the photo with the man—to get him to agree to be Logan’s puppet in the White House, foregoing whatever morals he may have had in the name of pleasing his father; he may try to argue it’s in the name of power and personal gain, but at the end of the day he just wants the love his father will never show him.
It’s the exact same in this episode, though Lukas Mattson is far more Silicon Valley, channeling his inner Mark Zuckerberg à la The Social Network; he’s still an asshole who thinks he’s the smartest in the room, but one who thinks interpersonal skills are beneath him; at least Mencken was vile on purpose.
It’s easy to feel sympathy for Roman during these scenes, what with Lukas Mattson trying to argue the pros of Logan dying within the next five years—ideally it would be within the next year, but it seems five years is all the man can take—and Roman having to bite his tongue and agree with these points in order to please his aforementioned father; while it’s all in vain and undeserved on Logan’s end, Roman’s love for his father deserves to be respected for what it is.
Roman doesn’t need too much sympathy, however, since he somehow manages to seal the deal and convince Mattson to meet with Logan; something that he had, just minutes before, promised he would never have to do if they partnered up. While Mattson did pee on his phone, it’s understandable why Roman would be proud of himself, because what he did was impressive.
Unfortunately, Roman thinks the only way to celebrate his success is to rub it in his sibling’s faces, pushing and pushing even when they ask him to back off; just another indication that Roman, deep down, is still a child.
Like a child, he learns from experience and throws himself into whatever will earn him the most affection and/or positive reinforcement—which, in this case, is tossing aside his morals in order to help his father achieve his goals. Unfortunately, also like a child, he goes way too far with things, as he thinks it will get him the maximum amount of reward in return, and doesn’t fully comprehend the negative consequences of his actions, especially if they don’t affect him.
Shiv is the first to have to deal with his victory lap, which she’s already had to ever since Kendall separated from the team—after all, Connor isn’t involved enough with the company to really feel any effects.
Her night had already been ruined when she found out about the payout—which Roman was not only involved in drawing up, but was also unofficially chosen to get Kendall’s shares—but it only got worse when she finally found Roman.
She hadn’t been with him when he did the negotiating as she had stormed off, so he took the opportunity to rub it in her face that she had no hand in the successful deal when she tried to regroup and plan with him.
It’s understandable that he would want to prove her wrong since, at the beginning of the episode, she was suggesting he wouldn’t be able to make the deal on his own.
However, he quickly crossed the line, making misogynistic comments that the men in the room have collectively decided she’s not wanted or needed. It’s an interesting comment, as he had sealed the deal with Mattson in the men’s restroom, but also since he tends to make comments that acknowledge his privilege and the systems of oppression he directly benefits from—the last episode was full of them.
But like his comments last episode about white feminists who expect to be praised for siding with the brown man, it doesn’t feel right coming from him, as he’s in a position where he’s benefiting from the system he’s commenting on. Just like how his comment wouldn’t have seemed racist if it wasn’t for the fact he was both white and siding with a neo-Nazi, his dig at Shiv wouldn’t have been so bad if she wasn’t genuinely being shoved out of the room and in a position where she has to be constantly cognizant of her gender in the workplace.
But if there’s one thing the Roy family can do, it’s make things personal, so Roman used his momentum to accuse Shiv of being disappointed that Tom wasn’t going to prison because she was looking forward to cheating on him while he was inside. It’s important to note that her denial wasn’t at all convincing, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that Roman was completely out of line.
Of course, things only got worse when it was the birthday boy’s turn, though Roman had no idea what had happened during the time that they were apart.
In the midst of his search for his present, it’s time for the performance Kendall had been rehearsing at the beginning of the episode. Back then, he had asked Naomi (Annabelle Dexter-Jones, The Duece) her opinion, saying that he had to just go for it because if he second guesses in any way it all collapses.
Kendall had already been second guessing everything, so when the stage manager threw a wall of information at Kendall about what he needed to do in order for the rigging to work, Kendall decided to call the entire thing off.
He also reveals what the full plan actually was: while singing, he would be lifted up to mimic Jesus dying on the cross as a metaphor for him dying for everyone else’s sins, as a commentary to the current situation with the DOJ. While an insane idea that fortunately did not go through, it’s very similar to his plan to take down his father: great in theory but with minimal planning, execution, and resources in order to succeed, and with the core intention to boost himself rather than make a genuine statement.
After he calls off the performance, Kendall continues his search for the present from his kids by going into the large room where his presents have been grouped together with an employee keeping track of where they are and who they’re from. Unfortunately, this employee has no record of a present from Kendall’s children, which leads to the best scene in the entire episode.
This scene is a perfect representation of Kendall as a character to the point where it’s almost chilling. He wades through a sea of expensive-looking presents, tossing them aside without any care or consideration; despite his extravagant focus and need for excess, he doesn’t fully respect or appreciate what he has. However, at the same time, the reason he’s so dismissive of these presents is because he’s in search for the one from his children.
The present perfectly represents his relationship with his family, his children specifically; it even has rabbit wrapping paper, inspired by the gift he had gotten them this season as a way to buy their love due to his absence.
He does love his family—when he remembers they exist—but he’s his own worst enemy when it comes to connecting with them in any way, and he has absolutely no idea of how to show love.
During the search, Naomi tries to calm him down multiple times, with one of those times by distracting him with her present which elicited a strange reaction from Kendall where he wanted to be appreciative but was disappointed by how plain it was, all while not being in the right mindset because of all the news from and about his family.
While he continues to search, destroying the other presents as he goes along, Kendall ultimately breaks down into a heap, sobbing amongst his sea of presents, and it’s a genuinely sympathetic scene.
Kendall has always been the most emotional of all the Roy children, no matter how many times he’s said he doesn’t care—the entire point of his Billy Joel performance was to try and prove that nothing can hurt him—and he struggles with the same problem his siblings do in that, deep down, they’re all still little kids who crave the love and connection they never received.
Like a lost child, he just wants to go home to a loving, supportive family—that’s all he’s ever wanted—but despite all the presents around, it’s something he can’t have; at least, not in the way he wants.
Naomi is fortunately very supportive of Kendall—in his vulnerable state, having her be dismissive or unsupportive would be catastrophic—and supports the idea to go home, which is how they run into Shiv and Roman.
When he sees them, rather than power tripping the way he had with Greg, being angry and letting that fuel him, he seems to be too tired to let his anger grow into anything resembling what he has inside; he barely has the energy to confront them the way he does.
He accuses Roman of stealing his idea of signing with GoJo, which Roman dismisses, and he generally accuses Roman of having no soul—which, granted, Roman is definitely acting like it. But it’s clear what he cares about most when he asks Shiv if she had any intention of coming to the party or even seeing him if it wasn’t for the Mattson deal.
Shiv isn’t as cold as Roman—in fact she had told him to lay off Kendall from the second he entered the conversation—but she does force Kendall to acknowledge that they can’t just act as if everything is normal when the situation that they’re dealing with professionally also affects them personally; she and Kendall have both conducted direct attacks to the other’s image and career, it has to be acknowledged.
However, the divide amongst the siblings really become clear when Kendall confronts them about Logan’s people harassing his children.
Shiv and Roman are both dismissive of him at first, but Shiv’s mockery soon turns to disgust when she realizes Kendall’s accusations are actually founded. She realizes that, once again, Roman and Logan are boxing her out and agreeing to things that cross lines Shiv herself would not willingly cross.
Each sibling makes points about the others to where they are all valid, but also missing the point of their own actions, specifically Roman. He makes a great point that Shiv and Kendall have also done very morally bankrupt things, but that doesn’t negate the fact he sees nothing wrong with harassing children who have nothing to do with the war between Kendall and Logan; the children didn’t ask to be born into the Roy family.
The end of the argument really solidifies that the siblings are just overgrown children, because they really take on their various roles.
Despite telling them to grow up, Roman’s mindset is childish, ignoring his siblings’ criticisms about his actions and just chalking it up to them not being able to handle him “winning” when it comes to their competition for their father’s approval. He has the child-like disposition to double down on his actions and just act like everyone else is being dramatic, unwilling to let himself even consider being in the wrong because of how good he felt, which really shines through when, after Kendall says he’s not a real person—a warning disguised as the insult it is—he tries to goad him into a fight.
While Roman tries to get Kendall to hit him, Shiv just scoffs and watches on, trying and failing to get Roman to just leave Kendall alone; the middle sister who understands why her youngest brother is so resentful of their older brother, but also understands that his resentment is aimed at the wrong person.
Instead of hitting him, Kendall just stares at Roman, helpless and disappointed; the older sibling realizing that his advice and attempts to try and spare his little brother the pain he went through are all in vain.
When Kendall finally decides to walk away from the argument, Roman refuses to let him have the last word, pretending to apologize before shoving him and sending him sprawling.
It’s a genuine testament to just how broken Kendall is that he doesn’t lash back, instead just picking himself up and walking off, but it’s also referential to how, no matter how much they argue, Kendall would never do that to Roman; he had freaked out when Roman was slapped by Logan last season.
Also, while the reason he fell so easily was most likely due to how broken down he has gotten by this point of the episode, it could also be said that Kendall trusted his brother to not do something like that, which only makes his actions all the more sad.
Connor even plays his part as the oldest brother who isn’t caught up in the dynamic his much younger siblings have, but is still part of the family, only coming into the picture when things get physical and shouting a simple, “Everybody just take it easy, okay?” because he doesn’t care about the reason, he just wants to keep the peace.
The episode ends with the siblings in various low points.
Shiv and Tom are in the car, both miserable and detached from the other despite typical expectations. Roman is leaving a voicemail for his father to tell him the news, desperately trying to cling onto the high of his win and ignore the reality where his father doesn’t ever bother to pick up his calls and will, at most, pat him on the back for his work.
Meanwhile, Kendall is wrapped in a blanket and, after staring down at the street from his penthouse, rests his head in Naomi’s lap; the only person who’s really shown him any real love or comfort in months.
In the end, Kendall didn’t find his kids’ present, and while it’s disappointing that the plot thread wasn’t resolved, that was the whole point. Kendall doesn’t know how to stop getting in his own way, so no matter how hard he tries, what he truly wants most will always be out of reach.