“Too Much Birthday” is a masterful episode depicting the Roys family’s deep dysfunction and a lonely man’s worsening psychological tailspin.
This recap of Succession season 3, episode 7, “Too Much Birthday”, contains spoilers.
Any long-time viewers of Succession will know that the very best episodes are always based around all the Roy siblings being crammed into the same location. The location differs, obviously, as do the circumstances that brought them there, but ultimately none of this matters. The Roys are incapable of sharing the same oxygen without creating wonderful television, and “Too Much Birthday”, an aptly-titled hour set in and around Kendall’s ludicrously extravagant 40th birthday party, is as masterful an episode as any other the show has produced.
Succession season 3, episode 7 recap
As ever, this episode straddles the line between comedy and drama, but it veers from exceptionally funny to crushingly sad in a moment’s notice, and it’s all exacerbated by bizarre and sometimes even macabre production design as the rest of the family tours Kendall’s funfair of self-aggrandizing attractions, which are marketed as ironic but are really just deeply sad. The entryway is a simulacrum of a vagina as guests are “born into the world of Kendall Roy”; there’s a tunnel of lush foliage within which are hidden actors paid to give those who walk through compliments; there’s the f*cking treehouse. None of this is lost on Shiv and Roman, who ridicule every aspect, or Connor, who is dismayed to find a room full of fake newspaper headlines which chronicle imagined, ruinous futures for the clan, including his own, or even Tom and Greg, who amble along the compliment tunnel like bickering lovers while Tom, who can’t cut loose despite having learned that he probably won’t be going to prison, barks insults back at the actors.
The comedy basically writes itself. “Cold and inhospitable,” Shiv quips when staring at a representation of her mother’s vagina. “Checks out.” Kendall tells Roman not to worry, he can take it home. Connor, who is 1% up in the Presidential polls and takes the whole newspaper thing extremely personally, is naturally ridiculed by everyone present and Kendall laughingly orders it taken down. But the laughs don’t last. Kendall’s obvious joy at his siblings having attended his party turns into crushing misery when he realizes they’re there to schmooze Lukas Matsson (Alexander Skarsgard), the CEO of a tech company called GoJo which Waystar needs to secure a partnership with in order to bolster their streaming presence. Kendall is keeping him locked away in the treehouse, and entirely without irony tells Shiv and Roman they’re not allowed to come inside.
It doesn’t help the mood that Roman comes with a birthday gift from Logan – an offer to buy Kendall out of Waystar for a very hefty sum, which doesn’t exactly light up the dollar signs in Kendall’s eyes because to him it represents complete rejection by his father. Roman passes the “gift” over so casually that it marks the beginning of a very rapid villain spiral in “Too Much Birthday”. Roman has always been deeply unpleasant and obnoxious, obviously, but he reaches new heights here, inspired by the fact he’s eventually able to sneak into the treehouse and get Matsson on-side entirely without Shiv’s help. This leaves Shiv dancing like a maniac on the dancefloor, completely isolated from the higher-level decision-making of the company that she so very recently fancied herself the next CEO of. She didn’t even know about the attempts to buy Kendall’s shares or the fact that private investigators have been harassing his children. Roman did, though. And he isn’t shy about saying so.
It’s hard to imagine Logan actually trusting Roman with anything, but he appears to, and that’s all the runt of the litter needs. As the party goes on and these indignities keep piling atop one another, Kendall begins to spiral deeper and deeper into a pit of self-loathing, realizing that the entire event is just a way for a deeply lonely and traumatized man to convince the world he’s the thriving, hip face of liberal democracy. The joke of “Too Much Birthday” is that Kendall doesn’t realize how embarrassing he is; the tragedy of it is that he then realizes exactly how embarrassing he is. And so does everyone else.
Kendall has the best line of the episode: When he’s blocking the treehouse entryway and Shiv tries to sell the pros and cons of them meeting with Matsson, he says, “I have to weigh that against the consideration that no losers are allowed.” It’s such a silly line delivered with so much sincerity that it took me a few minutes to recover from it. A little later, though, I realized he meant it. He doesn’t want his siblings in his private, safe place because he knows deep down that they mean him harm. It’s the beginning of a descent that sees him abandoning his own performance plans and sending away a group of kids he hired to perform Wu-Tang covers. Later, when his ex-wife tells him that his kids sent him a gift in rabbit-patterned paper that has since been misplaced, Kendall has a minor breakdown, trampling among his tower of presents to try and find whatever piece of homemade tat represents his children’s love for him, the love that he always wanted from his father and never got. He ends up in a pile of shredded paper and crushed boxes, sobbing.
But the party goes well for Greg, at least. He finally plucks up the courage to ask out Kendall’s PR agent, Comfry (Dasha Nekrasova), despite the advice of Tom and Kendall and Greg’s own accidental attempts at sabotage, which include an exaggerated southern accent he employs for no reason whatsoever and some weird rambling about Comfry potentially having to smear him in the press. And she says yes. But even that’s another nail in Kendall’s coffin since she only does so out of sheer frustration with him. Even Kendall’s allies think he’s a joke. And now, perhaps for the first time, he knows it.