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‘Succession’ season 3 episode 7 Review: Too Much Birthday

Kendall Roy can cry if he wants to on this week's 'Succession.'

Succession
(Image: © Macall B. Polay/HBO)

Our Verdict

Director Lorene Scafaria ensures this is a birthday to remember in an electric episode that proves you can't rewrite the past.

For

  • - The way the dread builds throughout
  • - Drawing on the past emphasizes how deep the wounds are
  • - Not repeating Kendall's rap
  • - Jeremy Strong nailing Kendall's worst and most heartbreaking attributes
  • - Production designer Stephen Carter delivers on the nightmare party aesthetic

Against

  • - It might be too uncomfortable for some as Roman twists the knife

This post contains spoilers for Succession season 3 episode 7, "Too Much Birthday." Read our previous review here.

When Logan (Brian Cox) received an honor in season 2, Kendall gifted him with a priceless rap. This is the cringe pinnacle of Succession, but the few verses we hear of Kendall singing Billy Joel’s “Honesty” in "Too Much Birthday" suggest the planned performance at his own celebration could take the second-hand embarrassment to new heights.

Rather than recreate something similar to that “L to the OG” moment, the crucifixion of Kendall Roy (as performance art) never comes to fruition after his proverbial bubble is burst by interactions with his siblings and ex-wife. This party might be packed with people, but it can’t fill the chasm in his heart, and when he mocks Rava (Natalie Gold) for what she considers a fun night out it reveals how hollow this endeavor is. He doesn’t know most of the people attending “Ken-Fest” (as his brother derogatorily refers to it) and most of his nearest and dearest have ulterior motives for being there.

Annabelle Dexter-Jones and Jeremy Strong in Succession

Annabelle Dexter-Jones and Jeremy Strong in 'Succession' (Image credit: Macall B. Polay/HBO)

The majority of the episode takes place during Kendall's 40th birthday party that tries to capture different aspects of Kendall’s life, from the long corridor entrance mimicking his mother’s birthing canal (unpack that one!) to an idyllic treehouse based on a childhood hangout spot. One room has plasma screens playing a fiery inferno conjuring images of the “this is fine” meme and the birthday boy’s face is a recurring nightmarish vision — there is no way to forget whose bash this is. Later on, he whines that he didn’t want this to “feel like an asshole’s birthday party,” and when the guests are drinking out of baby bottles it is impossible for it not to.

Kendall doesn’t want anyone wearing a coat because it will make people feel cold, which is rich considering he's wearing a Gucci sparkly UFO embellished bomber jacket paired with a turtleneck. Connor’s (Alan Ruck) refusal to ditch his cream quilted outerwear is a particular sticking point.

Succession

Jeremy Strong, Sarah Snook and Kieran Culkin in 'Succession' (Image credit: HBO)

The thought of Kendall publicly humiliating himself (again) is one reason why dread permeates every scene. Hustlers director Lorene Scafaria effectively uses the labyrinth of rooms to tap into the uncomfortable atmosphere and various power battles being waged. Roman (Kieran Culkin) and Shiv (Sarah Snook) are banned from the treehouse because this trio will always regress to childhood dynamics. However, Connor is genuinely upset that Kendall is making fun of an embarrassing incident from their past, while his role as a surrogate dad has been referenced twice this season.

None of them can rewrite their past and the battle to win Logan’s professional pride is rooted in their desire to be loved. Kendall’s mood takes a nosedive when he opens the card from his father that gets straight to the point. He has replaced “happy birthday” for an expletive and the offer to buy him out of Waystar Royco. Kendall thinks the deal — worth a cool $2 billion — is a “Trojan mindf***” and yet the only one spiraling is him. 

However, Shiv also falls apart when she finds out that Roman is part of this package deal. “Dad and I handled it,” is the twist of the knife that prompts a performance on the dance floor, which causes onlookers to wonder what drugs she is on. It doesn’t help that Roman also sorts out the GoJo deal with Lukas Matsson (Alexander Skarsgård), as her brother continues to outmaneuver her. This causes Roman to show off his worst side as he can’t help but taunt his sister about his success. 

Kieran Culkin, Sarah Snook and Brian Cox in Succession

Kieran Culkin, Sarah Snook and Brian Cox in Succession  (Image credit: Macall B. Polay/HBO)

Roman is not a nice person — none of them are — but the tiny amount of humility he possesses has vanished. During this confrontation, Kendall mentions GoJo was his idea (which makes him sound like a child arguing over a toy), although he cannot be baited into hitting his little brother. Unlike their father who has resorted to physical violence, Kendall will not stoop that low and it is perhaps his best quality. Unfortunately, when Roman slaps him on the back it causes Kendall to fall over and the whole thing feels very sad. Roman laughs and yet it isn’t hard to recognize he is just as alone as the rest of the Roys. For now, his victory will fill the void but this hot streak can’t last forever.

Before this, Kendall has a moment of clarity about how pathetic he is being after he can’t find the homemade gift from his children. First, he acts like a brat. What do you get the man worth $2 billion? Well, not a watch as Naomi (Annabelle Dexter-Jones) discovers when he looks at it like it is a Target gift certificate — it isn’t even inscribed. He flippantly says he already has a watch (he has several) and to an ultra-rich person, this gesture is meaningless. (This is also a callback to the first episode and the Patek Philippe timepiece Tom gave Logan). Nothing about this night has gone right and Kendall fulfills the old “it’s my party and I can cry if I want to” tradition. Strong imbues Kendall with sincerity in his performance even when he is at his most embarrassing and it is impossible to not feel an inkling of sympathy.

Nicholas Braun and Matthew Macfadyen

(Image credit: Macall B. Polay/HBO)

There is also the matter of how terribly he treats Greg (Nicholas Braun), who, along with Roman is the only person who ends the evening on a high. A date and no jail time is quite the combination and the news that prison is not on the cards for anyone kicks off the episode. Tom’s (Matthew Macfadyen) guttural reaction is brief — in which he trashes Greg’s office shows how much tension he has been storing up — but he cannot find any satisfaction after that high has worn off. He blames his sour mood on taking the wrong drugs in the wrong order, though it's impossible to ignore that he and Shiv are still on different pages. 

“That’s a f***ing relief,” Kendall’s PR consultant Berry (Jihae) speaks for all of us when he decides to cut his crucifixion from the party line-up. There is already enough figurative bloodshed to add a misguided metaphorical martyr act to this excellent outing.