Television’s most miserable wealthy family is back to fight over control of Waystar Royco, and The Ringer will be following their scheming every step of the way. Each week, we’ll break down the biggest developments, track who’s leading the literal line of succession, and catalog each episode’s most savage burns, best Cousin Greg–isms, and more. Let’s continue with the seventh episode, “Too Much Birthday.”
Succession’s Line of Succession, Week 7
At the beginning of Succession’s third season, it appeared that Logan’s efforts to save Waystar from increased public scrutiny would prove to be meaningless, like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. But in “Too Much Birthday,” it’s hard to deny that the company is on the upswing, and that Kendall’s betrayal has lost its momentum. As Gerri learns, the Department of Justice’s investigation into the cruises division is headed to a satisfying conclusion for the company: The feds believe that Kendall “overpromised” on his intel, and it appears that Waystar will only have to pay a financial settlement. Even Tom, who’s spent most of the season perusing prison blogs, looks like he’ll be getting off scot-free.
Granted, there’s still a chance this could all blow up in Logan’s face—the higher-ups are celebrating over champagne, but Succession could pull the rug out at any time in the very near future. But the company’s overall health received another boost this week with the potential acquisition of GoJo, a streaming app created by the enigmatic (sociopathic?) tech whiz Lukas Matsson (played by Alexander Skarsgard). Currently, Waystar has an expansive programming library that’s stifled by its objectively terrible streaming service, StarGo. (Does that make StarGo … Peacock?) Were Waystar to combine good tech with its impressive content portfolio, the company would be well-positioned for the media industry’s streaming-dominated future. (Just imagine all the fictional thinkpieces about Waystar winning the Streaming Wars.)
And who does Logan have to thank for getting Matsson to the negotiating table? Once again, it’s been a fruitful week for Roman that comes at Shiv’s expense. Both siblings go to Kendall’s 40th birthday party—don’t worry, we’ll unpack that whole mess shortly—so they can broker a deal with the attending Matsson, who blew off a meeting with Logan earlier in the day by sending some of his corporate stooges. Roman is able to score a one-on-one with Matsson, and he quickly picks up on the GoJo founder’s deal: He’s a socially awkward egomaniac who only perks up when the conversation shifts to insulting StarGo’s faulty interface and praising his own tech. Roman further appeals to him with a rather indecent proposal: to toast to future negotiations, Matsson can literally stream his urine on Waystar’s piss-poor streamer.
“I think I might be the best businessman in America,” Roman says with uncontainable glee, and based on his performance this season, he’s certainly running away from Shiv in the race for Logan’s approval. To wit: Logan is already doing business with Roman behind Shiv’s back, including offering to buy Kendall out of the company.
Shiv is naturally envious of Roman getting a leg up, but she’s also beginning to sour on her father on moral grounds. As the siblings confront one another near the end of the party, Shiv finds out that Logan’s been sending goons to spy on Kendall’s kids and threaten their nannies—something Roman shrugs off as part of the game. But even Shiv, who published a scathing letter condemning Kendall, draws the line at harassing innocent children who just so happen to be her niece and nephew. But Roman is undeterred: to cap off the character’s malicious streak, he shoves Kendall to the ground for saying that he’s not a “real person.”
Roman laughs off the needlessly violent escalation, which is awful on several levels. For one, he’s inflicting physical harm on the very person who came to his defense when Logan slapped him in Season 2—an upsetting sequence that heavily implied Roman was abused as a child. But in trying to become the son his father wants him to be, Roman is picking up some of Logan’s most abhorrent qualities. He might be pulling away from his siblings in Succession’s line of succession, but it’s coming at a tremendous cost that can’t be quantified by a dollar figure. Between attacking his brother and endorsing a fascist for president, Roman is losing what little humanity he had left, all with a shit-eating grin.
Takeaway of the Week: Birthday Boy Blues
From the moment that “Too Much Birthday” opens with Kendall rehearsing Billy Joel’s “Honesty” for a performance in which he’d be hoisted on a cross like Jesus Christ, my guy’s 40th birthday party was destined to be a shitshow. The only question was how, and when, the good vibes would sour. Kendall’s misplaced savior complex is matched only by the fragility of his ego, signs of which came in fits and starts throughout the party but is perhaps best embodied by what he tells his PR lackeys in the middle of the episode: “It just feels like an asshole’s birthday party, and my thing from the very first meeting was that it shouldn’t feel like an asshole’s birthday party.” (Spoiler: It is an asshole’s birthday party.)
The party is such an overwhelming display of bravado that what stands out are the things conspicuously absent from it—namely, Kendall’s children, parents, and friends (if he has any real ones). And while all three siblings show up, two of them are there under false pretenses: Shiv and Roman don’t want to spend time with their brother as much as broker a deal for Logan. (In fairness to Connor, he attends to be supportive, but nevertheless bothers Kendall because he refuses to take off his jacket.) Meanwhile, Logan’s presence hangs over the whole evening with the birthday card he has Roman give to Kendall containing a not-so-subtle message:
Kendall’s struggles last season were much more pronounced, when he was constantly living in fear of Logan. If Kendall’s odyssey in Season 2 was about realizing the limitless depths of Logan’s depravity and getting out from under his grip, then Season 3 has shown how trying—and the key word is trying—to become an idolized public figure can’t fill the void left by being alienated from his family. And in obsessing over cultivating his public image, Kendall has also lost sight of what’s important in his life: his own family.
It’s telling that we have yet to see Kendall share a scene with his kids this season—the most he’s done is FaceTime with them about the giant rabbit that may or may not have died after eating a bagel—and that in the midst of his self-obsessed birthday celebration, the handmade present they gave him got lost in a pile of bags from Bergdorf Goodman (and a motorcycle?!). There are many pathetic Kendall moments in “Too Much Birthday,” but there’s nothing sadder than seeing him frantically tear through a room filled with expensive gifts in search of the only one that matters:
Kendall is so distraught that he tells his very patient but very enabling girlfriend Naomi Pierce (Annabelle Dexter-Jones) that he just wants to go home, which happens to be in the nearby apartment complex in Hudson Yards, the most aesthetically unappealing luxury neighborhood in New York City and a perfect example of how wealth on Succession makes the characters look as miserable as they feel. On the bright side, at least Kendall spared us the trauma of seeing him perform a Billy Joel song while nailed to a cross by backing out at the last minute. Still, I’d be lying if I said a small part of me didn’t want it to happen—that performance would’ve given “L to the OG” a cringe-worthy run for its money.
The Most Callous Display of Wealth
Since almost the entire episode takes place during Kendall’s party, of course we have to focus on its ridiculous excess. But it would be more appropriate to call the event The Most Callous Display of Wealth That Should Be Outsourced to a Therapist because my God, Kendall has some issues to work through. Let’s start with the party’s entrance, where guests filtered through—and this is somehow not a joke—a giant vagina.
The “theme” of the party is the various stages of Kendall’s life as art installations, beginning at his literal birth for reasons beyond understanding. (A couple of small but perfect details: The song playing when Shiv, Roman, and Tom go through the vagina entrance is Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel’s “White Lines (Don’t Don’t Do It),” a track that certainly satisfies Kendall’s desire to have “all bangers, all the time,” but is completely tone-deaf as a score for someone in recovery. Also, Kendall’s first drink at the party is some kind of cocktail that he’s sipping through a baby bottle.) Elsewhere, there’s a VIP “treehouse” section in which Kendall tries to stop Roman and Shiv from meeting with Matsson—giving the constant, childish squabbles between the Roy siblings a most appropriate backdrop.
Even the casual glimpses of the rest of the party are like a Russian nesting doll of WTF-ery: the entrance adorned with “Notorious Ken Ready to Die” signage, a hall of fake newspaper headlines roasting his siblings (i.e., Roman dying in a masturbatory car accident) that Malcolm Gladwell consulted on, and a group of little kids hired to do Wu-Tang Clan covers. (“It’s better than it sounds,” Kendall assures Rava about the Tiny Wu-Tang.)
Sadly, Kendall axes the Wu-Tang performance along with his Jesus cosplay, but his birthday party will live in infamy. One can only hope that HBO does a Succession pop-up installation in 2022—maybe to promote the show for the next round of Emmys?—that’s just a fastidious recreation of Kendall’s birthday party. Even if it means going through a giant vagina, I’ll be the first in line.
The Most Brutal Insults of the Week
5. After walking through a giant installation of her own mother’s vagina: “Cold and inhospitable, it seems to check out.” —Shiv
4. Cutting right to the chase with Roman and the Waystar negotiations: “When will your father die? … I don’t wanna be rude, but what kind of shape is he in?” —Matsson
3. When Shiv realizes that Logan is doing deals behind her back: “It’s difficult, I get it. It’s very difficult for you to have to do the dance for dad because you just suck at dancing.” —Roman
2. When Shiv shows up to the party without a birthday card: “I’m disappointed because you normally write me such lovely letters.” —Kendall
1. After showing up at the entrance of the VIP treehouse section: “Hey, Ken, may we please step inside your mental disorder?” —Roman
The Cousin Greg Corner
The biggest winner of Waystar ostensibly getting out from under the DOJ investigation with just a slap on the wrist is definitely Tom, but Cousin Greg has to be a close second. Both characters could’ve faced jail time—and still might with two episodes remaining!—but for now they can celebrate a huge weight being lifted from their shoulders. Naturally, Tom releases that burden by flipping over Greg’s desk and generally wilding out:
Greg’s good mood is such that he’s thinking of finally asking out Comfry, Kendall’s attractive PR consultant whose parents definitely hated her because they named her Comfry. (His planned pickup line for her at the party: “You’re like a fascinating book I’d like to crack open.”) But while Greg isn’t short on confidence, both Tom and Kendall are amused on his behalf because they feel that Comfry’s out of his league, which is quite a slight on Nicholas Braun, who the New York Post dubbed last month as “NYC’s Hottest Bachelor.”
In any case, asking Comfry out is even more complicated by the fact that Kendall is running a smear campaign against Greg—one that she’s personally overseeing. “I’m gonna try to keep it targeted, rather than terminal,” she tells Greg, to which he responds by calling her a “fair maiden” with a bewildering medieval/Southern twang in what may be one of the most viscerally uncomfortable moments on the show. The Comfry situation isn’t looking good, and to add insult to injury, Kendall takes out his birthday party unhappiness on Greg by telling him that he isn’t allowed to date one of his employees before referring to him as “the world’s biggest fucking parasite.”
But Kendall’s constant mood changes end up working in Greg’s favor. On top of all his unreasonable demands—he made her buy a bunch of old-school lunch boxes and then nixed the idea, so now her apartment is full of old-school lunch boxes—the very notion of Kendall choosing who Comfry can or can’t go out on a date with pisses her off, so much so that she accepts Greg’s proposal. Comfry might be acting out of spite more than out of actual affection for Greg, but getting in the door is half the battle, and you don’t ask questions about how it happens. Back when we interviewed Braun in 2018, he said that one thing he’d like to see was Greg getting a love interest, and it’s taken a couple of seasons, but the Egg has finally scored a date. Hopefully he doesn’t bring her to the California Pizza Kitchen.