‘Succession’ Sick Fuck of the Week: ‘Too Much Birthday’
WHEWWWWW, WHAT AN EPISODE!
Week in and week out, Discourse Blog has been watching the prestige drama of the year (Succession) and the reality drama of the year (The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City) on Sunday evenings in an attempt to crown the former's Sick Fuck of the Week. Last night's episode, "Too Much Birthday," puts that to the test, as just about every main character was acting sick (in the head) or like a massive fuck in honor of Kendall's birthday. In a season that's been a bit slow to start, "Birthday" massively delivered on what drew me to Succession in the first place: Some episodes are almost too mean, too cringey to watch. And yet I must!
With that, let's get into it. (And a note that, because this episode features more interplay between the Roy children than ever in a season that keeps them largely apart, it's a bit difficult to break down by character.)
Spoilers ahead, of course.
Kendall, our birthday boy, is really going through it this episode, which begins with him doing a dress rehearsal of a massively embarrassing stunt for his birthday party later. The spectacle involves singing Billy Joel's "Honesty" while being.....put on a literal cross. His eyes look a bit glassy, and when girlfriend Naomi Pierce is cringing about the whole thing, he tells her, “If I start second guessing, it falls apart,” a sentiment that will absolutely be borne out. We hear this blowout is going to be a who's-who (Elon is coming), see Kendall smoking a blunt surrounded by faceless toadies, and watch him yelling "It's my birthday, fuck you!!" from a balcony over the entire city. Then we get to see the party, which features you following sperm through to a life-size model of the Roy kids' mother's birth canal until you're birthed into the world of Kendall Roy. There's a treehouse, an inferno room for some reason, and the birthday boy is wearing a bejeweled velvet bomber jacket with a flying saucer on the back, a turtle neck, and a huge chain. It's a throwback to his rap spectacle "L to the OG" but totally joyless—he walks from room to room basically alone, interacting with no one; it's clear that he finds himself totally friendless, surrounded by fakes. He also starts drinking, which clearly only makes things worse: He's a huge dick to Rava, who dropped off a (now missing) homemade gift from the kids, he calls Greg the "world’s biggest fucking parasite," and eventually justifiably tells Roman he's "not a real person." In a moment of something like clarity, Kendall does, however, pull the Christ/Billy Joel stunt, along with child performers "Tiny Wu Tang."
There's also a lot of what I really hope isn't foreshadowing in this episode: The party is dubbed "The Notorious Ken: Ready to Die," a nod to Biggie, of course, the event is hosted at Hudson Yards, an eyesore of a Manhattan mega-development that features The Vessel, a popular suicide spot, and as the episode draws to a close, Kendall, wrapped in a child's blanket, looks out at The Vessel from a very high balcony, making you wonder if he's going to jump. When he was rampaging on his pile of luxe gifts—while basically turning down a gift AND a blowjob from Naomi—he says "I wish I was.....home," but in that long pause, I sincerely thought he was going to say "I wish I was dead." When he asks Naomi, "I think the party's over, yeah?" it's clear he's talking about more than the actual party. Feeling pretty bad for Kendall this episode, honestly!
I'm going to combine Roman and Shiv for this one, because Logan sent them to Kendall's party, ostensibly to talk to tech CEO Lukas Matsson (Alexander Skarsgård) about acquiring his streaming giant, GoJo. Roman and Lukas, both monumental assholes, seem to consummate that deal-to-be with Lukas literally pissing on Roman's phone as it loads Waystar's woefully slow streaming product (and openly fantasizing about when Logan will die). A big win for Roman, and boy does he let Shiv (who's been cutting a rug, shoes off, on the dance floor, also trying to work something out) know about it. When she presses him for details about Matsson, things really tee off: Roman makes clear that the balance of power has shifted away from her, and that "the offer" contained in Logan's "birthday" card to Kendall (which had "Happy Birthday" crossed off in favor of "CASH OUT AND FUCK OFF" along with a terms sheet outlining a $2 billion payment for his shares in the company) had Roman's, not Shiv's, name on it. He proceeds to mock her sex life, accusing her of wanting Tom to go to prison so she could have sex with other men, and saying of Logan, “He loves fucking me and he just doesn’t want to fuck you anymore,” to which Shiv, duh, responds that that's gross. But Roman is far from done. As Naomi is leading Kendall out of the party, Roman sets his sights on him, too, eventually revealing that "of course" Waystar is sending goons to stalk Kendall's kids, saying "everybody’s in the shit.” Even Shiv, who clearly didn't know, seems disturbed by this development, and Roman seals the string of kiss-offs by pushing Kendall to the ground and urging him to hit him. (Kendall doesn't.) As he walks home from the party, Roman calls daddy, telling him semi-jokingly via voicemail: “I’m the only child you’ll ever need, you can kill the others, love you.” This will definitely continue to go Roman's way, definitely!!
For the purpose of exposition, let's touch on Gerri and Logan, who are involved in a brief toast at the beginning of the episode after Gerri reveals there have been "vibrations" from the DOJ indicating that they'll only have to make a big settlement, but that no one's (probably) going to jail.
This should be a huge relief for Tom, and he pantomimes like it is for awhile, even telling Shiv that his senses feel heightened as they walk into Kendall's bash. (He also destroys Greg's office, flipping the desk, in....celebration(?) of the news.) But it's clear there's much more going on below the surface. I read his immediate reaction to the no prison news as one of disappointment, like he was ready to play the martyr and, most importantly, get away for a while from the wife whose respect he'll never earn. But then at the party, he seems almost panicked by how "dour" everyone looks, and when Greg, noticing how unhapppy he seems, tries taking him in the "Compliment Tunnel" where paid actors say things like "You're full of grace!" at passers-by, things only get worse, with Tom accusing Greg of stealing his happiness about the "Waystar Two" finally being "free." As he rides home in the car with Shiv, he half-heartedly tries to goad her into continuing the evening out; when she declines, he lets her know "I might be out for awhile." Yeah, I bet!
Poor Greg, as usual! All he wants to do this episode is ask out Comfry (played by Dasha) but he ends up being a punching bag for both Kendall and Tom, who tells him the idea is "like a haunted scarecrow asking out Jackie Onassis.” Earlier, when Comfry expresses that she'll try to make the Kendall-directed PR attacks on him "targeted rather than terminal," he thanks her by calling her an “even handed maiden.” Smooth!
Finally, there's Connor, whom Kendall mocks in a blown-up, fake tabloid cover for "shitting a bag" when he took his younger brothers on a camping trip, and whose arm is in a complicated-looking sling because he took a tumble dancing an Irish gig over polling data that showed him nearing one percent (that's four million people, he tells his laughing siblings). The one bright spot was that "girlfriend" Willa defends his fledgling political career and rebukes Comfry for trying to make him take off his coat at Kendall's behest. (He absolutely doesn't take that coat off!)
WHEWWWWW, WHAT AN EPISODE! I struggled mightily between the obvious top two Sick Fuck contenders here: Kendall, who seems genuinely unwell, and Roman, who really seems to embody what I consider a Sick Fuck. For his cruelty to his siblings, his delusional belief that he's now daddy's golden boy, and his ongoing willingness to cozy up with repugnant business partners, Roman takes the crown this week. Now, with only two episodes left in the season, the heat is on, and only one thing feels certain: All our characters are in for even more than they bargained for.