Sunday, November 28, 2021

REVIEW: 'Succession' - Kendall's Celebration Devolves Into an Examination of Happiness Across the Family in 'Too Much Birthday'

HBO's Succession - Episode 3.07 "Too Much Birthday"

At Kendall's lavish birthday bash, Shiv and Roman try to arrange a meeting with Lukas Matsson, a tech mogul who recently snubbed Logan.

In 2020, the television industry aired 493 scripted shows across numerous outlets. The way people consume content now is different than it used to be. It happens according to one's own schedule. As such, it's less necessary to provide ample coverage of each episode in any given season from a show. Moreover, it is simply impossible to watch everything. As such, this site provides shorter episodic reviews in order to cover as many shows as possible. With all of that being said, here are my thoughts on the next episode of HBO's Succession.

"Too Much Birthday" was written by Tony Roche & Georgia Pritchett and directed by Lorene Scafaria

It's joyous to watch Tom as he completely destroys Greg's office after learning the Justice Department is going to close its investigation into Waystar Royco. Of course, Gerri cautions everyone not to get too excited yet because it's not a done deal. However, it's enough to offer relief to Tom and Greg as they feared going to prison. That has been all consuming to Tom. It's all he could think about. He was preparing for that life. Instead of engaging with business at the firm, he was scrolling through potential locations for him to do the sentence. He is happy by the news. It fulfills him for a moment. And then, he realizes just how little happiness has been in his life for awhile. He feels empty inside. In fact, he is jealous that Greg is ecstatic and celebratory. The relationship between Tom and Greg is always complicated. Tom always views Greg as an underling who can never measure up. He offers a way for Tom to feel good. Greg respects this dynamic. He values it in a genuine way. That's true of his bonds with other members of the family too. This specific dynamic continues to form because they are technically outsiders. They are connected to the Roy's. They are trusted with respect and power. They are conditioned into accepting that as good enough. Tom and Shiv had issues in their relationship for a long time. She always views herself as the active participant with agency. She is always the one to set the terms of whatever this relationship has to be. She never truly cares about Tom's feelings. She hates when she is called out for that as well. Sure, it's cruel for Roman to suggest that Shiv was disappointed her husband wasn't going to jail. But again, that shows just how despicable all of these characters can be. The audience should be concerned whenever one of them is too happy. When Roman is enthusiastic, it means that he has just convinced one of the most influential media companies in the world to support a dangerous fascist as the next President of the United States. It should be more satisfying seeing them struggle in their own pathetic ways. That has been a common element of their lives for a long time too. And now, it's clear that Logan wants to be done with that pertaining to Kendall. He just wants to buy his son out of his stocks in the company. He wants to cast him aside and be done with him. Kendall views all of this as psychological warfare. And yet, his life continues to be dictated by his father. That creates lasting consequences. It also highlights the many ways in which all of these characters are ultimately empty despite their massive privilege. Kendall's siblings mock his elaborate birthday party every step of the way. They look down on it because they see nothing but a cry for help. It certainly is that as well. It's a grown man trying to make something grand out of his messed up childhood where both of his parents did a number on his psyche. 

It's fueled by Kendall's apparent use of illegal substances as well. Now, this season has purposefully not shown him getting high. It's basically been up to the audience to decide in which moments he's actively using. It's never known what is fueling his thinking. That too reveals the tragic uncertainty of his fate. He goes on such epic highs and lows. One moment he demands one thing. And then, he immediately changes his mind. It's frustrating for the people around him. They too may react instead of pursue things they genuinely want. That may be the only reason Greg gets a date with Comfry. It's still a win in his mind. He will gladly take the compliments showered upon him. And yet, that's a physical space that Kendall needs to create in order to actually feel good about himself. He eventually comes to the realization that all of this is desperate. He is pleading with the world to take him seriously. He can't genuinely connect with anyone. Naomi tries to offer him support. He casually dismisses and belittles her even when trying to lean on her. It's such a toxic dynamic. That's actually how so many of these relationships are informed. Nothing is truly healthy. The balance has shifted though. Everyone has always been so obsessed with advancing their own interests. Some are still essentially playing that game as well. Shiv will do anything to make herself seem like the only logical choice to replace her father as head of the company. But she continually makes mistakes based solely on her understanding of Logan. As such, a new sense of intimacy is formed between Logan and Roman. That's shocking given how the season started. Roman was pathetic in demanding to be taken seriously for the interim CEO job. But now, he is the sibling who has stepped up in being able to instinctively understand what their father wants and needs. It's mostly a good display of being able to read one individual person. Roman extends that same quality to Lukas Matsson though. Now, that particular interest isn't all that exciting. However, it does reveal Roman as cementing his own hold over the company. He is pursuing toxic interests where he doesn't really care about anything. That's what Logan has liked about him recently. It leaves Shiv and Kendall adrift. They have devoted their lives to this cause of appeasing their father. They are frustrated when someone else flexes their superiority. It's all childlike and abusive. That's the game they play. They spin around and around hurting each other. Sometimes the jokes are laughed off. Other times, it's all incredibly serious. Roman no longer sees that distinction. Someone like Willa is even starting to buy into the hype that this family always professes. But it's ultimately brilliant to see the dichotomy of these characters feeling empty without the drama also coming across that way as it twists the knife into these conflicts more mercilessly than ever before. It's sad and tragic while remaining absolutely hilarious and cringe-worthy. Both the grandiosity of life and the intimacy of the characters are so specific that they reward the viewer with each passing action even when the constant flailing leaves so many feeling dissatisfied. That too reveals how disconnected all of this could be. But it remains a wonderful balance of desperation and truly maniacal brilliance where the balance of power truly could shift at any moment. Teetering on life's edge is a constant pull dramatized incredibly well despite how little things have actually changed over the course of the series. That requires a rich understanding from both the creatives as well as the audience in order to work. It's marvelous to see it executed so well each week.