Happy 40th birthday to Kendall Roy, and happy birthday to us. Episode seven, Too Much Birthday, is a true gift, the giddiest, most hysterical and dread-laden instalment of series three so far. Or as Kendall (Jeremy Strong) stipulates for his ‘approved’ birthday playlist: it’s all bangers, all the time.
We commence with that lurch you get in your stomach when Kendall is planning a musical interlude. Of course he is. But this time the brains behind ‘L to the O-G’ is switching up the genres, planning to perform Billy Joel’s Honesty while strapped to a crucifix. “It’s funny right?” he asks a group of scared-looking minions. Later he’s told that 80% of the “A list” have RSVP’d with a yes. “And er... the sibs?” he asks, to an awkward silence. It’s a painfully sad moment that brings out Kendall’s defensive bravado, informing his harried team that he wants them to have a good time at the party too: “this is highly egalitarian. No boundaries if you’re cool.”
At Waystar HQ, Gerri (J. Smith-Cameron) has “had a vibration” from the DOJ. Her intel suggests that no one is going to prison after all. “No premature celebrations,” she declares, as they all drink champagne. Tom (Matthew MacFadyen) quietly excuses himself and heads to Greg’s (Nicholas Braun) office, where he asks him to “scooch over a little bit”, before proceeding to trash the place with utter jubilation. I’ve been waiting for him to go off all season, and boy does he go off. It’s a scene so exquisite I had to rewatch it three times.
A planned meeting with tech CEO Lukas Matsson (a guest performance from Alexander Skarsgaard), aiming for a deal that moves Waystar into the streaming market, falls off the agenda when Matsson sends ‘nobodies’ rather than appearing himself. Logan (Brian Cox), stuck in grizzled griping mode, refuses to engage, but Roman (Kieran Culkin) suggests that a little bit of soft diplomacy might be required. Matsson is, of course, attending “Ken Fest”, so Logan instructs Shiv (Sarah Snook) and Roman to go and try and bring him back around.
Kendall’s party is a dystopian theme park of narcissism, daddy issues and many, many LED screens. He has called it “The Notorious Ken: Ready To Die” and asked all arrivals to hand in their coats and phones. “Kendall would like his present to be everyone being present,” guests are told. They then enter through a pink tunnel, which they soon discover is supposed to represent the moment Kendall was born. “Okay... immersive theatre. They could have consulted, but whatever,” says Willa (Justine Lupe), with an eye roll. Tom, who giddily declares he can now “see the poetry in the mundane things” wants to “get f***ed up” (“is that OK?” he asks Shiv); Greg wants to ask out Comfry, Kendall’s PR (Dasha Nekrasova); Shiv and Roman want to sidle up to Matsson and Connor (Alan Ruck) just really doesn’t want to take his coat off.
Call the psychiatrist – the first thing Kendall does when he sees his family is take them to an art installation full of mocked up front pages imagining their terrible fates. Roman’s is my particular fave: “FAILED SIBLING DIES IN TRAGIC JERK-OFF INCIDENT”. (“Hmmm... not a bad way to go,” Roman mutters.) Roman gives Kendall a card from his dad, which contains the cheery message to “Cash out and f*** off”, with a contract to buy him out of his share of the company. He, of course, reads this in a headache of a room filled with screens depicting burning flames. Strong is so perfect in this episode, always demanding more, never enjoying himself, the loneliest man in the world at the biggest, most expensive party ever. His girlfriend Naomi (Annabelle Dexter-Jones), clearly seeing the chance to get him out of a toxic environment, suggests that his dad’s offer – worth $2 billion – might actually be worth taking, but Kendall dismisses it as a mind game.
In pursuit of Matsson, Shiv and Roman learn that he is in “the treehouse”, a reconstruction of Kendall’s childhood play area that requires a rainbow wristband to gain entry. The siblings have a ding dong outside, where Kendall says perhaps the most on-brand, tragic thing I’ve ever heard him say: “This is my treehouse, and you shouldn’t be anywhere near here!” Still fuming, he bumps into Greg and makes him an emotional punchbag, calling him a “human tapeworm” and banning him from asking Comfry out. The confused hurt on Greg’s face made me want to sob a bit.
Clever Roman has managed to wangle his way into the treehouse and bond with Matsson, who asks bluntly, “when will your father die?” Smartly and shamelessly, Roman suggests that if Matsson joins with Waystar Royco, he will never have to deal directly with Logan, and he will act as his point person in the relationship. Shiv, boiling over at the emerging realisation that she’s been excluded from conversations with Roman and her dad (and possibly frustrated that Tom isn’t going to prison after all), goes off for a dance that Greg nervously describes as “very... emancipated.”
It’s Ken’s big moment, and he’s about to strap himself into a harness and rise up from the stage like a member of Steps. It feels a bit like a man walking to the guillotine. Sadly for us, but correctly for his dignity, he decides at the last minute that he’s not going to do the performance. Instead, he goes off in pursuit of a birthday present from his children, which is nowhere to be found. He dismisses Naomi’s gift of a watch, ignores the motorbike garnished with a giant rosette, and stomps through the gift-wrapped boxes like Dudley Dursley. Meanwhile, Comfry, learning that Kendall does not want her to go out with Greg, accepts an invitation to go out with Greg. Yay! She’s clearly exhilarated by the idea of winding up a man who made her order hundreds of He-Men lunchboxes to serve canapes from, before changing his mind. But a part of me feels like these two might actually bond over being normal people trapped in an empire of psychopaths. I ship it.
Throughout this exquisite episode, I sensed that an explosion was coming. Too many bruised egos, too much bleepy bloopy dance music. But when it did finally arrive, there was no screaming meltdown. Instead, Roman pettily gave Kendall a lame playground-like push, making him fall to the ground in front of all of his guests. It was horrible to watch, but – like the episode where the siblings had a crisis meeting in the bedroom of Kendall’s children – it was perfect for a family stuck in their childhood dynamics. As he left, humiliated, Kendall grasped at any way to reclaim his power. The only thing he could find was another demand for Connor to “take your f***ing coat off”.
THE ROY INDEX
GOING UP: Roman
Roman is doing very well. His preferred presidential candidate won his dad’s backing last week, and now he seems to have wooed Matsson. Aware that he’d hit a few home runs, he got a bit giddy and started acting like Stifler from American Pie. The whole thing, though, is giving me strong Icarus vibes. If he’s going to reap the rewards of his success, he might need to rein it in a bit.
GOING UP: Connor’s coat
Connor might be getting some good polling results in his quest to be president, but the real winner this week was Connor’s coat. It was a Mrs Merton-esque grey barbour, distinctly unstylish, but he would not remove it – even when Comfry was sent to give him a cashmere sweater to wear instead. The only other person who was allowed to wear a coat at Kendall’s party? Kendall.
GOING DOWN: Kendall
The episode ended with Kendall looking down desolately from a very high balcony, wrapped in a childhood duvet. He then cuddled up to Naomi, who had a look on her face like she might be about to leave him. Not good. I think his position right now was summed up during one exchange with his family at the party. Asked who was there, he replied, “who isn’t?” The response: “Your dad? Your mum? Your wife and kids?”
GOING DOWN: Shiv
The emotional whiplash of being Logan Roy’s child continues. After being crowned president earlier in the series and given a lot of important things to do, not to mention stepping in to save the company when her dad forgot to take his UTI medication, Shiv now finds herself out in the cold. And she is not very happy there. Nor does she seem particularly pleased that her husband is no longer about to be incarcerated. Bad times for Shiv.
PLACE I WOULD LEAST LIKE TO BE TRAPPED: Kendall’s compliment tunnel
Kendall’s whole party was like a Punchdrunk show that you were never allowed to leave. Aside, obviously, from the immersive reconstruction of his own birth, the “compliment tunnel” was deeply sinister. Greg and Tom went for a chat as performers poked their heads through foliage and shouted things like “you’re so full of grace!” It was very Kendall: trying to make people feel good about themselves in a way that was utterly sociopathic.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
There were too many good lines to mention this week. Runner-up goes to bored Matsson’s party request list: “privacy, pussy and pasta”. But my favourite had to be Shiv’s birthday greeting to Kendall, explaining why she didn’t bring him a card. ”I couldn’t find one that said ‘happy birthday’ and ‘get well soon’.”