I have to confess: when I was initially sent the first seven episodes of Succession’s third season, I held off watching this one after seeing Kendall Roy, rehearsing for his birthday party, covering Billy Joel in the cold open. Would he rap again, I wondered, a chill running down my spine? Would I be forced to watch Ken Roy “spit bars” in a paternal diss track? What exactly did he mean when he declared his desire to “go nut-nut, pure excess, full bore, yeah?” after the actual performance at his 40th?
In the end, he neither raps nor does the Billy Joel performance (which was meant to end with him being hoisted aloft and crucified, in a reference to his “plastic Jesus” status). What pans out is far worse. There are many funny moments in this week’s episode, but it is also possibly the saddest yet to air, a scouring hour of television that exemplifies the show’s tendency to shift on a knife-edge from hilarity to almost unbearable cruelty. A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine confessed to feeling scared for Kendall, even as she knew that all the Roys were fundamentally bad people. “I just worry about him,” she said sadly, furrowing her brow with what seemed like genuine angst. She and every other viewer who feels for Kendall against all of their best instincts will have, it is safe to say, an awful time of it this week. If the loneliest Roy is just as desperate and as ego-driven as his brothers and sister, he also seems cognisant of the Faustian bargain of being a Roy. It’s interesting that he likens his ex-wife’s partner to an action figure – Ken himself is plastic, but he’s far less “plastic Jesus” than he is a battered doll, a child’s plaything cursed with just enough awareness of his fate to know how meaningless it is to spend your whole life being forced to act out never-ending wars with other toys.
This week, Roman finally gets to live his greatest, maybe wettest dream. “So I’m inserting myself in my mother’s vagina right now, is that what’s happening?” he deadpans, stepping in and out of the pink, billowing entrance tunnel to Kendall’s fortieth birthday that – according to a female staff member dressed as a nurse – permits attendees to be “born into the world of Kendall Roy.” “This is my mother’s cooch, just so you know,” he adds to the nurse, as he, Shiv, Connor, Tom and Willa head into the party. “And you’re implying it’s massive, so you might wanna, you know… tighten my mother’s vagina.” It remains to be seen whether this event will have the effect of exposure therapy on Roman’s rampant mommy issues, although based on several conversations he has after it occurs, it seems unlikely. “Call me old-fashioned,” he tells Kendall, when they meet up in the VIP area to trade barbs, “but I think you should ask someone’s permission before you construct a giant replica of their vagina.” “Roman, relax,” Kendall replies. “Yes, you can take it home.” Roman, perhaps un-ironically, frantically pumps his fist.
“Who’s here?” asks Shiv. “Who isn’t!” replies Kendall. “Your dad,” offers Roman. “Your mom,” says Shiv. “Your wife and kids,” Connor chimes in. “Any real friends,” Roman adds. It’s a tragic picture, made more tragic by the fact that Kendall’s party, themed around his presumably awful childhood, boasts a man-sized replica of the Roys’ treehouse. (“A 40-year-old man who rebuilds his childhood treehouse should immediately go on the sex offender’s registry,” sneers Roman, a man in his thirties who just thrust his entire body in and out of a replica of his mother’s vagina.) In one of the venue’s other rooms, Kendall has arranged an art show made from mocked-up tabloid covers that denounce his siblings, the funniest being Roman’s, whose headline screams “FAILED SIBLING DIES IN TRAGIC JERK-OFF ACCIDENT.” “Not a bad way to go,” Roman says, cheerfully. “Also now you’ve got people in here picturing me jerking off, so who’s the real winner?”
The real reason Shiv and Roman have attended Kendall’s party is to track down the elusive tech inventor Lukas Matsson, with whom they are hoping to arrange a deal. Matsson, played with simmering, petulant rage by Alexander Skarsgård, is an arrogant idiot obsessed with “pussy”. He would also be an enormous asset to the flagging and outmoded media arm of Waystar Royco, allowing them to move more extensively into streaming and social media and preventing them from “end[ing] up being a pilot fish nibbling at the leftovers in Bezos’ teeth.” Roman, in a bid to win him over, first trumpets his own passion for pussy – “have you seen my mom’s?” he asks, jerking his thumb towards the terrible pink tunnel – and then coaxes him into the bathroom just as he did with the fascist goon last week, inviting Hatsson to urinate on his phone while Waystar Royco’s streaming service fails to load up on its screen. Hatsson ends up being willing to go along with the deal, provided he will be allowed to run his streaming company without interference from Logan. “How soon is your father gonna die?” Matsson asks, adding: “Sooner would be better.” “Obviously,” Roman hits back drily, “we’re all hugely looking forward to my father dying.”
By now, it should be clear that no Eggwatch is complete without Tom Wambsgans, so it seems fair to begin here: Tom learns this week that nobody from Waystar Royco is going to prison, and decides to celebrate by joyfully smashing up Greg’s office. In some ways, Nicholas Braun and Matthew Macfadyen are tasked with some of the hardest lines to sell in this show’s screenplay – just last episode, Macfadyen somehow made Tom saying “I have of late decided not to tarry too much with hope” seem, against all odds, naturalistic – and both actors have excelled week after week. They excel, too, when the two men say almost nothing, their dynamic so bizarre that it is still not quite clear whether it is sexual, romantic, friendly, rivalrous, or that of a mentor and mentee. After Tom is done going full Bullingdon on Greg’s small office, he reveals that neither of them will face jail time. “Is this real?” Greg asks. Tom, in a gesture that is somehow simultaneously amusing and extraordinarily moving, leans in and kisses Greg’s forehead with such tenderness that it acts as a full stop on the conversation. Later, when Greg tells Tom he is thinking about asking Kendall’s PR on a date, and the two bicker about who is punching more above his weight, and Tom boasts that he landed Shiv because he is extremely well endowed, it hardly matters that Greg, flustered, demands that he “prove it”: the Tom and Greg sex jokes are never not funny, and the writers should continue to supply them, but we’ve already had all the proof of intimacy we need.
He loves it when I do the Daddy Dance
Kendall and Shiv both have sudden meltdowns at the party, Kendall because of a lost gift, and Shiv because of what she perceives as being a lost alliance. The present that Kendall cannot find is one that’s been made for him by his children, wrapped in rabbit-patterned paper. (Did his children deliberately choose the rabbit wrapping paper as a passive-aggressive reminder of the bunny Kendall accidentally killed last week? They are Roys, so it doesn’t seem entirely beyond the realms of possibility.) Realising that this handmade gift may be the only loving gesture he will receive from his family this year, he comes to understand how shallow and how stupid the expensive “epic f***ing party” is, falling to his knees beside the pile of presents. “This is so pathetic. I wish I was –,” he begins to tell his girlfriend, and the desolation in Jeremy Strong’s voice makes the viewer think the next word will be ‘dead.’ He pauses, and then finishes: “I wish I was home.”
The arrangement Shiv believes herself to have been unfairly cut out of is, unfortunately, yet another denial of home and family for Kendall — Roman secretly delivers him a birthday card from Logan that reads “CASH OUT AND F*** OFF,” along with a detailed buy-out offer. Feeling left out of the corporate loop, Shiv gets hammered, takes her shoes off, and begins to do a dance that onlookers interpret as “a cry for help,” per Roman. (“Very…very emancipated,” Greg says, diplomatically. “I don’t think she’s on anything. Just getting the demons out, I guess.”) Roman, drunk enough that he is even less inhibited than usual, begins taunting her about the fact that Tom won’t go to prison, saying she probably hoped that all the family’s male members would end up there. “You thought it was ladies’ night and they were playing your song. But guess what? You were wrong. All the men got together in man’s club and we decided: sweetheart, everything’s fine,” he snarls, his usually puckish affect turning practically satanic. “[Logan] loves it when I do the Daddy Dance, but that’s because he loves me,” Roman adds. “He loves f***ing me, and he doesn’t want to f*** you anymore.”
Before Shiv or the audience has enough time to consider the possibility that the realisation of Roman’s long-seated mommy issues might have somehow tipped the balance on his daddy ones, Kendall appears, dead-eyed and ready to implode. There is some ugly back and forth: Shiv suggests that she would not have come to Kendall’s birthday party if it wasn’t for the fact that they were hoping to land Matsson; Kendall says that he knows Waystar Royco have been sending spies to trail his children, another manoeuvre only Roman was aware of. “You’re not a real person,” he tells Roman softly, blinking in that Kendall-ish way that suggests a robot shutting down. “You’re not a real person, you’re not real.” None of the siblings are, of course, “real people,” in the way most of us might understand that phrase – they have no concept of love or of familial loyalty, and they are incapable of putting anyone else first. When Roman childishly shoves Kendall in the back as he is leaving, Kendall falls like a marionette with cut strings, or like a doll that has been played with far too roughly for too long. It would be the saddest moment of the episode if it were not for a scene later, showing Roman leaving Logan an intoxicated voicemail. “I’m the only child you’ll ever need, so you can kill the others,” he says, boastfully, before adding a sign-off doomed to be left unreciprocated: “Love you.”
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