This episode hurt. It was sad and uncomfortable and depressing. We’ve had scenes with the Roy children in a room ripping each other to shreds before, like at Shiv’s wedding and at Rava’s apartment and at Connor’s ranch. But there was a buoyancy to all of those scenes, a shorthanded humour between siblings that has evaporated. Everything that happened between them was so f-cking dark. Let’s dig in.
Hotter than the fusion restaurant in Vancouver that lost Connor’s coat:
I debated sticking everyone under the cold list as this felt like a series of losses for all of them, but a few people did gain personally and professionally.
First Lady Willa:
Is Willa, who has unfettered access to these awful people, writing a scathing indictment of hoarded wealth and media conglomerates on her phone? Probably not, but one thing she will do is check you when you come for Connor. This episode was probably the most we’ve heard Willa speak (when she does, she’s mostly reasonable, compassionate, and polite) but seeing her stick up for her man was one of the not-bleak things in this episode.
And f-ck it, let’s add Connor to this as well. Like him, I do not trust coat checks and prefer to keep my jacket, thank you very much. Besides that, the mean headline in the art installation room about him sh-tting in a bag is because he took his little brothers camping! That’s the worst thing Kendall could think of to embarrass him, that Connor got sick while doing their dad’s job. Connor may not be built for “work” or a “job” or “the real world” but I’m increasingly convinced that he earned his inheritance as a payback for parentification.
Rava is the only warm-blooded human in the Roys orbit and quite simply a nice person. Ken being condescending to her about her ideal birthday (three glasses of wine and pasta) is so f-cking sad because it’s obvious that he wants love and stability, but he seeks out chaos and friction. Rava doesn’t let Ken pull her into his orbit of need (and kudos to her, this must have taken a sh-tload of therapy). Ken is fuelled by FOMO— when he had a family, he was obsessed with work and partying. Now that he’s free to work and party as much as he wants, he wants his family back. His soul is in turmoil and the way Rava holds her boundaries with him while still supporting him is the purest thing in Ken’s world. Watching the flicker of recognition of what he used to have against the hollowness of what he’s built is always between them.
Greg’s Southern (???) accent:
Even though Kendall absolutely eviscerated him by calling him a tapeworm (ouch), Greg ended up in the W column. I should be more into this Greg romance but I have to be honest that the casting Dasha Nekrasova completely breaks the fourth wall for me. (For those not familiar, Dasha is one-half of the Internet famous Red Scare podcast and a social media provocateur – click here to see what I mean.) But I am very into Greg yelling “prove it!” to Tom (re: fucking like a freight train and having a dick like Sequoia). I don’t think Greg or Tom knew what that meant in the moment but it released a lot of tension while simultaneously raising a lot of questions.
Roman: Bad slime puppy
Out of all of the characters, it’s Roman’s malice that seems the sharpest. Until now, he’s mostly moved through this crisis in a sensitive way, not betraying his dad but also avoiding burying Ken. But something about this night, perhaps triggered by walking through his mother’s cold vagina tunnel, took him from crass to cruel. He kind of lands the hot tech guy (an impeccably cast Alexander Skarsgård) and delivers a message. That’s standard work. But then he gets vicious. In a chaotic and hard-to-watch sequence, he shames Shiv’s sex life, cuts down her marriage, rolls his eyes at a clearly distraught Kendall talking about his daughter being spied on, and then physically pushes Ken while Connor gets upset. We’ve seen Roman be awful before, usually to please his father (like in the pilot episode, taunting the young boy to hit a home run for a million dollars, then ripping up the check) and he’s always taken pleasure in an insult, but there was something different about this. We saw his natural meanness merging with greed and blind ambition with a sprinkle of Logan dust.
Forget the pissing on the phone (a lark to show-off), this is Roman unmasked. And one point he made stuck out during the melee: he asks his siblings why there’s a line for him and not for the others. Kendall publicly humiliated their dad and Shiv publicly humiliated Kendall, so in Roman’s eyes, he’s been the bigger person this whole time. Why should he be sidelined while they kill each other? As Logan said earlier in the season to Shiv, “Nothing is a line. Everything everywhere is always moving forever. Get used to it.” This is Roman without lines.
And maybe Logan has been waiting out Roman’s immaturity and sending him to kiki with fascists and tech bros and oil heirs is training is part of his end game. This was Roman at his most ruthless and Logan would have loved it.
In terms of writing, it’s a genius move as Kieran Culkin is an audience darling with his slime puppy trysts with Gerri. Just because he prefers phone sex to physical contact doesn’t mean he’s harmless.
Logan’s mid-life crisis at 80:
Logan defended himself against the cruises scandal by saying that he wasn’t chasing secretaries around his desk when it was happening, yet he is now chasing his PA around an open concept office. The era and players may be different, but it shows how little Waystar has changed on the inside since Uncle Mo(lester) was captain of cruises. How could anything change when all the players have remained the same? Logan choosing to woo his PA, even as he pays to get Marcia back, is an act of dick defiance. It’s his way of signaling to everyone around him that he won’t be told who he can and can’t sexually harass: not by the shareholders or the board or his children or the “climate” or his wife. So why is he on the hot list? Because like Tom said last week, I’ve watched everyone get f-cked multiple times, but I haven’t seen Logan get f-cked once.
Colder than Connor’s delicate shoulders:
Shiv Roy, dancing queen:
One thing I’m convinced about Shiv is that she can out-party her brothers (in terms of drinking, drugs, sex – all of it!) any day of the week. She went into Kendall’s party hot but there was a moment when she gave him a genuine hug that there was a touch of affection. Usually that would be Roman’s role, but he decided to be a little prick.
Basically, Shiv is fed the f-ck up. She’s fed up listening to her husband talk about toilet wine (and then not even go to prison), she’s fed up with being undermined by Roman, she’s fed up with being used by her dad, she’s fed up with Kendall’s tantrums and Connor’s pipe dreams. But she has yet to act on any of these things. Shiv needs to make a move for herself. A big one. Leave Tom, leak the story of her father’s affair, start her own affair with Stewy, just do something to get off this hamster wheel of over-confidence and self-doubt. Shiv didn’t see Roman coming, she didn’t know they were spying on her niece and nephew, and she is continually blindsided by her father. She’s a sitting duck. (And why shouldn’t Shiv get to f-ck whoever she wants? Everyone else does!)
Tom “f-cks like a freight train” Wambsgans:
What do you think happened to Tom’s prison consultant? Did he work by the hour or on a contract basis? Anyway, it looks like he won’t be needing that service (although it’s tentative and anything can change). His instinct to wait it out and not flip for Kendall was right but like Kendall, he feels crushing disappointment at this birthday party. He thought it would be fun, but he took the wrong drugs in the wrong order (my guess is too much cocaine, not enough molly) and ended up surly and wired in the back of a town car with his uninterested wife. All of the issues he and Shiv that were there when he and Shiv said goodbye on the tarmac haven’t changed.
Side note: there’s been a lack of on-screen drug use this year, even though we know Ken and Naomi are not sober. Why have the characters stopped partaking on screen?
Naomi: what is this woman’s deal?
Naomi is the “I can fix him” meme come to life. There’s chill and then there’s enabling someone to the point of complete embarrassment and self-destruction. We know she has her issues (which she seems to keep a lid on in public) but she is gentle with Ken and seems to really like and support him. All of the heartbreak the audience sees in Ken, she sees in him, too. She has perspective on his party and his spiral, but to what end? How long will Naomi be able to talk him off the ledge?
Ken: Not so fabulous and 40
Setting up his birthday as an ironic commentary on his childhood (without actually working through his childhood trauma) is some serious sad little rich boy sh-t. We knew from the first few seconds of this episode that this birthday would be a disaster because of his wobbly singing and terrible clothing choices. Wearing an embroidered satin jacket or a statement necklace with a turtleneck is the billionaire man’s version of getting breakup bangs.
On the bunny-wrapped present: Kids make their parents stuff for Valentine’s Day and birthdays and Mother’s and Father’s Day. I would suspect even for the richest kids in the world this holds true. The reason that Ken was so stressed about this present is because he is not a good father, so this one gift takes on an outsized importance. He should have dozens of cards and trinkets tucked away from his kids by now, but he doesn’t. (Rava definitely does.)
On the watch: Just as he’s metabolizing the crushing disappointment of his relationship with his children, Naomi gives him her present, a watch. There is of course the symbolism of a personal gift he can’t find but desperately wants (from his children) and a generic present he doesn’t want or need (from his girlfriend).
(One key thing I’ve learned from Succession is that a watch is a thoughtless gift, like whiskey stones for the 1%. No one wants whiskey stones! This is a narrative pushed on us by dumb gift guides! If you are struggling for a gift idea and contemplating whiskey stones, please email me so I can save you from this nonsense.)
Birthday cards and blankies: Ken spectacularly self-destructs but, in this episode, he had some help. The cheap birthday card with the offer to leave the company (via selling his shares in the holding company to Roman) isn’t just a monetary offer, but it quite literally puts a dollar amount on his father’s love (two billion, give or take a few hundred million). Kendall knows that cashing out will put him outside the family forever, farther than Connor, Ewan, or even his mother Caroline (who has a board seat). It would be the end of his life as a Roy and his father’s son. And what is he without his family? He’s not a good father or a husband or loved sibling or an inventor or a tech guy or even a particularly astute businessman. To his children, Logan is more powerful than freedom, good sense, money, or mental health.
Out of all of the sad situations we’ve seen Ken in, his birthday party felt particularly dark because we knew it was coming. The lead-up has been torturous. It was a tacky and miserable event, a crowded but empty room, loud music and no atmosphere. The Vessel, a building with a macabre real-life reputation, seemed to loom over Ken during this episode, particularly in the final moments on the balcony. In the past, we’ve seen Logan play defense on Ken’s safety: he hired a motorcycle driver for him and he had Plexiglass installed on the balcony at Waystar after Ken got uncomfortably close to the edge a few times. Logan was the invisible hand trying to manage Ken’s moments of despair. Now that he’s disengaged, Naomi Pierce has stepped in. But how long can this cycle of highs and lows go on?