For most families, birthdays are an occasion for joy and celebration, not corporate backstabbery and feuding in front of billionaires. But then, the Roys are not your average family.
After Waystar’s inner circle decamped to Virginia to handpick the next Republican presidential candidate, this week’s episode finds them back in New York City for Kendall’s (Jeremy Strong) highly-anticipated (i.e. dreaded) birthday party. With Logan (Brian Cox) not speaking to his eldest son, Shiv (Sarah Snook) and Roman (Kieran Culkin) are sent to the party on a mission to court tech billionaire Lukas Makssen (Alexander Skarsgard in his debut appearance) for an acquisition deal.
The last time the four Roy siblings were gathered in one place was at the annual shareholders conference, where Kendall screamed at his siblings and crashed the stage. In “Too Much Birthday,” it’s not a question of if, but when their reunion will explode into chaos. Let’s get into it.
“Kenfest” On The Horizon
“Too Much Birthday” opens with a massive event space, empty except for a crew of workers, Kendall’s girlfriend, Naomi Pierce (Annabelle Dexter-Jones), and Kendall, slowly raising a microphone to his mouth. That’s never a good sign. Remember when he performed an original rap at his father’s commemoration party back in Season 2?
Mercifully, we are all saved from death by secondhand embarrassment because Kendall is actually a pretty good singer. That doesn’t mean he spares any emotional intensity; where “L to the OG” was deeply mortifying, his run-through of Billy Joel’s “Honesty” mines new depths of Sad Boy irony deserving of its own separate analysis. There’s a huge wooden cross being wheeled behind him, giving a nauseating sneak preview of what is to come at his birthday party later in the day. Naomi looks on with a mixture of pride and discomfort. This does not bode well.
At the office, Tom scrolls through images of prisons while Shiv and Roman gossip about their favorite topics, Kendall and whether or not Logan and his secretary are sleeping together. In the C-suite, they’re shocked to find their father and his inner circle celebrating with champagne. Gerri has good news from the DOJ regarding the cruise ship scandal: for a large payout, they won’t be needing to put any Waystar executives behind bars. Logan proposes a toast to Waystar and “to justice,” as if those two things are at all compatible. “I’ll remember,” he says to Tom in a nod to when he pledged to go to prison for his father-in-law, if it came down to that.
Tom – who has been eerily calm throughout the scene – excuses himself to Greg’s crummy office. Without explanation, he flips over his desk and bounces around the room like he just snorted a mountain of coke before delivering the news with a kiss on Greg’s head. (Cue the sound of a thousand Greg-Tom shippers clacking away on their keyboards).
GoJo is a No-Go
Logan’s celebratory mood evaporates when he learns that tech titan Lukas Makssen has sent his CFO and some other “nobodies” to represent him at a meeting of the two companies. Worse still, he’s playing hooky to attend Kendall’s birthday party.
A furious Logan wants to throw the deal off the table, but Roman and Shiv insist that acquiring GoJo may be Waystar’s last chance at avoiding the “legacy media graveyard.” They offer to tag-team on recruiting Makssen at Kendall’s party, and Logan begrudgingly agrees. Before they leave, he slips Roman an envelope to give to his estranged eldest son.
“Too Much Birthday,” Indeed
Evidently, Kendall hasn’t given up his white boy rapper dreams. The entrance to his decked-out birthday bash is adorned with a giant photo of himself styled after The Notorious B.I.G. under a banner that says “The Notorious Ken: Ready to Die.”
One by one, guests arrive in their tinted SUVs. Tom, who still hasn’t come down from his post-pardon high, tells Shiv, “My senses are heightened, the air smells sweeter, it’s like I can see the poetry in all the little mundane things! … I’m going to get so f–d up.” To which his nonplussed wife responds, “You don’t need my permission.”
Kendall’s party staff, tasked with carrying out his monstrously egomaniacal vision, supplies as much of the episode’s humor as any of the main cast. Guests are supposed to check their bags and coats upon entrance because “Kendall would like his present to be everyone being present.” An actor in vintage nurse getup directs them through a pink inflatable tunnel that is “disgustingly Kendall” while saying, “Congratulations, you’ve just been born into the world of Kendall Roy!” Welcome to Hell.
A Family Reunion
Shiv, Roman and Connor (Alan Ruck) head to the VIP lounge to greet Kendall, who hugs them both. That doesn’t exactly break the ice, especially when Shiv says she didn’t bring a card because she “couldn’t find one that said both ‘happy birthday’ and ‘get well soon.’”
Kendall uncharacteristically takes his siblings’ hurtful jabs in stride; we find out why when he leads them into another room. There, they find themselves in a gallery of blown-up tabloid magazine covers, one for each Roy sibling. There’s “Failed Sibling Dies in Tragic Jerk-Off Accident” for Roman; “Wife of Tom Wambsgans Arrested in Sweep of City Street Walkers” for Shiv; “Connor Roy Elected President (of Sh–ing his Bag)” for Connor; and of course, “Waystar Chairman Kendall Roy Elected President of World Federation” for the birthday boy.
It’s an “f– you” of epically childish proportions that reflects so poorly on Kendall that only Connor seems genuinely bothered by it. (Willa: “Connor’s very close to hitting one percent” at the polls!!)
There’s also a replica Waystar executive suite with a wall of fake fire behind it. It’s getting hard to keep track of the number of cringey Kendall stunts in this episode, let alone Season 3.
Ironically, or perhaps fittingly, that’s where he chooses to open Logan’s birthday card, which simply says “CASH OUT & F– OFF.” The gift is a term sheet ready for him to sign. Naomi isn’t exactly opposed to the idea. Shiv joins in on her older brother’s sandbox antics when she throws a fit about how Logan and Roman left her out of the birthday card.
Shiv and Roman’s plan to court Makssen hits a roadblock when they learn that he’s camped out in Kendall’s treehouse. That’s right, the party contains a super-secret, wristband-access-only lounge modeled after Kendall’s childhood hideout. Between that and the vaginal entry tunnel, the man is a Freudian goldmine.
When Kendall gets wind of their plot to snag Makssen – and realizes he’s the only reason they showed up to the party – he tells his security guards not to let them in.
Meet Lukas Makssen
Inside the treehouse, Kendall kicks it with the elusive and intimidating Lukas Makssen, played by Alexander Skarsgard. He tells the tech mogul to avoid his siblings and buy Waystar, rather than sell to them. But Makssen is a closed book. (“Can I get you anything?” asks Kendall. “Privacy. Pussy. Pasta,” Makssen replies).
Kendall’s agitation ramps up during an awkward meeting with his ex-wife, Rava (Natalie Gold), who tells him his kids made him a birthday card. He takes out his frustration with his siblings and Makssen on her, Connor (who is “souring the vibe” by keeping his coat on) and his staff. “It feels like an asshole’s birthday party and my thing from the very first meeting was that it shouldn’t feel like an asshole’s birthday party,” he complains. No comment.
He also takes out his anger on Greg after he tells him he wants to ask out Kendall’s social media advisor, Comfry (Dasha Nekrasova). “You’re the world’s biggest f–ing parasite. You’re like a human tapeworm,” he says. He doesn’t physically slap Greg, but he doesn’t need to. It’s probably the cruelest any of the Roys have behaved towards their cousin, save for Tom.
Roman Bromances Makssen
Roman muscles his way past security into the treehouse and gets Makssen to give him an audience. Even Roman, famous for his frankness, is surprised when he asks him point-blank: “When will your father die? … His death would clear space, with due respect.”
But Roman steels his nerves and proposes that Makssen would only have to deal with him if they worked together on a deal for Waystar. They seal the deal by having Makssen pee on a cell phone while Waystar’s streaming service loads, very slowly, on the screen.
It’s My Party And I’ll Cry If I Want To
Sobered by how terribly the night is going, Kendall comes to his senses about the ridiculous nature of his party. He calls off his Billy Joel performance and a stunt involving some sort of flying contraption. Comfry is so sick of his erratic behavior that she agrees to go out with Greg.
The downward spiral continues in the gift room, where Kendall’s singular objective is to find the birthday gifts from his kids. He tears the room apart and lashes out at his girlfriend before he collapses in her arms. “I wish I was home,” he sobs.
Roman is on his own mission to drive Shiv crazy. Not only does he refuse to tell her about the meeting with Lukas – he also accuses her of secretly hoping all the Waystar men would go to jail, including her husband. “He is using you as a messenger boy because, as usual, you’re too f–ing dumb to see it,” she retorts.
Kendall shows up and accuses them both of stealing GoJo, then tells them to stop spying on his kids, which Waystar has apparently been doing for some time. Shiv is shocked and “disgusted” to learn this, but Roman already knew. He literally kicks Kendall while he’s down, proving that getting in good with Logan turns you into a monster. After Kendall picks himself off of the floor, he yells at Connor to take his “f–ing coat off.”
Later, Roman leaves his Dad a voicemail to tell him about winning over Makssen: “I’m the only child you’ll ever need.”
At home, Kendall lays with his head on Naomi’s lap, utterly defeated.
It may have been Kendall’s birthday, but Tom wears the crown this week.
“She’s way out of your league, man. It’s like a haunted scarecrow asking out Jackie Onassis. It’s a suicide mission.” – Tom to Greg after he states his plans to ask Comfry out
“I took the wrong drugs in the wrong order and I can’t get happy.” – Tom
Shiv is right to criticize Roman’s abhorrent boasting about handling the Lukas situation, but he does seem to have a knack for currying favor with eccentric billionaires. Think back to the guy he bought a soccer team with, or Mencken from last week. On the other hand, Shiv is infinitely more adept at dealing with tough negotiator types. If only they could find a way to put their daddy issues aside and work together…
This is a mostly Logan-less episode, yet his presence can be felt throughout the entire hour. If I had a dollar for every time a Roy child said “Dad,” I might be able to afford a single share of Waystar stock, if the company ever went public, that is.
Never has the show’s writing and production design meshed as gloriously as they do in this episode. From the tunnel of compliments to the Biggie Smalls-inspired portrait of Kendall, the whole hour is packed with visual gags that poke fun at Kendall’s phony hip leftist public persona.
Skarsgard’s hyper-masculine tech titan Matsson poses an interesting counterpoint to the laid-back, cerebral investor played by Adrien Brody a few episodes back. Fingers crossed that the two will share the screen at some point.
Shiv interrogates Roman about his girlfriend Tabitha (Caitlin FitzGerald), who hasn’t made an appearance all season. Could this mean Tabs is coming back?!