With only a few episodes of HBO’s Emmy-winning family drama series remaining, Succession just dropped it’s best, most wild episode of season 3 yet. This time, the focus was largely on Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong), who finds his case against his father, Logan (Brian Cox), and Waystar Royco slowly falling apart as he throws a lavish birthday bash for himself.
And leading up to this point, Kendall feels like he “slayed the dragon once and for all and he freed himself from his father and from his stranglehold over him,” Strong tells ET as he breaks down episode 7. “There’s a freedom and a feeling of being airborne that starts the season.”
But flying high has proved to be more dangerous “than anything that’s happened so far,” Strong warns. And what opens with Kendall earnestly rehearsing “Honesty” by Billy Joel ends with him curled up in an A-Team blanket as he feels more alone than ever. “It starts out being like, ‘This is going to be the pinnacle of his life’ and then it ends at the bottom and at the edge.”
[Warning: Spoilers for Succession season 3, episode 7, “Too Much Birthday,” written by Tony Roche & Georgia Pritchett and directed by Lorene Scafaria.]
While initially it seemed like Logan’s time at the top of Waystar was done, Kendall’s evidence against the company may have been too good to be true. And after the deposition he gave in the previous episode, the Department of Justice revealed that it’s backing down off its investigation and that there will likely be no prison time for anyone on the payroll, most notably Tom Wambsgans (Matthew Macfadyen).
In the meantime, Kendall has shifted his focus onto the details — updates on RSVP list, whether guests can wear jackets, etc. — of what Strong calls “a birthday bonanza to end all birthdays” as he slowly grows increasingly unhinged over the course of the evening. And what really sets him off is the arrival of his siblings, Connor (Alan Ruck), Roman (Kieran Culkin) and Shiv (Sarah Snook), who aren’t actually there to celebrate his birthday.
It turns out they’re all there to make deals of their own, with Shiv and Roman in search of the tech founder and CEO, Lukas Matsson (Alexander Skarsgard), while Connor is focused on his polling position in the presidential race. Elsewhere, cousin Greg’s (Nicholas Braun) main motive at the party is to ask out Kendall’s publicist Comfry (Dasha Nekrasova). (And even Logan gets his message across when Roman delivers a card with an offer to buy him out.)
By the time Kendall’s supposed to perform “Honesty” while nailed to a crucifix that’s suspended in the air as he’s joined on stage by the Tiny Wu-Tang choir, he realizes just how absurd the whole thing is. While Strong says it was a “dream” to sing Billy Joel earlier in the episode, he “agrees with Kendall that [the performance] might’ve been a misfire.”
Once that falls apart, Kendall focuses his anger on finding a gift that his kids made for him. And in that moment, Naomi Pierce (Annabelle Dexter-Jones) attempts to calm him down by giving him a watch, which he finds mundane and sends him on another tirade before he decides to go home.
As he leaves the party, Kendall lashes out at his siblings. But he ends up defeated, when they push back on his grandiose delusions and Roman trips him on his way out.
While they have all taken each other down in the past, this time feels more ruthless than before — and could be the tipping point in their relationship as a family. “That scene just felt very alive to me and was very hard to do,” Strong says, before going on to explain how Kendall really feels in this moment of self-defeat.
“I think if you had asked Kendall if he really cared whether they came to his party, he would have said no. And I think if you had asked me if Kendall really cared, I would have said no. I probably said, ‘I don’t think I’m going to care about this,'” Strong says. “And [creator] Jesse Armstrong, in his infinite wisdom, will usually tell me, ‘Just wait and see what happens.'”
And it turns out, “I actually was gutted by what happened,” the actor reveals. “It meant a lot to him that they were there and it really hurt him to find out that they didn’t really care.”
At the end of the day, the episode was truly meant to be a “disaster” for Kendall, and for everything to fall apart around him. The birthday itself was nothing more than “a wasteland,” Strong says. “In a way, nothing has been more emblematic to me of this whole show than rummaging through a pile of gifts, desperately trying to find something real.”
A huge fan of the episode, the actor says “the writing is so sophisticated. But there’s something about human emotions that are completely unsophisticated and that’s a tightrope that Jesse is able to really understand and to walk.”
Strong concludes, “I thought it was the greatest single piece of writing I’ve ever worked on.”
Want to watch Succession? The series is now streaming on HBO Max and new episodes air Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on HBO. (We may receive an affiliate commission if you subscribe to a service through our links.)