On ‘Succession,’ Kendall Roy is the face of billionaire loneliness

A nightmare birthday blowout reveals the limits of what money can buy.

Photograph by Macall B. Polay/HBO
Originally Published: 

Loneliness for the wealthy is typically the result of lacking what money can’t buy. In the latest episode of Succession, the obscenely rich Roy family finally shows us what loneliness looks like among billionaires, and the face of that is none other than Kendall Roy.

In Sunday’s episode, for his 40th birthday party, Kendall turned his messiah complex into “the world of Kendall,” where he gathered whichever celebrities were willing to attend his fuckboy playland. Though he’s currently the bane of his family company’s existence after a press conference that called out his father for a history of misconduct on the company’s cruises, seeing his siblings attend the party sparks a flicker of joy from his usual cold, catatonic gaze. For Kendall, it was another sign of familial connection superseding business quarrels. But that satisfaction was short-lived when he realized that his party was just an end to another business means for Shiv, Roman, and their father.

After his father used a birthday card as a trojan horse to offer Kendall the opportunity to “cash out and fuck off” with a $2 billion divestment proposal, Kendall learns the only reason Shiv and Roman are at his party is to close a deal. His girlfriend gifts him a meaningless Rolex (and offers a consolation blowjob) after she tries to convince him to take the payout. To deepen the chasm he has with the people closest to him, he learns that his family’s company has been surveilling his children, whose birthday gift for him was lost among a pile of other trinkets from relative strangers who could care less about him seeing another year above ground. By the end of the episode, he’s attempting to control who Greg dates to gain a semblance of power, abandoning his part-crucifixion part-Billy Joel cover performance (along with a “little Wu-Tang” cover group), and ending the night dejectedly laying on the lap of a girlfriend who he’s largely close to because of a mutual drug addiction. The snapshot of his face during that scene is an unequivocal symbol of utter loneliness on a show where even the most despicable have their tribe.

The siblings of Succession were raised in Logan Roy’s empire, perched above the human decency and self-awareness of the average American. Paternal affection was deprived, and manipulation was encouraged. Whether out of business pragmatism or shared trauma, the Roys stick together, regardless of how wrong or destitute their family member may be. When Kendall’s involvement in the death of a waiter is uncovered by police at the end of the first season, his father protected him from prison, after certain business assurances were promised. When Logan gathered all the major players in Waystar to a company cruise from hell at the end of the season in order to decide who would take the fall for the company’s illegal transgression, Roman, Shiv, and Kendall were able to share in poolside banter about expressing feelings, albeit at the expense deepening Roman’s emotional repression further. Even in this season, as Kendall wars with his siblings, Roman still made sure to reach out to Kendall when he discovered their mom was remarrying without their knowledge, even though he presented it as a way to remind Kendall their mother doesn’t love him.

Even if they constantly stabbed each other in the back, they still kept each other close enough to do so, in a perverse sense of familial bond. The last time we saw Kendall this shellshocked was when he sheepishly bunkered in the control room of a late-night talk show after his sister aired his dirty laundry for the world to see. In these moments, it’s clear that whenever Roman makes an incestuous joke about him, or Shiv tries to intellectually cut him down to size, Kendall would smile because of the silent understanding: these are the only people who could speak to him like this, because these they’re the only ones who are always there for him.

With two episodes left in the third season of Succession, Kendall is finally learning he’s run out of goodwill with his morally bankrupt family and loved ones. He has everything in the world, yet nothing that actually matters to him.