Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo
Culture > Entertainment

“Too Much Birthday”: On The Stress of Birthdays

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at CU Boulder chapter.

In the opening moments of the 27th episode of the acclaimed HBO television series “Succession,” actor Jeremy Strong rehearses a rendition of Billy Joel’s “Honesty.” His character, Kendall, is surrounded by his sometimes girlfriend and the assemblage of employees in charge of executing his lavish 40th birthday party. He’s not necessarily a bad singer, although the solemnity of his demeanor seems out of place. In the silence between his singing, there’s a perceptible air of discomfort. We are meant to be laughing at him, I think.

Kendall Roy is a billionaire, the son of a media conglomerate CEO. Throughout the series, he spends much of his time agonizingly waiting for the moment in which he will ascend to this title. He wears Gucci cashmere sweaters and ricochets in and out of rehab facilities. As he anticipates his extravagant birthday party, we catch glimpses of the underlying currents at play: the political turbulence that permeates every outrageous gift and curated photo op.

Ostensibly, there is little that I can relate to with Kendall’s character.

And yet, there is something tragic and familiar about the trajectory of this episode. 

Succession is framed as both a comedy and tragedy, and this dichotomy is abundantly clear in the season three episode “Too Much Birthday.” The title aptly describes Kendall’s gluttonous descent into a breakdown, like eating one too many slices of cake.

It’s remarkable to witness the insatiability that is perpetuated by the people who have everything. Exorbitant wealth is a staple of “Succession,” the often subtle backdrop of every scene. Men in Brioni suits bicker over billions. Kendall himself is entrenched in these battles, though he yearns for something more. 

There is a great sadness to the episode “Too Much Birthday” and to Kendall himself. An acute awareness that the material things and superficial people Kendall surrounds himself with are unable to satisfy what he truly wants: love, though he’s not sure what that looks like. He attempts to fulfill this through different metrics: approval, success, and even betrayal. It does not save him. 

Over halfway into the episode, the threads of his dissatisfaction splinter open. Kendall, frantically looking for a gift from his children, tears apart decorative boxes and wrapping paper. He sits among the rubble and remarks, “this is so pathetic.” There is something distinctly childlike about the way in which he breaks down, knees drawn to his chest and head bent as he sobs. 

Sad Jeremy Strong GIF by SuccessionHBO - Find & Share on GIPHY

Minutes later, in a characteristically theatrical argument with his siblings, younger brother Roman devolves into violence and shoves Kendall to the floor. Yet again, the interaction is reminiscent of children’s behavior, petulant fights enacted on a public stage. Like a wounded animal, Kendall staggers off. 

I’m not a middle-aged billionaire contending for control of my ailing father’s company. But I can almost understand him. In the closing scene of the episode, Kendall is back at his apartment, lying on his sofa. It’s dark, but the camera lingers on his face. 

I resonated with that moment — the palpable defeat, the acceptance of the day as what it is, without the contrived aspirations. Unlike Kendall, I have less of an idea of what I want. But, like him, I know it won’t be found behind wrapping paper. 

Birthdays are inherently unsatisfying. As my own birthday approaches, I am reminded of this. 

I recall the birthdays of my childhood — buttercream frosting on vanilla cake and a weekend at the bowling alley — and can’t help but think that there was something missing. I couldn’t help but think it should have felt more special, more monumental. When I turned 18, I felt the same as I did at 17. The changes, the real ones, happen so gradually that we can only identify them in hindsight.

I think we have this perception of birthdays as moments of celebration when, more often than not, they’re instead moments of reflection. And when overindulged, it can be nauseating — one too many slices of cake. 

Lily Defnet

CU Boulder '27

Lily Defnet is a contributing writer at the Her Campus of CU Boulder chapter. She writes about modern culture, psychology, and current events. As a freshman at the University of Colorado Boulder, Lily is currently pursuing an English major. She is a two-time participant of the highly competitive Iowa Young Writers Studio, and has interned with Lighthouse Writers Workshop throughout high school. While writing consumes most of her free time, Lily also enjoys reading, doing yoga, and watching reruns of Vanderpump Rules.