too much birthday

Should Connor Have Taken Off His Jacket at Kendall’s Party?

Photo: Macall Polay/HBO

Behold, the most vexing etiquette question of our era: Should Connor Roy have taken off his jacket at Kendall’s birthday party?

As Succession fans are well aware, the seventh episode of the show’s third season finds billionaire sadboy Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong) throwing himself a lavish 40th-birthday bash in Manhattan and inviting hundreds of people, including the three siblings who currently despise him because he dared to stand up to Daddy (Brian Cox).

Kendall’s party is an intricately designed Freudian fun house drawing on his biography from birth (represented by, er, a pink tunnel ending in a delivery room) and childhood (a sacred treehouse) to the present (the offices of his father’s company inflamed via electronic projection — Kendall burning it all down?). Among the birthday boy’s obsessive requests is that every guest check their coats at the door, perhaps to encourage them not to stop in briefly and then split, though Kendall never explains his reasoning beyond a fear of coats “ruining the vibe.” (It might be that Kendall wanted to be the only person at the party with a “cool” outer garment, a bedazzled baseball jacket.)

But when Kendall’s eldest brother Connor (Alan Ruck) and his girlfriend Willa (Justine Lupe) arrive with the other Roy siblings, Connor refuses to take off his jacket. He wears it throughout the party, even after Kendall sends an underling to ask him to check it. (Willa intervenes.)

When I put up a Twitter poll about this conflict yesterday, it sparked a lively discussion about what immutable courtesy a host can demand of a guest at a birthday party and whether a guest is obligated to honor it. Can you just say, “No, sorry!” and continue to attend the party? Can the host forbid entry or try to make a refusenik toe the line? Was Kendall out of line? Was Connor? Are they both the asshole in this situation? (As a general principle, every Roy sibling is always the asshole, but we’re talking about the coat specifically.)

There’s some discussion about the cast on Connor’s arm, an injury caused by a jig celebrating the latest polling numbers for his vanity presidential campaign. But Connor doesn’t discuss the jacket in relation to the cast. He simply tells his brother he likes it. When Willa fends off the request to check the jacket, she says only that “my partner is cold.”

For all we know, Connor might also be cold, and he might also be embarrassed about his cast and the injury that caused it — though neither explanation seems entirely persuasive, as Connor is wearing the coat very loosely and it doesn’t hide his cast. The only specific justification he offers is that he doesn’t trust coat checks because he’s been a victim of theft after checking personal items before. However, we’ve seen him at other events, often formal ones, and he’s not wearing an outdoor coat at any of them.

It seems as if Connor’s decision to keep his coat on is mainly a power move. He’ll be damned if he’ll do what his traitorous little brother demands. Likewise, when you get down to it, Kendall’s insistence that Connor remove the coat is also a power move. It’s his party and he wants to set the sartorial terms, just as he sets the terms of entry into the full-size replica of his childhood treehouse: Shiv and Roman aren’t allowed inside. But just as his treehouse edict doesn’t stop Roman from entering it anyway, his “check your coat” edict is ignored by his older brother.

Poll respondents seemed to come down mainly on Kendall’s side, often noting that, once every other detail has been weighed, Kendall should still get his way because it’s his birthday, and the request wasn’t that outrageous to begin with. But others disagreed. There were arguments that it’s poor form for a host to make such demands of guests: People have all sorts of reasons for not wanting to take off certain items, coat check or no coat check, and it’s not as if Kendall asked him to take off his shoes to avoid tracking mud on his personal living-room carpet — it’s a rented space none of them will ever enter again.

I personally side with Kendall. Who cares why he wanted everybody to check their coats? It’s his birthday party. If he’d handed out masks or Mardi Gras beads for guests to put on before entering and his brother refused, would it be any different than refusing to check a coat? Admittedly, Kendall did weaken his case by keeping his own jacket on, but again, he’s the one having the birthday party. If he’d asked every guest to put on a silly hat while keeping his own head bare, would he be the bad guy?

But I’m intrigued by counterarguments that Kendall’s coat-check request was just another manic-depressive attempt to control that which cannot be controlled, from the “all bangers, all the time” playlist that seemingly gets abandoned at a certain point during the evening, to his climactic attempt to find a present from his children. The disappearance of that gift suggests Connor was right not to trust the coat check.

Update, November 30 at 6:10 p.m.: Since the publication of this piece, a secondary debate has emerged as to whether Connor is wearing a coat or a jacket. We might run another poll about this. Or maybe we will run a poll about whether there should be another poll.

Should Connor Have Taken Off His Jacket at Kendall’s Party?