In Season 3 of HBO’s Barry, Barry Berkman (Bill Hader) found himself on a journey toward forgiveness. At least, so he thought. In his pursuit to get away from his monotonous life as a hitman, Barry tried to reinvent himself when he joined an acting class. But despite his efforts, the hitman’s life kept calling, leading to Barry’s murder of Detective Janice Moss (Paula Newsome) at the end of Season 1. To repay his acting teacher Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler), Barry attempted to get Gene’s acting career back. But what he failed to realize is that forgiveness does not negate penance. And Barry must do penance.
The final season of Barry begins with a two-episode premiere. “Yikes” and “Bestest Place on the Earth” are not the strongest of the show’s premieres but they do adequately catch us up with everyone. Despite the dire circumstances each of our characters are in, the show has not scaled back on its dark humor, with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments and surreal circumstances. The two episodes partake in dream sequences and hallucinations, giving insight into our character’s mindset. Hader’s sharp direction and clever restraint allow room for these types of scenes without being overbearing or relying too much on them.
“I was with him.”
It’s difficult to see where exactly we’re going after these two episodes. The life Barry wanted is out of reach, and he has yet to realize that. Instead, he spends the two episodes slowly dissolving in front of us. As he continues to reach out to Gene and Sally (Sarah Goldberg), his desperation worsens. His confusion about Gene’s involvement in his arrest is a great testament to Barry’s delusions. On the phone with Gene, clueless of where he went wrong, he becomes a lost kid, asking “are you mad at me?” He pleadingly tells both Gene and Sally that he loves them, but they do not reciprocate that sentiment. Upset about the life he was striving for being disrupted, Barry makes moves to get it back.
A particularly engaging scene comes in Episode 2 when Sally visits him in prison. Concerned about the aftermath of her murder of the biker at the end of Season 3, she asks him if she’s in the clear. Barry’s pleas to her, and Hader’s performance here, is a great distillation of the character. Despite what he’s done throughout the show, he is still our protagonist, and in some sense, we want to root for him. But here, the true version of Barry emerges. As the audience, it’s hard not to pity this character and feel sad for the life he was pursuing. After all, we can relate to wanting to change our life for the better. But just like Barry’s hallucinations and fantasies, that life became out of reach from the moment he killed Janice.
Sally struggles through learning her boyfriend is a serial killer while returning home to Joplin to indifferent parents. Her “I wasn’t with him” / “I was with him” rambling on the phone are one of the best moments of wordplay in the show. Goldberg gets another standout scene for Sally as she has a full-blown panic attack in a drive-through line. But it’s not a single switch for Sally.
When she visits Barry in prison, she quietly admits that she feels safe with him. Still, she refuses to listen to him repeatedly tell her he loves her. It’s that admission that drives Barry’s betrayal of Fuches (Stephen Root).
Hader deploys the same method to showcase the hallucinations and flashbacks as in previous seasons, letting them play out in a desert landscape. They work effectively to show the distance between who Barry was then and who Barry is now, and the corrupting force of nature that is Fuches.
“We have to kill Barry.”
Also in the prison is Fuches. One of the funniest aspects of this development is how it highlights a through-line of Fuches’s incompetence and need for Barry to be reliant on him. The end of Episode 1 provides a great full-circle moment for Fuches’ attempts to get Barry on his side and for Barry to receive the reciprocation of love he wanted from Gene and Sally. The slow push-in on Barry’s face before the blood starts dripping down from his head is another highlight of Hader’s direction.
However, Barry and Fuches’ partnership turns around fast when Barry takes the FBI deal instead of Fuches. Fuches’ love was a consolation prize after being denied by Gene and Sally. Interestingly, Barry’s hallucinations focus on when he first met Fuches as a kid, further emphasizing their current disconnect. This quick back-and-forth undercuts the betrayal, though. Because of Barry’s decreasing mental state, it’s difficult to track his priorities.
Meanwhile, Hank (Anthony Carrigan) and Cristobal (Michael Irby) have retired to Sante Fe. But the life of crime is calling. When an opportunity to get into the sand market presents itself, Cristobal is quick to propose an idea to become the top dog in California again. However, Barry killed all of their buddies so they’re in need of some manpower. Still struggling with the events of his kidnapping and hostage situation at the end of Season 3, Hank reaches out to Barry. Instead, he discovers Barry’s arrest and incarceration and decides to use the sand job as a way to get Barry out of prison.
Sometimes the crime shenanigans of Hank can feel disconnected from the other plots. What really sells Hank’s and Cristobal’s efforts to join forces with two warring mobs is Hank’s emotional attachment to Barry. The Dave and Buster’s scene is a standout, a perfect example of how Hader can take the most boring premises (criminals talking crime) and add something ridiculous to it.
Hank and Cristobal’s constant circling of the table, Hank running back around the table, and the waitress interrupting to ask the table their order just gives this storyline greater flare. But it’s when Cristobal tells Hank he’s soft for caring about Barry when Barry does not care about him that makes their scenes work. When Hank hears from Fuches that Barry is working for the FBI, his “We have to kill Barry” line is gut-wrenching. It’s not the first time he’s said that, but this time he’s sad about it, and probably, definitely, means it.
Gene is seeing some attention for his help in capturing Barry. Despite what he promised Jim Moss (Robert Wisdom), Gene seeks out a reporter in order to give the tell-all about how he captured Barry. This tracks for Gene—last season, he had to be pushed by Jim to set Barry up. The allure of his newly flourishing acting career and stint on Masterclass is clouding Gene’s judgment. Now that Barry is in prison, Gene’s still going to use this to his advantage. So far, this is playing out as a commentary on the media and the public’s fascination and exploitation of true crime cases. This is a perfect and logical next step for Barry to tackle after its many take-downs of Hollywood and the business of television.
For three seasons, Barry has been trying to find himself. In Season 4, finding himself just might mean confronting his true nature. Who knows if forgiveness is even on the table anymore? Is he, as Gene puts it in the Season 4 trailer, truly irredeemable? How many times will Barry tell himself he’s a good person before realizing just what kind of person he’s been? It’s clear that everyone is still running away from the right choice. Everyone, from Barry to Sally to Gene to Fuches, and to Hank is blinded by their own desires, refusing to see the truth of their circumstances. They have six episodes to decide their fate.
Gene does a really bad impression of Barry.
I’m not sure what Hank meant when he said he understands Barry now. But I am looking forward to seeing Hank realize that Barry is not his friend and he never was.
No music on the title card. Things are getting serious (kinda).
“I survived a pack of wild dogs.”
Feature image courtesy of Merrick Morton/HBO
Barry Season 4 airs new episodes on HBO every Sunday at 9 p.m. Central.
Barry Season 4 Premiere - 7/10