Casualties Mount Up On A Disturbing New Episode Of Barry

If you want my advice about the third season of "Barry" on HBO, it's very simple: watch the first two seasons of "Barry" first. There are three reasons. First, the show's first two seasons, like this one, each have eight episodes, all roughly 25-30 minutes, making for a fairly quick binge relative to some shows. Second, "Barry" is an excellent series and worth revisiting. And most importantly: some of the key events of the third season are predicated on aspects of the first two seasons that may not have resonated initially with you, or that you may have forgotten.

Consider the fifth episode of the third season, "crazytimesh*show." The episode opens with a very brief flashback to both Barry's past and the second season. You may recall that Barry Berkman (Bill Hader) was a Marine before he was a hitman, and you may recall that his time in the Marines ended quite poorly: after Albert Nguyen (James Hiroyuki Liao), one of Barry's fellow Marines, was shot in the face, our eponymous hitman went on a murderous rampage in the Korangal Valley, killing an innocent civilian who he inadvertently thought had shot Albert. Now, the second season never definitively clarified if Albert was alive still, but this latest installment quickly confirms that he is. Even more, Albert is walking purposefully through a hallway to introduce himself as an FBI agent, here to help re-open the investigation into the death of Detective Janice Moss. Say it with me here, for Barry's sake: Uh-oh.

While the LAPD chief (who prefers to be called "Big Cat") has fully swallowed the lies of NoHo Hank (Anthony Carrigan) in the season premiere, when he dubbed Monroe Fuches (Stephen Root) a Chechen assassin called "the Raven," Albert quickly shuts him down: "Whoever came up with that is a clown." Albert has also unsurprisingly noticed that Barry was connected to Moss via Gene (Henry Winkler) and his acting class, but the police chief echoes the story that Barry was just a good Samaritan helping his friend. Albert seems to accept that for now, but ... well, it's easy to imagine that the walls are closing in on poor Barry.

Not being noticed

Someone who's having a very good morning is Sally (Sarah Goldberg), who's woken up by her assistant Natalie (D'Arcy Carden) to see that her show "Joplin" is on the front page of its streaming home BanShe. But when they go to a coffee shop, Natalie is livid that "nobody's noticing you." That's not the worst of it, because when Natalie revisits the BanShe home page, "Joplin" is nowhere to be found, having been replaced by something called "The New Medusas." A less deathly, but no less ominous uh-oh for Sally.

Barry, meanwhile, is still none the wiser about things like his old Marine buddy snooping around or the vengeance army from last week's episode. He's also been kicked out by Sally, per the breakup at the end of last week's show. So Barry is returning spiritually to his old acting stomping grounds. Though they've been absent for the first half of the season, we get to meet once more a pair of Barry's fellow acting students, with whom he'll be staying again: Jermaine (Darrell Britt-Gibson) and Nick (Rightor Doyle). It's a big step down for our antihero, especially since they've turned Barry's old room into a workspace hodgepodge.

The so-called "man of the hour" is Gene, who's back on the set of "Laws of Humanity," having inexplicably impressed the producers when he punched Barry on set two weeks ago. That said, since he got clear of Barry last week, began to make good with Joe Mantegna, and got a boatload of money, Gene seems to be living large. He's also aware that he has to make good, so he goes out of his way to apologize to the showrunner for the time when he threw hot tea on him (as a PA on "Murder, She Wrote"). Though the apology is brief, Winkler sells it as well as you'd think as being genuine, and is met with a near-tearful reaction. Things are going well for Gene ... so the other shoe has to drop soon, right? That's how it always is with "Barry."

The next scene is another one that requires your good memory (or the "Previously on" recap). In the first season, Barry's attempts to knock out the Bolivian cartel went poorly, in part because he was saddled with three fellow Marines, including the extremely rash hothead Taylor (Dale Pavinski). Taylor died quite ignominiously, and though Fuches at the time had wished Taylor was killed earlier, he's now using it to his advantage. In the middle of the desert, Fuches is trying to convince Taylor's sister and brothers, all of whom are BMX motorbike riders, to take vengeance. And at first, surprisingly, the sell fails: his sister Tracy is uninterested in taking on Barry. That is, until Fuches says that Barry owes Taylor "$1,700 for a hot tub!" (An important fib that ties to Taylor's weird conviction of putting a hot tub in the desert, which he stated to both Barry and Fuches in season 1.) So that would be three different sets of vengeance soldiers — Taylor's siblings, the mother and son of the man we first saw Barry kill, and the father of the acting student from the series pilot — to watch out for, Barry.

Watch out for the algorithm

You know what people in Hollywood have to watch out for? The algorithm. It's going to get you one way or the other. I'm honestly shocked that Bill Hader hasn't had a ton of streaming work in his filmography, in part because the next scene feels particularly impassioned (and acidic), as if it was ripped from his own experience, if not that of some of the show's writers. Sally is joined by her agent at the BanShe headquarters to meet with Elizabeth Perkins' executive character to learn why "Joplin" is so hard to find on the streaming site's homepage. "We are canceling the show," they're informed. Why? The algorithm. See, the algorithm takes into account things beyond word of mouth, like the presence in new shows of things such as "Central Park, kittens, Dev Patel," and so on. When Sally points out the emotional reaction of the premiere audience in last week's episode, Perkins' character says, "I was one of them...but I guess I was wrong." 

"Why do you bother giving us notes if you're going to let some machine make decisions for you?" Sally nearly shouts. "If there's anything I've learned, it's nobody knows anything ... except the algorithm", she's met with. Then Sally shouts what many fans of shows like "The Baby-Sitters Club" or any number of streaming shows cut down in their prime would want to say: "F**k the algorithm!" Right on. Following her outburst, Natalie visits Sally in the bathroom and admits that watching her work was instructive and inspirational to her. It's obviously exactly what Sally needs to hear, as they embrace. Natalie's sometimes hard to pin down as a character (not because of Carden, but the writing being a little more sparse), but this is a very sweet, effective moment.

"I'm trying to make things right, but that can be very stressful," Barry says, admitting that he "took it out" on Sally, while also trying to make the "it" seem fairly uninteresting. Who's he talking to? NoHo Hank and the recuperated Cristobal (Michael Irby), both of whom are very clearly able to see through Barry's nonsense. Oh, and also: "As much as we love coming home and seeing you here, you can always call ahead." That's Hank's reaction, though. Cristobal is fixated on Barry having "killed all my buddies." NoHo Hank correctly notes that Barry is "a human pressure cooker" because he can't be who he really wants to be. But Barry is lying to himself, because he refuses to even acknowledge he yelled at Sally, calling it "loudly stating" a plea for help. "...Sure," NoHo Hank says, speaking for all of us. Though Hank is quick to acknowledge that Barry can't tell Sally who he really is, he says it's about making a small gesture to her to show her his softer side. Hank says that he and Cristobal thrive on honesty, though Cristobal's less willing to agree with that.

And why should he be? He is, as we learned earlier this season, married to a woman named Elena, with children of his own, facts that Hank clearly does not know. Don't worry, though, he'll know soon enough, I am guessing. Why? Because we see Elena herself arrive via plane on a tarmac in the LA area, met by more of the Bolivians, who explain that they were "out dancing" so they couldn't protect her now-dead father Fernando. Elena's mission is clear: see Cristobal ... after they destroy the Chechen plant shop.

At Plants!, Batir (JB Blanc) is showing his higher-ups in Chechnya about the current plant shop by filming through his iPhone. They're a bit confused at how sparse it all is, so Batir decides to head to a nearby parking garage to film it from a much wider angle. And boy, is it a good thing he does, because just when he arrives at the top of the garage ... well, that's when both the cops and the Bolivians arrive, leading to a wide-angle firefight and a kamikaze bomber, all of which leads to Batir being just about the last man standing and one of his elders dubbing it a "crazy time sh*t show." One has to imagine reinforcements will arrive soon. Hank and Cristobal quickly realize the title of the episode is even truer for them: Hank is called by another Chechen, having just been abducted by the Bolivians, who are on their way presently looking for Hank. As in, literally: Hank escapes into a closet in just enough time to be avoided, but the Bolivians take Cristobal with them, as Elena sees a tender snapshot of the two men — her husband and Hank — and is clearly heartbroken.

Closer to you

Gene continues to be the man of the hour, showing his son Leo (Andrew Leeds) a new house that he wants to buy for him and his grandson, as long as they like it. "I know who I've been, and I need to be closer to you," he says quietly. But while Gene may be getting closer to his son, he's not doing as well with others. Following up on his surprise appearance last week, Joe Mantegna returns as Gene visits his house with a bottle of wine to meet some friends, including art teacher Annie Eisner played by the wonderful Laura San Giacomo. It should not come as a surprise that Gene and Annie have a history, and it's clearly a bad one. But first, we get to very, very briefly hear Mantegna do his Fat Tony voice (thank you, "Barry" writing staff, for that one). Then Gene tries his hand at apologizing again, in a more expanded way than he did earlier. He explains that he took Mantegna's real-life success personally, acted poorly, and is amazed at how the other man is willing to treat him kindly now. "Sometimes you need a gun held to your head to see what's important in this world," Gene says. He then shifts to reveal that his history with Annie was romantic. "I was an a**hole boyfriend," he says. "You're forgetting the part where you ruined my career," Annie says. Though Gene promises he's being genuine, she's not having it and leaves abruptly. Well, Gene, you tried.

Back at the LAPD, they're focused on the important things: the right task-force graphic with a raven image involved. Albert, meanwhile, cuts through the nonsense again, saying that NoHo Hank is lying through his teeth, and that the cops are idiots for not having interrogated any other Chechens. They're stunned into silence as he uses his federal jurisdiction to send some police vehicles to the plant shop, raid it, and bring the Chechens in for questioning. But who knows who they'll find, considering Elena's plans?

Barry, meanwhile, is focused on himself as usual. We see him trudging through a grocery store, stopping in an aisle with stationery and drawing materials, where he apparently gets some kind of inspiration. When he gets home, he needs a little help with the door to his building, provided by Kyle (Alexander MacNicoll), the son of the man he killed at the beginning of the pilot episode. Kyle, understandably, doesn't jump to action, instead heading back to his mother (Annabeth Gish) so they can reconvene on a plan. I wonder again: when is Barry going to get a clue about the forces striving against him? And how will he react?

Freak them out a little bit

What is Barry's plan to reconnect with Sally? What was he going to do with all the art supplies? Well, as we find out, he's back in their old apartment, in part to return his keys (fine) and in part to hand her a visual collage of "what I'm about," including cut-out pictures of Michael Jordan, Willie Nelson, and other cultural figures (...less fine). He's surprised to be greeted by a teary-eyed Sally, who does need a bit of comfort after her bad day, as painful and inexplicable as it was. Barry does his best to offer a shoulder to cry on, and at first, he does it well enough that you almost think he might be getting back into her good graces.

...Almost. When Perkins' executive comes up, Barry asks if Sally knows where she lives. "I would just freak her out a little bit," he says, such as sending her a picture of herself sleeping. "The whole point is to isolate her and make her feel like she's going insane." Like I said: Barry almost was in the clear. Sally reacts the way basically any person would, directly stating that he needs to get away from her right now. It's pretty creepy, especially the part where Barry seems to have no idea that this would be treated as such.

You might think that's as creepy as "crazytimesh*tshow" would get, and you would be wrong. As Barry leaves angrily Sally's apartment, we see that Kyle and his mother are trying to complete their plan. They followed him to her apartment building, and now that he's heading out, they plan to have Kyle ask for directions before his mom is revealed with the gun. But then, out of nowhere, she misfires and shoots Kyle in the stomach, leading her to drive away desperately. Barry, to note, only hears the gunshot and sees the car drive away, pell-mell. But think of it: another dead body (presumably) because of his actions in the past.

Can a person achieve forgiveness? Gene gets closer to it this week, but not close enough. But it's very obvious that between him and Barry, only one of them can ever really get forgiveness because only one of them really deserves it.

As we now are in the back half of the third season of "Barry", it should be noted that this season has been a lot less funny, at least consistently so, but it's been effectively and often unbearably suspenseful. I think of the old adage from Alfred Hitchcock, that a bomb being onscreen is one thing, but having a bomb placed underneath a table with people sitting there unaware that it's below them ... well, that's suspense. And that's this season so far.


  • NoHo Hank facts of the week: he'd make for a decent therapist, and he's not a fan of the "Percy Jackson" books. (I get it, Hank.)

  • Joe Mantegna may say he knows what Gene means when he talks about having a gun held to his head, but ... I mean, I kind of doubt it.

  • To that last point above: ... when and how will Barry realize what Fuches is doing? And who is going to get the closest to making it work? (As much as I expect Barry to die at the end of this series, it feels weird that the entire season would be laying the groundwork so directly.)