Barry Defies Death Once More In The Thrilling Third-Season Finale

If you know the HBO series "Barry," you know the significance of the title of its third-season finale, "starting now." That's the two-word phrase that hitman Barry Berkman (Bill Hader) used a few times in the first-season finale, when he continually was promising to leave his violent past behind in favor of a calmer, happier one as an actor in Los Angeles. But as much as he can keep trying to bury his past, he can't really fight it. He said he was doing with his past life "starting now" right after he brutally killed Detective Janice Moss (Paula Newsome), who had figured out who Barry really was and was not going to go quietly about it. And even in death, she's not going quietly. Janice's father Jim (Robert Wisdom) is on his tail going into the finale, as is an old Marine buddy of his (James Hiroyuki Liao), FBI Agent Albert Nguyen. So ... let's all take a deep breath, and dive into the finale.

We begin back on the beach, with Barry. It's the same beach where he dreamt himself to be in last week's episode, surrounded by all those he'd killed. And this time, he notices two more people: Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler) and Sally (Sarah Goldberg). I think we can upgrade the "Uh-oh" I usually like to type here to "Oh s**t." For now, at least, it's a dream, much like Barry imagining bullet holes in their heads in the premiere was. Barry wakes up quickly in the hospital where he was brought the previous night, sees that the area around his room is empty, and discharges himself. He heads back to his shared apartment, only to find that Nick and Jermaine, his old acting buddies have "gone to Tijuana" to try out their hopeless act. But someone is there, Barry can tell. He's prepared as he bursts into his room, only to find Sally, who calmly tells him she needs him to pull his mind-freak tricks he mentioned in a previous episode. No, not on Diane, the BanShee exec who canceled "Joplin." On Natalie (D'Arcy Carden), who Sally believes stole her idea and now her presumably deserved fame. Oh boy.

After the opening credits (over which we hear some random football game announcing, and oh boy, do we need to put a pin in that), we can all take a breath as we return to the real-world version of Gene, who's sitting with Annie (Laura San Giacomo), his agent Tom (Fred Melamed), and the streaming executive (Phil Reeves) from last week's episode. Things went so well with his master class that they'd like him to do a version of Thornton Wilder's "Our Town," but Gene has a better idea than just filming it to go into movie theaters: they should have young actors audition for and star in Annie's play from years past that never got made. The breath that we all took? Well, hold it in, because Gene notices that he's getting a call from Jim Moss, and he's shrewd enough to know he can't let this one go to voicemail. Upon taking the call privately, Jim calmly and firmly tells Gene that they need to talk. There's something Jim needs to show Gene about Janice at his house. And if Gene is busy later, then he should just come over now. Uh oh.

Fuches (Stephen Root), meanwhile, is still in interrogation at the LAPD, now facing Detective Mae Dunn (Sarah Burns). She asks him if the Chechen pin that NoHo Hank (Anthony Carrigan) used to frame him is his, and Fuches wisely demands a lawyer. Mae, meanwhile, notes that it seems odd they haven't heard from Albert since he left abruptly. Indeed it is, Mae! Fuches, meanwhile, is now being sent to prison (and I will spoil you all here to note that we will not see Fuches again this episode), fully embracing his goofy moniker as The Raven to a bewildered and dismissive officer.

Gene, meanwhile, has arrived at Jim's house, ushered into his garage that's empty except for two chairs. In a scene that I feel is more than a little reminiscent of the first processing scene from Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master", Jim begins a fierce and disturbingly repetitive interrogation of Gene. He honestly doesn't say a whole lot more than ask Gene if the acting teacher loved Janice (which we all know he did), to remind Gene of his daughter's name, and then ask two more pointed questions: does Gene love Barry, and if not, why is he covering for him? The scene plays out in one long shot (courtesy of Hader, who directs and co-writes the episode with co-creator Alec Berg), as the camera eventually zooms in on Gene's face in profile before Jim then pushes his own face into the frame, nose to nose with Gene. "Why are you protecting Barry Berkman?!?" Jim shouts, eventually breaking Gene down into tears and perhaps more, as the scene fades back into Barry's apartment. This is a very intense moment, in part because we all know in the audience that Gene, for whatever his past flaws, has turned a corner and is a good-hearted man, and that Jim Moss — as angry as he is — should shift his anger to the man who killed his daughter. All that said, this is just a master class — in a way an inversion of Gene's own acting techniques — from both Winkler and Wisdom.

Not dead yet

Anyway. To Barry and Sally, the latter of whom has helpfully made a map of Natalie's house — creepy! — and is showing Barry the video that Natalie filmed of her yelling in the elevator. Barry, for his part, seems shocked at Sally's outburst and is surprisingly very against the idea of even mildly freaking Natalie out. He, for his many extreme faults, is a bit more self-aware now. "I know where I'm going after all this. After I die. I don't want you to go to the same place," Barry says, in what I choose to believe is a not-very-veiled reference to Carden's great work on "The Good Place." But y'know what, let's hold off on the argument. Why? Well, it turns out that one of the motorbike gang from "710N" is very much alive, has returned to Barry's apartment, and is ready to do some fatal damage. After knocking Barry out, he begins strangling Sally in an extremely vicious and lengthy fight sequence that appears about to culminate with Sally's death...until she shocks her attacker (and come on, you too) by stabbing him in the side of the head with a knife she had on her. 

Hader and Berg's script is appropriately black-comic here, as the motorbiker isn't fully dead yet, though Sally proceeds to beat the crap out of him with a metal baseball bat, until Barry wakes up, aghast at her behavior, and pulls her back. She's understandably still shocked and traumatized, but Barry is ready and willing to take the hit: "I did this, OK? I did this. Who did this? I did this." It's a small point in his favor, but yes, better than you take the fall than Sally. Sarah Goldberg, too, is acting like crazy in this sequence, in a fight that's one-side until it's not and at least ends with a couple of encouraging things. First, Sally's not dead! I like Sally as a character (not just because Goldberg's excellent in the role), and that leads to the second thing I'm glad appears to have happened here — Sally's bloodlust for revenge is quelled. Even if it wasn't, scaring Natalie is no longer a big concern of hers. I would not have wanted this to go any further, and clearly being in this battle to death is more than enough for a character who's gotten darker as the season progressed.

Speaking of characters whose fates have gotten darker as the season progressed, let's talk about NoHo Hank, who is still stuck in a makeshift prison cell in Bolivia after trying to find his lover Cristobal (Michael Irby). NoHo Hank is still in a room by himself, handcuffed to a radiator and trying to figure a way out of his predicament. His fellow Chechens in the other room have made actual progress, with one of them breaking out of their handcuffs. But before they can give Hank a tip, we hear some guards enter the next room, and instead of just beating the Chechens up for daring to break out, they...well, technically we don't see what the guards do, but thanks to some A+ sound effects, we hear a very loud, a very angry, and a very fierce animal enter the room and maul them to death. It's terrifying enough for Hank to hear, but one of the guards throws up, his vomit seeping into Hank's room (gross). The animal's feast continues and is so vicious that it begins attacking the wall adjacent to Hank, implying that it's going to break the wall down. So Hank takes action, finally, trying to yank the handcuffs off the radiator with all his might. And amazingly, after much exertion, the gambit works: the handcuffs are severed from the radiator! But one of the guards immediately enters, leading to a brief bit of combat in which Hank knocks the guard out, takes his machine gun, and fires wildly into the other room...and somehow, by divine or warped providence, he appears to kill the offscreen animal. 

But then (because it's never just one thing on "Barry"), Hank notices the lights above him flickering on and off. He heads upstairs, only to realize he was in the basement of the Bolivian mansion of Cristobal's wife Elena. He walks slowly down a long hallway, approaching a shirtless man writhing in profile in front of him (but somehow not noticing Hank). We eventually realize that the man is in league with Elena, dancing to some pulsating music while Cristobal — tied up to some kind of electrical apparatus — is getting some pulsating electricity jolting through him. (I will note here that Elena's dialogue was unsubtitled on HBO Max as I watched live.) Eventually, Elena realizes Cristobal's all but close to unconsciousness, pulling him out of his torture gear and trying to tantalize him sexually with her body. But it's too late for Elena: Hank shoots her and the shirtless man dead. Hank approaches the still-dazed, barely alive Cristobal, and lovingly pulls him into an embrace, before Cristobal lets out a deep sigh, closing his eyes. Now, in fairness' sake, I will note: the scene fades out at this point, and we will not be visiting Hank again this season. Yet his wide-eyed look at the end of the shot implies ... Cristobal's dead, yes? It would be heartbreaking if so, but if they live happily ever after (even for now), that would honestly surprise me more. Technically an ambiguous ending, but I think only so ambiguous.

Moving on. We're back where we started in season three, in the middle of a vast and desolate forest, where Barry is digging up yet another grave, this time for the motorbike rider. After kicking the wrapped-up body of the man into the makeshift grave, Barry hears someone shouting his last name. It's Albert, who Barry is reasonably shocked to see, here of all places. "What are you doin', Berkman?" Albert asks him pointedly. "How much you get for that a**hole over there?" And then he sticks the knife in deeper: "How much you get for Chris?" Barry, laid low by so much from this season, stumbles to his knees and is unable to answer any of Albert's questions. We, of course, know the answer to things like "Why Chris?" We know Barry wasn't paid to kill Chris, a younger man who looked up to Barry. Albert doesn't, though, and he's as angry as anyone ought to be. When Albert finally loses his patience with Barry's hyperventilating, but silent response, he draws his gun only for Barry to crumble into a mix of heartrending sobs and screams. 

This seems to rouse Albert out of his fury, as he reveals a key point of information: "I got a daughter, her name is Elsie. She's 8 years old. She wouldn't be here if you hadn't saved my life." Albert deems Barry "not evil", which ... I think the jury's out on that one, man. Albert demands that "this has to stop...starting now." Now, there's a lot going on with this scene. First, the obvious, is that Bill Hader has earned so much trust as a performer, through shows like this and "Saturday Night Live" that he can play a scene like this without saying a word. James Hiroyuki Liao is excellent, too, as he ranges from fury to sadness quickly. There's also the more notable inversion of the season's opening scene, in which Barry yelled that there was no forgiving a man he was ordered to kill. Yet here Albert is, admittedly without knowing a lot of the pertinent facts, and coming very close to forgiving Barry. As long as ... y'know, as long as he stops doing what he's done in the past.

...starting now

Is that so easy, though? We know it's not for Barry, who has yet to wrap up all the loose ends. We next see him that night, driving home and telling Sally that she can "pick a place" for the two of them to go because he still does love her. But what Barry doesn't know is that Sally is one step ahead of him. She's already picked a place: her home of Joplin, Missouri. When she hangs up the phone, we see that she's about to board a plane there by herself. Good for you, Sally. Get far away from Barry.

It's especially good that she's gotten away from Barry, who is called now by Jim Moss, who tells him that he needs to go to Jim's home to talk about Janice. He needs to do it right now. Barry gets off the phone quick, calling Gene, who is sitting despondently on a residential street. "He's gonna ruin me," Gene says quietly. "I don't know what else to do." And he's got a pistol (hopefully not the one from the start of the season, Gene) sitting next to him. Barry goes on the move, driving as quickly as possible to Gene's location — I presume by using some kind of GPS app? — and pulls up. It turns out that Gene is sitting outside of Jim Moss' house. Barry is furious to see that Gene has a gun, and that he's right across from Jim's house. "You don't know what this man is capable of," Gene says desperately. No matter how many times he warns Barry not to go inside, Barry ignores his warnings. "He knows everything, Barry. He knows you killed Janice." It is worth noting here that Gene is extremely, extremely convincing.

Barry chooses to forego entering through the front door, instead sneaking into the side of the house and stalking Jim as he listens to the football game we heard at the outset of the episode. He's got his gun ready as Jim turns his back to Barry, making himself a drink. Barry wastes little time, walking straight up to Jim, gun pointed...and then he hears it. "Drop the f**king gun!" Barry is literally surrounded by a group of black-clad LAPD officers. And who's behind them? Well, that would be Gene Cousineau, now looking very determined and angry. Yes, friends, it's true: Barry Berkman is going to jail for the murder of Detective Janice Moss, and it's because Gene — who gives Barry a satisfied little smile as the hitman is dragged away — was able to lure Barry to Jim's house. In the last, excellently framed shot, we see Jim and Gene nod at each other after Detective Dunn gives Jim a little embrace. And then the cops drive away.

And that's season three of "Barry". So, first of all, what a hell of a season finale. "starting now" brings back that phrase, just as its presence here implies. And just as that phrase implied before, there is no "starting now" for Barry. He's already too far gone, even though we can see glimmers of a good person, or glimmers of a person who knows the right and wrong thing to do in a given moment. It is a good thing that Gene was able to get his own modicum of revenge against Barry, just as it is a good thing that Sally has chosen to go back home and get her head on right. The episode is as effectively directed as anything else this season, and further makes clear that Bill Hader directing every episode of season four is a great tease indeed. He's an arguably more confident director than ever before, and I cannot wait to see what he comes up with.

That said: my big question as we leave the third season of "Barry," as mostly excellent as it was (and I'll get to the few quibbles below) is this: how much more of this show can there be? One presumes that Barry and Fuches are going to reconnect in some way in season four, since they'll both be in jail under the guise of the LAPD? But what is the next step for Barry as a character? Leave aside whether or not he's going to survive the series. I maintain that he should not. But even if he does, what's his next step? Barry's under arrest for killing a cop, and there's a lot more evidence against him now than ever before. What happens next? I'm excited to find out, even though I wonder if Hader and Berg have written themselves into the hardest corner yet.


— I always appreciate being able to know how much time it takes to get from one place to another, so I like how Jim thinks, even considering traffic).

— Annie's play is called "Chromef**k Number Nine." But do I have to see the first eight?

— I leave the quibbles here (in part because after the bit about Annie's play, there's not much in terms of straight-up jokes here, nor should there be). I love Anthony Carrigan's performance as NoHo Hank, but if anything felt like it got shunted to the wayside this season, it's NoHo Hank's storyline. Presumably, there's not much of a Chechen mob left, certainly not in L.A. And again, Cristobal...sure seemed to be on death's door, if not actually dead. So what happens with Hank next season? I hope he gets more to do, if nothing else.

— In the same vein as wondering about Hank, what else will we get — if anything — from Gene or Sally? They both have every reason to be as far away from Barry, literally or figuratively, as possible now. Is this their goodbye? If so, it's a fine swan song, but I will miss them.

— I hope you enjoyed these recaps, friends. At the very least, I hope you enjoyed this season. Now I can enjoy not having my blood pressure spike every week. This show's tense!