Recap: Barry (S4, Ep3) — Expectations are Flipped in a Tense, Explosive Episode
A recurring idea throughout Barry is that life tends to imitate art, especially in the series’ first two seasons, where the stories told in Gene’s (Henry Winkler) acting class manifested first on the stage, then in reality. Perhaps the most recurring idea throughout Barry, and one that I was particularly interested in last week, is that the characters will always learn the wrong lessons from their experiences and continue to get themselves into more trouble. These two ideas intersect on this week’s Barry when Fuches (Stephen Root), freshly sore from his “friend” and former hitman Barry (Bill Hader) cutting a deal with the FBI without him, watches Rain Man on the prison television and is struck by a revelation.
“That’s us,” he murmurs, and this is what spurs him to try and warn the guards about the hit that’s going down on Barry very soon. Rain Man, if you haven’t seen it, is about Tom Cruise learning that Dustin Hoffman is his secret savant brother and bonding with him. Fuches fashions himself as Cruise and Barry as Hoffman, the poor, inept fool who needs a handsome man such as himself to pick him up and show him the world. But what he doesn’t factor in is that Cruise spent a good part of the movie taking advantage of Hoffman’s abilities. Hoffman had to prove himself useful to begin with for Cruise to care. He wants to think that they’re the brothers at the end of the movie that care about each other, but Barry is too far gone to want that. He just wants to leave and take his ex-girlfriend Sally (Sarah Goldberg) with him.
“I haven’t asked her about it yet,” Barry admits, regarding his plan to go into hiding under witness protection and bring Sally with him after selling the L.A. gangs out. “But I think she’ll be into it. Actually, I know she’ll be into it.”
No one has ever really known what Sally is into—I don’t think even Sally knows what she’s into—but like her ex-boyfriend, she’s easily led by positions of authority. She takes Gene’s suggestion to teach and runs with it, but when she tries to use his tactic of abusing underperforming students until they can perform with strong emotion, all she’s met with is earned disgust.
“Just because it was done to you does not mean you need to do it to us,” one of her students snaps as behind them, the biker she killed at the end of season three sits in the background. Sally has always been haunted and defined by her traumas—her abusive ex-boyfriend, her mother—and has taken Gene’s rather unhealthy suggestion to use it for her acting to heart. It’s how she tries to spin the “Entitled Cunt Girl” incident from season three.
She believes that she can rationalize these negative emotions by turning them into a good performance, the same way Barry believed he could fix himself through acting. Despite the performance she draws out of Kristen (Ellyn Jameson) (and the excellent performance that Goldberg gives here), her students file out in disgust—but Kristen stays. I’d argue the reason Sally goes after her is because she sees the woman she was in her first scene of the series in Kristen, and that’s why we see the same tactic Gene used on her in that scene here. When given the chance to be a good teacher, she rejects it in favor of repeating the same mistake, and her expectations of how it will go over are completely flipped on its head.
Predictably, Gene also can’t stop himself from repeating his mistakes, and now his actions are already delivering consequences. A reporter tries to get an interview out of Barry after talking to Gene (it goes about as well as you’d expect) and unwisely moves on to Gene’s nightmarish accomplice Jim (Robert Wisdom). We don’t see what Jim does to get the reporter to drop the story, but whatever it is leaves him covered in dirt and only able to speak German. (Jim’s naturally terrifying presence is a joke that will always be funny to me.) Panicked that Barry is coming for him after testifying to his involvement in a murder, Gene and his agent do everything in their power to get the story pulled. (By “everything in their power”, I mean “blunder around the reporter’s house after throwing a rock through his window and immediately get caught by his wife.”)
Gene’s storyline this week is rife with Barry’s almost signature physical comedy, starting with a cut from Gene about to tell his agent that he talked to a reporter to a wide shot of the car they’re in crashing and coming full circle when the agent drops Gene off at Jim’s and immediately speeds away, leaving him to fend for himself. The entire sequence in the reporter’s house (most of it takes place off-camera) is a great showcase of comedic sound design, with the exaggerated crashes and distressed pet sounds as the agent blunders around the house selling it perfectly. Jim tells Gene that he needs to be “isolated” (whatever that means), but considering what Barry likely has in mind for him after the events of this episode, maybe that’s for the best.
Because the episode ends with Barry dealing with the FBI only for him to realize that one of their men (played by Fred Armisen, one of two notable cameos in this episode, the other being Guillermo Del Toro) is an assassin sent by Barry’s former criminal friend Hank (Anthony Carrigan) to kill him. Earlier in the episode, their friendship collapses in a very satisfying scene: Barry calls Hank to have a hit arranged on Gene, only for Hank—fed up with the knowledge that Barry is talking to the FBI and that he has done nothing but use him—to finally cut Barry out. Only Fuches is standing by Barry now, and any fan of this show knows how solid that alliance tends to be.
“That guy is here to kill me,” Barry calmly observes regarding Armisen, and that’s when things explode. Literally, because Armisen’s little pen-gun device that he brought to kill Barry explodes and demolishes his hand. The other assassin pokes his gun out of a ceiling vent and the agents in the room are dead in ten seconds, while Barry’s killer instinct kicks in and he shoots the guy out of the ceiling, leaving him to hang limply in the background while Barry gets his bearings in one of the episode’s best shots. Considering the first two episodes were largely devoid of it, I had forgotten just how excellent Barry action scenes can be. Bill Hader’s direction put me right back into it, as usual.
So it seems as though Barry’s prison sentence isn’t going to last as long as it seemed it would. “you’re charming” is an episode all about taking the preconceived expectations both the characters and audience hold and demolishing them, like we see with Fuches and Sally. Considering this is the final season of a crime show where the criminal main character is now in jail, we’d expect at least the majority of the season to take place in that jail. But it seems that Barry is already out. So after an excellent episode of action, thematic progression, and crumbling relationships, Barry has yet again left its audience with no idea what to expect. Whatever happens, it’s probably not going to be good for any of its characters.
This episode of Barry is now available on HBO Max.