Recap: Barry (S4, Ep4) — Barry’s Absence Stalks an Otherwise Horrific, Excellent Episode
There aren’t many shows out there that can get away with removing its main characters for a full episode, are there? (Really just The Leftovers, now that I think about it. Maybe Atlanta, but, you know, it doesn’t work one hundred percent of the time.) Barry has enough beloved and watchable characters to keep an episode without its titular hitman character moving, but it’s still hard to imagine an episode without him there, no matter how far down the pipeline of insanity he’s gone. But this is, believe it or not, Barry, and Bill Hader has built this show with such confidence that it feels like he can pull off anything. So now we have our Barry-less episode, and it works excellently.
Barry‘s fourth season opened with the other characters trying to reckon with the effect Barry (Bill Hader, who also directs) has had on their lives, and “it takes a psycho” is kind of about this too—but whereas “yikes” wanted to makes us feel bad for these people that have been through far too much, “it takes a psycho” is more about how Barry has really ruined these people’s lives with his influence, unintentional as that may be.
With Barry AWOL, this is without a doubt affable criminal Hank’s (Anthony Carrigan) episode. Last week, he was warned by his Chechen superiors to get rid of the other gangs he’s been doing business with or face the consequences. The scene where he shows the gangsters to the giant sand silo and then drops them into it, leaving them all to suffocate, is already bad enough—but then there’s the fact that Hank’s boyfriend Cristobal (Michael Irby) is with them when it all goes down, albeit by accident. He manages to hold on for a minute, loses his grip, and the camera follows him into the darkness as he goes under. For almost a minute, we listen to Cristobal struggling and trying to get Hank to come save him, and just when he stops, Hank pulls him out and it hard cuts to Cristobal getting hosed down.
Instead of making Cristobal’s near-death experience showy and stylistic, Hader is content to let the audience hear Cristobal’s dying breaths, making it much more effective than if we got to watch the top of the sand and see Hank frantically try to pull him out. Of course, Cristobal isn’t happy that Hank killed their friends, but Hank doesn’t see it that way.
“I think we both got blinded by the idea of a perfect world, but it’s unrealistic,” he sighs, trying to get Cristobal to see things his way. Hank drops some ugly truths in this scene—he’s felt this way ever since he and Cristobal escaped from Bolivia at the end of last season, giving new meaning to when he said he finally understood Barry. When Hank hugs Cristobal goodbye, knowing that he can’t convince him to stay, it’s shot in the same way as when Hank held him at the end of season three. In that instance, he closed his eyes, as though this would be the last time he would entertain Cristobal’s fantasy of all the gangs working in peace, but here, he keeps them open because he’s understood ever since then that yes, that was a fantasy.
So Cristobal goes and Hank shuts the door on him. After a moment, it opens again, and in walks an out-of-focus man with a white shirt similar to what Cristobal was wearing, as though the show is trying to let us have that one last moment of denial—but it’s a Chechen, who shows Hank Cristobal’s dead body before closing the door on any sense of humanity he had left. When Hank said that he understood Barry, I thought he meant he knew what it was like to live in his world of violence—but what he actually meant is that he understood what it was like to survive in that world, to do what, in his eyes, needs to be done. In one way, Hank is right—he and Cristobal would have absolutely been killed if he didn’t kill the other gangs first—but the lack of emotion he displays at the massacre is haunting, and Carrigan sells it perfectly.
Both Gene (Henry Winkler) and Fuches (Stephen Root) are side-linded in “it takes a psycho.” Gene has more to do, while Fuches’s role in this episode is mostly to have the shit get kicked out of him by prison guards on the suspicion that he helped Barry escape—although it doesn’t bode well for him or Barry that his attempt to save Barry’s life only ended in punishment. Gene, unable to keep his mouth shut around the media, is taken to his cabin in the mountains to prevent him from speaking any further, but news of Barry’s escape reaches him and sends him into a panic. When a figure arrives at his door, Gene fires the pistol he brought with him, whimpers out a very funny little “fuck you!”, and scampers away—but it’s just his son, who he spent so long rebuilding his relationship with, now with a bullet in his chest for the crime of bringing his father food.
Neither of these characters have a ton to do here, but there is something to be said about how the mere idea of Barry makes the lives of his two father figures worse. The idea of Barry Berkman hangs over this episode and affects almost everyone—only Hank, who uses Barry’s escape to cover his anxiety about how he has to kill his allies, seems unfazed by it—and even though Sally (Sarah Goldberg) spends most of “it takes a psycho” not knowing about her ex-boyfriend’s escape, she’s more focused on trying to get her student Kristen (Ellyn Jameson) to pull a good performance on the set of her new film.
Despite the darkness and straightforward nature of the episode, there’s a bit of classic Barry Hollywood mockery at play here. Sian Heder, director of Best Picture winner CODA, appears as herself directing “Mega Girls,” an action blockbuster with characters named things like “Kalita” that walk around in clunky-looking breastplates. Hader is aping director Chloé Zhao’s transition from Nomadland to Marvel’s Eternals, which makes me happy, seeing as I like neither of those movies.
When Kristen flubs her line and flees the set in terror, Sally and Heder try to calm her down—but because Sally is Sally and she can’t resist trying to get back in the spotlight and move on from “Untitled Vagina Woman,” her attempt to show Kristen the proper way to read her line quickly turns into her trying to impress Heder, communicated perfectly as Sally steps in front of Kristen to block her from Heder’s vision entirely. It doesn’t work, and Kristen’s agent sees right through the tactic, but at the same time, he offers to hire her as well.
But only then does she finally find out about Barry, and goes back to her apartment to find a horror film’s monster waiting for her. Hader shoots the scenes as though we’re waiting for a jumpscare with a slow pan across her darkened apartment. Sally calls Barry’s name as though she knew he would come for her, and he responds, shambling out of the darkness covered in dirt and blood. It’s worth noting that he emerges from the dark the same way Sally almost went into it near the end of season three, when she had lost almost everything because of her public scandal. But this time someone comes out, because with Hank compromised, Sally is the best person Barry has right now. He begins to ramble about how he just needs to stay there for a little, and Sally cuts him off with a “let’s go.” And for a moment, Barry shifts back into the childish, easily awed man we once knew in the first season and murmurs “really?”
“it takes a psycho” ends in a way that I (and it seems most of the fandom) can’t tell whether it’s real or not. Throughout the series, Barry has had flashbacks or fantasies or both that take place in a vast, featureless, dusty plain, and that is where the final scene of the episode opens. Two boys are fighting and the father of one of them breaks it up, sending the other boy home as he growls like an animal. He storms home to his suburban house that’s so clean and basic that it looks like it’s just been moved in to, and storms off to his room. His parents watch him—they’re Barry and Sally—and after a moment, Barry sighs “I’ll go talk to him.”
Is this real? Did Barry and Sally run away together, despite his past and the vengeful Jim Moss (Robert Wisdom) waiting outside Sally’s apartment? Is this just another delusion, like the one he had of him and Sally dancing earlier in the season? We don’t know yet. Barry may or may not have taken the biggest leap of its entire airtime with this scene, and all we can do is wait and see if it pays off.
This episode of Barry is now available on HBO Max.