It was only when I finished “a nice meal” that I realized how relentlessly dark the past few episodes of Barry have been. You’d think it’d be during the period when Barry (Bill Hader) was in prison where the show would get super serious, but those three episodes were a riot compared to episodes four, five and six. It feels so strange to watch this episode and be consistently laughing at it, but before what will likely be a bloody series finale, we’ve been blessed with a penultimate episode stuffed with classic Barry humor.
“a nice meal” is all about setting up Barry‘s final showdown, and it does so through a series of very funny scenes. Barry spends most of this episode stumbling around Jim Moss’s (Robert Wisdom) house after being captured by him last week, leaving most of the focus on the escalating war between Hank (Anthony Carrigan) and Fuches (Stephen Root). After Fuches unintentionally provoked Hank by bringing up his murdered boyfriend Cristobal last episode (this clearly weighs heavily on Hank, we first see him staring blankly at Cristobal’s memorial statue), Hank is all-in on taking him out.
He hires the “Four Ultimate Badass Killers” (“FUBKs” for short), who are given almost a minute of introduction to illustrate their bloody, awesome backstories. They’re sent to wipe out Fuches, and the next time we see them, their heads are sitting in separate boxes on Hank’s desk. (“It’s their heads,” Hank immediately concludes. “We don’t know that yet,” his assistant reminds him. Hank goes to his desk and opens a box: “It’s a head.”) This kind of joke is one that Barry has always excelled at—setting expectations and completely cutting them short.
The joke of Fuches’s new hyper-competence continues to deliver in spades, and while we don’t see him and his men using their “blood artist” skills to cut the FUBKs’ heads off, we do get to see his awkward conversation with his wife and stepdaughter about how he can’t cut FUBKs’ heads off in front of them anymore. This is another great Barry joke that I’ve been sorely missing, the type where a serious conversation manages to devolve into debates about pop culture. It comes to a head when Hank is dumb enough to think he can take out Fuches and his army with one guy and a rocket. After a pretty embarrassing miss, Fuches’s men are on them in seconds and Hank is forced to roll down a hill to escape. The entire sequence is done in one take, and it slots perfectly into Barry‘s neat little collection of “exceptionally well-shot comedic action scenes.”
Gene (Henry Winkler) gets his own funny story this week as well. I fell for his determination to not let the biopic about how Barry killed his girlfriend be made—Winkler even changed the way Gene spoke his lines, replacing his desperation for more attention with a lofty, moral tone that made him seem like a different person. But the instant an agent calls Gene claiming Daniel Day-Lewis is coming out of retirement to play him in the biopic, that hungry inflection snakes back into Gene’s voice.
It gets worse when he meets with the agent and learns that Mark Wahlberg apparently wants to play Barry, but he won’t do it if Barry is the villain of the story. Gene goes on and on about how Barry is actually a “sympathetic soul” and that the movie would be “a great way to get Janice’s story out there,” which is the reason he didn’t want the movie to be made in the first place. It’s all a setup to implicate Gene—Moss, his son, and the district attorney who was trying to help him now all believe he’s a criminal mastermind who had Barry kill his girlfriend and has been in league since the series began. It’s ludicrous to anyone who’s seen the series—Gene would never be competent enough to plan that all out—but now, because he couldn’t stay a decent person, he’s finally suffering consequences for all of his sins over the years, even if they’re not for something he actually did.
Barry’s wife Sally (Sarah Goldberg), tired of waiting around for him to kill Gene and come home, goes to L.A. to find him herself, and her storyline is probably the episode’s most disturbing. She calls Gene (“You’re alive?” she immediately asks when he picks up) and they arrange to meet outside his house after he meets with the agent, which, of course, he never returns from. Her son John (Zachary Golinger) asks her what comes after Barry catches Gene and “talks” with him, and she immediately says that they’ll “keep doing what we’re doing.” It’s the realization that she’s going to back to the life she hates so much that causes her to approach a police officer and consider turning herself in. But before she can, the officer turns around and it’s the man who she killed at the end of season three—an image that’s been haunting her throughout the season—and so she says nothing. By the time he leaves, Hank’s men have arrived to get Gene and instead leave with her and John.
Barry spends most of this episode passed out from blood loss (he slices his hand pretty badly after busting the lock on Moss’s garage door with a knife) and only wakes up because his phone rings in the episode’s final scene. It’s Hank, calling from Sally’s phone—he’s desperate to get Fuches off his back, and the one thing Fuches wants is Barry, so he demands Barry meet with him lest he kill his family.
“a nice meal” is not an episode that’s super heavy on themes, which may seem odd for the penultimate episode of a season that has prioritized exploration over action. But in a meta sense, it almost feels like it’s going back to the show’s action comedy roots to get Barry back in that murderously angry mindset that he’s clearly been suppressing for eight years. The final shot is him gripping Moss’s mantle after getting the call, seething with that familiar animal rage, and that, more than anything else, may be the best image of its title character that Barry has ever given us. There’s only one episode left, and maybe Barry won’t revert to that state that has left so much death in its wake—but I think we all know what’s going to happen.
This episode of Barry is now available on Max.