Barry Season 2 Episode 2 Review: The Power of No

Barry's past catches up with him in multiple different ways in a fantastic new episode of HBO's Barry.

Henry Winkler as Gene Cousineau in Barry

This Barry review contains spoilers.

Barry Season 2 Episode 2

Self-absorption drives most of the comedy on Barry. Set in L.A., Barry is surrounded by vapid showbiz hopefuls that either hold themselves in such high regard or are too self-deluded to realize that their Hollywood dreams are too far out of reach. Barry holds a healthy amount of self-delusion as well, except it’s the delusion that his killings and crimes, in particular the crime of killing Detective Moss, do not make him a bad or “evil” person. However, Barry is beginning to have something of an existential crisis, trying to grapple with how his self-perception is at odds with his actions.

After getting the rundown on the Burmese and the religious asylum laws that they’re manipulating, Barry asks Hank, who’s self-involvement comes through in his pursuit of self-help wisdom and wellness tips, whether or not he’s evil. Totally not reading Barry’s tone, Hank confirms that Barry is one of the evilest people he knows. Barry tries to protest that he gets no joy out of killing, but it doesn’t matter. Reliving his first kill in last week’s episode triggered something in Barry. He’s starting to realize that the validation and thrill he felt taking his first lives may not be normal, and he’s seeing how those feelings have led him down the path of becoming a killer, one who doesn’t just kill for hire any more.

To Barry’s discomfort, he returns to the acting class to find that the Gene is using Barry’s display of his trauma as a class-wide exercise, which has turned into a game of “competitive grief,” according to Sally. “What if we made it about ourselves for a change?” Gene hilariously asks without an iota of self-awareness. Gene has an idea that the class will perform the most dramatic moments of their lives for a paying audience, and he intends on Barry’s experiences in Afghanistan being the anchor of the show. Barry resists this, trying to claim that his war experience doesn’t define him, instead asking Gene if he can perform a scene centered on the first time that they met. Barry wants to relive the moment that he found his “true” self, and since Gene is a part of the story and completely narcissistic, he obliges.

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Gene’s navel-gazing eventually brings him back to the memory of his son, and since he’s going through a tough time with the death of Janice, he decides to try to reconnect, but Gene’s adult son is having none of it. Gene’s son rightly accuses Gene’s outreach of being just another thing that’s all about him. A good laugh comes out of Gene trying to explain his absence as a father being a product of being an actor who wants to leave his audience always wanting more, but otherwise, the meet-up causes Gene to have his own existential crisis and reexamine his egocentric nature. Realizing that he’s only allowed Barry to change his story because he’s a part of it, Gene forces Barry to revert back to his war story, to Barry’s chagrin.

Speaking of egocentric nature, Sally cuts class to attend another meeting with her agents, where they’ve assembled a reel of some of the parts that Sally has recently landed. However, seeing the bit parts placed in sequence (one of which featuring Better Call Saul’s Patrick Fabian) shows Sally how little progress she’s actually made in her career. She wants to book something meatier, something more than the just a wife, girlfriend, or secretary role, and when she returns to class, she tries to use this struggle as her dramatic showcase. To everyone else in the class, it just looks like Sally is complaining about parts that they would all love to book. Gene, with very little effort, gets Sally to admit that maybe she’s booking passive roles because she hasn’t dealt with her past being a passive participant in her relationship with an abusive husband. Sally essentially works herself up, saying that she’s moved past that stage of her life, and she even mentions how positive her relationship is with Barry, mentioning that she’ll never again deal with a violent man.

That comment ends up haunting Barry as he goes to carry out the hit on Esther. Between Sally’s comment and the lingering memory of his first kill, Barry can’t pull the trigger on Esther, and instead stumbles into a room full of Burmese mobsters. From Barry’s stealthy entrance, through his almost lethal getaway, the entire scene is a masterclass in suspense by Hiro Murai, recalling his work on the stash house raid last season. Barry narrowly escapes, and when he returns home, wounded, he finds Fuches waiting for him. Needless to say, Barry is not happy to find Fuches and dismisses him quickly despite Fuches’ pressing questions about Detective Moss’ death. Turns out that Fuches is now working as a snitch for Detective Loach, because his only goal is self-preservation at all costs. It’s an interesting new wrinkle in a story that could have been criticized for being too similar to Moss’ pursuit last season.

For many people, the best part about acting is about the opportunity to inhabit someone else’s life and escape your own for a brief period of time, but for the actors on Barry, they’re hindered by their constant self-examination. In Barry’s case, it’s probably good that he’s exploring who he is, because he’s shown a shocking lack of remorse for horrible acts that he’s committed. However, there’s always the possibility that Barry discovers that he actually is some kind of monster, and instead of being repulsed and trying to fix it, he embraces it. That being said, there’s always the potential that the danger coming at Barry from both the Burmese and the police catches up to him first.

Nick Harley is a tortured Cleveland sports fan, thinks Douglas Sirk would have made a killer Batman movie, Spider-Man should be a big-budget HBO series, and Wes Anderson and Paul Thomas Anderson should direct a script written by one another. For more thoughts like these, read Nick’s work here at Den of Geek or follow him on Twitter.

Rating:

4 out of 5