This Barry review contains spoilers.
Barry Season 2 Episode 3
Three episodes into Barry’s second season, I’m still surprised by the show’s firm command over its seemingly disparate tragicomic tone. “Past Equals Present x Future Over Yesterday” is simultaneously the season’s funniest episode while also being its darkest. Between Noho Hank’s dream sequence cold open, the odd couple pairing of Fuches and Detective Loach, and gags like Hank’s unnecessary translator and the Quinceañera store, the laughs flow easily but never distract from Barry’s desperate struggle to distance himself from his violent past.
We already knew Bill Hader was a phenomenal performer before Barry. On SNL, he drew comparisons to Phil Hartman for the way that he shined not only as the anchor of a sketch, but in the utility roles as well. Personally, he’d be a shoe-in for my SNL All-Time All-Star cast. But Barry has proven that Hader can also be just as effective selling dramatic moments. Hader stuns this week in his teary-eyed reconnection with Fuches, his visceral discomfort in portraying Sally’s violent ex, and his uncontainable rage that we see in his flashback to the Korangal Valley and echoed again when he comes face to face with Sally’s ex Sam.
Despite Gene’s needling, Barry does not want to relive his experiences in the war on stage. To Barry, acting was a place where he could leave his past behind him. He doesn’t want to dive into his war stories for a variety of reasons, but mainly because if he honestly talks about his actions as a soldier, they’ll make him appear either grossly unremorseful, or worse, monstrous. Barry can’t tell the class that his first kill didn’t make him sick to his stomach, like his classmates predicted, but instead brought him a sense of purpose and community, the same things that he’s found in Gene’s acting class. He can’t talk about the time that he rescued his friend Albert, because the story likely ends with him being a rage-filled, brutally efficient killing machine. Barry wants to focus on the positives in his life, but Gene, Sally, and in a different arena, Hank all keep trying to get Barry to embrace his “inherent darkness,” a darkness that Barry doesn’t want to acknowledge and is actively running from.
However, it’s hard to run from that violent past when bullets are whizzing past your head in your apartment. After Barry’s failed attempt on Esther’s life makes Hank’s situation with Cristobal and the Burmese worse, he decides that Barry must die. Fortunately for Barry, the Chechen’s are hapless when it comes to the assassination game. Barry quickly turns the table on Hank and his worthless triggerman, but the same mental block that prevented him from taking out Esther keeps him from killing Hank. Instead, Barry suggests a compromise; he’ll train Hank’s men to be skilled hitmen, that way he won’t be asked to kill for Hank again. Hank loves the plan, seeing it as a way to effectively wipe out the Burmese with his own men and get back to a 50/50 agreement with Cristobal (Barry hilariously suggests that Hank could just take over the entire operation himself, but Hank is fixated on his partnership with Cristobal). Barry isn’t able to turn Hank’s “pumpkins into Cinderellas” the first day, but there is one promising young recruit which, along with Gene’s gun with the pearl handle mentioned in the first episode, will surely come into play down the road.
Meanwhile, with Loach’s prodding, Fuches takes another stab at reconnecting with Barry, and it works because Barry is in a particularly vulnerable spot. After watching Sally reconnect with an old friend about her past traumatic experience (never mind that Sally glosses over the fact that her friend’s memory of the past is quite different from her dramatic story), Barry is upset that he has no one left in his life that he can talk to about what he went through as a Marine. It’s a sad moment, especially knowing that Barry is confiding in a man that he cannot, and never really could, trust. With that low point fresh in his mind, Barry returns to the acting class and tries to tidy up his messy war story by putting an inspirational speech straight from Braveheart into the heart of his scene. Director Minkie Spiro ingeniously inserts Gene directly into Barry’s imagined scene, so that the short director is standing directly next to a combat-dressed marine in the Afghani desert while he gives Barry his notes. Snapping back to reality, Barry is asked to sub in as Sally’s ex in her scene, but he can’t handle the violent nature of the part in his current headspace. Sally tries to comfort Barry outside, but Sally’s actual ex-husband Sam then arrives, seemingly setting off the rage that everyone has been trying to access, but Barry has been trying to repress.
“Past Equals Present x Future Over Yesterday” continues Barry’s soul-searching in intense fashion, cutting the heaviness with healthy doses of humor. It’s clear now that the blank-slate that we saw in Season 1 was just a coping mechanism for Barry and that he’s got some serious PTSD and identity issues to sort through. Barry needs someone he can lean on, someone who won’t just revert the conversation back to their own experiences, like Sally, but the only person that he feels like he can really confide in is also trying to nail him for the murder of Detective Moss. It’s increasingly looking like Barry’s trapped in a violent cycle of his own making, and when an animal is trapped, they only become more vicious.
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.