Barry Season 2 Episode 4 Review: What?!

It's one step forward and two steps back for Barry in this week's dramatic episode. Read our review!

This Barry review contains spoilers.

Barry Season 2 Episode 4

It’s only fitting that Barry follows up its funniest episode of the season with its most dramatic. This week’s episode “What?!” is almost a humorless affair, barring NoHo Hank continuing his tradition of dropping some serious Looks (Barry is forced to do a double-take after seeing his ensemble) and Gene reminding Barry that he charges extra for “private sessions.” You would think that the lack of belly laughs would be a hindrance to a show that bills itself as a comedy, but Barry is a comedy in the same way that Get Out was labeled a comedy at the Golden Globes. Labels are reductive and meaningless and anyone that’s followed the show this far realizes that Barry’s soul-searching was leading somewhere more personal and dramatic.

After last week’s quasi-cliffhanger left us wondering whether Barry was about to go postal on Sally’s ex-husband Sam, we open to find Barry at dinner with the pair as they exchange pleasantries. Barry seems just as perplexed as the audience. He’s so tightly wound after playing nice with the man that abused his girlfriend that he goes to train the Chechens the next day barely containing his rage, snapping on the young Chechen standout as Hank drones on about his ice cream preferences.

When Barry finally confronts Sally about the discrepancies between how she presents herself in her scene and how she behaved with Sam at dinner, she breaks down. Sally admits that the story that she’s been practicing with Barry never happened. She never stood up to Sam, instead fleeing in the night after years of taking his abuse lying down. Sally’s vulnerability in the scene is the realest we’ve ever seen her be in front of Barry, and her recollection of how she behaved during her time with Sam feels like a true representation of the way abused partners find themselves excusing and compartmentalizing the behavior of their abusers. Sally says she feels guilty presenting herself as the strong woman she’s playing in her scene, but Barry comforts her, telling her there’s no reason why she can’t have her secrets, clearly speaking from experience. Acting allows you to transform into somebody else, and Barry says it’s Sally’s right to transform into the person that she wishes that she was when she was with Sam. After struggling with genuine human connection, Barry handles the situation in a caring, effective manner and it feels like a huge growing moment for both characters.

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However, that growth doesn’t last long. After Barry catches Sam spying on Sally’s rehearsal, he confronts him. Sam isn’t thrilled that Sally is presenting him in such a negative light, and when Barry firmly asks him to leave again, he throws in a gross barb about his sexual history with Sally. That’s enough to return Barry to seething rage mode, and he goes home to retrieve his gun with the intention to find Sam at his hotel and kill him. At the same time, Sam lures Sally to his hotel room that evening with a lie, tries to manipulate her with an old gift and a sob story about his Dad, then begs her to change her scene before getting furious about its inaccuracy. It isn’t physical violence, but it’s enough to realize that Sam truly is an abusive person. Luckily, Sally has the courage not to fold and leaves, but as she opens the door, Barry is standing outside gun in hand waiting to execute the ex. He’s able to dip away before he’s spotted by anyone, but still, the close call and realization that he was about to take another life sends Barry into a complete spiral.

Barry calls Fuches to talk him down, but having a change of heart about rolling on Barry, Fuches cryptically tells Barry that he cannot talk to him and says he’s blocking his phone number. To Barry, it feels like he’s being abandoned by the only person that really knows him, so he resorts to his second option and decides to seek out Mr. Cousineau. It’s here that Barry finally reveals his true backstory; after Albert was shot in the Korangal Valley, Barry went into a rage and brutally murdered an innocent civilian. With Fuches’ help, the situation was swept under the rug and Barry was discharged, but the incident left Barry feeling like “a violent piece of shit” and like he wasn’t deserving of a good life, which led him into his work as a hitman. At first, Gene reacts strongly, urging him never to share that story again, especially not with anyone in the acting class, but then he has a heart to heart with Barry. By relating to his experiences being a dead-beat dad and trying to reconcile with his son, Gene tells Barry that they must believe that human beings can change their nature. It’s a touching scene punctuated by Gene billing Barry, but that doesn’t negate the effect that it has. 

Barry immediately heads out to meet Fuches and finds him trying to escape his hotel room. Barry is so rejuvenated by his talk with Gene that he doesn’t even notice Fuches’ protestations and wide-eyed fear. Barry excitedly talks about his breakthrough like someone who just discovered therapy, but then Loach reveals himself and Barry realizes Fuches’ betrayal. Stunned to silence, Barry watches as Loach tries to process his big moment. Barry urges him not to do anything crazy before Loach launches into a speech about loss. Barry and the audience assume he’s talking about Moss, but everyone is shocked to learn that Loach is really talking about his ex-wife. It turns out that Loach wants Barry to kill his ex-wife’s new lover, Ronnie Brockson, and in exchange, the whole Moss situation will go away. It’s a shocking left turn, but all of the Loach material has been leading to it, so it feels satisfying and not far-fetched, a perfect example of the Barry writing team writing themselves into a corner and finding a clever way to get out of it.

Barry’s poignant moments with Sally and Gene, plus the dramatic ending, make this episode an emotional rollercoaster. It doesn’t matter if the laughs are few and far between, Barry has made us care about these characters and their personal journeys and is finally starting to show Barry, Sally, and Gene grow and evolve. Obviously being blackmailed to kill will likely be a setback for Barry, but we’ll feel the frustration of that situation more deeply now that we’ve seen him make serious strides to better himself.

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.