This Barry review contains spoilers.
Barry Season 3 Episode 1
Three years is an eternity in TV time, but that’s how long we’ve been without Barry, Bill Hader’s immaculately produced hitman-turned-actor dramedy for HBO. As with all good things, COVID-19 impacted that show’s production schedule, but allowed Hader and co-creator Alec Berg more time to polish scripts and chart the season’s trajectory. That extra time feels apparent in the Season 3 premiere, “Forgiving Jeff,” (the title of which is stylized in all lower-case as all Barry episodes are) which reestablishes status quo with our returning characters, but also addresses last season’s big cliffhanger.
The last time we saw Barry, Henry Winkler’s Gene Cousineau had been led out into the woods by a vindictive Monroe Fuches (Stephen Root) to the location of the car owned by his slain girlfriend, Detective Janice Moss. Fuches showed Cousineau the body, then revealed that Barry was behind the killing. Barry was able to arrive before the police and frame No-Ho Hank (Anthony Carrigan) and the Chechen Mob for the killing, but Cousineau, Barry’s de facto father figure after his falling out with Fuches, learned the truth.
Barry season 3 doesn’t immediately show us what Cousineau does with that information, but instead allows us to catch up with Barry. Never the picture of perfect mental health, Barry appears to be doing worse than ever. He’s back to working as a hitman, but using unreliable sources like Craigslist and finding that his clients and their targets aren’t as professional as the work he was doing for Fuches and the Chechens. When we find him working on behalf of a jilted husband looking to kill his wife’s lover, he’s barely present, starring dead-eyed, then incredulously when his client “forgives” their mark, Jeff. Having learned a thing or two about loose ends, Barry kills them both in an outburst that could be described as a temper tantrum.
When we catch up with Barry, we find that he’s living with Sally, but he’s no more than a prop in their home. Sally expects Barry to show up and do the things she requires when she asks, and his solemn tone and auto-pilot demeanor does nothing to phase the now working actress. It appears that Sally has leveraged her successful acting showcase, in which she lied about her true lived experience, into a television series and has Barry visit her on set to project the image of the perfect boyfriend, even though she ordered every facet of his “spontaneous visit.”
The show never leans too heavily on the Hollywood satire, but always packs a punch whenever it decides to put Tinseltown in its crosshairs. Sally screens a scene from her series to a clueless executive who asks inane questions, barely comprehends the concept of the scene she’s watching, and uses meaningless jargon to sound smart and insightful. Later, Sally uses similar nonsensical talk when giving notes to a young actress. With Sally, it appears her worst behaviors are learned behaviors that she’s picking up elsewhere. Still, the visit to Sally’s show is funny stuff, and Hader throws in a showy tracking shot to remind us of his serious chops behind the camera.
What’s troubling is that when Barry is listening to Sally’s self-involved, rehearsed “greeting,” he can’t help but envision her with the same bullet wound that he placed into his former client and Jeff. Barry never seemed to struggle with keeping the violence of his day job compartmentalized before, but now it seems like it’s seeping into his personal life in a way that he cannot avoid. It’s a scary development for Barry, who already seems so fragile.
Meanwhile, No-Ho Hank is forced to answer for Barry’s massacre at the monastery last season and the Chechen pin found near Moss’ body that Barry planted. Since he’s the always optimistic, cheery Hank, he appears to be thrilled that he’s finally being questioned by the police and happily pins everything on Fuches, who he claims is a Chechen hitman known as The Raven. The cops buy his story, and Hank returns home where it is revealed that he’s now in an official relationship with Cristobal.
Barry shows up unannounced at their home to ask Hank for a job, almost working himself to tears explaining how he feels lost and without purpose. It’s beautiful acting once again from Hader, but with Cristobal nearby and still smarting from the loss of his men, Hank is unable to help. I must note that it is a pure joy to be reunited with Hank, one of the funniest supporting characters in recent memory. Almost every line that Carrigan delivers gets a chuckle.
Finally, the show circles back to Cousineau, who is brought in to identify Fuches as the man that led him to Janice’s body in the woods. The police inform him that the man is a Chechen known as The Raven, but Cousineau remains steadfast about Barry’ involvement. The police reassure Gene that Barry has been cleared as a suspect, but the old man won’t let it go. He arranges for Barry to meet him at the acting class theater, which has apparently closed due to Gene’s mental state, and tells his former student that he knows that he was responsible for Janice’s death. Unfortunately, Gene fumbles the gun that he pulls on Barry (gifted to Cousineau by Rip Torn, in a funny touch) and Barry is forced to take Cousineau out to the remote site where he killed the two men in the episodes open.
In an inversion of Barry’s last interaction with Janice before he killed her in the season 1 finale, Gene pleads with Barry and promises that he’ll let everything go. Barry knows that he cannot be forgiven so easily, but then comes to some realization in which he claims that he’ll be able to make things up to Cousineau. Finally, the dark cloud and clear mental anguish that has been displayed from Barry’s face for the entirety of the episode is lifted, and with a smile, he asks Gene to get back in the trunk. Barry was looking for a purpose, and it looks like he’s found one.
“Forgiving Jeff” is a packed half-hour that runs the gamut of emotions and effectively catches the audience up after a three-year hiatus. There’s no telling what Barry has planned, or what’s going to happen with Fuches, who’s been living off the grid in the Chechen Mountains, but this series moves with such confidence at every turn that I can rest assured that every reveal will be unexpected yet earned. Barry is clearly going for a darker tone this year, and the titular character’s violent past will be rearing its head more often, but its admirable that the show can still find ways to deliver out-loud laughs. We’ve missed Barry; let’s never go that long without it again.