Tonight marks the penultimate episode of the third season of the excellent HBO black comedy “Barry,” and last week’s installment made it genuinely impossible to envision how this show gets to its already-renewed fourth season. You may recall that Barry Berkman (Bill Hader) leaped out of the frying pan — in the form of a trio of dirt bikers trying to kill him as part of a twisted vengeance-army plot hatched by Barry’s old frenemy Fuches (Stephen Root) — only to unknowingly arrive in the fire — in the form of being poisoned in the home of the widow of his old military buddy (who he killed in season one). But with the father of Detective Janice Moss looking to meet Barry himself, we know the question isn’t if Barry will survive the poisoning. It’s how.
Compared to last week’s pyrotechnics, “candy asses” starts in a more low-key fashion, in a full church congregation, where only one man — Ryan Madison’s dad George Krempf (Michael Bofshever), the man grieving his actor son who Barry killed in the series’ pilot episode — is unable to sit down when a hymn ends. Hmm. But then we cut back to Barry foaming at the mouth after eating a beignet he himself had purchased, but one that was poisoned by Sharon (Karen David). Though Sharon seems a little less at ease now, she’s able to drape a cloth over Barry’s face as he seemingly stops breathing. But he can’t be dead. Not yet. Right?
After the silent opening title card, we see Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler) beginning to deliver his first streaming master-class video, as his agent Tom (Fred Melamed) teased in a previous episode. As was teased in a previous episode, too, Gene is being directed by his old flame Annie (Laura San Giacomo), who seems a bit less impressed than he is at the laughs gained by a very chintzy-looking taxi prop during Gene’s monologue, in which he jumps from one poor actorly impersonation to another, from Pacino in “Serpico” to Hoffman in “Midnight Cowboy”. “Hey, I’m actin’ here!” Oof, Gene.
The next morning, Barry inexplicably wakes up, coughing, somehow not killed by the poisoned beignet. Understandably confused, Barry wakes up, exits Sharon’s house, still in pain and able to shout a profanity or two (though don’t get used to Hader speaking — he’s mostly silent in this episode) only to find that the waves of the ocean are lapping through the residential area where he’s in. And soon enough, Barry is on an endless beach, with a group of folks not too far from him staring into said ocean. So … uh … definitely not a dream.
Getting A Little Entitled
Sally Reed (Sarah Goldberg), meanwhile, is finding some hard transitions in her first day in the writers’ room for the BanShe streaming show “The New Medusas”. The head writer seems initially unwilling to hear Sally’s calmly pointed feedback about how one of the heroines’ actions — “sucking and then eating” off some guy’s genitals — doesn’t actually track with the rest of the plotline. But even though the feedback does get through, Sally is unable to take the win, especially when she notices another, more rowdy writers’ room that’s being led by none other than her old acting-school colleague and ex-assistant Natalie (D’Arcy Carden). It’s not enough that Natalie is now where Sally was at the start of the season, heading up her own show and belittling an assistant of her own. Natalie’s show, where she plays a single mom with a teenage daughter trying to figure things out in New York City, seems so close to “Joplin” that Sally is overcome by a fit of rage much like that of her ex Barry, inspiring her to emergency-stop an elevator and shout in fury at Natalie for being “an entitled f**king c**t!” It’s unnerving how quickly Sally is able to turn on her anger, even if it is indeed shocking to find Natalie moving up so quickly in the world.
NoHo Hank (Anthony Carrigan), meanwhile, has headed down South to Bolivia to find his lover Cristobal (Michael Irby), simply by shouting Cristobal’s name in the middle of a crowded marketplace. He approaches a random street vendor, only to realize that this street vendor works for the Sifuentes family and has shot him via poison dart. “Yep, that’s what I thought you were doing, but did not want to be rude,” NoHo Hank says after having waited for … a while for the vendor to prepare his weapon. Later, he wakes up in a dank cell by himself, realizing that two of his fellow Chechens are in an adjacent cell, being tortured by four Bolivians and Elena. Hank asks what he can do, and is told very little by the others, who are trying to escape but bleedingly badly: “Be ready.”
Barry is still on the beach, and mildly baffled when he sees a sedan pull up. Its driver is none other than George Krempf, looking at him implacably. It’s here that Bill Hader (as director) cuts to real life, where we realize that Barry did actually wake up from his poisoned beignet, and did escape Sharon’s house, but is suffering some kind of late-acting paralysis, barely sitting up against a dumpster in a nearby alley … and still staring down George. Uh oh.
I’m Acting Here
Gene Cousineau, meanwhile, has some very good advice for his masterclass students: “Embrace your embarrassment!” It turns out that the person who may need that advice most of all is Annie, who whispers desperately to her script supervisor that she hasn’t directed in decades and has no idea what she’s doing. Her script supervisor tries to boost her spirits, at least to make Annie comfortable enough to act like she knows what she’s doing. But considering that we just saw Annie teaching an art class, it tracks that she needs a bit of time to get back up to speed. After the filming is over, Gene and Annie are congratulated by an executive, the latter being invited to hear about some other upcoming projects.
Meanwhile, we see Fuches in his role as Kenneth Goulet going to visit Jim Moss (Robert Wisdom), the father of the dead Janice Moss. Jim invites Fuches to take a drive, where he calmly but carefully tries to ply more information about how this “Goulet” knows what exactly happened to his daughter. It’s here that he tells Fuches a very disturbing piece of information, both for himself and for us: when Jim served in Vietnam and was captured as a POW, he convinced his own interrogator to kill himself. “…Was he depressed?” Fuches asks, reasonably a bit concerned about being in a car with a guy that tough. But Fuches should have focused more on the destination with Jim, as he only realizes too late where Jim was driving: to the police station, where Fuches is taken in for questioning. “I’m no kind of genius or anything,” Fuches says right before seeing the cops, and … uh, yeah, we know. Albert Nguyen (James Hiroyuki Liao) is baffled about why Fuches would approach Jim at all, but the LAPD see him and think he’s the infamous Raven. Albert wants to interrogate Fuches with the cameras off, but Jim is taken aback when he hears offhand that multiple people — including Gene — have said Barry is responsible for Janice’s death.
Jim doesn’t waste much time, visiting Gene’s wrap party and horrifying the acting teacher with his presence. He calmly and carefully — it’s a solid tactic — explains what we’ve already seen happen: that Fuches visited him to tell him about who killed Janice, that he drove Fuches to the cops, and that Barry supposedly killed Janice. “Barry’s a good kid,” Gene says, not willing to anger his ex-student again after they seemingly made nice a few episodes ago. We know Gene is lying, of course, but Jim knows without the history of the whole series: all he has to do is look at the top of Gene’s forehead, spot the flop sweat, and innately understand that Barry likely is the man to find next.
Barry seems like he’s at death’s door, for sure, stuffed into the back seat of the car driven by George. Once he pulls the car in, he pulls out a revolver and looks at it pensively. Again: uh oh.
Later that night, Sally is equally shocked to realize that her tirade against Natalie wasn’t for naught — Natalie was wisely recording her via her cell phone and has posted it to a TMZ-style website, thus tarnishing Sally’s already-shaky reputation. Sally’s lost her job on “The New Medusas,” and her agent Lindsay (Jessy Hodges) begs her not to even record a rushed apology. But when Lindsay arrives at Sally’s apartment, she learns the actress didn’t heed her advice, recording and sending a video to the same TMZ-style website that “isn’t an apology — this is damage control!” “My show is me, Lindsay, and she stole my f**king show!” Sally shouts, before essentially torpedoing her own career not only with an “I’m sorry if you’re offended” apology but a tirade at Lindsay that leads the latter to drop her as a client. I should note that the way Hader stages this scene, with Sally backing away from Lindsay as she shouts, into a darkened room that swallows her up whole, is very effective.
Sally’s career may be dead, but let’s head back to Barry and George Krempf, the latter of whom is reminiscing about the imagined sound of his son’s feet as a child, and equally imagined conversations with his son. “My wife thinks I’m losing my mind,” he says wistfully. He explains that his love for Ryan even as a child was such that he initially found the will to cause violence against anyone who would harm the boy. “What would I do?” he asks out loud. But there is one common thread throughout all three seasons of “Barry”, which is that our title character just keeps lucking into staying alive. Here, it’s because George Krempf, with the means to kill Barry, can’t do it. He can’t bear the thought. “I want to see my son again,” he all but gasps out (and boy, Bofshever — a king of the It’s That Guy! actors — is excellent in this scene).
We cut back to Barry’s dream on the beach, as he reaches the group of oceanic onlookers, only to realize that they are all the people he’s killed over the years, from Chechen mobster Goran (Glenn Fleshler) to his old buddy Chris (Chris Marquette), the latter of whom is understandably confused and seemingly a bit annoyed when Barry waves at him as if to say, “Hey, bro!” Then they all — also including Esther from last season and Cristobal’s father-in-law Fernando — look to the sky where they hear a cacophony of voices … as Barry is roused back to life, wheeled into the hospital, as he sees that George Krempf killed himself right outside the hospital. Goddamn.
“candy asses” ends back at the LAPD, as Albert finally gets that off-camera interrogation with Fuches, asking him to once again explain what he’s doing there. But Albert is really there to explain to Fuches who he is to Barry Berkman, so he can get a better sense of who Fuches is to Barry. When Albert asks him point-blank if Barry is “caught up in all this”, Fuches talks about how sad it is that Chris was killed, taken away from his wife and son. “You ever wonder why Chris, who never saw combat, would even have PTSD?” Fuches asks pointedly, stating that Chris was at the wrong place at the wrong time instead. Essentially, he says Barry killed Chris without having to say those words. And with that, Albert hurriedly, angrily leaves the LAPD, but not before grabbing his revolver and loading it.
So, again, I will say: Uh oh.
That aside, “candy asses” is another very breathless, suspenseful episode in a season that has basically been at the same level of unbearable tension, at least in terms of the Barry/Fuches side of things. I do wonder, with just next week’s season finale staring us in the face, what to make of the whole season, in that the balance between darkness (via the criminal work that Barry partakes in) and the relative lightness of industry satire leans so far on the darker side. And that’s not a bad creative choice, but it makes the industry satire stand out a bit more. Take Gene, for instance, whose most key scene relative to Barry comes when Jim visits him briefly, a scene that could arguably have taken place at any location. (We don’t see Gene again in this episode after Jim questions him.) Or Sally, whose behavior here is clearly intended to remind us of how she was verbally abused by Barry earlier in the season and is now flipping it around on Natalie. It’s sad and well-acted and searing in its own way, but I do feel like the season has found less and less need for the industry satire as anything other than a balm from the bleakness of the title character’s descent into Hell.
Because if I ask myself, right now, what I expect or hope or want from next week’s finale, it’s all about Barry and Fuches. Will Barry get a fuller, more complete sense of the vengeance army Fuches enacted? Has Fuches inadvertently gotten his most able soldier in said army in connecting some dots for Albert? And how the hell is Barry going to get out of it to survive to another season? (To that end, can this show possibly last more than four seasons?) “Barry” continues to be unpredictable and tense as ever, so while I have all these questions, I am genuinely glad that I have no idea where this show is going next.
— Henry Winkler’s portion of “candy asses” is mostly very light-hearted, especially his terrible impressions. “Stella! Get down here! I want to eat!” I think Tennessee Williams is turning over in his grave now.
— One of the leads on “The New Medusas” is called “Medusabby”. Solid detail.
— D’Arcy Carden throws herself into the brief, seen-through-the-window description of her show when Sally spies on Natalie. When’s D’Arcy Carden getting her star vehicle?
— I really like Anthony Carrigan as NoHo Hank, and the Hank/Cristobal relationship was a fascinating subplot in the first half of the season, but I fear it’s going to be given a bit shorter shrift than needed in the back half of the season. (All things considered, I’m a bit surprised NoHo Hank got less screen time here than even Gene or Sally, considering he’s in mortal danger.)
— “You want a phone book to hit him with? A sock full of coins?” LA’s finest, folks!
— “Robust? Lantern-jawed?” Fred Melamed really excels at rattling off adjectives that don’t fit Gene Cousineau.
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