HBO’s Emmy winning series Barry is back with season 3 episode 1, in what is a breathtaking setup for what’s to come for our conflicted protagonist.
A comedy series about a discharged marine turned hitman yearning to become an actor after finding a passion for the art shouldn’t be as compelling as it is. You would think finding the drama and emotional core for a premise like that would be harder than finding the comedy in it, as saying that synopsis aloud can be quite humorous. Show co-creators Alec Berg and Bill Hader (It Chapter Two), though, manage to spark so much life and sincerity to a story of a man struggling to take back his life into his own hands, and seeking to be a better person and stop killing people – innocent or otherwise – for money. The show as a whole is one of the best blends of dark comedy and drama that we’ve seen on television in a long time. It doesn’t feel like it’s trying to be “edgy,” but rather it is very honest and straightforward with its audience in a way that makes us root for Barry to do better, while making us pull our hair out in frustration when he gets in trouble after doing something morally questionable.
Before diving into episode 1 of season 3, allow me to recap where season 2 left us off. After the chilling season 1 cliffhanger where Barry (Hader) assassinates detective Janice Moss (Paula Newsome, Spider-Man: No Way Home), girlfriend of his acting coach Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler, Family Squares), who was investigating a crime linked to Barry’s previous employers, he finds himself in a tricky situation where he has to balance out his new life as an artist and as a former hitman. What’s different about his struggles in season 2 is that he has to deal with knowing that he murdered the person his father-like figure (Gene) loved the most. Things only get more complicated as Monroe Fuches (Stephen Root, The Legend of Vox Machina), Barry’s past mentor who pushed him into the life of a killer for hire, takes Gene into a forest where Barry hid Janice’s body and reveals to him that Barry is the one responsible for her death; leading Barry into blacking out and go on a killing spree trying to find Fuches for betraying his secret.
Barry season 3 episode 1, “Forgiving Jeff,” opens with an exchange between our protagonist and a new “customer” who asked him to kidnap a guy named Jeff whom his wife had an affair with. In good old Barry fashion, this leads to an awkward debate in which the man that hired Barry decides to call off the hit on Jeff after he begged for his forgiveness, which the man agrees to. This causes Barry to lose patience and decides to shoot both men in the head, leaving him to throw a tantrum about how there’s no forgiveness in the world. Right off the bat, this opening scene does an excellent job at establishing two things: Barry’s mental state and what he will most likely be like after this season. He is clearly in a dark place where no matter how much he tries he can’t live a happy life because the world keeps forcing him to make bad decisions. It is also a scary thought that Barry is now murdering people without remorse now, compared to how hard it was for him to do so in the previous two seasons. He’s completely lost his place and if he continues down this route he will be in a point of no return.
We are then taken to see how NoHo Hank (Anthony Carrigan, Fatherhood) is doing after barely surviving Barry’s massacre in the season 2 finale. His business day is interrupted by detective Mae (Sarah Burns, Werewolves Within) who is investigating the murder of Janice after her body was found. Hank is forced to be submitted to an interrogation and it plays out exactly as you would expect it to, with Hank delivering silly one-liners and testing the investigators’ patience by dancing around their questions rather than giving straight answers. Carrigan has always been a highlight in the show, especially when his scenes need to provide a much required levity following Barry’s struggles. Here, his purpose is fulfilled, but it does keep you wondering whether or not he will one day potentially give away information on Barry despite building a strong friendship with him. In the end, before his interrogation is over, Hank is asked to identify a man in a picture Mae is using as evidence, to which Hank proceeds to lie about his true identity and gives him an unnecessarily mysterious backstory that makes Fuches sound more dangerous than what he actually is, as Hank gives him the fake nickname “the Raven.”
Fuches does appear in this episode and he is exactly where many fans expected him to be in season 3: he is hiding from Barry under the protection of the Chechen mob at a small house in the middle of a desert. What Fuches did towards the end of season 2 is unforgivable as he sabotaged Barry’s chance at a normal life. Sure, Barry isn’t necessarily a “good” guy, but at least he was trying to do better. Given the history we know between Fuches and Barry, it being a manipulative relationship where Fuches uses Barry for his own gain, we can understand why Barry is so hurt. His trust was betrayed by somebody he thought he could count on, so him seeking revenge isn’t simply because Fuches put Barry’s relationship with Mr. Cousineau at risk, but because he might have ruined his last opportunity to leave his mercenary life behind for good.
Sally Reed (Sarah Goldberg), Barry’s wannabe actress girlfriend, is meanwhile trying to put a TV show together after a live monologue performance of hers caught the attention of multiple people working in the film industry. Her character is one of the few genuinely good-intentioned people in the series. She’s been wanting to make her dreams of becoming a Hollywood star a reality, so seeing her finally get a bit of recognition that will allow her to show her worth is nothing but fun to see, even if producers keep misinterpreting her writing and work. Sally, as easily it is to root for her, is a flawed character as well. Her mistreatment of Natalie (D’Arcy Carden, The Good Place), her former acting class-mate, is sort of vile in the way she talks down to her and tries to shut her down now that Natalie is Sally’s assistant. It’s played for jokes, but I wonder if this behavior will end up affecting Sally’s career in one way or another.
As we continue exploring where Sally is at, we meet a brand new character played by Elsie Fisher (Texas Chainsaw Massacre). She doesn’t do much, but I hope she’s more prominent in the future as she is a fantastic actress. We also get a glimpse at Sally and Barry’s relationship. It seems to be very one-sided where she asks for something and he complies, which makes us question if the tables will turn as the season progresses. Barry then takes her flowers to her set where he has a disturbing vision of Sally being shot. Perhaps this is some sort of foreshadowing where she will find out about his real past and put herself in danger? We’ll have to wait and see.
Desperate for actual good jobs, Barry breaks into Hank’s home, where he now lives with his crime partner and lover Cristobal (Michael Irby, Mayans M.C.), to ask him if he has any hits he can work on. Hank implores him to leave, not wanting Cristobal to see Barry after he killed his men back in season 2, and explains to him that if he wants forgiveness he needs to earn it. This is a fascinating exchange because it could be potentially setting up a conflict where Hank will have to choose between protecting Barry or siding with Cristobal, but also establishes where Barry will end up by the end of episode 1 after receiving this pettalk.
Gene Cousineau is a character whose role in season 3 a lot of people, including myself, have been wondering about, after Fuches revealed to him that Barry murdered Janice. The series doesn’t waste any time at showcasing where his mind is focused on: trying to bring Barry into police custody so Janice can get the justice she deserves. He is also brought into an interrogation where they ask him to identify Fuches in the same photo that Hank was asked to, but he becomes paranoid and blames the murder on Barry, to which the cops don’t believe him and actually defend Barry.
This leads to a chilling development where we see Gene uncover what seems to be an old gun of his, before leaving his son’s Leo’s home (Andrew Leeds, The Dropout) after texting Barry to meet him at his old theater where he would teach acting classes. The two meet and everything goes sideways as Gene attempts to force Barry to confess to the murder by pulling the gun on him, but the weapon falls apart; giving Barry a chance to get a hold of Gene. We cut to the same desert from the opening scene where we first think Barry will pull the trigger and kill his beloved father-figure. This doesn’t happen, though, and the episode ends with Barry getting the bizarre idea of “earning” Gene’s forgiveness by making it up to him for killing his girlfriend.
As funny as most of the interactions between characters are in episode 1 of season 3, just as the show is well known for, Barry continues to be a damn powerhouse in the emotional department. Barry might as well be at the lowest point of his life, his entire world crumbling down as his past catches up to him. We as an audience keep watching the series not necessarily because of its dark humor, though that’s a big part of it, but because we care about these characters. In a messed up way, we want Barry to succeed and get the life he dreams of so much, while yearning for him to stop hurting others in the process. Barry’s first two seasons did an astonishing great job at balancing out these themes and ideas, and I am hoping no less from season 3 and what’s there to come in later episodes. My one concern going into season 3, knowing that season 4 is already in development, as announced by Bill Hader, is that the series will drag Barry’s character arc in favor of more seasons of the show. Episode 1 of season 3 feels like the beginning of the end for Barry’s storyline, so with season 4 underway it makes you wonder just how much more story there is left to be told. I trust Hader and his team, though, and we can’t wait to see how season 3 pans out.
Season 3 Episode of Barry is now available to watch on HBO Max.