“There’s no forgiving Jeff!” Barry Berkman shouts in the opening scene of the season three premiere of “Barry.” Sure, fine, there’s no forgiving Jeff. But is there any forgiving Barry?
“Barry” is a dark comedy show about a depressed hitman, starring Bill Hader in its titular role. Beginning season three, forgiveness is shaping up to be a core element of “Barry” in its first episode. Throughout the episode “forgiving jeff,” Barry rejects forgiveness and longs to be forgiven all at once. He shoots a client and their victim after they forgive each other, and he also withholds shooting someone he loves after discovering how he can be forgiven. “Forgiveness is something that has to be earned,” Noho Hank, a character part of the Chechen mafia says, and by the end of the episode, Barry thinks he can earn it. But, after all Barry’s done, the prognosis is looking grim.
Barry is a character that needs to be absolved. It doesn’t matter if he should be, it matters that, with every fiber of himself, he craves it. At the end of season one, Barry committed murder and figured he could hide it, but at the end of season two, Gene Cousineau, played by Henry Winkler, became aware. Cousineau is now a victim ready for vengeance. Barry’s charade is up, he knows it and it’s destroying him.
Or, rather, it’s not the truth that’s destroying Barry — it’s the guilt. At the start of season one, Barry wants to be done killing. He tells Monroe Fuches, his handler, that his purpose is acting, not murder, and Fuches believes it. From there, Barry really only kills when necessary, when we get down to brass tacks. Or, at least, he did. That Barry, the Barry of seasons one and two, is not this Barry. This is a new Barry, a destroyed Barry. Guilt is overcoming him and there is no more curtain to hide behind. There is nowhere to run, and so he’s back to what he knows — killing. He kills two men in the desert in the first few minutes of an episode. At the end of the episode, in the very same spot, he almost kills another. Throughout the entire runtime of “forgiving jeff,” Barry hallucinates, seeing the people he loves with bullets in their foreheads, and blood dripping down their noses.
A moment has to be taken here for the superb sound in “forgiving jeff.” David Wingo, the composer of the show, created something special with the sound in this episode. When Barry hallucinates bullet holes in the minds of Sally Reed — a character portraying an actress in the show — and Cousineau, the sound cuts, and is replaced by a drone and high-pitched whine until Barry snaps out of the hallucination.
“[Forgiving] jeff” is loaded with moments as incredible as the sound. One of the best moments, a stunning shot, happens when Reed is on set for her new show, where she serves as showrunner and leading actress. The minute Reed hits the soundstage, the heat is on. In one gorgeous, sustained single-shot take, Reed strides through various rooms on set, orders around assistant directors, argues over the color blue with a wardrobe assistant, oversees an incredibly dishonest iteration of the fight scene with Sam from last season and dodges makeup brushes loaded with powder. In the last moment, before the camera starts rolling on Reed’s scene, Reed snaps a final order at the wardrobe assistant and then begins delivering her lines within one breath. It’s both a beautiful display of skills from Hader — who also directed the episode titled “ronny/lily” last season, a genre-bending, incredible episode that featured many long takes — and a wonderful performance from actress Sarah Goldberg. In fact, everything from Goldberg is great in this episode.
Goldberg isn’t the only actor who turned in an incredible performance in the premiere. Hader was glorious as usual, playing Barry’s depression and desperation so viscerally and beautifully. He has a face that seems almost fluid — the ease with which he melts between expressions is insane — and angry, terrified, surprised and thrilled all in a moment. Hader was particularly terrifying at the end of the episode with his manic smile and orders for Cousineau to “get back in the trunk.”
Stephen Root, the actor we briefly see as Fuches, is pitch-perfect — disgruntled, confused and malicious. Root seems like he is operated by a dial, able to turn his performance up by specific degrees, and it’s fantastic. As Cousineau, Winkler had some enormous emotional beats to work within this episode, especially the scene in his office with Barry. The way his tough-guy persona slips as the bullets fall from his gun and clatter to the floor is such a triumph in acting, such a masterclass in nailing subtleties. His desperate pleading at the end of the episode is hair-raising and horrifically sad. It’s watching someone fall in real time, off the top of the mountain and right down into the dirt.
As usual, Anthony Carrigan shines as Hank. He’s always hilarious, particularly in the interrogation scene of this episode with his loud, cartoonish gulping and off-the-cuff story of Fuches as “The Raven.” His scenes at home, with his secret “Romeo and Juliet” style relationship with Cristobal Sifuentes, are funny, hopeful and sweet. But Carrigan has nice subtleties in his performance, too. At the police station, he looks at Barry in the photos and takes a moment to decide whether or not he can sell him out. When Barry comes to Hank that night, pleading for help, Hank is unsympathetic and rigid. “Forgiveness is something that has to be earned,” Hank snaps, setting the tone for the episode in a few succinct words.
Season three of “Barry” is looking promising. It’s bleaker than ever — darkly — funnier than ever and the stakes are higher than they’ve ever been. Forgiveness is sure to be interwoven throughout it, but so will Barry’s desperation. At the start of season one, Barry had found his purpose. At the start of season three, Barry begs for someone to give him one. He’s sure to keep spiraling down, and when he hits bottom, he can hopefully crawl back up.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars