Halfway through Barry’s third season, it seems like Bill Hader and Alec Berg are wrapping up plot lines spun out in the first half and bringing in new ones. Of course, there’s no reason to doubt both halves will come crashing together. The long arc of the series has been the impossibility of murder and showbiz to coexist peacefully in one person, i.e., the conflict between personal and professional integrity. By the end of “all the sauces,” Sally breaks up with Barry, Fernando and the Bolivians get blown up in their Airbnb, NoHo Hank and Cristobal reunite, and Gene Cousineau is released by Barry, given a duffel of cash, and his explosive cameo on The Laws Of Humanity might have restarted his career.
Where can we go from here? Revenge, silly. Fuches (Stephen Root) has returned from the mountains of Chechnya and begun laying the groundwork for chaos. He shows up at the home of the widow (Annabeth Gish) of one of Barry’s victims from years ago. Using his “Kenneth Goulet, Private Investigator” cover, Fuches tells the woman and her adult son that Barry is the killer, and the police let him get away. Later, Fuches tries the same technique on the father of Ryan, the Cousineau acting student who got whacked by the Chechens in the first season. It’s a fiendishly simple plan: outsourcing revenge to the family of Barry’s victims. Imagine a host of grief-stricken amateur assassins gunning for Barry. We must credit Fuches’ Chechen girlfriend from the last episode; she inadvertently gave him the idea of a “vengeance army panther thing.”
Back in L.A., Cousineau (Henry Winkler), is terrified that after punching Barry on the set of Laws of Humanity, he’s a dead man. It’s morning, and Leo (Andrew Leeds) is confused to see his dad’s bags packed. They need to leave L.A. now, the panicked Cousineau says, then picks up his suitcases, only to have the bottoms rip and clothes and a few coins spill out. (A nod to I Think You Should Leave’s Coffin Flop?) Next, Cousineau’s agent, Tom (Fred Melamed) is at his door telling his client the studio loved what he did on set, how he gave the sad old man character a touch of pathos. Cousineau, intent on escape, takes Tom to a store to buy more luggage.
At the store, they run into Joe Mantegna, who stops to congratulate Cousineau (breaking his own restraining order against the man) on “what you did for that vet.” Mantegna is referring to a recent Variety story about how Cousineau gave Barry a purpose in life. “You didn’t have this made at Knott’s Berry Farm to fuck with me, did you?” an incredulous Cousineau asks. The sitcommy, joke-per-second ratio is noticeably high in this episode, and the proliferation of cameos—Melamed, Mantegna—suggests that, for the moment, the world of Barry is tipping from the terror of crime into the manic triviality of show business.
Speaking of which, Sally (Sarah Goldberg) is nervously getting ready for the opening party for Joplin. She’s putting together a speech, with Natalie (D’Arcy Carden) taking down her thoughts as Sally tries on a succession of frocks behind a curtain. Natalie, who has been cheerfully taking crap from Sally as the chirpy and dimwitted assistant, gets a nice breakout moment as she riffs on Sally’s pretentious opening for her speech. Dictating, Sally humblebrags that she’s writer-director-producer-star of Joplin not for glory, but for a little girl from Joplin…which Natalie free-associates into a girl named Abigail but everyone calls her “Thweetie,” because her grandma had a lisp and she grew up on a farm and didn’t see a television until she was fourteen years old…” and Sally comes out of the dressing room to shut her down fast.
Barry has accepted the Fernando hit job from Hank, which involves planting the “dark web bomb” purchased by Batir under the Bolivians’ Airbnb. After Hank sets Barry up with a detonator app, a dubious Barry retrieves the bomb, which has been conspicuously placed in the middle of an empty parking lot. The bomb’s a cartoonish but cute bit of prop comedy: a whirring, clicking, unseen gadget in a nondescript cardboard box.
The meat of the episode cuts between Barry’s banal but frustrating attempt to blow up the Bolivians (the detonator app has bugs) with Sally arriving at the Joplin premiere party and reaping the rewards of fame, such as they are. Barry places the bomb under the Bolivians’ Airbnb, but it won’t go off, so he calls customer service in a fog of irritated boredom. In the background, we see Cristobal, who was supposed to be at Pilates when the bomb went off, return. Cristobal is confronted by Fernando, who has discovered his texts with Hank. Fernando gives him a choice: be shot right there or shoot Hank in front of Fernando. Cristobal escapes just before Barry switches back his wifi and the bomb goes off. (Even though it’s essentially a sight gag, let’s reiterate: Barry just blew up a frigging house. Something tells me Mae Dunn will be back next episode.) Making his getaway, Barry finds Cristobal on the street, in shock with clothes ripped and burnt. He returns Cristobal to Hank. Then Barry brings the sack of cash for doing the job to Cousineau, telling him he won’t see him again. Then, finally, Barry goes to the Joplin screening, which of course, he missed.
With a strategic intervention from brave Katie (Elsie Fisher) at the Joplin premiere, Sally comes to realize the obvious: Barry is a violent person and being in a relationship with him will only drag her down. Goldberg, playing a character whose two speeds seems to be self-loathing and self-aggrandizement, does outstanding work in this episode. When she finally takes the podium to give her speech, she’s a quivering ball of ego and terror. She’s all about art and the message of Joplin, but when positive reviews from the New York Times come rolling in, things get crassly triumphal fast. “I just heard we got 98 on Rotten Tomatoes,” she interrupts her speech to the crowd. “Wow! Ninety-fucking-eight!” The audience roars in approval. Sally breaks down crying and for several seconds can’t talk. It’s some of Goldberg’s rawest, most revealing acting of the season, playing a person who gets what she wants, but isn’t sure she deserves it.
Quick side note for catastrophists braying that Barry peaked in season two and has been sliding since: This one might be grinding gears to find its lane, but that maneuver is part of the game. Barry has always been a combustible mashup of genres and stress on the seams is to be expected. No other series packs as many good jokes, rich characters, plot and kickass action into thirty minutes. Plus the series has a built-in opacity, a Rorschach quality, that I admire.
To explain: At the end of this episode, Barry is truly alone. No mentor, no lover, no friends, no career. Slouched, deflated, he turns on his heel and exits the frame. The last scene is the mother and son team that Fuches was tempting at the top. They’re steeling themselves to buy a gun. Fuches gave them Barry’s address. Here’s the thing: Do I care if they actually kill Barry? As sharply sketched as the character is, as vivid as Hader is in conveying turmoil and damage and even innocence, the character feels—especially with Sally and Cousineau “gone”—like more of a device than a fully dimensional, believable person. I’m not entirely sure that’s a critique. It could be a feature, not bug. Am I foolish to think Barry’s the hero? He’s a monster, and we love watching monsters.
You can just as easily say that Sally is a narcissistic mediocrity, and Cousineau is a sadistic bully. Even so, both of them seem more real and ultimately sympathetic than our protagonist, which is odd. At the same time, I sort of admire Hader and Berg for spinning a series around a cipher, a plot catalyst, a reflective surface for the audience. Tony Soprano was never going to become the good guy. Barry Block won’t ever win an Emmy. Now his past is coming back to haunt him.
- Snaps for writer Jason’s Kim’s rich vocabulary, which furnishes Tom’s litany of industry epithets for Cousineau: “narcissistic, self-obsessed, petty, unhinged, volatile, toxic, abusive, malignant, a scrub, a dope, a dummy, a loser, a cocksucker, a dump truck, a stone-cold buster…” [a drive to the store later] “…weak sauce, fuckhead, fuckface, fucknuts, shitnuts, shitfuck, fuckfuck.” The latter, which finally offends Cousineau, came from Rob Reiner during the 1994 Ghosts Of Mississippi audition.
- What language is the bomb’s pre-recorded warning in? Enlighten me.
- This is Fred Melamed’s second turn as the long-suffering agent of a temperamental talent, after Lady Dynamite.
- Sally’s one-inch stack of index cards for the Joplin premiere speech: Get comfortable.
- Barry’s user name for the detonator app is BarryGoesBoom and password is $uddenly$eymour1985. First, Little Shop of Horrors was released in 1986. Second, do we think Hank is Team Webber or Sondheim?
- Natalie at the premiere with her phone: “Reviews are out! The En Fuego has been lifted!” Lindsay: “The embargo has been lifted. Let me see that.”
- Detonator app service person on speakerphone after huge explosion: “Okay, sounds like we were successful. Is there anything else I can help you with today?”
- Reporter on the red carpet: “You don’t look old enough to have an abused daughter.” Sally: “Oh, thank you for saying that!”
- If Barry Berkman murdered someone close to you, he may be located at 10294 Tujunga Ave, Apt 5F N. Hollywood, CA 91606. You best not miss.
#Sally #Cousineau #Barry #deserves