‘Barry’ Recap: A Tragic Death Shakes Up Bill Hader’s Dark Satire
This post contains spoilers for this week’s episode of Barry, “It Takes a Psycho.”
Where’s Barry Berkman?
This was the question asked by the warden at the end of last week’s episode, and it’s the one everyone wants an answer to throughout “It Takes a Psycho.” This may extend to the audience, who have to wait nearly the entire episode to see the show’s title character emerge from the shadows to greet Sally. And the scene after that one invites a whole host of questions:
Where’s Barry Berkman now?
When is Barry Berkman?
Is this real? Is it a dream?
What in the world is going on here?
But we’ll get back to that. More than 30 minutes pass before we see Barry in person. Until then, “It Takes a Psycho”(*) shines its light on the rest of the ensemble, all of them wrecked in some way or another, even if only some of the damage we witness this week comes as a result of knowing Barry.
(*) The title seems to be a play on the old proverb, “It takes a thief to catch a thief.”
When Sally visited Barry earlier in the season, for instance, it seemed like she rightly wanted nothing to do with him, and that he was deluding himself by thinking she would join him in witness protection. But when she finds him, not only does she want to be with him, but it’s her idea to leave town together, giving up whatever is left of the showbiz life she wanted in favor of becoming a fugitive. Why would she do this? Is it because the repeated traumas of her life have convinced her she deserves nothing better? Or is it because the events of these past two seasons have shown her that Hollywood is just as ruthless and soul-destroying as organized crime?
Sally spends most of the episode on the set of Mega Girls, the ridiculous tentpole blockbuster that her new student Kristen has a small role in. The movie’s being directed by Sian Heder from Coda, making it two episodes in a row featuring a cameo from the director of a recent Best Picture Oscar winner. The joke initially is that in this industry in the year of our Lord 2023, a success like Coda doesn’t give Heder a chance to make a more expensive movie for adults, but instead gets her hired making some kind of dumb franchise film shot entirely on green screen. But the joke is ultimately on Sally more than Heder or anyone else. Kristen freezes up when it’s time to film her scene, and as Sally and Heder confront her, Sally decides to shift from coaching to poaching. She pretends to be showing Kristen how to do the monologue, when in fact she’s shamelessly auditioning in front of Heder. In a different show, this would be a triumphant moment: Sally Reed finally getting her moment, coming back from public humiliation on sheer talent alone. Instead, Heder never considers her for a moment, praising Sally but bluntly saying that what she needs is for Sally to make that performance come out of Kristen, who is younger, taller, more stereotypically sexy, etc.
Kristen’s agent Mark (played by Paul McCrane with his usual sly and slimy wit) tells Sally he recognizes that she tried to steal the part, but is fine with it — nature of the game and all that. He proposes a dual career path for Sally going forward: helping Kristen, and perhaps other talent-challenged starlets like her, while periodically getting to play more “appropriate” roles. Given the mess Sally has made of her public image, this is perhaps better than she could have hoped for. We know she’s talented, and maybe she would become one of those character actresses who starts working all the time after they turn 40. But it is not what Sally wants. And the way that both Heder and Mark look through her, as if she’s only a vessel to give them the version of Kristen that they want, is enough to sour her on this place forever. She has been hurt so many times, both physically and emotionally, and she has had enough. In her visit to the jail, she told Barry that he had made her feel safe, which at the moment makes him the best of a host of absolutely terrible options. So they run.
So does Gene Cousineau, even if for the moment he has only run to his cabin up in Big Bear. He is so consumed with fear about Barry that at one point we see him absent-mindedly cutting into a loaf of bread that’s still in its plastic bag. (Well, it’s that, or that Gene remains ill-equipped at his age for many of life’s basics. Either interpretation works, frankly.) He keeps Rip Torn’s old prop gun on his person at all times, and when he’s woken by the sound of someone trying to get into the cabin, he shoots them through the door, horrified to discover that it’s his son Leo, just dropping off food and trying to show concern for his dad.
This would be the darkest moment of the episode if it weren’t for all the others. Take, for instance, Fuches being savagely beaten by the guards and the warden for information about where Barry has gone. Fuches has flip-flopped pretty wildly this season between feeling loyal and protective of Barry to feeling utterly betrayed by him. It’s unclear in this moment how he feels, but it doesn’t matter, because he doesn’t know where his surrogate son has gone to, and thus can’t provide the answer that will stop the pain. But there is some benefit to Fuches for the moment, too, as we see that the inmates who once mocked and dismissed him now look at him with awe for seemingly standing up for a buddy, no matter the cost.
But the bleakest part of the episode has to involve another character who has become stronger, if not emotionally better, through all the ways he’s been hurt over the course of the series. He proudly shows his new gang “the whole kit and the poodle” with regard to their sand business, but it’s all a trap, as the sand silo has a collapsible floor they all sink into — including Cristobal, whom Hank didn’t realize was still in there. Hank rescues his lover, but it’s only temporary, because Cristobal rightly can’t get over what Hank has done, and what it means for their relationship. The problem, as Hank sadly but coldly points out, is that Cristobal can’t leave, because he knows too much about the Chechens and this new business of theirs. Their breakup scene feels genuinely tragic, because Hank knows what will happen if Cristobal walks out, we know too, and Cristobal sure seems to understand. He has just reached a point where staying with Hank feels like a fate worse than death, and so he chooses death. The Chechens at least spare Hank the task of having to pull the trigger, but it doesn’t matter. Hank sobs and hyperventilates on the couch, trying to make himself the hard man who could drown so many men in a sandpit, and who could allow this to happen to his partner. He has committed to a path that has cost him the person he cared about most, and now he’s alone. Just brutal.
The sand also provides a link of sorts to the closing scene. At first, we seem to be in another flashback to Barry’s childhood in a desolate Midwestern plain, where the dirt feels as arid and coarse as the sand on the beach from Hell where Barry briefly found himself last season. Again, we see a young brown-haired boy, this time wrestling with another kid, and it is easy to assume this is young Barry. But no, the boy is named John, and he is apparently the son of Barry and Sally, who both look older and very different from the people who reconnected in the previous scene.
I have seen what’s coming next, so I won’t pretend to speculate. But in the moment that I first watched this one, my jaw was on the floor. Whether real or imaginary — or another journey to the Underworld — this did not seem to be where Barry and Sally’s story was going. Barry was missing, and now he is… somewhere, at some time. Buckle up for what comes next.