(spoilers for season 3, episode 1)
Like many tv shows that had begun airing prior to 2020, production on Barry, the hit HBO crime dramedy, ground to a halt once COVID-19 spread throughout the world. The last episode aired on May 19, 2019, so you would be forgiven if your memory of season two is a little bit hazy, which left off with Barry (Bill Hader, who’s also the co-creator, executive producer, and writer along with Alec Berg) going on a one-man killing spree. The target of his murderous rage, former mentor/handler Monroe Fuches (Stephen Root), managed to be scurried away to safety by the Chechen mob. Barry’s acquaintance/enemy and fan favorite, NoHo Hank (Anthony Carrigan), was also one of the few to survive the ordeal, but what has become of either Barry, Fuches, or Hank has remained a mystery until now.
The first thing we hear in the cold open is an agonized, “Please forgive me, I’m sorry,” out in the distance, a chilling, if not appropriate, beginning for the season. Barry is assisting with what appears to be the slow, torturous murder of someone named Jeff at the hands of a cuckolded husband. Fortunately for Jeff, the angry husband has experienced a change of heart. Unfortunately for both formerly-angry husband and Jeff, Barry no longer has any patience when it comes to being inconvenienced (not to mention the legal risk of having not one but two witnesses), and proceeds to wordlessly execute the pair of them. “There’s no forgiving Jeff!” Barry screams into the desert air. The first and second seasons saw Barry undergo depression and then wrath, respectively: it seems this season’s Barry may be coping with ennui.
Roughly six months have passed since the events of last season. During that time, Barry’s begun cohabitating with Sally (Sarah Goldberg), a scenario he once literally fantasized about. Clearly, the charm has long worn off. He’s simply going through the motions—dulled by his new habit of staying up all night to play video games—while Sally, comfortable in her self-involvement as usual, busies herself with her new scripted television drama she’s gotten off the ground. Barry, on the other hand, is short on work all around. Acting opportunities have dried up for the moment, and without Fuches, his connection with the murder-for-hire business has been cut off. For the time being, Barry ekes out a living using the Hitman Marketplace site, which appears to be dark web Craigslist for people looking to settle disputes in the most extreme way possible.
Meanwhile, Detective Mae Dunn (Sarah Burns) is still investigating the murder of Detective Janice Moss (it’s been more than a season yet actor Paula Newsome is still greatly missed) and is catching up with some leads, specifically, NoHo Hank in connection to the massacre at the monastery. She also asks him about the Chechnya pin that Barry planted next to Janice’s body, the one Hank gave him. Though no one is more surprised and offended than Hank to discover the pin was located alongside the remains of a dead cop, rather than implicate Barry, he chooses a considerably safer tactic: when Dunn reveals a series of photos linking Hank (“Touché, Dr. Watsons”) to the monastery, he claims Fuches, identifying him as “The Raven,” as the perpetrator of both crimes. It’s the most calculated move he can make because unlike the LAPD, Hank knows exactly where Fuches is located, hidden away somewhere in Chechnya, subsisting on a diet of cereal (with only the freshest goat’s milk) and lamenting his inability to watch college football. With Fuches stuck in the middle of nowhere (“Hank said you could come home when things cool off in L.A.”), he’s a perfect ace in the hole, an easy offering to the police should they begin looking toward his operations.
Over the course of the day, we see Sally operating in her role as television showrunner and star (there’s an impressive nearly two minute long take showing her passing through the hustle and bustle of the set). The pressure is unsurprisingly getting to her, along with her position of power, resulting in her snapping at Natalie (D’Arcy Carden), her current assistant, for trying to lend a hand in a meeting with a disinterested network executive (played by Elizabeth Perkins). It will be interesting to watch Sally’s evolution from a deeply insecure struggling actor to a deeply insecure actor who is beginning to experience a measure of success. As her success grows, so does her need to have the people surrounding her, Barry and Natalie especially, operate as performers in the production that is her life, rather than autonomous beings. The well-meaning part of her may genuinely want to “bring up other women,” so long as they observe directives like, “Don’t talk in meetings. Actually, you know what? When I’m in a meeting, that would be a great time for you to get me a snack!” or have her live-in boyfriend visit her on set, provided he brings flowers and leaves accordingly.
We soon come to realize that Barry is doing worse than originally thought. He’s beginning to suffer from hallucinations, and even though his relationship may not be going terribly well at the moment, watching an imaginary gunshot wound bloom on his girlfriend’s forehead is enough to make him concerned enough to take action. NoHo Hank, on the other hand, is doing great. He’s making a living distributing heroin out of a plant nursery and now shares a beautiful home with Cristobal (Michael Irby), the Bolivian kingpin he was besotted with throughout the second season who he’s now more than friends with—something only hinted at before and fully confirmed when Hank comfortably undresses and steps into the shower with Cristobal. Crime aside, it’s a sweet little life of domesticity, with evenings cuddling in bed watching movies on a laptop while eating popcorn. It’s precious enough that when Barry randomly appears on their property desperate for work, a.k.a., meaning in his life, Hank, unmoved by Barry’s plight, wants nothing to do with him (framing someone for murder and destroying their business will do that) and tells him to leave.
Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler) is also not doing well. The tragedy of losing Janice is always on his mind, a situation exacerbated by the detectives bringing him in to see the photos taken outside the monastery. He’s quick to point out that Fuches is indeed the man who led him to Janice’s body, but even though Dunn is convinced that Fuches is the murderer, Gene knows better. Unable to let go of Barry’s involvement, he sends him a text message asking for help moving out of the theater. Seeing that Barry happily agrees to assist, Gene examines the pearl-handled revolver long ago gifted to him from former roommate Rip Torn (a callback to the second season premiere). It would seem his plans for the gun he once imagined using to end his grief may now fulfill another purpose. Once he and Barry meet and the two men finish sharing some dishonest pleasantries (“You look good.” “So do you.”), Gene gets down to brass tacks. He describes the day Kenneth Goulet (Fuches’ fake name) showed him Janice’s body and how he told him Barry did it. Reaching for the gun under the desk, Gene presents Barry with one of two choices, confess or die. In a spit take-worthy gag, the gun falls apart the moment it’s cocked, bullets harmlessly clattering to the floor. Barry overtakes him (not before telling him “I’m sorry”) and leads Gene out to the same piece of desert we saw in the cold open, only this time it’s Gene pleading for his life. He swears on all he holds dear, including his sweet grandson, that he won’t talk, going so far as to claim forgiveness for Barry. Echoing Hank’s earlier words, Barry moans, “Forgiveness has to be earned,” resulting in Gene yelling back in a mixture of fury and desperation, “Then f*cking earn it!” It’s enough for Barry to have an epiphany, assuring a now-baffled Gene that he’s going to make things right. For the first time in who knows how long, Barry brightens and with a smile, orders Gene into the trunk of his car.
It would seem Barry has once again found a purpose in his life. How he can possibly make things up to Gene is a mystery whose answer is known only to Barry at the moment. Even if Barry manages to get Gene his entire life back, acting career and all, I can’t see any of it mattering without Janice by his side. This season is promising to be one for the books and even though it took the better part of three years for the series to come back, it looks like it will be more than worth the wait.
Things you never want to hear in the workplace:
“We don’t hear from you in two hours, we will all take cyanide pills.”
NoHo Hank’s weekly two cents of wisdom:
“It’s like that line in Shawshank Redemption: ‘Get rich, or die trying.’”
Kaleena Rivera is the TV Editor for Pajiba. When she isn’t contemplating her impassioned social media campaign to have Henry Winkler formally recognized for his work on this series (he’s so good!), she can be found on Twitter here.