Barry is a rollercoaster. There is no other way to describe the amazingly written, award-worthy incredible piece of storytelling that is this show. Every week we think this show is going somewhere, and while tonally and cinematographically it remains pretty solid, its ability to pull the rug from underneath us in the best possible way is both outstanding and remarkable. And if this isn’t nominated for every single Emmy possible, I will forever lose my faith in awards.
The essence, don’t get me wrong, remains the same. The essentials of the show, that which makes the show what it is, are untouched episode by episode. But the narrative has such twists and turns at times, that its unpredictability is already one of its most notable strong suits. That, and the incredible way it is shot and the unbelievably talented actors that star in it are reason enough for this show to be officially named the best show of the year.
I’m not exaggerating.
If last week’s episode taught us anything, it was that Barry was here to lead us through an emotional roller-coaster that matched the ups and downs the characters are constantly facing. It taught us this show could change course at any moment, that the audience could very well try and predict what was going to happen, but it would ultimately have us guessing. “Chapter Three: Make The Unsafe Choice” further proved this.
Barry has to juggle more than ever his double-life, simultaneously dealing with finishing a job he was forced to do while trying to keep his acting career —if we can even call it that— afloat. Meanwhile, Fuches is forced to deal with the Chechens on his own, and Sally is called in personally for an audition for a new television show.
And then, in the last three or four minutes, the show races through events and it is equal parts devastating and exciting.
GUM IS AT THE REGISTER, BARRY
If Bill Hader’s starring, directing and co-creating role is what lured you to the show in the first place —God knows that’s the case for me— it should be clear by now that he’s definitely the reason to stay hooked to this masterpiece.
Barry’s arc was set from the beginning. It is the driving force of the show, it remains the storyline that we as an audience care for the most. We may be more or less interested in Fuches’ dealings with the Chechens, we may need to know where the police force investigating the murders is at, we may even look forward to seeing what the acting class is up to this week. We are interested in these things, no doubt. But Barry is what really keeps us glued to our screens. Barry is who we really want to see.
And Bill Hader deserves most, if not all the credit for it.
Barry is mainly the reason why our emotions are running high during the entire episode. Within his predictability —we know him well enough now to understand him a little— his actions are always a challenge to figure out. It’s mainly due to the fact that he’s still figuring them out himself, and with this slow but steady development the choices he is going to make are always a source of doubt for the viewer. His conflict is our conflict.
Early on in the episode, Barry has the clearest shot in the history of shots to kill his target, and yet doesn’t take it. Sure, it’s because the Chechens ask him not to, but there’s a deep-rooted insecurity within Barry that is now also within the audience, who truly wonders if he’s stalling because he was asked to or if he is because deep down he’s not actually sure of what he’s about to do.
Barry stalls through the entire episode although his logical side, the part of him that’s used to putting the job first, the part that tells him he needs to murder to feel something, to be someone, tells him that he has to stop procrastinating. For the majority of the episode, we believe that the elongation of Barry’s kill works in his favor, that he’s actually deeply thankful for it. But Barry seems to want to get it over with, to believe that once he finishes this one job, everything else will end. That he’ll be done with this life for good.
And he has to do it fast, because this life, the one that he’s trying to put behind him, is constantly clashing with the life he is working towards. And here’s where Sally comes in, and Sarah Goldberg aces every scene she’s in. But more on that later.
His hitman life is still around him, it is now bleeding into the new life he has just started creating. The police literally zones in on the acting class and questions him about Ryan’s murder. His phone calls are literally edited together, paralleled. His two worlds are only just beginning to collide with each other.
Honestly, it doesn’t look great.
But it’s too late for us. We are already deeply rooting for Barry. We are in it with him, we want to see him come out of it victorious no matter what.
Which is why we’re still not sure as to what he’s ultimately going to choose. Will he end up shooting his target prematurely? Will he refuse to shoot him altogether? Is he going to give more importance to his soup-searching made up grocery store scene than the actual job?
Which, by the way, is one of the highlights of the episode. We firmly believe that during this scene Barry is going to amaze us, that somehow he is honestly going to get into character and build up a scene where we will get to hear, where he will vocalize, all of his deepest fears and problems. It’s a standard writing technique, we’ve seen it happen before in the Pilot, when Barry confessed, unbeknownst to Henry Winkler’s character, that he was a murderer. We’re lead to believe that the acting classes are a way for Barry to exorcise his demons, that they are his shrink sessions, for lack of a better analogy. And they are, of course they are.
Except they aren’t. Not so easily, anyway.
We have to wait to see Barry’s emotional turmoil. We don’t get to see him act it out on stage while Henry Winkler’s character coaches him through the aisles of a grocery store.
We have to wait for it.
And in the process, Barry gives the most second-hand embarrassment-worthy performance I have ever had both the fortune and the misfortune to come upon. And it works incredibly well to reaffirm the idea that Barry acts perfectly during his daily life —even when he’s being interrogated by the police about a murder he committed— and yet is utterly incapable of doing so onstage.
The revelation of Barry’s inner turmoil comes much later, triggered by one single sentence murmured by the person he is coming to care for the most in his life.
“I don’t want to be alone,” Sally confesses to him over the phone.
And that’s all it takes for Barry to make the choice. He ran out on her before, after her disastrous audition, but he isn’t making that mistake twice. He proceeds to gruesomely murder his target with his bare hands, in what is one of the most brutal scenes in the show so far, and during the entire scene we are begging him not to.
Don’t do it, Barry.
And yet he does. With his bare hands. With a very different meaning and connotation to his actions than if he had just shot him. Shooting requires a distance. Strangling is a whole different, much more intimately distressing idea.
And all because Sally didn’t want to be alone.
Which is precisely what Barry was before he met her.
Alas, inner turmoil.
I DON’T WANT TO BE ALONE
And right after he strangles a man to death in his own lawn, surrounded by his children’s toys, Barry meets Sally and then the narrative turns in yet another different direction. Last week, Sally and Barry’s relationship seemed to go for the long-running will-they-won’t-they. But this week, the two kiss and sleep together.
The audience doesn’t even have time to process it, despite the fact that we see it coming the minute Barry runs —quite literally— up to her. The episode has built up their relationship, their bond, and it would’ve been an incredible tease to not culminate the tension. But it would’ve been normal, within the parameters. It would’ve been what writers do to extend the build up, the slow burn.
But nobody has time for buildup on this show. The murder is quick, the getting-together is almost quicker.
The show had never shied away from its intention to create something romantic between Barry and Sally. She was set up to be his interest practically from the first scene we saw her in, and the writers have worked to fully reinforce her importance as a pillar in Barry’s life. But this episode proved the opposite is also true. Sally needs someone to rely on, someone to trust in. And Barry is that person. Barry is the friend she didn’t know she needed, the one her audition lines talk about. Sure, Barry needs Sally. But Sally needs Barry.
But we don’t have time to enjoy it, because we are too conflicted by the fact that to get here, Barry had to murder yet another person. It haunts us. We feel terrible about it. We don’t want our leads to get together right after our main character has brutally murdered someone with the same hands he will later hug Sally with. The story turns from dark to romantic so fast it’s disturbing, and that’s entirely the point of it. While he’s reveling in the post-sex comfort of it all, Barry gets a glimpse into what that grocery store looks like now. Sally is in it, he’s decided on a soup, everything is working out. And yet he is also conflicted as to his previous actions, they are tainting this future that he now, maybe for the first time in years or ever, is capable of visualizing. His past life is still catching up to him.
NO TIENES QUE HACER ESTO
His inner conflict seems enough for him to come to a definitive choice, a definitive resolution as to what he’s going to do. If the first episode’s intention was to allow Barry to vocalize that he was an actor, that he was going to start working towards it, it was always shadowed by his need to kill, by his almost primal instinct to continue with his hitman life. Barry still had doubts as to whether he could leave that all behind. But this last scene is his resolution. In this last scene, he knows for sure that he can leave it behind. Because now he has Sally, he has someone and something to look forward to. He has a future away from murders.
For a split second, we believe it. We believe it is possible. We believe Barry is going to take his last victim’s dying words as gospel and will do everything and anything in his power to become a new, different man.
But the show is already notable for it’s metalinguistic quality. It revels in that constantly. If the initial voiceover of Henry Winkler’s character’s book talks about how we all act all the time it’s because, in a very Bergman-esque way, he’s telling us what Barry is doing. If Fuches explicitly says, “this isn’t theater, this is business” it’s to further highlight the incompatibility of the two. If the so-called best Chechen assassin kills himself in front of Fuches because the only way to leave his murder-filled life is his own death, it’s because the show wants to tell us something.
It’s called foreshadowing, my friends, and it comes back to bite you in the ass more often than not.
So while Barry and Sally are hazed in the after-sex magic of it all, we can’t help but be unfortunately and widely aware that this isn’t going to end well. The shows tells us so: the only life Barry has ever known is death, just like the Chechen assassin’s. The only way out of that life, despite how hard you try, is death.
Ultimately, death is what always awaits Barry.
For now, though, we’ll take our hands out of our pockets and pick up a pack of gum at the register.
Barry airs Sundays at 10.30/9.30c on HBO.