What a great week this has been to be a Bill Hader enthusiast. Not only was the news of Barry’s season two renewal on HBO the greatest, but if you’ve been paying attention, it looks like Bill Hader is in talks to portray an adult Richie Tozier in the second part of the Stephen King horror movie It alongside Jessica Chastain and Bill Skarsgard. And it looks like Barry is a favorite for this year’s Emmys.
It’s been a pretty good week for Bill Hader.
It hasn’t, however, been a pretty good week for Barry “Block” Berkman.
Last night’s episode had one clear intent: to prove every single character on Barry is a loser trying their best to not be, and yet ultimately failing. And man, did it prove it to be so.
“Chapter Four: Commit… To YOU” shows us Barry and Sally dealing with the aftermath of sleeping together as they both have to make decisions regarding their work life. On one hand, Barry confronts Fuches about his involvement in future hits, and on the other, Sally starts to get acquainted with showbiz and the disappointment it undoubtedly carries. Meanwhile, Gene Cousineau tries to date the police detective in charge of investigating Ryan’s murder.
THE MANNEQUIN AT J. CREW
The great thing about Barry is that, more often than not, the first scene of the episode hints perfectly at the theme of the story the episode is going to tell. In the Pilot, it was a crime scene, and so the episode introduced us to Barry’s life as a hitman. The second episode started with Barry in an acting class, and so the episode talked about Barry’s change of priorities and his decision to keep his acting career afloat. This episode’s first scene is the morning after Sally and him have sex —the disappointing morning after. And so the show is directly telling us this episode is going to be all about failure.
And then it sets out to prove exactly that.
During an acting class, Cousineau screams at Barry because he never does anything for himself, because he never follows and pursues what he really desires and is always set to do what everyone else wants him to do. And after a pretty awkward morning with Sally, from which we see she is clearly not nearly half as interested in Barry as he is in her, Barry takes those words to heart.
So he tries his best to change, to become an empowered man, to take the reins of his life and take initiative. He changes his clothes —but please never let him pick clothes on his own again—, he faces Fuches, and decides to get in touch with some ex-marine buddies of his as a way to begin the much needed fresh start he’s been after since the show began.
And part of this taking control of the situation involves, of course, Sally.
In last week’s episode, Sally’s importance in Barry’s life was clearly established. He’s been into her since the first episode, and if this week’s episode proved anything it is that he is, every day, more head-over-heels into her. She’s become, in a sense, Barry’s driving force to become a different man.
Except that’s precisely what Cousineau tells him not to do. He pushes him to take charge, to stand up for himself and himself only, and yet Barry is still trying his best to please Sally. Even in the future he keeps imagining with her —featuring Jon Hamm, and what a pleasant surprise that was!— he is still giving her everything. He is still making sure she has everything she needs.
But this is the beginning of his progress. This is when he starts trying.
Because Barry is really trying his best. He buys her a new laptop thinking it will make her fall in love with him, despite everyone else in the world —the audience included— knowing how terrible of an idea that is. He texts her to ask how her audition went, he volunteers to help her out with it. But ultimately he misreads the situation, he still doesn’t know how to socially function around other human beings without saying the word “fuck” thrice in every sentence —that conversation with his old marine buddy is hilarious—, and is still trying to figure out what he and Sally are without having a conversation about it with her.
We’ve been rooting for Barry for four weeks now. We know that despite being a deadly assassin, he’s not a complete bad guy. We know he murders people reticently, and that deep down he’s a sweet man who just has to keep learning. Which is why the secondhand embarrassment we feel every time he’s onscreen this episode is almost too much to handle. You can’t bear to watch him fail again and again with everything he does. At one point, you’re almost wishing he could carry out a hit just to see him succeed at something —thus compromising the audience’s moral compass.
At the end of the day, Barry is a decent guy who makes terrible decisions.
So, undoubtedly, your heart breaks a little bit for him when Sally leaves with another guy. Ultimately, you want to grab him and shout at him and let him know that he has to keep trying harder. You feel for him.
You need to see him win.
But the episode doesn’t give that to you. You never see him succeed at anything. Every choice he makes is the wrong one.
Even when he stands up to Fuches, in what is possibly one of the funniest scenes of the episode, you know by Fuches’ reaction that it will come back to bite him, that it hasn’t really accomplished anything.
As much as he tries, he never really gets there.
A punctuating declaration of intent if I’ve ever seen one.
NOT YOUR GIRL
Everyone is trying hard this episode. And everyone is failing. And no one is giving Sarah Goldberg even half the recognition she deserves. She is incredibly funny but excels in her dramatic performances, and were it not for her portrayal of Sally, we could’ve hated the character.
Sally has to confront the crudeness of show business in this episode, something that the show foreshadowed last week and that came to fruition in a terrifyingly real and heart-wrenching scene. She lands an audition but her manager pulls a Harvey Weinstein and admits, although he later says he was joking —hint: he isn’t— that he will only sign her if he sleeps with her.
Were it not for the scandals that have always surrounded Hollywood, we would’ve thought that scene was actually a joke. But we know better than that. Bill Hader and Alec Berg know better than that. And because we do, that scene is almost the scariest in the episode. Because Sally —strong, determined, eager— refuses to sleep with him and makes the right choice. And that ultimately costs her every advance she had made in the industry. She can’t audition, and is farther than she has been from accomplishing her dream of becoming an actress. And all because, as a woman, she was punished for not using her body to achieve her goal.
The feminist commentary is very necessary. Because Sally’s storyline this episode is also about taking charge, about standing up for herself and doing what she wants. Barry’s journey, albeit far more complex and violent, is mirrored in Sally’s journey. They both have to learn to walk with their head up instead of bowing down to everyone they ever encounter. And Sally has to find a way to make way for herself in an industry that will still go after her body, that will still see her as a token, that will still judge her for her appearance and everything involving her physical assets.
Sally’s just getting to know this side of glamour now, and it’s disappointing. It’s heartbreaking. It is absolutely the crudest realization that the world you’re about to be immersed in will never value you for who you are or how talented you are. She is, just now, realizing if she’s going to make it in this world she’s going to have to force straight white men in positions of power to listen to her without her having to take her clothes off.
It pains us on Barry’s side, but the way she stands up to him is the first step in her process. Perhaps it is a little bit misdirected and it is undoubtedly the source of miscommunication. But Barry is definitely in the wrong. Having slept with her once in no way gives him any kind of authority over her. Barry falls into the overprotective boyfriend trope precisely to prove that it’s the wrong move. Precisely so that Sally can beat his ass about it and call him out on his attitude. Barry has the wrong attitude precisely so that he can learn it is the wrong attitude.
And in a show so full of testosterone, written by two men and led by a bunch of other ones, it is vital that the one onscreen visual representative of a woman that we actually get to know more about is precisely this kind of a character. It is so important that Sally is someone who stands up for herself, who calls men out on their bullshit. It is exactly the kind of representation of a complex yet strong woman that a show filled with men needs.
In a way, what the writers are doing is giving Sally and Barry a very similar protagonism by which they are going through the same: they are learning to be people by themselves, without letting their jobs or their friends define them.
Which is why them getting together at the end of last week’s episode was a mistake. Writing-wise, it wasn’t. It was the smart move and the adequate way to prove that despite these two characters practically destined to have their paths intertwine somehow, they still have a long way to go. Character-wise, it was a mistake. Sally only slept with Barry because she was emotionally scarred, because she was feeling down and needed physical comfort. And Barry didn’t have the strength to pull away and recognize that desperate, human need in her.
Barry believed Sally would make him whole. Sally believed Barry would make her feel better.
But ultimately none of those things were true. But that union, ironically, evidenced their separation.
Until they learn to be themselves, they can never really work together as a couple.
But we’re sure they’ll get there eventually.
DO YOUR JOB
And while all of this emotional rollercoaster is delighting us with upside downs and loops, we are constantly reminded that Barry’s actions still have consequences that are still catching up to him. It seems the police investigation is narrowing down a suspect more and more with every episode, and there is still a mysterious car following him around. Not to mention that now he has to deal with a possible new partnership. Plus, it’s not like Fuches is going to let him out of their deal anytime soon.
So the prospect for Barry isn’t looking promising. It’s actually looking more murderous and violent than ever, and he’s putting everyone he is meeting and coming in contact with in danger.
There is no way this will end well.
But, for now, we’ll delight ourselves with Gene Cousineau’s one-line auditions in two different tones, and his failing charming acts.
Barry airs Sundays at 10.30/9.30c on HBO.