[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “Barry” Season 4, Episode 1, “Yikes.”]
For a long time, “Barry” felt like it existed in its own little bubble. Even with the flashbacks to Berkman hit jobs and the references to past Gene Cousineau ego disasters and Sally making an entire TV show about her hometown and Fuches’ goatherd retreat and organized crime elements from multiple different countries mobilizing their forces, they all seemed to arrive on the doorstep of a self-contained North Hollywood. All those forces have been trying to worm their way inside the perimeter that the show’s title character seemed, for a time, to have set up for himself.
Then, home stopped feeling like home. Guilt started to engulf everyone caught up in Barry’s (Bill Hader) orbit. Before he’d been arrested, Barry had already started to retreat to an imagined shoreline, standing in the midst of his past victims. The bubble had burst and everything inside it began to seep out.
We don’t really see that Berkman mind purgatory in “Yikes,” the first episode of “Barry” Season 4. But we do hear it, right before he endures a physical punishment that’s been years in the making. Now he has the outward damage to pair with the inner damage, self-inflicted in a different kind of way. He’s not alone. One by one, each of the main players in this series get a chance to start off this season by forging a new path or simply taking the one laid out for them. Over the course of a half hour, all of them refuse in their own way.
Each come with their own personal horrors. Sally (Sarah Goldberg) is stuck between two extremes for this entire episode. Some of the fluffiest, most soothing clouds you’ll ever see on a TV screen are smushed up against a nightmare vision of the man who almost killed her, climbing up Bob-like behind the seat in front of her. She has a panic attack set to the twinkling sounds of Roxette. Her father is one tick shy of a cartoonishly supportive father and her mother is one away from a heartless maternal robot. You can see her desperately wanting some middle ground between LA and Joplin.
After getting a taste of setting his own agenda, Gene (Henry Winkler) is back to playing a supporting role in someone else’s story. It’s a good part, though! He gets to see justice meted out for Janice’s killer (and the satisfaction of a celebratory phone call). He gets to be the star witness in the trial. His MasterClass comes with a hearty standing ovation. But you can see his slight unease at having to stand off to the side during the big LAPD press conference. There’s a tiny droop in his demeanor when he finds out that he won’t be at the narrative levers of an upcoming bombshell magazine profile. When presented with respect, he risks it all for control.
“Barry” is really effective at creating the illusion of a short memory. It can go from a season finale that had one man chained to a radiator before massacreing his captors/an endangered animal and another undergoing crude, torturous aversion therapy to the two of them enjoying the peaceful vistas of the American Southwest. Whether or not Hank and Cristobal have earned a happy ending (or believe they have), an early Santa Fe retirement is well within their grasp. They could live an existence of casual dinner dates and stunning gaucho hat ensembles. But Hank was bitten by the same radioactive ambition bug that caught Gene. At the faintest whiff of a new substance-based business venture and the news that Barry might be back in town, he’s already planning a return to the city that brought him so much pain.
This stage of “Barry” has morphed into a messy psychological game of musical chairs where the last one to say “I love you” gets to walk away thinking they’re the winner. In “Yikes,” that’s Fuches, a man so unmoored from his sense of self that he barely even has a name anymore. In an act of self-preservation, he goes to the feds hoping that some cooperation might buy him some protection. Hader, the director on all eight episodes this season, frames the padded walls of that FBI room like cuddly sides of a compactor, ready to crush anyone who tries to make a deal inside of it. Fuches has long had a transactional mind for these sort of relationships, especially when it involves taking advantage of people at their most broken.
So as “Barry” begins its descent and starts to come in for landing, Barry is back to being something that other people can use. He’s a means to a plea bargain. He’s someone that Sally can reject as a way to establish some healthy boundaries. Maybe that’s the reason why he slams his fist into the concrete wall, using a mirror as both a means to berate himself and psych himself up to be the Bad Man he’s convinced himself to be.
Whatever the reason, in an episode filled with his former friends and loved ones unable to resist the pull of their true natures, here’s Barry in the prison bathroom deciding to embrace a new role. The seemingly kindly guard offers him the classic “Bloodline” defense, that he’s just done bad things and isn’t a bad person. Driven by anger or guilt or shame, Barry is choosing a role to punish himself. It’s not a fountain of blood coming off his head wounds. It’s the slow, gentle trickle of those waves on the shore The balance of Barry at his most menacing with his zen-like acceptance of the consequences is pure late-period “Barry”: highlight everyone’s rock bottom before gently showing all the possible ways for people to dig themselves even deeper.
“Barry” Season 4 airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on HBO.