‘Barry’ Ep. 2 Is Giving Everyone the Chance to Put on a Show

At the beginning of the end, each of these main characters are still searching for the role of a lifetime.
Barry Season 4 Episode 2 Cristobal Hank
Anthony Carrigan and Michael Irby in "Barry"
Merrick Morton/HBO

[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “Barry” Season 4, Episode 2, “Bestest Place on the Earth.”]

“Barry” has a way of pushing its characters to distinct places. So often, over the seasons, the anxiety that comes from clutching for any available option means that everyone has to put on a performance. It started with a wayward hitman wandering into a theater and picking up a love for black box productions. It’s also manifested in different people pretending to love someone or projecting an image of dangerousness.

And sometimes, that desire to perform makes you deliver a shipping enterprise pitch to a room full of henchmen who’ve just finished an afternoon filled with Skee-Ball and branded arcade games. All of the above are part of “Barry” Season 4’s mass existential crisis event. Still setting the table for the beginning of the end, “Bestest Place on the Earth” is a collection of people locking in their last-ditch efforts to make their lives make sense. Some are out of necessity. Some are out of restlessness. Very few of them seem destined to succeed as intended.

The obvious example of putting on a show here is Gene (Henry Winkler), who takes anonymous sourcing to his own overly theatrical level. For him, it’s not enough to control the story by being the primary source for an upcoming Vanity Fair piece. It has to be a top-secret covert operation (complete with classy, dinner party invite-level clues, crudely taped to a parking meter). Being noteworthy is for pedestrians. That unscratchable itch inside Gene is the thing that compels him to describe what’s about to come as the “most mind-blowing story of your career.”

Credit Nicky Hirsch and the other Season 4 writers with not only serving up this Gene performance as a Henry Winkler showcase, but also showing off the character’s penchant for rewriting history. “He turned on me, like an ungrateful tiger” isn’t just a perfect Cousinovian turn of phrase, it’s a reminder that Gene once did tell Barry to “let the cat out.” Gene brags about placing all those emotional buttons in Barry before turning around and telling Sally backstage that he’s one of the real victims here. For Gene, performance is a way to avoid (or at least deflect) culpability.

Barry Season 4 Episode 2 Gene
Henry Winkler in “Barry”Merrick Morton/HBO

As much as Sally agrees that she’s been wronged in this whole saga, Gene is not the one she wants to hear that from. Her prison conversation with Barry is a different kind of coded performance for everyone listening in. She and Barry discuss “Muffin,” her innocent-seeming codeword for the biker gang member who popped up in her plane nap nightmare last week. All she says she needs is to confirm that he’s no longer a threat, whatever that may imply. Sally could have used any fake thing to talk around the murder: an “errand” or a “baseball game” or ”checking up” on a “friend.” This is more than a fact-finding mission, though. The phone call is her way of also trying to put a very dangerous man at ease. There’s just enough warmth from her side of the conversation to elicit a response, knowing that the only thing powering Barry at this point is validation that he’s doing something good in the world.

She’s also watching her life turn into a show, as her viral elevator outburst becomes a living meme in real time. (Between the E! News anchor’s “turns out her boyfriend was a K-word….a killer” and “Deep State Blunder: Classified Docs Displayed On NBA Jumbotron,” we’re in a golden age of media-related jokes on HBO.) Her agent offers her a different chance for yet another kind of put-on: embrace the grift and go full celebrity influencer. Yet, like all these other experiences that “Barry” main characters have faced over the first two episodes, the easy path is only the desirable option if it was that person’s idea in the first place. Hosting a podcast is Sally’s equivalent of being a witness in someone else’s trial or accepting an esy retirement. Viable? Absolutely. But still a choice  put in front of her rather than one she’s independently choosing.

Even Barry’s daydream hallucinations have become more productions than simple imagination. He’s not just imagining himself as a child meeting Fuches or dancing with Sally at some wedding in the distant future. The way those bleed together, that happy wedding procession through the Midwest plains, is hoping for something on a big scale. His slack-jawed reaction to his own visions are the reaction of someone crafting more elaborate glimpses into the past and future to numb the pain of the present.

Barry Season 4 Episode 2 Fuches
Stephen Root in “Barry”Merrick Morton/HBO

Of course, it wouldn’t be “Barry” if these heavy ideas didn’t have a little farce sprinkled in for good measure. No one through these first episodes of Season 4 finds that sweet spot quite like Stephen Root, who keeps ensuring that Fuches’ bobbing around between allegiances doesn’t mean that the character gets lost in the process. He’s trying to entrench himself as The Raven. He’s concerned with nicknames. His new bulldog lawyer’s chief concern is ending up with a good story. Fuches, more than maybe anyone in this show, understands that none of this works without a good cover. Part of what makes Root such perfect casting for this part is that he can say something like “Love will lead you to ruin” and have it come off with the same rhythms and wistfulness as Jimmy James. Yet he also sells the idea that Fuches would feel crushed and betrayed by the actions of the very same man he almost set up last episode.

“Barry” itself is also putting in all the extra necessary details, too. If a one-man show is only as good as his audience, it’s Patrick Fischler popping Skittles and gleefully writing everything down that really puts a bow on that whole sequence. The TVs at Dave & Busters are playing actual college games, not the royalty free baseball footage with generic, logo-less uniforms you usually get. When Fuches interrupts TV time, everyone is watching an early Season 1 episode of “Yellowstone.” It’s those specifics that give each of these tiny performances-within-performances the little bit of contrast to pop against.

And yet again, “Bestest Place on the Earth” has mutiple instances of strategic “I love you”s. Barry uses one as a desperate plea to get Sally to come back to the phone. Whether it’s Fuches or Gene or Barry, the idea of telling someone you love them is often used in “Barry” as a cure, a Band-Aid to put onto a wound. But here, at the end of the episode, after Hank has dropped the prison escape plan bombshell into their carefully choreographed meeting, Cristobal offers a subtle difference. His is an “I love you, but…” He’s working from a place where that love is already understood rather than flung out like a life raft. At this juncture, with the potential to make an above-board, can’t-miss business venture, Cristobal seems like the only one in this jumbled web who’s made his last pitch and is ready to enjoy a life of not having to pretend anymore. We’ll see if he gets his wish.

Grade: B+

“Barry” Season 4 airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on HBO.

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