[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “Barry” Season 4, Episode 4, “It Takes a Pscyho.”]
Open Mike Eagle’s 2020 album “Anime, Trauma, and Divorce” has a great track, “The Black Mirror Episode.” It details a couple deciding to separate after watching the Netflix show together. When Eagle (who confirmed the song is largely autobiographical) sing-shouts the one-line chorus “The ‘Black Mirror’ episode ruined my marriage,” you believe what he’s saying and feel the dark, absurd edge to the truth beneath it.
It’s the same sentiment explored in “It Takes a Psycho.” Episode 4 of “Barry” Season 4 is filled with people running away from relationships that seem to be working and running toward ones that appear doomed. People get what they claim to want and find that what they’ve acquired is rotted from the inside. It’s a half hour of delicately crafted misery, something that’s become a “Barry” calling card.
“Barry” has been slowly deconstructing the idea of a partnership — Hank (Anthony Carrigan) and Cristobal (Michael Irby) are the latest in a line of self-delusional betrayals by people who endanger some of their most prized relationships out of ignorance, or arrogance, or a fundamental misunderstanding of what ties them to each other.
It seemed like they might be the two people who escape the Barry (Bill Hader) vortex with their lives and dreams intact. (For a while, in New Mexico, it seemed like they already had.) But one fateful trip to the top of their newly acquired sand silo alters the prospects of their shared business and their shared lives. A selfies-and-sand-angels session devolves into a mass execution once Hank flips the switch and sends all of the Bong support team to suffocate inside the product they were hired to protect. In a panic attack-inducing bit of camera movement, sound design, and sensory deprivation, Cristobal gets caught with them.
Even before that sequence, Hank’s eyes show that something has changed. Carrigan’s always been so precise in showing the vacant stare of someone who knows trouble is on the horizon. Sensing an imminent threat from Barry, Hank makes a covert deal with his old Chechen colleagues to swap his current ragtag band of karaoke-loving henchmen for protection and control over the LA smuggling operation.
Cristobal manages to survive his accidental inclusion in that plan, but his rescue only leads to more problems. He doesn’t even get enough time to wash the sand off his face before finding out that Hank was an orchestrator of the group hit. By the time they’re back at their place, hosting Andrei (Michael Ironside) and his crew, things have shattered. Hank has gone Full Barry, morphing from deeply flawed and outwardly amiable to fully embracing the mindset that shows of strength trump all.
When Cristobal tries to leave, Hank does his best to manipulate Cristobal into staying. When that doesn’t work, Hank faces the panicked realization that Cristobal isn’t just walking out on their partnership but walking to his death. Whether or not Cristobal shares that same realization, it ends in goodbye, then tragedy.
Once again, “Barry” Season 4 underlines one of its themes: Love used in desperation can be a nasty weapon all its own. Andrei puts just as much, if not more, genuine belief in saying that Hank and Cristobal love each other than Hank does in saying “I love you” as an attempt to get Cristobal to stay. That last Hank/Cristobal fight is vicious for the speed at which the two diverge before one of them even realizes it. It ends with Hank sobbing, drowning out the sound of gunshots right outside. (It’s a subtle and brutal costume design choice to put Andrei’s henchman in an outfit just similar enough to Cristobal’s so that, for a second, it seems like everyone’s avoided disaster.) The front door closes and, in the span of just a few minutes, both men meet a fate worse than drowning in construction-grade silicate.
Sally’s (Sarah Goldberg) also gets everything she wants while underestimating the physical and psychological price. For the second time in as many weeks, “Barry” calls on a Best Picture director, this time enlisting Sian Heder (“CODA”) for another round of pointing fingers at the industry from the inside. MCU parodies are plentiful in the comedy world these days and, while Taofik Kolade’s script does add the specific angle of the “indie director to franchise behemoth” conveyor belt, the scope of this fake project is more designed to put Sally’s last-ditch efforts in full context.
Sally’s acting-class teardown of Kristen (Ellyn James) in last week’s episode didn’t end her career; it got her an invite to the set of franchise blockbuster “Mega Girls.” (It’s probably not a coincidence that Kristen’s costume is just as much Queen Maeve from “The Boys” as it is anything from a movie set on Themyscira.) When Kristen goes up on her lines during the monologue that sent her to Sally in the first place, her new instructor steps in with some… unconventional shows of support. When sense memories don’t do the trick, Sally delivers Kristen’s monologue to her face before spinning around and finishing those sentences directly to Heder. The director is stunned before damning Sally with faint praise: “Now if I could just get that to come out of that.”
It’s more than the industry’s callous nature of referring to actresses as objects, or that Kristen’s agent later telling Sally that there are other roles that she would be “appropriate for.” Actor-director Hader frames director-actor Heder as literally moving her hand past the camera. Sally wanted to be a star, but now she’s become a literal physical obstacle to the more valued performer and face behind her.
Last season brought Sally a major rejection from network TV; this smaller rejection in the blockbuster world proves to be Sally’s final straw. When Barry emerges, Marley-like, from Sally’s kitchen, she doesn’t have to hear an apology. She’s ready for the two of them to get out of town.
The bumbling, blunt-object policing we see in “It Takes a Psycho” includes LAPD cars slamming into each other outside Gene’s (Henry Winkler) place and an inept raid on the Dave & Buster’s. Contrast that with the careful patience of Jim Moss (Robert Wisdom) staking out each new location, waiting for any trace of Barry at homes of former friends. He waits out Barry’s return the same way that Hader directs this season: steady, purposeful, and presenting each character’s waking nightmares in an unadorned, unsparing way. Amidst a sea of bold character swings and disastrous outcomes, Jim’s particular brand of revenge suddenly seems the most competent.
Meanwhile, Fuches’ (Stephen Root) cries echo throughout the prison, being punished in exchange for trying to sound the alarm on the Barry assassination plot. Gene arms himself, a self-proclaimed sitting duck up at the Big Bear cottage, believing that Barry is destined to return to one of his crime scenes. That anxiety results in him shooting his son Leo (Andrew Leeds), who was trying to bring him comfort food all the way from the Valley. More kindness repaid with pain.
After putting Barry’s psyche front and center for the first three episodes, “It Takes a Psycho” is an episode-long misdirect. Barry’s hardly there but he casts a long shadow, especially in how his manipulative ways seem to have transferred to Hank. (That last Cristobal goodbye has chilling echoes of Barry’s attempts to keep Sally in his life.) But “Barry” is just fine even without Barry.
Until, in a disorienting episode button, he is. It starts out like a replay of Barry’s early-season daydreams, with a young boy escaping a fight and retreating to a home in the middle of an empty field. Inside, Barry and Sally wait. The reveal that it’s them in that unidentified, remote location is shocking, but not exactly surprising. If this isolated house really is their future and not another peek into Barry’s subconscious, it’s another example of someone getting what they claimed to want and feeling pretty disaffected by the results. The only move now is to wait and see if the pattern of misery holds.
“Barry” Season 4 airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on HBO.