In May 2019, the second season of Barry ended a lot like the first one: with an overwhelming sense of dread that the show’s titular character (Bill Hader) was becoming just too evil. This addictive comedy, created by Hader and Alec Berg, took a sketch concept—a hitman gets bitten by the acting bug—and spun it into a tense, gory, thoughtful action farce.
Both season finales turned on the murder of Janice Moss (Paula Newsome), an L.A. cop whose investigation of the killing of an aspiring actor by the Chechen mob led her to a class run by flamboyant Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler), and into an ill-advised affair with Gene. When Janice realized, too late, that it was Barry she’d been stalking all along, her fate was sealed. Barry begged her to let it go, but she wouldn’t.
So the second season hinged on the fallout of Barry’s killing of Moss, his untenable desire to focus on acting and fellow actor/girlfriend Sally (Sarah Goldberg), and the violent farce of the Chechen mob, led by absurdly polite NoHo Hank (Anthony Carrigan). And don’t forget Barry’s ruthless ex-handler Fuches (Stephen Root): He spreads chaos everywhere.
It took nearly three years, but Barry is back April 24. Where’d we leave off?
Season two begins in Cleveland with a job that goes pear-shaped: A young hitman whacks two dudes in an apartment, but in trying to shoot open a safe gets a ricochet in the leg. He bleeds his way back to his boss, Fuches, in a hotel room, where he’s killed by cops, who then arrest Fuches.
The collar sets off a chain of events that brings in Loach (John Pirruccello), Moss’s sad-sack, bitterly divorced partner from the first season. Loach connects Fuches to Barry and forces the former to wear a wire to get a confession. The fact that Fuches betrays Barry is no surprise; his fatherly act is pure manipulation.
In some ways, the Fuches-Loach thread is a red herring. By mid-season, Loach reveals he’s not interested in bringing Barry to justice; he wants Barry to kill his ex-wife’s lover (cue the mind-blowing “ronny/lily”).
Still, any shred of trust Barry had in Fuches is gone, and their opposition becomes even more deadly when Fuches inserts himself between Barry and Cousineau regarding the discovery of Moss’ body. By the end of season two, an enraged Barry tried to kill Fuches and failed; that’s got to be at the top of his agenda in season three.
The Chechen mafia business in season two is a sideshow—an extremely funny sideshow—due to Anthony Carrigan, whose sunny, chirpy NoHo Hank keeps Barry off-balance with his insistence on politeness and ride-or-die bromance. Hank’s ragtag Chechen thugs have partnered with the Bolivians, led by guru-like Cristobal (Michael Irby), whom Hank adores. When Burmese crime matriarch Esther (Patricia Fa’asua) offers an alliance in her heroin dealing, the lady-phobic Hank feels threatened.
Orchestrating a “criss-cross” with Esther and his Chechen overlords, Hank blackmails Barry into killing her. When Barry, tortured by his conscience, runs away from the job, Hank tries to ice Barry, fails, and the exasperated Barry agrees to train Hank’s men for battle in order to clear his debt. The Chechen pin that Barry receives from Hank (reading “The Debt Has Been Paid”) plays a major role in tying up the Cousineau/Moss subplot by season’s end.
Since Hank (a.k.a. “King Of Suck Balls Mountain”) mostly bumbles through the season, leading his men into grave danger (nearly torched alive in a bus), his standing with the Chechen mob, and Cristobal, remains in doubt as we head into season three.
Still mourning the disappearance (and presumed death) of Moss, Cousineau agrees to return to teaching, if his students explore personal stories. Each of the oddball students fashions their (mostly) cringe-worthy monologues about absent parents, body issues, or in the case of Sasha (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), a creepy fixation on horses.
Sally struggles with telling the truth about a brutally abusive ex-boyfriend (who turns up in “What?!”), whom she left while he was passed-out drunk, not in the defiant scene of self-liberation that she writes and presents in class. As Barry struggles to tell the truth of his shameful action in Afghanistan (in a rage, he mistakenly killed a civilian and was discharged), Sally goes back and forth about which story to tell.
In the climactic acting showcase at a swanky, 400-seat theater, Sally loses her resolve to reveal the ugly truth and goes with a cheesy, heroic fuck-you speech to the shocked Barry. Problem is: Her agents and the audience love it. Will Sally find success in distorting her past?
If you only remember one episode from season two, it’s probably the fifth one, “ronny/lily”—which wrapped up the Fuches/Loach plotline in the most bizarre, David Lynchian way. Barry confronts Loach’s ex-wife’s lover, Ronny Proxin (Daniel Bernhardt), at his home. Rather than carry out the hit, Barry explains, he wants to help Ronny skip town. Ronny, whose bedroom is adorned with dozens of martial arts trophies, has other ideas.
This hyperviolent semi-standalone is basically a series of nighttime flight-or-fight showdowns that gets downright surreal, with a feral daughter who clambers up trees and knife wounds treated with superglue. The gallows slapstick is grounded in freaked-out, desperate laughs from Barry and Fuches. In the end, the episode showed that Hader and Berg are willing to break the rules of realism—and comedy. Here’s hoping they go weird again.
You wonder if the series will have run its course when Barry murders everyone around him—Sally, Cousineau, Fuches—by accident or berserker rage. Or is it over when Barry’s a movie star and the bodies are safely hidden? The fact that either outcome is plausible is a testament to Hader and Berg’s masterful control of plotting and tone. Meaty philosophical questions float through the episodes: Can people change? Does virtuosity bring happiness or misery? At what point is forgiveness impossible?
Intricately plotted, gorgeously shot, with equal doses kickass action and verbal gags, Barry hits a lot of pleasure centers. For a show about acting, its performances are excellent. Hader anchors every episode with his unique on/off switch of emotionless opacity and sympathetic, little-boy-lost transparency. Winkler does heartbreaking work throughout; in the last two episodes, Cousineau’s stunned grief over finding Moss’s body is shattering, no less than his delayed horror at remembering Fuches hissing in his ear: “Barry Berkman did this.”
Barry first emerges in the second season from darkness backstage at Cousineau’s class. We last see him disappearing down an unlit hallway after he kills dozens of Chechens and Bolivians (and Esther) at their monastery HQ. Those who feel for Barry may pray he stays out of the darkness—but fans of the show excitedly hope he won’t.