- Creator: Alec Berg and Bill Hader
- Starring: Bill Hader, Sarah Goldberg, Stephen Root, Henry Winkler, Anthony Carrigan
It’s been nearly three years to the day since the world was treated to a new episode of HBO’s dark comedy Barry. And in those three years, the world has surely changed significantly, so how much will a new season reflect those changes? The premiere episode, “Forgiving Jeff” is a clear indication that, though the show won’t be addressing the pandemic just yet, the world within the show is very much a different place.
For those that haven’t watched the show since its last episode in 2019, season two ended – as most episodes do – with a big cliffhanger, and a question of how Barry (Bill Hader) would worm his way out of another mess. Fuches (Stephen Root) had tricked Gene (Henry Winkler) into finding Detective Moss’s body, where he would subsequently frame him for the murder and dispose of Gene. But when that plan fell apart, Fuches called an audible and told Gene that Barry was responsible. So how does that leave Barry, who looks up to poor, sweet Gene in virtually every regard?
“Forgiving Jeff” makes it clear from the opening scene that Barry isn’t doing so great. The episode title refers to Barry’s newfound hobby, and it’s heartbreaking to see. The show has always been about self-identity, about whether we choose to begin a new version of ourselves or whether we’ll embrace our darker impulses. After two full seasons of trying to get away from his hitman life, it seems that Barry has now given in and continues to kill for whomever he can. He stands in the middle of nowhere as a man off-screen digs his own grave before Barry plans to kill him. Except the man that hired him has a sudden change of heart and has forgiven the titular Jeff. “There’s no forgiving Jeff”, Barry replies, right before he decides to kill them both. It’s no surprise that Hader embodies Barry’s aimlessness perfectly throughout the episode. On the surface, things aren’t going too badly for him: he’s moved in with Sally, he gets to pick and choose his work schedule – he browses the dark web for people requiring hitmen, which seems like a surefire way to get caught – and he’s rid of Fuches. But without Gene as his friend and mentor, he’s as lost as he’s ever been.
Indeed, in-between the last season and this one, Gene has apparently shuttered his theater and acting class, choosing to retire to a life with his reunited son and grandson instead. That is, until he texts Barry for help moving and takes out his prized prop gun he was gifted from Rip Torn (a great callback to last season), and it appears his intentions are much darker. Though the episode is fairly short on laughs, the scene where Gene and Barry confront each other features the biggest piece of dark comedy, a nice encapsulation of Gene’s ethos as someone who professes to have seen and done it all in the acting world, but has never actually fired a prop gun.
What follows is perhaps one of the series’ most heartbreaking scenes. Barry appears back in the middle of nowhere, with Gene on his knees held at gunpoint. Though Barry doesn’t kill Gene, how can the two possibly continue on from here? Barry seems to think he can find a workable solution, but it’s hard to believe Gene and Barry will ever have more than a working relationship going forward.
Lest we forget, there’s also big developments for Sally, whose career really seems to have taken off after her stage performance in the season 2 finale. She’s writing and directing her own show (with Elsie Fisher as her co-star!), which she fits into quite nicely as we see midway through the episode. “Forgiving Jeff” is directed by Hader, and it features another long, fantastic tracking shot, in the vein of season 2’s “ronny/lily”, where Sally runs through the set of her show fielding questions from the production team. Sally’s acting career has always provided some ripe satire of the movie and TV business, and it looks like things have finally turned out for the better for her. Though she does snipe at Natalie (hopefully this will at least mean we get more for D’Arcy Carden to do this year), giving an indication that show business has perhaps gone to her head a bit.
The biggest question with Sally though is how her relationship stands with Barry. Season 2 didn’t do much to deepen their romance outside of the acting class, instead focusing on her working on her personal scene and their acting together. But, in the brief glimpses that we get of them in “Forgiving Jeff”, she semi-bullies him to buy her flowers and make a show of bringing them to her on set. Here’s hoping the show will explore this more, and justifies their time together beyond two good-looking actors struggling to make it in Hollywood.
All-in-all, “Forgiving Jeff” effectively does what a season premiere should do. It establishes the characters’ headspaces, sets up upcoming potential conflict that could last throughout the season, and brings back long-simmering issues to the forefront. I didn’t even get to NoHo Hank (Anthony Carrigan) or Fuches, though it’s unclear how much of an effect they’ll have on Barry this year. After escaping Barry’s wrath at the end of last season, it seems that the Chechen’s have smuggled him to a ramshackle hut in the middle of nowhere in Chechnya. Fuches works best on the show as an agent of chaos, a kind of anti-Gene, so how will the show find ways for him to meddle in Barry’s affairs from halfway across the world? It would be a shame to sideline Root after delivering such tremendous work, so one of my biggest questions for the season going forward will be how co-creators Hader and Alec Berg will get him back into the fold.
Throughout two seasons, Berg and Hader have been able to surprise week after week by finding new and thrilling ways of getting Barry in and out of seemingly inescapable situations. At its best, the show reminds me of The Good Place, in the way it constantly manages to seismically shake things up at the end of each episode, while still telling a cohesive, grand story. The ending of this episode doesn’t appear to have changed that outlook on the series, no matter how many years have elapsed between seasons.
Barry will air new episodes on HBO Sundays at 10pm