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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

A guilt-ridden Barry tries to wash the blood from his hands

Bill Hader, Stephen Root, Glenn Fleshler, and Anthony Carrigan in Barry
Bill Hader, Stephen Root, Glenn Fleshler, and Anthony Carrigan in Barry
Image: John P. Johnson (HBO)
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When Lady Macbeth somnambulantly monologues about the imaginary bloodstains that cover her hands in Act V Scene 1 of Macbeth (“Out, damned spot! out, I say!”; “What, will these hands ne’er be clean?”; “All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand”; yada, yada, yada…), her soul can no longer be saved. The ruthless, manipulative Lady pushes her husband into murdering the King of Scotland, his best friend, and the wife and son of a fellow Thane, all in pursuit of all-encompassing power. Lady Macbeth’s guilt leads to her mental undoing and her eventual suicide, but she was long gone before her death. “More needs she the divine than the physician,” notes the Doctor as he watches her retire to bed.

Barry doesn’t see it that way. When he’s performing the sleepwalking scene with Sally and Natalie, Gene asks his students to describe the scene, prompting the class to provide the classic interpretation. Barry, who’s dealing with his own compounded guilt over the numerous deaths for which he’s responsible, pushes back against this reading, especially when Jermaine claims that Macbeth’s soul is “more fucked” because he actually carried out the murders. He initially tries to politely deflect when the class pushes back (“I disagree, I guess. I think Shakespeare whiffed it on this one.”) but eventually blows up when Sally suggests that murder doesn’t require a moral debate. “It’s really easy for you guys to sit here and weigh in on some shit you don’t know about, but it’s fucking lame and it’s not true,” he exclaims nervously.


Gene eventually steps in and deescalates the situation because he thinks that Barry is referring to his military service. But after his congenial tone, he turns to class and notes, “But I think you will all agree with me that, uh, if you kill outside of war, you’re a fuckin’ psycho. I mean, then you’re irredeemable.”

In “Chapter Five: Do Your Job,” Barry’s guilt over his deeds takes center stage as he reluctantly prepares to raid a Bolivian stash house with a disturbed marine named Taylor. When Barry spills the beans about Taylor’s involvement, Fuches orders Barry to kill him after the job is done because he knows too much. Over the past four episodes, Hader and Berg have methodically developed Fuches as the true villain of the series, illustrating how his manipulative tactics keep him rich and place everyone else in danger, but his conversation with Barry showcases him at his most abusive. He pushes Barry to convince himself that Taylor, a fellow Marine who isn’t a “bad guy” despite some troubling behavioral tendencies, needs to die and that sometimes you have to just shut up and do your fucking job. Obvious parallels to Lady Macbeth and Macbeth aside, their relationship resembles one of a parent and a child stuck in a detrimental co-dependent loop, but the trauma and the pain only ends up at Barry’s feet.

All Barry wants is a second chance, but can he ever achieve that without properly reckoning with or atoning for his actions? Besides, it’s unclear what new life he’s fashioned for himself anyway. He’s floundering in his class, he’s all but permanently alienated Sally, who believes he needs to work through some “toxic masculinity issues,” and Detective Moss is still sniffing around the actors, albeit with a blurry picture of Barry that no one could identify. A well-rehearsed backup protocol involving Fuches saves his ass when Moss pushes him for an airtight alibi, but who knows what her and the rest of the bumbling LAPD will come up with next? As long as Barry is still tethered to Fuches, still just following orders, his soul will remain in jeopardy.

Speaking of Moss, her romantic subplot with Gene offers a nice, non-violent counterpoint to Barry’s struggle. Paula Newsome turns in grade-A work every week, but it’s genuinely impressive how she communicates her loneliness as well as her embarrassment towards her newfound feelings. Gene is a bit of a goof who tends to overstep his affection towards Moss when he’s in public, but his disarming charm and ingrained confidence inspires something in Moss. Despite frustrated objections from her partner Detective Loach, Moss holds onto the acting class leads because she wants an excuse to see Gene. By the end of the night, she’s at Gene’s doorstep ready to jump his bones, both surprised by her own desires.


Then there’s Taylor, the “psycho” Gene’s acting class has in mind when they picture a murderer. Though Barry rightfully treats Taylor’s aggro-deadpan delivery for comedy, the show doesn’t lose sight of the fact that he’s also suffering from some twisted form of PTSD. After all, he got kicked out of a support group to reacclimate vets to society. He’s clearly lost in the civilian world, but unlike Barry, he has no outlet to exorcise his demons and he doesn’t have the self-awareness to believe he has demons in the first place. Ironically, he’s a perfect fit for Fuches’ operation, evidenced by his downright suicidal behavior during the raid. Taylor storms the stash house without any cover and kills almost the entire Bolivian gang while Barry was knocked out. He doesn’t care who these people are or what they’ve done (when Barry informs Taylor that the Bolivians have been torturing people at the stash house, he only responds with, “Sweet.”), he just follows the orders he’s been given, and he’s glad to do so.

In its debut season, Barry has somewhat suffered from a lack of focus. Hader and Berg have introduced so many elements that are great on their own—Barry’s acting class, the whimsical Chechen mob, Moss and the LAPD, Barry’s Marine friends Chris and Taylor—but the show hasn’t always been successful maneuvering between them. Events don’t flow into each other as much as they just occur sequentially. But “Chapter Five: Do Your Job” is the best episode of the season precisely because it hones in on Barry’s own plight, and almost every scene orbits that conflict. He can’t escape the past, but he needs to let it go before moving into the future. Where does he begin?


Well, it starts with disobeying Fuches’ orders. When Barry meets up with Fuches following the raid, he introduces their new partner Taylor, who posts up for an inappropriate high five. Barry’s soul might be far from saved, but he’s not going to kill a Marine on top of dozens of Bolivians just because Fuches says so. Unlike Macbeth, Barry has exercised his free will, opening up cans upon cans of worms in the process. Blood is still on his hands, but Barry isn’t done washing out that spot.

Stray observations

  • Taylor’s voicemail messages to Barry are the height of hilarity this week: “I was just calling to check and see when we’re gonna kill those Bolivians? Okay, fuck yeah. Later.”
  • Barry’s acting class feels guilty about their misguided tact towards Barry’s military service. Sally tries to push the blame onto Barry, claiming that she felt unsafe when Barry yelled at them, but the rest of the class isn’t having it. Natalie feels that Sally stole Zach from her at the party, and she didn’t appreciate her rude criticisms of her performance in class.
  • The key fantasy flash forward this week involves Barry lecturing his son about not hitting bullies. “Don’t let someone lower you to that kind of behavior. Okay? You’re bigger than that. You’re good guy Denzel.”
  • “Be on the lookout for a man with no discernible features. He killed your friend.”

Vikram Murthi is a freelance writer and critic currently based out of Brooklyn.

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