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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Barry finally uses his truth and it's not pretty

Bill Hader as Barry
Bill Hader as Barry
Image: Aaron Epstein (HBO)
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For the first hour of David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr., Betty Elms, played by Naomi Watts, is naiveté incarnate. An aspiring actress, she approaches Hollywood like it’s a grand adventure, one that promises glamour and glory. To Betty, the dream factory isn’t the land of false hope and broken dreams, but a playground just waiting for her arrival. Lynch and Watts play up Betty’s cringingly innocent qualities—bright visage, “golly gee” attitude, sheer gullibility—so that she eventually becomes a microcosm of the sinister narrative that Hollywood has exported for generations. Anybody (even you!) can become a star.


That is until the audition. Those who have seen the film know about the scene in question (those who haven’t are welcome to view the clip, though I’m not sure how it will play in isolation), but it’s when Betty finally acts, with a real scene partner, surrounded by important industry figures, and she blows them all out of the water. It’s a powerful moment designed to place Betty new light and showcase Naomi Watt’s enormous range. (I’ve always been jealous of people who saw Mulholland Dr. when it was first released before Watts was a known property. That scene must have been a literal jaw-dropper.) But it wouldn’t have had as much impact if Watts hadn’t committed to the small-town rube routine for an hour, or rehearsed the audition scene with mystery amnesiac/new pal Rita (Laura Elena Harring) and woodenly read every line while playing up the script’s most terrible qualities. Before the audition, you never once believe that Betty could be a good actress. But then you see her lock in, and, well, holy shit.

Barry and Sally’s big scene near the end of “The Truth Has A Ring To It” isn’t quite at Lynchian levels, but the principle remains exactly the same. Before his turn as the abusive Sam, we’ve seen Barry accidentally stumble into being a good actor one time, when he delivers a crucial line amidst a mental breakdown, but he’s fumbling in mediocrity most of the time. His performances aren’t grounded in any kind of emotional reality. They mostly lie somewhere in between overacting and impressions. But after Sally rewrites her scene to tell the full truth about her and Sam, after she and Barry do a dry read on stage to an uncomfortable reception leaving her mortified and embarrassed, Barry decides to commit. He wants to help Sally tell her truth, but that means he has to use his own. He has to use the worst thing he’s ever done in his life.

So he uses Moss’ murder.

Hader was a very good actor long before Barry, but the show almost seems designed to exhibit new layers from him every week. First, there’s the shot of him visualizing his past to prepare for the scene: he pushes past Korengal all the way to Moss calling him a “fuckin’ murderer,” opens his eyes to shield himself from the pain, but then dives back in to the moment when he shot her. After she falls, he’s terrified, but that fear eventually curdles into a dead-eyed stare, a solemn acceptance of what has just happened. When we flash forward to the present, he wears the same expression.

As soon as he turns back to Sally, the sound mix goes silent, and the whole tenor in the room changes when Barry quietly, menacingly says, “Why were you dancing with that guy tonight?” Both Hader and Goldberg’s body language perceptibly tighten in different directions, as if they’re both immersed in a relationship defined by the threat of violence. Barry terrifies well before he pushes the table; he browbeats and gaslights Sally like it’s second nature, pushing her to collapse before he lays a hand on her. (The bit that chilled me was when he says, “I’m what?” after Sally insists that he’s drunk.) The only moment that reads as “acting” is the fake chokehold, but only because Sally was thrown by Barry’s table gesture. Everything else, from the screams to the shame to the crying to Sally’s brief address, grazes the sublime. It’s a bravura scene that illustrates just how far Barry and Sally can go when they’re pushed to darker, vulnerable places.

Of course, the triumph is riddled with a sick irony, epitomized by Gene sincerely complimenting Barry’s performance, unaware that he used his girlfriend’s murder as inspiration. Barry understandably wants Gene to replace Fuches as his mentor/father figure, but it can’t happen as long as Barry lives in denial. “You killed Moss out of your own self-interest. You made a choice to kill her because you’re a violent guy, Barry,” Fuches cruelly reminds him, all while Gene sweetly insists that Barry isn’t inherently violent. Barry might not want to be a killer anymore, and yet it’s hard to put the past behind him when he’s using those same skills to train Hank’s army. Along the way, he even brainwashes an impressionable Mayrbek, like Fuches did with him. “It’s a cycle I can’t break because I want to and I don’t want to,” Sally reads from an early draft of her scene, which accurately describes Barry’s situation.


But Barry might be shit out of luck before he even gets the chance to break that cycle. It would have been a funny little diversion if Fuches went to Gene’s cabin to find Moss’ body and had a horrible night in the woods. That’s what looks like is going to happen, anyway: he follows a trail in a circle, becomes terrified by strange noises, and eventually rolls down a hill into a riverbed. But of course, that’s not what happens. Fuches finds Moss’ car with her body presumably inside and squeals in delight, knowing that he has something to hang over Barry’s head. At the same time, Cristobal and Esther capture Hank’s army just before they were going to take the monastery. (Never piss off the accordion player.) Barry’s orbit seems ready for another crash.

“I guess everyone is the hero of their own story, right?” Fuches screams at Barry, parroting Sam’s words against Sally after she escapes his hotel room. Barry finally acknowledges Fuches’ abuser status: he manipulates Barry into doing his bidding by convincing him that it’s for his own good. But now that Barry has wormed his way out of his clutches yet again, Fuches will do anything to get him back. In last week’s tour-de-force episode, Barry’s blood-loss dreams suggest that Fuches was the devil. Tonight’s last shot—Fuches pushed to the far edge of the frame, shot from behind, as he watches Gene eat dinner at the restaurant where Moss and him had their first date—all but confirms it. He’s standing on your shoulder, ready to ruin your life.


Stray observations

  • It’s such a sick joke, but I love that Gene keeps repeating, “You killed somebody and got away with it” to Barry. It’s a constant reminder of Barry’s past and an indication that Gene cannot get over the truth.
  • Barry standing stone-faced as Hank’s Chechen army dances around him might be the episode’s funniest sight gag.
  • Hank has many great little moments this week. My favorites are when he dons the beret and when his malaprop of “kicking ass and making names.”
  • Sasha’s story of the moment that defined her life was when she saw a horse. She gets very upset when everyone isn’t impressed. “I didn’t grow up around a lot of animals, like you lot. I’m not from like a rural place. This is in the middle of city!”
  • I love Mae’s tone-deaf attempts to cheer up Loach’s wife. “I’m sure there is a site for people whose ex-boyfriends murder each other. And if there isn’t, there should be!”
  • “Apparently, Detective Loach’s wife, Diana, had recently left him to date Ronny. So…you get it.”
  • “I am so late for my escape room.”
  • “Theater piece? Sally, look, I know it’s one scene, and it is another wife, but this is Benicio del Toro’s wife, so I’m assuming she drinks?”
  • BADBADNOTGOOD’s “Time Moves Slow,” featuring Sam Herring of Future Islands, closes out the episode. Listen to it below.

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