Sarah Goldberg and Bill Hader in Barry
Image: Jordin Althaus (HBO)

After Chris emphatically tells Barry that he wants to come clean to the cops about murdering a Bolivian gang member and he doesn’t care what happens to him as long as he has a clean conscience, you can actually see Barry make the decision. Bill Hader has given a great performance week after week in Barry, but all of his work feels like a dry run for that moment, the one when Barry realizes that he must kill Chris. His eyes go completely blank but they communicate so much pain. He lashes out and then he says what will be his last words to an old friend, “I told you to get out of the car, man.”

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A lot happens in Barry this week. First, Fuches and the Chechen mafia believe that Barry is dead after Cristobal Sifuentes (Michael Irby, absolutely delightful), the Bolivian mob leader, tells him that his people had to kill “two soldiers.” Second, Cristobal, despite being a super nice guy who would have gladly shared his stash house with Goran, declares war on the Chechens because of the attempt on his life. Third, Goran sets out to kill Fuches after his horrible advice turned out to be, well, horrible. Finally, the cops connect Taylor to Ryan Madison after finding more of the cash in his house as well as Ryan’s copy of Gene’s book, even though Moss still thinks Barry is involved. Add Gene’s annual Shakespeare showcase on top of all of that and you have a packed episode.

But it’s that agonizing five-minute scene with Barry and Chris in the car that pushes the series to a different level. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, nor is it a complete surprise that Barry would pull such a maneuver, but it does two separate things remarkably well: 1) It illustrates the psychic toll of Barry’s work better than any prior scene and 2) It’s a catalyst for the strongest connection between the hitman and acting halves of the series.

We’ve seen Barry kill for work but we’ve never seen him murder for self-preservation. Chris was in the wrong place at the absolute worst time and he killed a man to save his and Barry’s lives, but unlike Barry, Chris can’t live with it. He was in logistics. He wasn’t in the shit. He can’t just go back to his wife and act like nothing happened. Barry tries to bargain with him and convince himself that Chris will keep quiet, but he knows that he can’t. You see Barry realize this, but worse, you see Chris realize Barry’s realization. For two minutes, Chris tries to convince Barry that he’ll keep quiet as they both watch a potential witness drive away. “I know you’re not gonna do anything crazy, Barry,” he says, almost through tears. “I know you’re a good guy.”

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Except that Barry isn’t a good guy. He wants so badly to be a good guy, but he has no idea how beyond complete passivity, which makes him such an oddly compelling figure. However, in strictly cut-and-dry moral terms, Barry is far from a good guy. He kills people for money. Fuches might be something of an abusive surrogate parent that forces him into this horrific line of work, but at the end of the day, Barry is still pulling the trigger time and time again. And now, after he barely escaped a Bolivian death squad, he unceremoniously killed the friend who saved his life and stages it like a suicide. It’s a downright disturbing moment in a series that has only previously flirted with that kind of moral weight.

Then, Barry makes a bold turn that makes the whole show suddenly click. Barry, completely fucked up by Chris’ death, arrives at the Shakespeare showcase just before Sally’s big Macbeth monologue. She tells him that Daniel Meldman, a small-time agent who she desperately wants to impress, is in the audience. If she does a good job, he could sign her, and maybe one day she can fire him when she becomes too big, just like Emma Stone. But it won’t happen unless Barry can step up and deliver his one line (“The queen, my lord, is dead”) with feeling so that she can have something to work with up there. Barry barely hears her. She goes on anyway and she starts to blow it almost immediately.

Backstage, Barry is pacing and sweating because he keeps reliving Chris’ murder. He pictures Chris’ wife getting the call about her husband’s suicide. He sees her fall to the ground in tears. He sees Chris’ son come into the kitchen to ask his mother what happened. He sees Chris’ military funeral. He sees Chris’ wife tearfully accept a flag from a dutiful solider. Barry is suffering a complete nervous breakdown that’s undoubtedly having irreparable damage on his mind and body. Yet, it’s also exactly what he needs at that moment to deliver his one line with feeling. He goes out on that stage, crying inconsolably, and just says it. It rattles Sally so much that she delivers the “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow” monologue with genuine feeling, which gains the attention of one Daniel Meldman, who previously was completely checked out of her performance. Gene is impressed by Barry’s performance. Meldman tells Sally to give him a call, saying that there’s “a lot to work with there.” Everything’s going great and Barry is still falling apart.

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Barry sprung from this idea of being perfect for a job that makes you miserable. What happens when you try to abandon that job to pursue another one that’s a terrible fit but also provides a sense of inner peace? (It’s wonderfully ironic that Barry views acting as this stable “normal” job that’s a relief from the stresses of his violent day job.) In “Chapter Seven,” Barry pushes this idea to an uncomfortable place. What if Barry is only good at acting when he uses his hitman career as inspiration? What happens when Barry, who previously couldn’t deliver one line to save his life, can only come alive on stage by reliving the time he murdered his friend? “Whatever you did tonight to get to that place, that’s your new process, okay? All you have to do is do that every time,” Sally tells Barry, sincerely believing that she’s doing him a favor by confirming his worst nightmare.

As Barry stands alone on that stage, staring at nothing in absolute horror, he takes to heart what Sally says. At first, acting was a way for Barry to lose himself on stage. It was a way for him to escape the pain of his job. But now he realizes that it’s the pain he so desperately tried to hide that gives him the confidence to excel. Where does one go from here?

Stray observations

  • Apparently, Cristobal is a big proponent of Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements. He wants to buy it for Goran so he can take some of his teachings to heart. Even NoHo Hank has read it!
  • In honor of Ryan Madison, all proceeds for the showcase will apparently go to “The Fight Against Violence.”
  • The best sight gag this week? The empty seats in the front row with “Reserved CAA” and “Reserved WME” signs on them.
  • As Fuches is crying on the phone about Barry, he talks about seeing his “dumb face” when he was five and that he regrets that Barry never had the chance to apologize to him. What an asshole.
  • “Okay, there’s about ten more minutes of discussion of The Four Agreements and other self-help books, many of which are terrific, there’s no shame in seeking help is my point…”
  • “Are you on drugs, Barry? Because getting clean is an important part of an actor’s journey. A little story to illustrate: I was doing Long Day’s Journey into night at the Pasadena playhouse with a bunch of cokeheads. It’s usually about a three-hour play. We could bring it in just under 37 minutes. We thought we were great. Apparently we were unintelligible. It was the beginning of the bad years, Barry.”

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