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

When Gene Cousineau informs his acting class about Ryan Madison’s gruesome death, they first mourn, and then they plan a show. After all, they’re actors, and their emotions are the paints in their toolbox, so their sadness must be put to good use. Sally informs everyone that the memorial will be held at Jake’s (her friend Juan is bartending, they’ll get a deal) and they should prepare a scene or a song to honor Ryan’s life. By the time everyone arrives to the memorial, it’s a full-blown talent show, complete with lighting and sound cues, and a paltry audience to boot. For those struggling to crawl into the limelight, death becomes just another excuse to perform for a crowd.

But Barry is having some trouble getting into the right spirit. It could be that he was hired by the Chechen mob to kill Ryan for sleeping with the boss’ wife. It could be that he saw Ryan’s murder at the hand of the same Chechens who later tried to kill him. It could be that the Chechens have now forced him to carry out yet another hit, or they’ll torture and murder Fuches. Gene tells him to use the sorrow and terror he feels to improve his performance, but Barry feels none of that. He’s never had to think about his victims, even the one’s he didn’t actually kill.

“Chapter Two: Use It” opens up the world of Barry nicely, showcasing the “talents” of the acting class as well as introducing the LAPD team, led by Detective Moss (Paula Newsome), investigating the murder, but it mostly fleshes out Barry’s inner strife. Barry wants to act so he can lose himself and become a different person. He wants to put his hitman past behind him in order to live a new, uncertain future on stage. Yet, all the feedback he receives from Gene and Sally revolves around using his life to hone his craft, which inevitably means reflecting upon his violent career. Hader plays Barry like a repressed veteran, someone who has closed off his emotional life in order to commit horrific acts in service of a higher calling, whether that is the United States military or Fuches’ hitman service that ostensibly rids the world of bad men. Now, he’s tasked to open himself up to an unfamiliar world, and the results aren’t as clean as he had hoped.

For the memorial, Sally wants to perform the climactic scene from Doubt (the film version because it’s L.A. theater), in which Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep) confronts Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) about allegations of molestation. She enlists Barry to play Flynn, but Barry has trouble getting into the character, so Sally tells him to use a memory of when he hurt someone. Later, right before the two are about to perform their scene, Ryan’s father (Michael Bofshever) gets up on stage to pay his respects only to break down on stage. “Who would do this to my boy?” he cries out, sending Barry out of the bar like a bullet.

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In the past two episodes, Hader and Alec Berg have excelled at crafting dialogue scenes featuring two people speaking at cross purposes. Barry spills his life story to Gene, who believes it’s just an improvised monologue. Ryan tells Barry not to give up on acting, even though doing so would extricate Barry, his would-be killer, from his life. But the scene with Sally and Barry outside the bar stands apart because it tries to get at Barry’s fomenting guilt. He can’t even articulate why he was so disturbed by Ryan’s father’s speech, but Sally just assumes the moment moved him. She implores him to take apart his feelings rather than running away from it, to bring his emotions into a performance space. “That’s what this class is about,” she says, like a true believer, but Barry’s obviously not sure that he can do the necessary work.

But he still follows Sally back into the bar and into the open arms of the class. Barry pulls no punches about the actual talents in the class—most are terrible and the best, like Sally, are still somewhat middling—but it treats the community itself with a disarming sincerity. Gene’s acting class provides hope to those who are otherwise floundering, providing them with a sense of purpose, or an avenue to exercise their passions. Barry isn’t an actor, but he wants to be something, and though it requires more of him than he expected, he’s also not ready to leave it behind.

However, his past life has other ideas. As soon as the LAPD figures out how to retrieve the footage from Noho Hank’s lipstick camera, they’ll have a visual on Barry committing murder. Meanwhile, Vacha (Mark Ivanir), the “self-consciously scary” Chechen soldier who inexplicably wears an apron while performing torture, follows Barry as he walks Sally to her door. Barry’s small world has only gotten larger, and it’ll be a matter of time before his newfound hobby and his lifelong career will converge in horrifying fashion. It’s up to Barry to use the lessons he learned from a mirroring exercise: Prepare for the unexpected and get out of your head.

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Stray observations

  • Other scenes at the memorial: Nick (Rightor Doyle) performs his audition as Cop #2, which includes the lines, “Get on the fucking ground! Eat dirt, bitch!”; Sasha (Kirby Howell-Baptiste) sings “The Yankee Doodle Boy” from Little Johnny Jones; Jermaine (Darrell Britt-Gibson) dresses as Mark Twain spits some classic quotations, like “Giving up smoking is easy. I should know, I’ve done it hundreds of times”; Eric (Andy Carey) performs his terrible slam poem (“Gave me five dollars to go to Del Taco / He used to be alive, but now he’s not, yo!”); and finally, Antonio (Alejandro Furth) does a mime show.
  • Paula Newsome steals the episode this week with her naturally funny, committed performance as Moss. Her best moment is when she gloats about winning $300 because her fellow Detective Loach (John Pirruccello) broke up with his wife within a year. “Oh, please. He’s a homicide detective and she’s a human being, that shit don’t last,” she says.
  • When Sally describes Doubt over the phone, Barry thought it was supposed to be funny. “A man molesting children?” inquires Sally. “Yeah, like how Family Guy is funny,” replies Barry.
  • Fuches swore to Barry’s father that he would protect his son because he saved his life during, but not in, Vietnam: “You know, a barracks in Connecticut in the late 60s, that was a rough place.”
  • Cameron Britton, just off his excellent performance in Mindhunter, makes an appearance as one of the slacker LAPD computer techs. He’s very, very funny, especially when trying to understand the Russian advertisement for the lipstick camera: “Brought to you by… wolf attacking a horse?”
  • “Now I wish I could say that this was the first time that one of my students was gunned down in the street, but it’s not, and as much as it pains me to say it, it’s most likely not the last.”
  • “Showing two results for Off-book Freeze Cowboy.”

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