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

When Barry chose not to kill Taylor after their stash house raid, and subsequently tried to fold him into Fuches’ operation instead, it was, to put it delicately, a bit of a risk. Even though Fuches is a sociopathic manipulator who has kept Barry under his sick influence for years now, his logic for why Taylor should be eliminated is fairly sound. After all, he knows too much, he’s reckless, and he cannot be controlled. Since Barry’s desire to escape his hitman life and his inability to stand up to Fuches are in direct conflict with each other, his only move is to try to position Taylor as a replacement. Maybe he can become another Barry for Fuches to control, so the real Barry can go deliver Seyton’s one line in Act V of Macbeth.

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Unfortunately for Barry, Taylor is, shall we say, a bit of a loose cannon, albeit one so detached from the rhythms of daily life that it’s unclear if he’s tethered to reality at all. Barry initially thinks he can be supervised and restrained, but after a recon mission that features Taylor suggesting they bum rush heavily-armed Bolivians and/or set up a hot tub in the desert, he begins to have some doubts. After Taylor secretly fills Barry’s backpack with dirty stash house money, Barry decides to cut him from the latest hit. Taylor, however, has other dumber ideas in mind.

“Chapter 6: Listen With Your Ears, React With Your Face” is the everything-begins-to-unravel episode of the season, in which the walls start to slowly close in on our hero. Yet, Barry makes some interesting choices for such a now-standard episode of TV. For one thing, the show takes its sweet time before it lets the proverbial shit hit the fan. Most of the episode follows Barry tip-toeing around Taylor or acting class drama (Sally convinces Gene off-screen to take the part of Lady Macbeth from Natalie and give it to her, then convinces him to give her the part of Macbeth because Debra Messing says to only take parts that challenge you), but by the end of the episode, the LAPD are closer to Barry than ever, and Taylor takes control of Barry’s mission. Credited writer Emily Heller lulls the audience into a false sense of security before letting the action take over.

The other clever move was to a) bring Vacha, the self-consciously scary Chechen who was previously trailing Barry and Sally, back into the fold and b) connect him through Gene and Detective Moss’ love affair. Barry deserves plenty of credit for slowly developing many different threads in the background of Barry’s story, but especially for imbuing Gene and Moss’ story with genuine romance in just a handful of scenes. Though Newsome and Winkler do the heavy lifting when it comes to conveying their chemistry, the writing provides stellar support, especially in their breakfast scene. Gene’s plea to Moss not to give up on their relationship works as a nakedly emotional appeal, but what pushes it over the top is his casual reveal of his fake age in the middle of it. It’s strong, concise character work that’s designed to fly under the radar.

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It’s that level of detail and specificity that renders Moss’ rejection of Gene the series’ saddest moment to date. After Moss finally takes the acting class off her board, she travels to Gene’s class to surprise him with the good news. At that moment, she catches Vacha tailing Sally to her car with knife in hand. Vacha sees Moss’ badge and books it, a street-level shootout occurs, and Vacha ends up dead. Once Detective Loach recovers Barry’s stash house money that he hid in the bathroom, Moss is more convinced than ever that her initial hunch was correct. Sadly, that means Gene can no longer be in her life as long as the investigation is ongoing. She unceremoniously tells “Mr. Cousineau” to go home under police lights, and it’s only when Loach calls her out for her indiscretion does she briefly break down. Director Hiro Murai handles the whole scene, including the action sequence, spectacularly, bathing the whole frame in eerie dark blues that emphasize danger and heartbreak.

Similarly, Barry gives up on his attraction to Sally during a repetition exercise in class. Essentially, the task is for Barry and Sally to communicate different emotions through tone while only saying the words “I love you.” Naturally, it’s a charged situation for Barry, who still harbors a crush on her and fantasizes daily about their future life together, but he eventually settles into the moment and discovers that there really isn’t anything between them anymore. Barry accepts that a new life for him doesn’t have to resemble the one in his head. It could just be a life that doesn’t involve him killing for money.

But he might not get that chance. As Barry is about to leave for his Bolivian hit at the airstrip, he finds Taylor in the lobby of the Radisson. Apparently, Taylor disregarded Barry’s directive to stay home and brought along Vaughn and Chris as back up so they can just bum rush the Bolivians. Chris assumes that they’re just going to threaten some guys and ignores Barry’s plea to get out of the car. Taylor, following lessons from Gene’s book, continues to make unsafe choice after unsafe choice up until the end of his life. The last shot in the episode is Taylor and Vaughn getting shot as their car veers off the road. The Bolivians have the upper hand, two Marines are dead, and Barry is stuck in the desert. To put it another way, he might never get the chance to deliver that infamous line: “The queen, my lord, is dead.”

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Stray observations

  • All the credit to Dale Pavinski for his hilarious performance as Taylor. Literally everything he says in the episode is a laugh line. I still love his deadpan voicemail messages: “Barry. Taylor. Let me know when you want to kill those Bolivians. My schedule is pretty freed up. I cancelled most of my appointments.”
  • Goran and NoHo Hank return to banter and read Vacha the riot act. My favorite bit is when Hank praises Goran’s impression of the Bolivians. “This is great physical comedy of you!”
  • Biggest laugh of the night is Sally obliviously listening to Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song” in her while Moss chases off her would-be murderer.
  • “You stuck your tail between your legs and you slumped off like a beaten man. That’s listening!”
  • “Do you know how many greats have died on that hill? Orson Welles for one, Lord Richard Harris, the great Bert Lahr…”

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