Barry Season 4 Episode 1 & 2 review: The tip of the iceberg

Cameron Frew
Bill Hader in Barry Season 4

Barry Season 4’s curtain-raising double bill charts a course into Bill Hader’s twisted, hilarious heart of darkness; a reckoning is whistling like a bullet, and nobody will escape it.

Five years ago, HBO’s pitch-black dramedy began with an offbeat, press-play premise: a hitman fatigued by his life of killing falls in love with acting, and hijinks ensue. Very quickly, its true nature unfurled and spiraled: the chilling delivery of “What’s going on, guys?” in the first premiere’s closer was as good a sign as any.

Co-created by Alec Berg and Bill Hader, with the latter playing the title role, Barry is good at making you laugh. It’s also consistently capable of upsetting, terrifying, and shaking you at your core. The laughs are never exaggerated, nor are the threats that simmer under the surface of those comedic breaks.

If you thought the third spin around the Block was grim, Season 4 finds the show at its bleakest, hewing far closer to the dreamy, somber tone of The Sopranos in its endgame.

Spoilers for Barry to follow…

Barry is behind bars in Season 4

“Tonight the LAPD apprehended Barry Berkman,” an anchor announces over the TV as prison guards peek over their shoulder, only to see the star of the news hour lumbering behind them. “He’s on TV and now he’s in our prison,” one says excitedly – even minor characters have a warped relationship with stardom.

Lest we forget, Season 3 ended with a jaw-dropping twist: Gene Cousineau’s (Henry Winkler) cold-as-ice deception that tricked Barry into barging into the home of Jim Moss (Robert Wisdom), only to be apprehended by a SWAT team. Within minutes, we see Barry phoning Gene, still trying to come to terms with his former mentor’s double-cross. “Did you guys trick me?” he asks. “I was worried about you and I was protecting you. Are you made at me? I love you,” he feverishly rambles.

“Barry… I gotcha,” Gene replies with a smug smirk carved into his face – but that pride will maddeningly, brilliantly, be his downfall. He’s an actor who smothers his crisis of craft with the affection of those who look up to him, and now, with Barry’s arrest making headlines around the world, he’s in the spotlight. Jim doesn’t want journalists to exploit his daughter’s death, as it could weaken the case against her murderer, a tenet with which Gene ostensibly agrees – but what’s more appetizing: justice or fame? The answer is in the phone call to a Vanity Fair reporter in the last seconds of Episode 1.

Sally’s abuse begets abuse

Sally (Sarah Goldberg) was put through the wringer in Season 3: a streaming platform green-lit her semi-biographical Joplin, only to bow to its weak performance on the algorithm and unceremoniously axe it. Her boyfriend, free-falling without Fuches (Stephen Root) and anxiously keeping a leash around Gene’s neck, revealed himself to be a dangerous killer. She became a viral “entitled c*nt” sensation and torpedoed her own career. She beat an assassin to death with a baseball bat.

She needs some time and space to cool off, so she goes where anyone would go: home to her mum and dad. The problem is, her dad is a friendly-but-useless oaf and her mother is a horror. As Sally has a panic attack in the car upon learning the full extent of Barry’s crimes, her mum is unmoved. When her parents watch Joplin, her mother criticizes her for using the name of her ex – who physically and emotionally abused her – as well as doubting she’s ever been a victim of anything. “You sure can pick ’em,” she whispers, sipping a white wine.

Sally has always been the tough-to-like, obvious tragedy of Barry: a young woman who’s so insecure about herself – her worth, her talent, if anyone actually likes her – that she lashes out uncontrollably, diminishing others’ respect for her. Goldberg plays her beautifully and fearlessly.

NoHo Hank and Cristobal size up a new empire

NoHo Hank (Anthony Carrigan) remains a standout, now living a peaceful life with his boyfriend Cristobal (Michael Irby), sitting on the porch of their rented home staring out at the sun-kissed plains of Santa Fe. After their nightmare in Season 3 – Cristobal was kidnapped by his wife and forced to undergo a Clockwork Orange approach to gay conversion therapy while NoHo heard his friends mauled by a panther – they’re out of the crime game, instead looking ahead to sandier pastures.

Anthony Carrigan and Michael Irby in Barry Season 4

Yes, they want to become the leading sand importers in California, and maybe even the world. “This your opportunity to make your mark and be the top dog,” Cristobal tells him. But NoHo is still afflicted by flashbacks to those chains and the sounds of skin-clawed screams, and he can’t stop thinking about Barry. When he finds out he’s in prison, he shoehorns a plan to break him out into their new venture as they pitch it to warring gangs in Dave & Busters. Cristobal isn’t happy about it, but Barry is the “Spice Girl of assassins”, so he agrees.

Barry and Fuches reunite

Fuches, now the self-proclaimed Raven, happens to be in the same prison as Barry. Initially, the mere sight of his nephew’s towering figure – everyone knows who he is, and unlike other nasty prison dramas, nobody dares to mess with him in the opening episodes – makes him buckle and cry for help from the FBI, offering to wear a wire to get him to confess to more crimes.

His first attempt is lousy, transparent, and goes completely wrong: Barry apologizes for “trying to understand himself”, which is the main reason they’re both there. Later, a prison guard initially enamored with Barry – “You were in the Marines, that’s pretty special. And you were also on TV… each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done,” he tells him as he slams his raw, bare-knuckle fists into the wall – to a pulp with a baton after Barry taunts him. “I’m a f*cking cop killer,” he hisses, even threatening to kill the guard’s kids.

Stephen Root as Fuches

Barry’s mind casts away to a faraway place: a vast, dusty field, where he’s nothing more than a young boy running underneath the sunset. He comes to with his face bruised and soaked in blood, but the guard didn’t stop himself – it was Fuches, who reveals himself to be an informant who could get him fired. He removes his wire and they share an emotional embrace. The dynamic between the pair has been the fascinating through line of the show; their power has flip-flopped time and time again, but their only chance at any semblance of salvation could be each other.

At least, that’s the early hint from the first scenes in Episode 2. Barry’s head wanders back to that field and sees himself as a young boy meeting Fuches for the first time. His dad is pushy and doesn’t understand why he’s too shy to speak, but his uncle doesn’t care. “I hear you like playing army, me and your dad used to play army,” he tells him.

Fuches gives up his chance at witness protection and re-teams with Barry. He attempts to recruit other inmates into his gang (while they’re all watching Yellowstone, so he can’t get their attention), to no avail. Still, for now, they seem to be at peace in one another’s company, even when they’re incarcerated.

Sally visits Barry, while Gene tells all

Barry was one of the biggest orchestrators of Sally’s life falling to pieces, even if he didn’t mean to, but she still can’t get over him. She visits him in prison to check if the “dog” (the corpse of the man she killed) is okay, and Barry assures her it was taken care of. It’s the toughest scene to watch in the double bill: Barry is hopeless and desperate for forgiveness, and Sally can’t help but “feel safe” with him, despite everything indicating she should feel the opposite.

Hader’s performance picks apart at the shoddy, torn-apart fabric of Barry’s soul; he’s a man who believes he’s good, but fundamentally isn’t. What’s most impressive is how much sympathy he still evokes, even now. He’s a scared boy at this point, a child who can’t comprehend his own capacity to be a monster.

Henry Winkler as Gene Cousineau in Barry Season 4

Meanwhile, Gene leads a Vanity Fair journalist (Patrick Vischler) on a treasure hunt for the “most mind-blowing story of his career” – well, he tries to, at least. He’s found tying another one of his notes to a pole on the street, and he’s eventually led to a theater where Gene performs a highly dramatized, “Siegfried and Roy” version of his story with Barry. The basic beats are all there, but they’re all sketched with unrealistic badassery for Gene’s side of the tale.

Afterwards, Sally confronts Gene, enraged by him showing no concern for her life despite knowing everything about Barry. “He was obsessed with us, as an actor that’s hard to resist,” Gene says, and Sally calms down. She’s not there to chastise her teacher: she needs advice on how to move forward, because unless she makes a podcast about being the “entitled c*nt girl who dated a serial killer”, she’s out of acting options. He suggests his own route: teaching.

Barry puts a mark on his back

In Episode 2, Barry is caught somewhere between the Up montage and HAL’s mind falling apart, only he’s muttering “Sally” as he drifts off into insanity.

He wants to be at peace, preferably with the love of his life, so he attempts to broker a deal with the FBI in exchange for details about the gangs he worked for. “Can I take someone with me?” he asks with a smile, implying he’ll bring Fuches to “special housing”, but before he gets the chance, Fuches already thinks Barry has betrayed him and grasses him in to NoHo.

NoHo, with a sobered look on his face, says five words to Cristobal that sent a chill up my spine: “We have to kill Barry.”

Barry Season 4 Episodes 1-2 review score: 5/5

Hader is at the top of his game with Barry Season 4. The craft remains impeccable, his direction is distinct and evocative, and the performances are flawless across the board. TV doesn’t get better than this.

Barry Season 4 Episode 3 will be available to watch on April 23 in the US and April 24 in the UK. Check out the rest of our coverage here.