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Bill Hader tearfully holding someone at gunpoint as the titular Barry in season three, now streaming on HBO Max (Photo provided via @_Ifcjosh on Twitter).

TV Review: The third season of ‘Barry’ is one of the best seasons of TV in recent memory

Barry.

Damn.

Those were the only two words that left my mouth once the credits rolled during the season three finale, “starting now.” Barry’s third season is so unfathomably good that I couldn’t help but compare it to the mastery of the later seasons of Breaking Bad. I was once of the mind that no other shows could hit those peaks, especially since Barry wasn’t at that level from the get-go. But after recently rewatching Breaking Bad, it was in a similar boat to Barry. Just like Breaking Bad, Barry took time to reach its prime, battling past a mostly-good first season, a genuinely great second season and then crescendoing into a magnum opus of a third season. Of course, Breaking Bad went even further than that, and Barry will have that opportunity as well.

The series has been renewed for a fourth season, but I’m not so sure I really want one, regardless of how fantastic season three is. It’s reached a logical and fulfilling conclusion, but if season four is anywhere close to being as good as season three, I’ll gladly eat my words.

Barry’s third season picks up some time after the second, probably around a year. Things have gone back to a sort of new normal: Barry (Bill Hader) is juggling odd acting jobs while taking assassination jobs off the dark web and Craigslist; Sally (Sarah Goldberg) is running a TV show of her creation while managing a seemingly loveless relationship with Barry; NoHo Hank (Anthony Carrigan) is still running the Chechen drug operation; Fuches (Stephen Root) is living the life of a happy goat farmer in Chechnya and Gene (Henry Winkler) is spending every waking moment thinking about how he can take Barry down for killing the love of his life. So, in other words, the powder keg is one small push away from igniting. What could go wrong? Everything.

Before going into full spoilers, which is necessary in order to explain just how brilliant this entire season is, just know that Barry is worth your time and then some. This season is much more of a tough watch than its predecessors. It’s bloodier, darker and far more disturbing and it’s not afraid to go long periods of time without any jokes. The jokes are still there, and I think they’re better than they’ve ever been, but this season is much more focused on ripping your nerves to shreds, stitching them back together with twine and then coming back with a pair of rusty scissors to finish the job. That may sound like a backhanded compliment on it, but it’s anything but. 

In a media landscape where disposable garbage reigns supreme, please make the time to watch something that’s actually fulfilling, well-made from a filmmaking perspective, extremely thought-out and thought-provoking. Even if that thought is often, “Oh no." I implore you to take the four-hour movie-quality journey that is this season.

The remainder of this review contains full spoilers for Barry season three.

This is your last chance before I get into spoilers. There’s a lot to spoil, and I don’t want to be the one to ruin this season and its finale for you. 

Last chance.

So, Barry finally got caught.

In its simultaneously shocking and completely predictable final moments, Barry chose to finally give its titular protagonist his much-deserved comeuppance. Even better, Gene was the one behind it, orchestrating the operation with his dead girlfriend’s dad and the police. The look Gene and Barry share once he’s finally in handcuffs is one for the ages, no words are needed. 

The performances the whole cast gives throughout the entire season are phenomenal, but the finale just ratchets them all up to a whole other level. Hader portrays Barry as a broken man caught in a vicious cycle of violence that’s drawing ever closer to those he cares about, whether it be Sally or Gene. Barry becomes scary and pathetic and is still somehow sympathetic despite being clearly unhinged from the premiere’s first scene to the finale’s final moments. There are episodes, like the penultimate “candy asses,” where he barely says a word at all, it’s all in his face. Hader should be up there for an Emmy come awards season, but he’ll most likely be forgotten amongst a sea of other options in the (extremely loose) comedy category. The rest of the main cast should be in awards chatter as well.

Sarah Goldberg is simply transcendent in the latter half of this season. Her transition from being a scared and helpless victim of domestic abuse last season to a strong and somewhat vindictive Hollywood personality feels earned and makes total sense for her character. Every single character of importance in this series reaches their lowest point this season, and her’s just may be the lowest. After losing her show, her best friend, her agent and then immensely damaging her public image, she is forced to kill a man looking to kill Barry because of his past, taking all her anger out on the man with a bat until Barry eventually pulls her away. Her shifting eyes, quivering utterances and blood-spattered face make you believe she’s in complete shock. The performance is completely believable, both heartbreaking and terrifying. 

Carrigan’s NoHo Hank goes through much of the same turmoil as Sally, somewhat mirroring her hardships and also her incredible performance. Carrigan is single-handedly the most hilarious character on the show, but also the most endearing, despite being a drug kingpin in his own right. He’s never gotten his hands dirty, he tries to operate his business with friendliness and acceptance despite being a part of an international organized crime ring; all of that is forced to change this season.

It’s revealed early on that Hank is in a relationship with Cristobal (Michael Irby), the head of the Bolivian drug operation in Los Angeles, which is both a wholesome and problematic addition to the plot; problematic because Cristobal is married to the daughter of the head of the global Bolivian drug operation. When Cristobal is taken back to Bolivia by his wife after Hank’s assassination of her father, Hank goes to find him, getting himself imprisoned in the process. What follows is one of the most disturbing scenes in the entire series, with Hank having to hear his fellow Chechen brothers being brutally ripped to pieces by a panther behind a single thin wall. He frees himself by breaking his restraints and is forced to kill a guard and the panther for his own safety. This would be the first life he’s directly taken, as far as we know. He then finds Cristobal’s wife performing electric shock conversion therapy on him with a male stripper. Hank shoots both the stripper and Cristobal’s wife, embracing his lover with a look of terror and somewhat indifference. It’s strange, but fitting.

Carrigan’s performance throughout this sequence is truly a sight to behold, transforming his character from the jokey comic relief to a traumatized killer, by necessity, within minutes. It’s certainly awards-worthy, to say the least.

The other leads, like Winkler's Gene and Root’s Fuches, are also fantastic but aren’t on the same level as the others. Winkler gave his best performance last season and his character has largely progressed past that state of mind, so he’s not given as much to do on an emotional level, especially as season three progresses. Yes, he’s on a journey of self-improvement and trying to own up and fix past wrongs, but his performance just isn’t incredibly noteworthy. Root is in much of the same boat. He was more heavily featured in past seasons, giving his character much more to do. He’s still active in the main plot, being the reason so many folks are attempting to kill Barry throughout the season, creating a sort-of revenge army of the families of Barry’s past victims, but that’s mostly behind-the-scenes work. If anything, I expect both of them to be back in the spotlight and shining brightly for the entirety of the next season.

Speaking of next season, what will it even be? With Barry and Fuches in police custody, Sally on a plane back to Joplin, Missouri, Gene’s story seemingly completed and Hank back with Cristobal, there aren’t many loose threads to tie up. Regardless, with all eight episodes confirmed to be directed by Hader, who has directed all the best episodes of the series, I’ll be watching. 

The direction this season has taken a massive step up from season two, and season two similarly took a huge step up from the first. Hader stepping up into the director’s chair can be credited for that. Hader taking a more active role in the creative process of the series as it progresses has done nothing but good for it.

This season has a distinct look from the others, looking more filmic, being darker (both in content and lighting), having absolutely amazing shot composition, gorgeous cinematography and a distinct desaturated look. Season three, even more than the others, just feels like a four-hour-long movie with eight intermissions, and it’s all the better for it.

I love Barry, I have for years. After having to wait three years between seasons two and three, I wasn’t sure if anything could make that extremely long wait worth it; season three proved me wrong from the start. When a series has me comparing it to Breaking Bad, I know it’s damn good. Season four is scheduled to start production soon, with the scripts being completely done already, so we should be seeing this story’s actual conclusion within the next year, but I’d gladly wait another three years if that means we’ll get something anywhere near as good as this incredibly powerful performed, brilliantly written and anxiety-inducing season.

@zachj7800

zj716018@ohio.edu

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