In which Barry seemingly glides over all…
I choose that phrase consciously to start this review, because this episode reminded me of nothing so much as the season 5.1 finale of Breaking Bad. Barry seemingly makes a clean break from his life of crime, seemingly gets away with it all… until one committed cop gets hold of a clue and can’t let it go… and pulls the string until they are forced into confrontation. Unlike Walter White, though, Barry has no illusions about what he has to do and what he’s capable of. (And it’s quite the testament to Barry‘s focused and driven plotting that we reach this moment in eight episodes, when Breaking Bad took 54 to get there.)
Barry decides to make a clean break with Fuches. Fuches is holed up at the hotel, drinking, pistol at the ready, expecting the Chechens– but he’s never been happier to see Barry, but Barry won’t even talk to him. Barry takes the money, punches him out (twice!), and says “I am done with all this, starting right– now!” which he punctuates with a thrust of his index finger downward.
Fuches doesn’t have many cards to play (and Barry took all his money), so he visits the Chechens– who are understandably on edge with the war with the Bolivians. Goran is angry; Fuches tries to sell him on the idea that he didn’t really tell him to take the Bolivian stash house, that it was Goran’s idea– but his manipulations fail here. So Fuches plays his next card: offering to give up Barry. He discloses that Barry’s alive, and that only Fuches knows where to find him– but Goran reveals he already knows about the acting class, thanks to Vacha’s stunt in episode 6, giving Fuches no value to them. So Goran hands Fuches over to Ruslan to be killed. (“You said he was dead!” “No, that was Vacha. This is Ruslan.” Vacha’s twin brother came out last, so he was “a little overcooked.”) He gets what appears to my non-woodworking ass to be a circular saw, and we leave Fuches screaming in the garage. This appears to be the end, and it would’ve made sense– it’s hard to imagine Barry being able to break free of the life with Fuches hanging around.
Noho Hank tries to tell Goran not to look for Barry there, because if Barry turned on Fuches, he probably decided to “‘Fly Like an Eagle’ performed by Seal on the Space Jam soundtrack.” Goran chews out Noho Hank: “Are you in love with Barry?” He questions Hank’s loyalty; Hank defends himself with “I’m friendly,” but Goran calls him weak and declares he is to stay and help with the dishes while Goran and the others go retrieve or kill Barry.
Next we get Barry on the beach; his phone buzzes with two texts and Noho Hank on the line, warning him that Goran is coming for him, and breaking the news about Fuches. Hank advises Barry to “Fly like Bug Bunny in Space Jam.” He closes the call with “Thank you for your friendship. You are a super good guy.” (I’m not sure why Noho Hank likes Barry so much, especially since a few episodes ago Barry was saying that Goran should kill him for bringing that lipstick camera.) Barry gets in his car and drives away.
Barry can’t let it end like that, so he goes to rescue Fuches and take out the Chechens. But first we get a pretty hilarious scene where it turns out Ruslan has been using the saw to build a set of stocks this whole time (“I got the plans from a woodworking magazine”). Goran gets angry, asking “Why would you build this?” Ruslan gives a pretty great answer: “What, I’m going to travel with stocks on a plane? It’s a torture device, dude! Watching me build this shit is part of the torture!” Goran orders him to get on with the killing, and he starts up the saw and puts on his mask, but then– “Look, I’m being a dick here, but if you knew Vacha like I did, you’d know stocks would be the thing–” Goran’s had enough of the theatrics and pulls out a pistol, determined to show Ruslan how you kill someone in America.
Then a shot is fired, and Fuches is still alive; Half of Goran’s brain has been blown out, though he remains standing (reminiscent of the Yellow Man in Blue Velvet). Goran isn’t completely dead, though, and after collapsing to a chair he spasmodically waves his gun around at the three remaining Russians. Then some more bullets come through and kill them all. Barry reveals himself as the shooter, setting Fuches free and getting them out of there. (And not a moment too soon: We saw that Det. Moss has a warrant for Goran Pazar, which created a race against the clock as to whether Fuches would live long enough for them to show up. Then Barry and Fuches have their own race to get out of there.)
Noho Hank comes back to the garage (with tea!) to find everyone dead and Fuches gone. “Barry.” Then he hears sirens and helicopters. “Okay, yeah, that’s definitely coming for us. That’s not good. Fellas?”
Barry drops Fuches off at the airport, in a tense exchange where Fuches isn’t ready to give up on convincing him. “You’re made for this job, all right? It’s who you are.” “No, it’s who you made me. I’m done with you, Fuches.”
“I’m done with you, I’m done with all this, starting right– now.”
In another great stroke of luck for Barry, the LAPD gets to the Pazar garage in time to see everyone dead and quickly conclude the Bolivians did it (aided by Barry’s technique: “Shooter was either crouching, or he was extremely short.” “Bolivians.”). The ensuing press conference is the height of comedy, as the LAPD come to so many wrong conclusions, none so hilarious as the last one, complete with accompanying ridiculous photo: “Which led us to the conclusion that rival crime organizations from Chechnya and Bolivia, led by these two men, Goran Pazar, and this man, Cristobal Sifuentes, were baited into war by this man, Taylor Garrett, and his partner, the ringleader of the entire operation, this man, Richard Krempf, AKA Ryan Madison.”
Noho Hank and Cristobal are watching the news from the stash house, and they raise a glass when the chief announces that Taylor and Ryan acted alone. Noho Hank is excited for the partnership: “Once the guys get to know each other, it’s gonna be super great.” Then he tells one of his soldiers in Chechen: “They’re small but they’re friendly. Mingle!”
Also the height of comedy in this scene: the Chief describing the events as “much like the Kurosawa movie, Yojimbo,” and continuing to elaborate on the movie and on Kurosawa in general in the background, while Gene places a phone call to Janice while she’s on live television.
And in a bit of a denouement, we get Barry coming to the bar where the actors hang out. Sally runs to greet him, but he’s just there to tell everyone he’s dropping the class. Unfortunately for him, in some ways it’s what he wants, but now it’s inescapably tied up with his killing: “I don’t think that can be my process, I don’t think I can go to that place again.”
Sally opens up to him (although still with that certain Hollywood-phony touch that made me laugh out loud again: “Okay, I haven’t told anyone here this before… except Natalie, and Nick… I think Jermaine, and Gene, obviously Gene. But I– I really– I don’t like to talk about it.”) That’s not to sell her story short here, though, telling Barry of an abusive marriage she had when she was very young.
“I know where you went, and I know how hard it is, I really- I do, but it’s not always gonna feel like that. It gets easier. Trust me.”
That really struck me like the sort of thing Fuches might have said to Barry after his first contract kill.
Sally tells Barry “Using my pain in my work has helped me process it. It can be the same for you,” and then convinces him to stick around by suggesting they work together on The Front Page. Now he sees a future in acting; he agrees. And we fade out on them talking about it…
…but there are still twelve minutes left in the episode (granted, including the “making of” afterward, but still), and we go to a scene with Barry and Sally in a hammock, by a gorgeous lake in the woods, reading scenes from The Front Page, and clearly romantically involved.
Is it a dream or is it real? The question genuinely lingers for a few minutes, until Sally notices a car: “Janice is here.” It’s doubtful Janice would be in Barry’s dream, but she’s certainly in Gene’s, and it turns out we’re at Gene’s cabin, where he’s invited Barry and Sally to come stay for a weekend– and, of course, Moss’ presence there indicates that he was right that there was something special.
Our first warning sign is that Moss catches the mockup poster for the front page, which has Barry’s stage name, Barry Block, on it. Our second is that, over dinner, Gene recalls the first night Barry attended class, he improvised a monologue about being a soldier who came back from Afghanistan and became a professional killer. Barry doesn’t remember it– something he knows is strange and tries to hide, and Janice hides her suspicion just as well.
They’re both smart enough to know they can’t count on the other one not having caught on, so Moss sets up a wireless router to the highest point furthest to the edge of the house she can find, then heads out to the pier to do a little research, searching Facebook for Barry Block… then finding pictures of him at a No Man Left Behind memorial 5k for Chris Lucado… then finding a photo of Chris with Taylor. She watches the dashcam footage again, remembering her lines from the first time they pulled it: “If this guy was someone you knew, you’d recognize him.”
It’s then that Barry approaches her on the dock, unarmed. He really wants to talk her out of this.
He confesses, in a fashion. He worked for a man who did bad things, but now those things are over, and he’s made sure of that. That he’s put it all behind him. That he’s a good person now who helps people. “If you could just walk away from this and forget about it, everybody’s life will be better.”
He’s not wrong. Similarly, he’s not wrong when he says they want the same things: “We want to be happy. We want love. We want a life.” But he’s wrong that they are the same: As Moss reminds him, “I’m a cop, and you’re a fucking murderer.”
Her mistake is underestimating that Barry will do whatever it takes not to lose what he’s got. (Now that he’s really an actor and has a relationship with Sally, he’s got so much more to lose than he did when he killed Chris.) Moss underestimates Barry’s competency and will, and really thinks she has the drop on him.
As Barry starts to pass the tree where he has a gun rigged up and ready, he pleads with her one last time, “Janice. Can we please not do this? ”
Right as we see Barry make a quick movement, we cut to Sally sleeping. Several flashes of gunfire outside her window. She remains undisturbed.
And sometime not long after the sunrise, Barry comes back to bed. He’s going to be happy. He’s going to have love. He’s going to have a life. And he’s going to stop taking others.
STRAY BULLET POINTS
- Wheeeeeew, what a season. More tightly plotted than many actual dramas and thrillers, enough laughs to still be considered a comedy, and a great reminder that real life, and the best stories, often contain both. I usually don’t give grades, but this episode gets an A from me and this season, especially as everything ramped up these last few episodes, rates among one of the best of 2018 to date.
- It’s still stunning to see Barry kill Janice, even though we know he’s capable of it. Chris was a new line for him, but it was also a line where the consequences weren’t up close and personal in a way they will be now. (And a dead ex-Marine is going to bring down a lot less heat than a missing or dead LAPD detective.)
- Goran’s annoyances with Noho Hank: “plant lipstick camera; get shot by Barry, then stick up for Barry; offer anyone who shows up here submarine sandwich.”
- I love that at the cabin, Moss cuts through the actors’ bullshit (which even Barry is starting to buy), from Barry’s claim that Block is a more memorable stage name to Barry and Sally’s plan to switch parts every night in their upcoming production.
- Snarky meta-line of the episode: “Don’t worry. You don’t have to get too heavy. It’s a comedy, not a drama, so all you have to do is talk really loud and fast. Anyone can do it.”
- Even if I wanted to lay out some possible scenarios for season 2, I can’t think much right now beyond “Who will find Janice’s body, and where?” (Will anyone find her body? Barry was gone for hours.)
- One thought I will leave with. MacBeth was the play Barry and Sally performed from this season, and that reflected in the themes of the show (specifically, how once you start a life of killing, you can’t just “go straight”; it always leads to more killing to cover for your past crimes). Is there any way we can think that The Front Page might similarly play into a season 2 motif?
- Bonus content a-coming: Fellow member of the ex-AV Club community wallflower and myself will be posting a more in-depth conversation about this season of Barry this week. Look for it on Leftorium second-cousin site The Solute soon. (Also, thank him for the screenshot for this week’s episode.) You’ll find most of my broader ideas about the season as a whole there (and perhaps some speculation on season two as well). For now, feel free to offer your own reactions and speculations in comments. (UPDATE: Here’s that piece.)
- And yes, in case you haven’t heard, there will be a season 2. It’s been a real treat to watch along with you all.