Fred Melamed and Henry Winkler in "Barry"
ManOfTheCenturyMovie Tv The latest “Barry” is as funny as hopeless desperation can be

The latest “Barry” is as funny as hopeless desperation can be

Fred Melamed and Henry Winkler in "Barry"

(Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “Barry” Season 4, Episode 7, “A Nice Meal.”)

For all the shows that “Barry” shares DNA with – crime dramas, black comedies, metaphysical treatises on morality – as the end approaches, it’s easier to see “Barry” as fundamentally a more dangerous version of “The Other Two.” Hollywood satire, overconfident narcissists plummeting to the depths of their own excavations, relationships destroyed in the blink of an eye. Add a few more corpses to the Dubek family’s peaks and valleys and you get something that roughly approximates where “Barry” is now: despair, death, and jokes.

Writer Liz Sarnoff has long helped “Barry” deliver some hard truths and difficult fates in the seasons penultimate episode (just like George Pelecanos did for “The Wire”). Here, return for “A Nice Meal,” a fourth and final Episode 7 to put a bow to these time-jump transformations — not to show that all of these characters are necessarily full circle, but that they each have ambitions and drives that they can’t shake off.

“Barry” dangled some endgame ideas about who might end up finding that elusive bliss and who will almost certainly end up facing brutal retribution. There’s a faint glimmer when it looks like Gene (Henry Winkler) might be heading for the former. Seemingly rewarded for his patience and good intentions, a chance call from a UTA agent tells him that this new project from Barry Berkman could lure Daniel Day-Lewis out of retirement. With that tantalizing ray of hope, Gene convinces himself that he is justified in embracing the spotlight. But he makes a “Barry” rookie mistake: Everyone on this show should know by now not to expect unconditional good things.

We’ve talked a lot this season about performances of all kinds, but we haven’t yet addressed how law enforcement agencies stage deception. The FBI agents pitted the former friends against each other over bargain deals and (just before being executed by a rooftop killer) played Barry (Bill Hader) into believing that Sally was coming with him for a witness protection deal. For anyone who missed that undercurrent, here’s the character of Nate Corddry to make it more apparent than ever.

Sarah Goldberg in BarryMerrick Morton/HBO

It’s one of the latest in an endless string of Gene’s Almosts, tragedies big and small that he could have avoided with just a slight change from his innate ways. Just a little empathy with Leo could have helped their relationship without having to resort to the help of strawberries. A little diligence might have helped him realize that his son was still alive after the accidental shooting that forced him to flee the country. A small ounce of humility long ago might have caused him to pay more attention to his students so that one posing as a Hollywood dealer would have set off alarm bells. It’s Gene’s personal “by the usual of a nail” that has now ended up with him a victim of his own hypocrisy. Her dream hotel room lunch with Mark Wahlberg is actually a sting operation, and Gene is the one holding the metaphorical purse (having taken the physical one full of a quarter million dollars last season). If no one believes him now, it’s only because he’s done too good a job of portraying himself as the ultimate chameleon-like manipulator. (This line about Barry from Gene’s personal program to Lon stands out even more now: “I know how to push those buttons. Hey, I installed them!”)

In the long-running “Barry” series swinging between consequence and absurdity, Hank (Anthony Carrigan) has so often been at the centerpiece. He actually slipped in the spot Barry left. (Can you imagine Season 4 Barry delivering the “Glengarry Glen Ross” monologue. the same way now? Obviously not. You know who would be happy to pull this off as a party trick or as a way to pass the time while waiting for a goon to pick it up from the home of a kindly resident somewhere near Beachwood Canyon? This guy.) Carrigan has excelled this season at delivering the emotional moments of hammer blow, but this episode really showcases his ability to alternate between cackling and lowering his voice to the menacing range he wants to project.

From the scene of the a la carte mercenary selection to the one where he looks through boxes containing their heads (nice job by David Alan Baker and the props team to make sure there is enough red at the bottom of that carton to let people know what happened as soon as the camera hovers over Hank’s desk), we’re watching a man walk away from the human price of his petty disagreements. Fuches (Stephen Root) left him insulted and spiraling, much like Hank in his own way. The failed attempt at revenge suggests that Hank may not be ready to be the talker for illegitimate business ventures yet, and also shows how able he is to disassociate himself from bad news post-Cristobal.

Even though Hank is numb to the consequences of his actions, “Barry” is still intent on reminding people that these choices don’t exist in a vacuum. Season 4 was dominated by the long run of revenge that befell everyone caught in this mess, and ‘A Nice Meal’ makes room for that in the short run as well. One of Fuches’ boys wipes blood from offscreen beheadings while doing damage control with his new family. With all the talk of “Fast and the Furious” movies, Hank’s escape after a failed rocket launch attempt is decidedly unglamorous. With lives hanging in the balance, the most he and his soon-to-be-murdered chauffeur can do is go slightly faster down a long driveway, like someone going to the grocery store. Life-or-death situations don’t turn these people into superheroes. It just brings out more of what makes them human.

Henry Winkler inside "berry"
Henry Winkler in BarryMerrick Morton/HBO

This also applies to Barry. His escape from Jim’s (Robert Wisdom) garage chair is a shrewd visual cut. The camera moves from the chair to the door in seconds, just enough for Barry to free himself. It’s a patient, controlled move you’d expect from a challenging heist film, the kind of shortcut to letting someone watching know that both subject and narrator are in complete control. This causes Barry to slip up and cut his palm opening up his kind of punchline. Here’s someone so ruthless and efficient, only to go from military-trained escape artist to zoning out in someone’s kitchen in a matter of minutes. (It’s why, after appearances by Guillermo del Toro and Sian Heder, Gene’s trap is believable, only the show has pulled the rug out from under him as well.) Whether Jim put something extra into the drip or that Barry is rapidly bleeding out, isn’t the triumphant, redemptive escape for someone you’d expect to emerge unscathed from next week’s series finale.

Momentum-wise, this is an effective setup for a finale from Sarnoff and the writing team. Everyone is converging on Barry, as expected. Fuches wants his revenge. Hank wants to make him happy. Gene now sees getting Barry sworn in as the only way to clear himself. And now, Sally (Sarah Goldberg) and John (Zachary Golinger) have come from places unknown to return to where she started it all. After a few episodes where Sally drifts through a listless new life in the future, “A Nice Meal” she too brings that clarifying force to what she is fighting for now. That look at John as he walks to the LAPD vehicle comes with the recognition that turning himself in is a worthy price to pay to protect his son from further harm. Next week she’ll demonstrate whether her half-hearted plea for help on that last cell phone call, herself now trapped in a chair under Hank’s supervision, is more than the frustration of finding malicious men everywhere she turns.

Barry’s version of big dreams has long had a fulfilled life, free from the burden of regret or sadness. After gawking daydreaming from a prison cell where those weddings merged with the desert, this episode confronts him with a terrifying VR waking nightmare (including John in full “It’s Happening Again” mode ). As Jim reminds him, “This is all in your head, Barry.” Just as this man can’t help but imagine his own worst-case scenarios, the biggest prisons in “Barry” season 4 were the ones that a group of these people created for themselves. The finale will bring at least some kind of freedom. He probably won’t be the type anyone is looking for.

Grade: A-

Season 4 of “Barry” airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET on HBO and HBO Max.

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