Barry S3E1: “forgiving jeff” — Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore!”

Barry stands in a field with a tree in the background in Barry S3E1, "forgiving jeff"
Photograph by Merrick Morton/HBO

The following contains spoilers for Barry S3E1, “forgiving jeff” (written by Bill Hader & Alec Berg and directed by Bill Hader)

What a season premiere!

It’s clear some time has passed since the events of the Season 2 finale (as Fuches is hiding in Chechnya and Sally is now the lead in her own TV show, among other things), and this makes a lot of sense in terms of setting up the stakes of Season 3. You’ll recall that last we saw him, Barry (Bill Hader) was killing literally everyone he came across at the monastery in search of Fuches (Stephen Root), including the nice young Chechen who looked up to him and was smiling in recognition as Barry shot him in the face.

This show is dark, and the blackness of the humor carries through to S3E1, which has multiple hilarious moments involving headshots, both real and imagined—not photos of actors, mind you, but bleeding bulletholes in people’s skulls.

Barry sits with his feet up on a coffee table, holding a videogame controller
Photograph by Merrick Morton/HBO

The episode’s title, “forgiving jeff,” most directly refers to its opening scene. Barry, as we will learn as the episode goes on, has been taking on hitman work from random people on the internet. Here his client goes from wanting to cut Jeff’s eyeballs off to make him suffer to trying to call the whole thing off. So Barry shoots them both in the head.

There’s no forgiving Jeff!

It’s a line that should ring through our heads as S3E1 comes to a close. Though the question of forgiveness might be reversed when it comes to Barry and Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler), the episode ends with Barry deciding to do precisely what he killed his client for doing in the cold open—trying to take back a decision to kill someone that had already been made.

This stands in contrast to when Barry killed Chris Lucado (Christopher Rodrguez Marquette) in Season 1, as Gene’s lines parallel his lines to Barry pretty directly as he begged for his life. But this time Barry makes the opposite call. I have no idea how he thinks he can make things right with Gene. I’m pretty sure he’s wrong about that no matter what his plan is. But the decision makes sense in terms of Barry’s character.

Gene sits with his arms crossed, looking across his desk at Barry
Photograph by Merrick Morton/HBO

His attachment to Gene is deeper than it probably should be from an objective point of view, insofar as it was the discovery of Gene’s acting class that opened Barry up to the possibility of changing his life, and being someone else. He pursued that goal throughout the first two seasons of Barry, and if he seems to have given it up by the time we reach S3E1, I’d posit that has just as much to do with the loss of the acting class (and Gene) as it does with any remorse about all of the people he’s killed.

As he tells Noho Hank (Anthony Carrigan) when he shows up unannounced at the house he shares with Cristobal (Michael Irby)—which is adorable and awesome, by the way—he feels like he has no sense of purpose. That ennui is evident as he sits playing video games as Sally (Sarah Goldberg) talks to him earlier in the episode, and we see that his relationship with her doesn’t provide him with the sense of meaningfulness he really craves. He fantasizes about shooting Sally in the head, after all.

Sally sits in a chair on set, on the phone, with monitors to the front of her
Photograph by Merrick Morton/HBO

But if we dig into the context of that fantasy, it’s easy to see how it’s the pretence Sally is putting on that turns Barry off so much. In Season 2 they were pursuing their truths and staging a production of the same. Sally actually betrayed that on stage, if you recall, shifting at the last minute back to the previous version of her script where she told Sam (Joe Massingill) off instead of going through with the poignant truth of things.

Barry has always been one part black comedy and one part existential drama. The storylines pertaining to acting are just as important as those pertaining to killing, because the question is precisely whether being a hitman is a role that Barry plays, or who he is, and to what extent there is a difference.

Noho Hank wears a polo shirt and has a wrinkled brow
Photograph by Merrick Morton/HBO

I’m not sure why Gene has shut down the acting class. I just rewatched the series in the runup to Season 3, in preparation for it, and unless I’ve missed an inference I should have made I don’t think we’ve been provided a direct reason for it. (Of course we’ve been provided a ton of indirect reasons; just look at Gene’s life lately). Indeed, the most direct reason might be Barry himself, as Gene remembered Fuches telling him that Barry killed Janice (Paula Newsome) at the end of Season 2. Maybe Gene just couldn’t bear to face Barry in class, but wasn’t sure about his recollection.

It’s not until the cops bring him in to discuss Fuches The Raven that he sets his mind on taking action. He gets out the revolver Rip Torn gave him (along with a lovely note) and lures Barry to the theater, gives him an ultimatum…and then the chamber of the gun falls out and rolls across the floor. The way this occurs, with the sound first and then a pan to the floor to let us know what happened, just feeds into the slow build of the humor of the scene.

Fuches sits in a white tank top, looking upward querulously
Photograph by Merrick Morton/HBO

Then we jump to Barry with a gun to Gene’s head and the scene that ends the episode—“forgiving jeff.” Barry smiles, not because he thinks his plan will work—I think he knows it is a longshot at best—but because this wildly irrational idea that he can somehow avoid killing Gene gives him that sense of purpose he’s been missing. He’d given up on the idea of a new life for himself, because it no longer seemed possible, and here we see Barry deciding to believe in that impossible possibility again, too. It seems crazy, but it’s deeply human.

He tells Gene to get in back in the trunk, so it’s not like he’s letting him go free. I’m wracking my brain trying to land on a theory about what Barry has in mind.

Let’s spend all week talking about it. Barry’s back!

Written by Caemeron Crain

Caemeron Crain is Executive Editor of TV Obsessive. He struggles with authority, including his own.

Caesar non est supra grammaticos

One Comment

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  1. I got caught up on Poe. What other levels do you think Noho Hank had in mind for The Raven? He said three

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