Barry season 3 episode 1 review: “An undeniably strong start”

Are some things unforgivable? That’s the question the Barry season 3 premiere wrestles with, and it’s one without an easy answer. From the very beginning, there’s been a sense that Barry – Bill Hader’s hitman-turned-actor-turned-hitman-again – could leave violence behind, if only the world would stop throwing obstacles in his path. Now, though, the only thing standing in the way is his own tortured psyche. 

From the premiere’s opening scene, it’s plain that Barry thinks forgiveness isn’t an option. He’s in a bad way, distracted, unfocused, even hallucinating, and falling back into murderous bad habits. We’ve seen Barry plagued with guilt before, but never has he seemed quite so defeated. A meeting between Barry and Chechen leader NoHo Hank (Anthony Carrigan) illuminates where this is all headed. “Forgiveness is something that has to be earned,” Hank tells Barry, who has shown up on the desperate hunt for a purpose. A breakdown is clearly looming on the horizon, but for now, Barry is coasting on fumes, which means Hader’s not letting loose with his performance just yet. The restraint is admirable – it would be easy to overplay Barry’s crumbling mental state, but holding back will only make the inevitable implosion all the more impactful. 

The episode smartly lays the groundwork for the rest of the season, introducing a fresh development for Hank that promises to give him a meaty storyline, as well as setting Sarah Goldberg’s Sally on the opposite trajectory to Barry. While he’s in crisis, she’s living her dream on the set of her own TV show. But all is not smooth sailing. An incredible one-take following her through the set puts her at the epicenter of a whirlwind, and you can only marvel at how effectively she’s handling the chaos – until a moment of quiet reveals that she, too, might be only just keeping it together. 

Previous seasons have never been afraid to put these characters through the wringer, but this season is shaping up to be more internally-focused than ever before: most of the problems established in the premiere arise from the characters’ own feelings, rather than an external threat. However, there’s still danger lurking on the horizon. Stephen Root’s Fuches might be far away, but just seeing him again is a menacing reminder of his potential to cause trouble for Barry… even if he’s busy caring for some goats at the moment (yes, really). 

Barry season 3

(Image credit: HBO)

The police are still interested in what happened to Detective Janice Moss (Paula Newsome), too, bringing Hank in for questioning. Watching him smoothly – and hilariously – handle the situation reveals the character hasn’t lost his spark. In this episode, he brings almost all the laughs while Hader and Henry Winkler’s Gene Cousineau shoulder a heavier storyline.

And it’s Gene who is shaping up to be Barry’s main concern. At the end of season 2, Fuches told Gene that Barry is the one who killed Janice – and Gene certainly hasn’t forgotten. His reaction to the news dovetails neatly with Barry’s turmoil and his struggle for forgiveness.  

But, considering how much focus there is on the emotional lives of each character, it’s odd that the episode doesn’t address the fallout of Sally’s big choice in the season 2 finale. She decided to improvise in the acting showcase, and instead of performing her scene as rehearsed, ferociously stood up to the fictionalized version of her abusive ex-husband. In the season 3 premiere, Sally’s thoughts on the matter are left frustratingly unexplored. 

That’s the episode’s only stumble, though, and since the first two seasons were so smartly written and featured such strong performances, you’d be forgiven for worrying the show couldn’t sustain its own momentum. “forgiving jeff” blows those fears away. The episode, penned by co-creators Hader and Alec Berg, and directed by Hader himself, is an undeniably strong start to what promises to be an excellent stretch of television. 

While previous seasons asked if it was possible to change, or if Barry is doomed to a life of violence, this season is firmly dealing with consequences. We’re no longer wondering if Barry truly is a violent killer: he is (though it’s not all he is, it crops back up enough that denying it is futile). What we are left pondering, though, is whether it’s possible to atone – and if forgiveness is an option after all.

Caught up on Barry? Fill out your watchlist with our roundup of the best Netflix shows streaming now. 

The Verdict


4.5 out of 5

Barry season 3 episode 1 review: “An undeniably strong start”

A strong opening episode that smartly tees up what lies ahead

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