This post contains spoilers for this week’s episode of Barry, “A Nice Meal.”
“A Nice Meal,” the penultimate installment of Barry, opens with Barry hallucinating after an undetermined amount of time spent wearing the sensory deprivation goggles Jim Moss has placed over his eyes. There is darkness, then a glimpse of the desolate plains of the house where he and Sally have lived with John, then the beach from Hell he visited last season. The one leads into the next, then the next, then the next. To anyone less blinkered about his own life choices than Barry Berkman, the implication is clear: if he is not literally in Hell right now, he is on the way there, and soon.
And by the end of the episode, it’s clear he will not be going alone.
An interesting thing happened in some of the responses to last week’s episode. Because Barry has prominent beard scruff when he enters Gene’s house, and only a five o’clock shadow when Jim removes the hood, some viewers assumed this was a sign that the time-jump was itself a hallucination, and we were back in the present. This didn’t make much sense, if for no other reason than that so much of “The Wizard” was devoted to characters who are not Barry, featuring information (like the death of Cristobal) that he wouldn’t know anything about. But I also understand it, in the sense that the first full episode after the time-jump was not very well received (including by me), and a portion of the audience may have wanted to erase it from the continuity and get back to the timeline we’d been following for the previous three-and-a-half seasons.
“A Nice Meal” makes clear that this is all really happening(*), and it is universally terrible. Even the funniest subplot, involving NoHo Hank’s various failed attempt to take out Fuches and his flock, involves decapitated heads and on-screen deaths. Every mistake anyone has made over the course of the series is heading toward a bad end, from legal consequences to fatal ones.
(*) Bill Hader tends to be an extremely precise director, but perhaps the facial hair was just a rare continuity error that, once recognized, couldn’t be fixed without the kind of budget required to erase Henry Cavill’s mustache in Justice League?
Because Barry is shackled in Jim’s garage for a while, we instead spend most of the episode with the supporting cast. Gene Cousineau is exposed twice over: first as a hypocrite who will stop opposing a Barry Berkman film if he can get Daniel Day-Lewis(*) to play him, then for having accepted a quarter million in cash from Barry. Jim and the cops misunderstand the implications of this, and begin to wonder if Gene was more directly involved in Barry’s hitman work — or, worse, that he asked Barry to murder Janice — but it’s Gene’s own fault for not turning in Barry sooner, or at least for using that blood money to help Leo. Jim becomes arguably too blinded by the idea of Gene as culpable in Janice’s death, because it’s hard to imagine this vengeful master interrogator leaving Barry alone, tied to a chair that’s not even bolted to the floor. (Regardless of Gene’s role in things, the guy who actually killed his daughter is right there, man.) But the subplot on the whole is one more effective, amusing reminder of Gene’s narcissism and commitment to his career and fame at all costs.
(*) The fake agent calls Gene’s My Left Foot reference a deep cut, but for someone Gene’s age, it would obviously be the first thing he thought of as the film that put Day-Lewis on the map and won him his first Oscar, and that came out while Gene was still relatively close to the prime of his life and acting career.
Hank versus Fuches, meanwhile, gives Hader the director a chance to once again demonstrate his skill for melding extreme violence with Wile E. Coyote-esque staging. The oner of Hank trying and failing to blow up the Raven’s nest, then driving down the hill under heavy fire, is remarkable for both the technical achievement of it and how funny it manages to be even as the threat is so palpably real.
Hank’s vulnerability to the seemingly unstoppable forces of the Raven makes him desperate enough to do whatever he can to kill Barry. This sets up the series’ endgame when his men stumble across Sally and John outside Gene’s house(*). Moments earlier, Sally seemed to finally have an epiphany about what a terrible mistake she has made sticking by Barry, and how dumb it will be to, as she puts it, “keep doing what we’re doing.” But when she gets close to a nearby police officer, she can’t bring herself to turn herself in, and a moment later, she sees that the Chechens have her son.
(*) Before that, we see Sally calling Gene from a spot near the airport, right below the jet path. It is the Los Angeles equivalent of the house in the plains: so barren and depressing, it might as well be in Hell.
We head into the finale with Barry once again shot from behind, a motif Hader has used multiple times this season. We do not get to see the expression on his face as NoHo Hank threatens Barry’s wife and son, but we don’t need to. His body language, and everything we know about this damaged, dysfunctional, highly destructive man tells us where all this is headed. The only question left is how many other significant characters may wind up on that beach by the time all is said and done.