SERIES REVIEW – In its long-awaited third season, HBO’s Max Barry operates with the same brilliant, unique, wry, dark humour as previous seasons. We watched the first five of the ten episodes of season three.
Barry Berkman (Bill Hader) is a professional assassin, ex-soldier suffering from PTSD and introverted loner who used to be great at controlling his emotions when a case led him to enter acting school and thus into the exciting and torturous world of acting, where emotions are necessary (both one’s own and one’s audience’s) to become successful. Barry’s psychologically tormented title character wrestled compulsively throughout the first two seasons with the burning question: can we ever move on from our past? And in the third season of the series, Barry is still serious about using the art of acting, albeit with many pitfalls and fumbles, to free himself from his torturous past and demons.
You can’t teach an old dog new tricks
However, Barry must face the fact that, as futile as his attempts to escape his past and present and his baser instincts may be, he must come to terms with the fact that getting rid of his various criminal enterprises will take more effort than it is worth. Acting has not made Barry a better man or even a different man. In fact, as the third season of the series makes clear, he was perhaps always doomed to let his darkest, cruellest self take over. So, in his vain attempts to use acting as an escape, it was more of an awakening to who he really was.
As Barry becomes more and more emotionally aware of his inner turmoil, he becomes more and more desperate for paternal guidance. For too long, this lost soul has relied on the whimsical advice of Fuches (Stephen Root), his selfish, pathetic, arrogant mentor, who turned Barry, a war veteran with PTSD, into the ice-cold assassin he has become. It was only under the tutelage of failed actor Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler) that he learned to squeeze this father figure out of his life, who discovered the sinister truth about his beloved apprentice in last year’s season finale.
Two men in search of redemption, hunting for each other
Gene is determined to seek justice on his own for the murder of Detective Janice Moss, played by Paula Newsome, whom he considered the love of his life. Unfortunately, though he fancies himself a professional entertainer as a vigilante, Gene is a real loser. The ensuing conflict between Gene and Barry brings the parallels between these two broken men, who are trying to find both redemptions and improve their own self-worth after years of criminal behaviour. In his own way, Gene uses the situation he finds himself in to refocus his own needs and newfound priorities and reconnect with his former co-workers, becoming a better person in the process.
As for Barry, Hader’s anguished expression now underlines the assassin’s ambition to ‘reform’ himself. Hader increasingly portrays the most ugly, visceral, evil, yet strangely sympathetic side of Barry’s tortured personality. It’s a genuinely compelling, visceral performance that grows more professional with each new season.
An explosive relationship between assassin and struggling actress
Sally (Sarah Goldberg) and Barry’s relationship also becomes dramatically complicated as the man’s pent-up emotions, frustrations, and tantrums cause them increasing conflict. Essentially, they live in two separate worlds: while the character of Barry has always drawn comic relief from the brutal nature of the various mafia bosses and their criminal gangs, Sally’s rise through the Hollywood ranks allows the series to emphasise with biting humour that this industry can be as senseless and cruel as the criminals who regularly call on Barry’s services.
The series also highlights more than ever the tragedy caused by bad guys who are both murderous and yet terminally clumsy and stupid, to the detriment of criminals and ‘civilians’ alike. The threat to life is ever-present on every corner of the streets of Los Angeles, as incompetent gangs of thugs and equally stupid police kill each other.
Perhaps the most inventive and hilarious of the criminals is Anthony Carrigan’s constantly and compulsively polite but incredibly bumbling NoHo Hank, now the lover of Chechen gang leader Cristobal, the leader of the Bolivians.
It is among the classics
Barry is a genuinely apt Grand Theft Auto-like criminal satire, which at the same time puts a mirror up to Hollywood and showbiz with a perfect sense of the world. Bill Hader is simply brilliant as the introverted actor who struggles with frustration and fears and the cold-blooded assassin on the other side. Barry is clearly up there with crime satires like Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul and Ozark with the third season. Anyone who loved these classics will not be disappointed with Barry.