Before we get any further, I have some sad news to report. While the third episode of the third season of “Barry” is titled “ben mendelsohn”, I regret to inform you that the excellent Australian actor does not make an appearance. He will come up in the episode — in a particularly and unexpectedly funny way — but let’s hold off on that for now. I just figured I should start with the bad news.
You may recall that last week’s episode, “limonada“, ended in troubling fashion, as Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler) was essentially forced to play nice by his old acting student and current hitman Barry Berkman (Bill Hader), or else Gene would lose his son and grandson. “ben mendelsohn” starts with the audio of his grandson’s video game still playing in his head, as Gene is brought back to reality in the makeup chair. He and Barry are getting gussied up for their joint roles in the popular yet seemingly terrible procedural drama “Laws of Humanity.” When Gene meets the show’s producer and showrunner, he’s not terribly surprised to learn he has a history with the latter. “You threw hot tea in my face because your omelet didn’t have chives,” the showrunner says almost chirpily, before the producer reveals an actual surprise: due to Gene’s good deeds with Barry as a vet, he’s getting a line in the episode now to which Barry all but forces Gene to say thank you.
After the title card, we head over to the greatest store in the world: Plants! Though NoHo Hank (Anthony Carrigan) and his fellow Chechen mobsters were far away from the attack in the previous episode by the Bolivian mob, he’s unable to convince them that it was “neighborhood kids … being chodes” who shot up Plants! That said, he does steer them away from immediately fighting fire with fire: “I want to activate the patsy.” The patsy is the man who was absent from last week’s episode, Monroe Fuches (Stephen Root), who’s holed up in the mountains of Chechnya after the violent events of last season’s finale. As a reminder, in the premiere of this season, NoHo Hank managed to convince the LAPD that Fuches is a secretive assassin called the Raven who’s behind all of those violent events, and he clearly wants Fuches to return to take the fall. Which would be all well and good, except inexplicably, Fuches has “a little slice of heaven” in Chechnya and doesn’t want to be bothered. Though he does seem fairly intrigued, in a furious way, when he hears that NoHo Hank met with Barry recently.
Don’t Be The Real You In The Wrong Way
In the world of “Joplin,” to combat the possibility of a rival show (called “Pam!”, speaking of hilarious exclamation marks) stealing her thunder, Sally (Sarah Goldberg) is prepping for a press tour to get the word out about her self-created show. Though she tries to put on a brave face for her costar Katie (Elsie Fisher), Sally is a bundle of nerves, asking her agent (Jessy Hodges) if the reporters will ask about her childhood, her violent ex-husband, or the fact that she doesn’t actually have a daughter herself. “Just … don’t be too passionate,” her agent says. “You don’t want to be the real you in the wrong way.” But it turns out that Sally is nervous for no good reason at all. In a scene that cuts … sigh … very close to anyone writing in the entertainment industry, we watch Sally be greeted by a handful of TV personalities and get the chance to answer one or two softball questions each, such as, “And who do you think should play the next Spider-Man?” And thus, we get the title of the episode. Sally, don’t you know that Ben Mendelsohn plays a Krull … or Kree … or some kind of alien in the MCU? (No need to correct me, I’m 1000% positive it’s one of those.)
On another set, we see Gene waiting to be called from the trailer onto the stage for “Laws of Humanity.” Though Barry is more interested in running lines — in an exchange that mirrors the ideal of what Barry wants from his relationship with Gene, with the former apologizing for his misdeeds and the latter immediately accepting said apology — Gene wants to know more about the death of his girlfriend, the late Detective Moss. Fairly quickly, he connects the dots: Barry’s first-season monologue about his bloody line of work was all true, and in repeating it in the first-season finale, Gene clued Moss onto the truth about who Barry really was. When Barry tries to steer things in a more positive direction, saying that Gene’s teachings encouraged him to “be the person you want to be,” it only serves to infuriate Gene more that he’s being centered as the person who made Barry into the monster he is.
It should go without saying at this point, but why not put it into words? Henry Winkler is a national treasure. You know this, and so do I. While I do wish that Stephen Root had won an Emmy for his work on either of the first two seasons of “Barry” — did you know that his nomination for the second season was his first Emmy nomination at all? — Winkler deservingly won his first trophy for the first season. And his work in this episode, even in just the above scene, ought to get him his second Emmy for the part of Gene Cousineau. It is arguably not at all funny, true, but the quiet rage emanating from Winkler in this scene is immensely well-embodied without being cartoonish or over the top. Just an incredible performance.
I’m Good At My Job
Someone trying to pull off an incredible performance, but doing so with sweaty desperation, is Cristobal (Michael Irby). Last week, Cristobal was shocked to be greeted by his father-in-law Fernando (Miguel Sandoval), who sent his men to attack Plants!, in spite of the fact that Cristobal and Hank are now in a secret romantic relationship. Fernando mentions now to Cristobal that the plan is to attack Plants! again during normal business hours. Cristobal tries his best to steer them away from this plan, since the previous night’s attack was fruitless from all evidence, and also that “I’m good at my job”, implying he has everything well in hand. Fernando, after a brief pause, seems to agree, even deciding to take his team to lunch before delivering the news that they’re heading home. But the way he says “Thanks for helping me figure that out” and the general avuncular menace Sandoval exudes … suggests that he’s not really telling the truth, doesn’t it?
Cristobal wisely and instantly warns Hank, who has slightly bigger problems on his hands, as one of his fellow Chechens returns to their office with a dark-web-purchased bomb making some very strange ticking noises. Hank tells them the truth…kind of: they should aim to take out Fernando, not Cristobal. But with that bomb on hand, who do they know who’s crazy enough to embark on what could be a suicide mission?
Well, cut to Barry, at the craft table for “Laws of Humanity.” Weirdly, the text he gets from NoHo Hank, asking if Barry feels “like you have no purpose, seeing s**t, going crazy, etc.?”, doesn’t immediately convince him to do the job. (This show has A+ sight gags.) The call Barry gets right after the text is an unexpected fakeout. He assumes it’s Hank and angrily rejects the job, only to hear the voice of his own personal devil, Fuches, on the other end. At first, Fuches seems to want to make good, though in a…not-great way: “I’m sorry for whatever it is you think I did to hurt your relationship with Mr. Cousineau.” Though Barry is far from guiltless here, “I’m sorry for whatever it is you think I did” is a pretty poor excuse for an apology. Barry doesn’t push back, but he also doesn’t reciprocate with a faux-apology of his own. And when Fuches tries to lie his way through having a fatal disease, Barry dryly asks, “Are those goats in the background?” A follow-up call goes just as poorly, as Fuches accurately notes that “you’re never going to get past this!”, the “this” being Barry killing Detective Moss. As much as Fuches says he’s content where he is in Chechnya … well, that just doesn’t seem quite true either, does it?
Speaking of things that just don’t seem quite true, Sally and Katie are briefly commiserating about the repetitive questions they’re getting on the press junket. (Katie’s answer about who should be the next Spider-Man — Harry Styles — seems a lot more appropriate than Ben Mendelsohn, though.) When Sally offers to have Katie ride to the premiere with her and Barry, Katie politely begs off due to Barry’s abusive behavior. As Natalie (D’Arcy Carden) chides Katie for not accepting, she also shrugs off what she hears from Katie about Barry. She notes that they were in acting class together, and though Barry yelled at his fellow students and talked about “having killed people … in some war,” that doesn’t make him violent. Well … maybe for someone else, it doesn’t. For Barry, though? When we next see Katie, she’s struggling to say that Sally and Barry have a good relationship (as part of an answer to a softball question), but does her able best to toe the line.
Back on the set of “Laws of Humanity,” we see the big scene being filmed for the first time, as Barry (in his role as a pharma executive) apologizes to Gene (as the widower) for his misdeeds. (It is here I will note that the lead character of this show is apparently named Hugh Manity. Or Mannity? A funny detail, yes, but also, this show genuinely sounds godawful.) Barry says his lines as expected. Gene — who very subtly tries to shift his shoulder away when Barry puts his hand on it while doing his part of the scene — does not. He stands up, faces Barry, punches him square in the face, and tells him to back off. An intense moment sold phenomenally well by Winkler, even as we watch Gene leave the soundstage and quickly realize he may have just made things worse for himself.
Barry, in response, might well be making things worse for himself: he dourly agrees to NoHo Hank’s request, choosing to try and bomb the hell out of the Bolivians. NoHo Hank’s compatriot notes that it’s … curious, at least, that the man who killed most of the Chechens at the monastery is the same man they are now using to take out the Bolivians. “Don’t we want the madman?” asks NoHo Hank, who then chalks up the monastery to Barry having a bad day. (Quite the bad day then.) But while Barry is an effective loose cannon to have on your side, it’s clear that Hank’s fellow Chechens are a lot less convinced of his plans.
If one half of this season is about forgiveness, and the struggle to find it, then the other half may well be about vengeance. “Vengeance is like drinking poison and hoping the other person will die,” Fuches’ Chechen lady friend says to him in the final scene, after noting he’s going nuts thinking about Barry, in spite of Barry not thinking about him. She then tells him a fable about the destructive power of vengeance, in which a group of farmers killed for their land choose to wreak revenge on their murderer as transformed panthers and are doomed to walk the depths of the ocean for eternity, while a little boy who chose to forgive the man who killed him was given eternal happiness. “How long did it take? The vengeance army panther thing?” Fuches asks with a wild look in his eye. When he’s told that … well, this is a fable and not a real thing, he just says “…But it could be.”
So “ben mendelsohn” ends with one very obvious harbinger of doom. Fuches may still be in Chechnya for now — though Hank had gotten him an airplane ticket home pretty quickly — but he wants to wend his way back into Barry’s life to deliver him some violent faux-justice.
I will mention it one more time: this is an excellent showcase for Henry Winkler’s acting, even if it’s a quieter version of that talent than in past seasons. Gene’s rage towards Barry is perfectly logical already, but Winkler sells it so effectively without it being overly bombastic.
Even over the phone, the toxic connection between Fuches and Barry is something to behold. Where Gene was more of a natural surrogate-father figure to our title character, Fuches is just the worst kind of enabler you can find.
That said, everyone seems to be enabling Barry in one way or another, and it’s hard to see why he would ever deserve that treatment again. Barry is less immediately awful this week compared to last week, but his behavior is hard to forget or forgive.
The Hank/Cristobal connection is a slow burn into tragedy, right? Fernando’s promise to leave is hanging at the end of this episode, and it feels hard to imagine things being that simple (even if Miguel Sandoval didn’t give off an air of nastiness).
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Author: Josh Spiegel
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May 9, 2022