The episode titled “What?!” confirms the truth about Bill Hader: he is a gifted actor.
This Barry Season 2 Episode 4 recap for the episode titled “What?!” contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
Last week’s episode, “Past = Present x Future Over Yesterday,” was the high point of the second season of Barry, combining an inspired dream sequence where Anthony Carrigan’s Hank is working through issues through his subconscious, tried to whack his BFF Barry to appease his Chechen bosses, and that ended up backfiring into training Hank’s crew into a group of in-house hit men. This all culminates in a series of revealing character motivations from Bill Hader’s Barry and Sarah Goldberg’s Sally telling variations of how the spoils of war (and at home) that made them who they are today…. However, both are bullshit. Barry is holding back the details of what happened to him in Afghanistan, substituting the speech from Braveheart set in the desert heat. Sally is dealing with delusions of Granger, remembering her big truth about leaving her abusive boyfriend with a grand line while going out the door as, “You want to choke me? Well choke on this, I’m leaving you!” even though her friend Kate, however, remembers things differently. Throughout the episode, we see Barry, fighting his instinct to be a natural killer, and trying to be the good man Sally knows him to be (or thinks). Of course, this ends with her ex-boyfriend Sam showing up in the parking lot, and we were left to wonder if Barry could muster enough strength to get his mojo back.
In “What?!,” creators Alec Berg and Bill Hader go for broke, tackling the truth behind Sally’s relationship with Sam, Barry unveiling what happened when he shot and killed someone overseas, and the real motivation behind Detective Loach’s off-the-books investigation into Barry by getting Fuches to wear a wire.
The episode starts with a stand-out Bill Hader never taking his eyes off Sam when they go out to dinner. When Sam (When the Game Stands Tall Joel Massingill) gets up to pay the bill and leave, the camera immediately cuts back to Barry, catching only his torso, as his protective guard-dog instincts kick in. What Barry can’t figure out is why Sally accepted Sam’s invitation to dinner if her moment of truth ends with the line that she won’t see him again. Soon, after pushing the issue, Sally breaks down and tells him the scene she wrote didn’t happen; it was more of a revenge fantasy of sorts, as she never actually stood up to him. Sally finally comes clean with Barry, and we start to understand why Sally puts up a wall of superiority around her friends; it’s so she can always keep them at an arms-length away. Sam would beat her, almost choking her to death, never seeking help, while every time it happened, she would crawl into bed with him and even comfort him. She is then lured back to his motel under false pretenses to give her closure, but he really wants her not to perform the scene she wrote because he is now a family man.
Later, Barry finds Sam stalking Sally in the back of the theatre, watching her perform her scene. After a confrontation that shows her ex’s true colors, Barry goes home, grabs his gun, and drives to his motel to display the kind of murderous intensity we saw in season one. There is only one problem: as he gets to the door, with the gun extended, Sally opens the door with her back turned while Sam is looking in the other direction. Barry jumps out of the door frame, hides behind a wall, and listens to Sam yell colorful phrases his girlfriend’s way while he cowers in a corner.
This leads to one of the more revealing showcases of Bill Hader’s talents in the series, as Gene tells him, “Hey, Barry, we’re both alphas. I understand.” to get him to open up about the truth behind what defines him as a person today, even though he is afraid if he tells his mentor what really happened he thinks Gene will then “look at him differently.” Indeed, after he reveals Barry shot an innocent who was a sheepherder, he will tell him to never tell that story to anyone ever again. After all, Gene’s beloved Janice did tell Barry, “You’re a ******* murderer.” His acting coach/de-facto therapist tells him, “I pray human beings can change their nature. Because if we can’t, then you and I are in deep trouble,” and proves to Barry that he’s talking about his feelings instead of acting out his feelings, which shows progress.
Barry now feels so good about himself, he runs over to Fuches’ hotel, unveiling it all in front of Detective Loach, who he didn’t know was in the bathroom listening to the entire revelation that he is becoming a better person. Loach puts a gun on Barry, tells him to sit down, and just when you think he is going to take the law into his own hands, he tells Barry that it will all go away if he kills his ex-wife’s lover.
“What?!” confirms that Bill Hader is a gifted actor, not just an impressionist. They say most comedians derive their comedy from past emotional traumas. Along with what Gene is teaching us about what drives an actor to be great, you have to wonder what happened to Bill Hader to ratchet up this kind of intensity, grief, and gifted ability to portray conscience-stricken pain leading up to his “truth” moment. The last 15 minutes of the season’s fourth episode are an intense, emotionally-driven ride that ends with a story-line shift that leaves the audience as shocked as its lead character.
Heading into next week’s episode, we need to ask ourselves what will happen with the deal Detective Loach offers Barry? While Barry just made a therapeutic breakthrough in becoming a better person, will this be the only way to keep the good times going, to do something that he has been trying to avoid all season? Will Barry forgive Fuches for turning on him? Barry, for the first time, talks about Janice in the past tense, making me think to myself, is she actually dead? Finally, am I the only one who remembers Barry still hasn’t deleted his Facebook page?
Wherever this show is taking us, which now is looking darker by the minute, Barry is one of the few 30-plus minutes of television where you simply can’t pin down what is going to happen next.
M.N. Miller has been a film and television writer for Ready Steady Cut since August of 2018 and is patiently waiting for the next Pearl Jam album to come out.