It feels like it’s been a literal lifetime since Barry‘s second season ended in May 2019 – pre-pandemic, pre-insurrection, basically pre-everything. Season three premieres on HBO tonight, and while Barry isn’t the most complex show in the history of the TV giant, you could be forgiven for having no idea what last happened because it’s been too damn long. There are a few things you need to remember in order to appreciate the brilliant third season, which relies heavily on what’s come before, so let us guide your way through this maze of assassins and actors.
Yes, this happened at the end of season one, but much of the action related to that incident drives the narrative of season three. Detective Janice Moss (Paula Newsome) was investigating the murder of Ryan Madison (Tyler Jacob Moore), the man our favorite ace assassin was hired to murder in the series premiere. Arriving in Los Angeles at the behest of Chechen mob boss Goran Pazar (Glenn Fleshler), Barry tracked Ryan to an acting class, where he was inspired to pursue the craft himself. When Ryan ends up dead and Janice’s investigation leads her to the class, Barry’s new acting teacher, instructor / author / bon vivant Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler), woos Janice. When she threatens to put all of the pieces together in the season-one finale, Barry shoots her.
The season-two finale pulled back the curtain on all of the above for poor Gene. Near the end of the season, Fuches (Stephen Root), furious at Barry, finds Janice’s car buried in the woods near Gene’s cabin with her body in the trunk. Disguised as a private investigator, he contacts Gene and takes him to the car. As Gene freezes in horror, Fuches tries to frame Cousineau by sneaking away to call the police, posing as Gene, and confessing to Janice’s murder. He then holds a gun to Gene’s head, and when he can’t go through with it, whispers something in Cousineau’s ear before fleeing the scene. It’s not until the end of the finale that Gene remembers what Fuches said: “Barry Berkman did this.”
It’s worth noting that Barry doesn’t only have to worry about Gene or Fuches coming after him; the relatively inept Los Angeles police department is still investigating the death of one of their own. In season two, Detective John Loach (John Pirruccello) led the search for his missing partner, pushing Fuches to try and get Barry to confess. That went poorly, especially after Loach used Barry’s inevitable confession to blackmail him into committing another murder. All of that blew up in such spectacular fashion (in the amazing “ronny / lily”) that season three will see the investigative baton passed to another officer, Detective Mae Dunn (Sarah Burns), who was recurring in season two but promoted to series regular for season three. Hopefully she doesn’t make the same deadly mistakes as her predecessors.
Sally Reed (Sarah Goldberg) is more than just a supportive girlfriend for Barry. The aspiring actress explored her own traumatic past in season two, digging into her time with her abusive ex-husband in emotional ways. The night she chose to finally leave him became the foundation for an acting exercise in season two, and the exploration of that trauma, including the differences between what really happened and how Sally wanted to portray it onstage, formed one of the richest subplots of that year (paralleled by Barry’s shifting stories about what happened when he was in the military and how much truth he chose to reveal there). Sally’s agent, Lindsay (Jessy Hodges), landed a theatrical venue for Sally’s show at the end of season two, and the agent’s colleagues loved the performance, even if it was based on a lie, setting Sally up for more success in season three.
Scene-stealing NoHo Hank (Anthony Carrigan) has spent much of Barry fighting for respect, both within the Chechen mafia and against his enemies real and perceived. Season two hinged on a turf war with a Burmese gang leader named Esther (Patricia Fa’asua), whom Hank basically begged Barry to kill; that request went poorly but did lead to Barry training Hank’s men to take down the Burmese contingent themselves. That also went poorly. After more death, most of Hank’s “buddies” left him behind, but the bald baddie was able to convince Fuches to help broker peace between the Chechens, Bolivians, and Burmese. That was before Barry killed almost everyone in the monastery where the negotiations took place. With most of his colleagues dead, what does Hank do now? It’s also worth remembering that Barry left Hank’s Chechen pin on Janice’s body to frame him for the murder. Poor Hank.
In season two, Gene’s acting class taught its students to dig into their own backgrounds to find truth onstage. Sally’s arc was the most prominent, but Barry had some key flashbacks that are worth remembering, especially in how differently he presented them to others versus what actually happened. Barry has so much unresolved trauma to deal with, and he continues to hide his more violent tendencies.
He ended season two like a bull in a china shop, destroying Gene’s life by telling him about Janice and barely surviving the shootout at the monastery. His cycle of trying to light Barry’s life on fire and then be the one to put it out before setting it ablaze again will likely continue through season three and beyond, or at least until one or both of them are dead.