During World War I, ground troops took to reciting the Psalm 91 for reassurance under fire. The passage, an affirmation that those who give glory to God remain safe from harm on Earth, caught on among military types and eventually came to be known as the Soldier’s Prayer. When Barry hits the lowest point of this week’s episode, probably the lowest point of his entire life, he’s wearing a black memorial wristband emblazoned with the words “PFC Jack Gootsan, Psalm 91:1 – Semper Fi.” That particular verse reads, “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.” The significance of Jack Gootsan is anybody’s guess — Google’s got nothing to say about him — but Barry has most assuredly moved his dwelling away from the shelter of the Most High.
Like most people who wear items with Bible verses on them, Barry considers himself an ethical person, or at least as ethical as a person could be under his given circumstances. But desperation has a way of making us turn on ourselves; as addicts say, you can only hit rock bottom after doing the one thing you swore to yourself you’d never do, and Barry is addicted to staying alive. In this half-hour, he does that thing, and to say that he doesn’t take it well would be putting it mildly. He’s trapped in his predicament, and the only way out is through hell.
“Loud, Fast, and Keep Going” begins with the bloody car crash that concluded last week’s episode, now shot from the perspective of the gunman instead of the petrified passengers he’s targeting. But what it really begins with is John Denver’s “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” the same tune that concludes the episode. (2017 may be over, but the John Denverssance continues apace!) It’s a remorseful composition sung from the point of view of a man heavy with regret, begging his lover to keep faith in him until he returns from what could be a long absence. On an even more basic level, the lyrics offer a confession of wrongdoing (the narrator can’t help being a no-good cheater, but he wants to be a one-woman man) paired with the plea for a bit of lenience until he can reach betterment. That’s where the song hits its resonance with Barry and Barry, first by providing a literal counterpoint to the image of a small plane making a landing, but ultimately by articulating his excruciating inner conflict.
Barry’s been made to do a lot of things he didn’t want to do, though it’s sort of his fault. Taylor’s unhinged assault on the Bolivians and the resultant crash both stemmed from Barry’s choice to ignore Fuches’s counsel and allow Taylor to live last week, a poorly thought effort to seize some agency in his own life. But that was only the beginning of the ruination that he unwittingly set in motion, and things go from bad to worse to much worse in about 24 hours flat.
While Taylor served as a foil illustrating what Barry would look like without empathy, Marine buddy Chris (Chris Marquette, leaving an indelible impression with a pair of scenes) works as an inverse, embodying Barry’s innocence and wish for a normal family life. Of course he must become a casualty of Barry’s tumble into turpitude. Barry tries to get the lily-livered Chris — he was a Marine, but in logistics, a far cry from Taylor’s aggro Seal Team Six schtick — out of the humvee while it is still relatively safe, but to no avail, leaving him in a position where he must kill, and then spend the rest of his life deceiving his loved ones. It’s a lot to ask anyone to bear, but Barry leaves him with no choice. When Chris tries to make an ethical choice anyway, Barry follows his instinct for self-preservation and does the unthinkable.
The guilt is not insubstantial. By the time he rushes to Cousineau’s playhouse for the Shakespeare showcase, Barry has been reduced to mush on the inside. Hader pulls a fast one when the entirely plausible performance that goes swimmingly turns out to be a fantasy — of course, reckoning with his feelings won’t be so tidy. Barry’s got but a single line in the Macbeth selection that Sally has commandeered, rushing in to inform her that “My Lord, the Queen is dead.” So much gnawing anxiety, so much Denverian self-reproach, so much negative emotion is boiling inside Barry, and in those six words, it all comes pouring out. As Sally fully admits, her performance was only so good because he cued her up. “You gave me everything I needed,” she says, before granting him a little peck and telling him that he’s a real actor. This slightly improves his mood.
But the police are closing in, and Chris’s body will raise some hard-to-answer questions even if it has been posed to look like a suicide. Barry will now have to live with himself, the greatest challenge of all, having torn a family asunder just so he could cover his own ass. He’s had a fall out of the light, though the final song metaphorically frames it as an ascension. He’s on the jet plane, far from the Most High.
• I had never heard of Don Miguel Ruiz’s self-help book The Four Agreements prior to its mention on this episode. (I’m more of a The Secret man myself.) Hader’s a pro at pinpointing the little bits of New Age hooey reminding us that we’re in California.
• “All of the proceeds from tonight’s show will go to the fight against violence” is such a perfectly actorly thing to say, an exquisite combination of Sean Penn–ian self-righteousness with a lack of the brain cells to pull such a stance off.
• Someone needs to tell Goran — who does not want cinnamon babka, so help you God if you cinnamon — that the expression is not Even Kevin, but Even Steven. Though perhaps there are simply more Kevins than Stevens in Eastern Europe?
• Noho Hank and Gene go laugh for laugh in this half-hour, wringing humor out of each and every line they’re allotted. Hank sounds like the casual work acquaintance he truly is when he says of Barry’s presumed death, “Hasn’t really hit me yet. Super broken up about it.” Meanwhile, Gene remains a master of the constructive put-down: He tells Sally that her performance “to use a technical term, sucks,” and later praises Barry with “you came charging out there, equal parts loud and wrong!”