As we enter the second half of season three, it’s becoming clear that the central focus, in many of its stories, is addressing the past. It’s not just our continued glimpses into the lives of the families who lost someone, one way or the other, because of Barry and Fuches. It’s also Gene’s Hollywood redemption story. And in this episode, it’s the return of Albert Nguyen, a man with whom Barry served in the Marines.
We haven’t seen much of the LAPD this season; with Janice gone, nobody has stepped up to actually do any good detective work. That’s where Special Agent Nguyen comes in, rolling through the station to take charge and tell Mae Dunn and the chief everything they’ve been doing wrong. Barry is actually already on his radar, even if he doesn’t consider him a main suspect in Janice’s killing yet. With his reintroduction, the law is poised to become a real threat again.
“Crazytimesh*tshow” is a solid but slightly disjointed episode of Barry with much left unresolved. It’s hard to know exactly what to make of Sally’s story, for example — the immediate cancellation of Joplin is quite abrupt, cutting off a whole lot of potential narrative ground for Sally. (What happens to Katie?)
But I have to trust that the writers have something else planned for Sally, and what we get instead is still very good — with some darkly hilarious real-world resonance. First, we get a scene of Sally enjoying her newfound fame, her face plastered on the home screen of Netflix stand-in BanShe (though she’s still not at the point of getting approached at coffee shops). But it’s short-lived; only 12 hours after the show dropped, it’s been canceled.
The scene where Diane Villa meets with Sally is filled with corporate-streamer speak that’s equal parts infuriating and laugh-out-loud funny. It’s hard to pick a favorite line; “The algorithm felt it wasn’t hitting the right taste clusters” is particularly deranged, but I’m fond of the moment when Sally points out, “People were crying at the screening!” and Elizabeth Perkins sinks her teeth into the spacey, apathetic delivery of, “I was one of them. But I guess I was wrong.” The whole subplot is also sickeningly familiar in the current TV landscape, especially with the thinly veiled nods to Netflix showrunners whose acclaimed series were inexplicably cut short. When Sally asks, “Why do you even bother watching cuts, giving us notes, if you’re just gonna let some machine make all your decisions for you?” It stings.
Sally’s old classmate Natalie is there for all of this. She’s been a funny side character for most of the season, earning laughs with her clinginess and desperation, but it’s a deeply moving moment when she comes into the restroom to tell Sally that she grew as an artist and person by watching Sally work. Sally emerges from the stall and immediately embraces Natalie, the human ego boost she needs the most right now.
My heart sank a bit when Sally ran into Barry back at home; she’s in such a vulnerable state at the time that I half-expected her to fall into old patterns and let him console her. Thankfully, after just a couple minutes, Sally remembers who she’s talking to. At Hank and Cristobal’s advice, Barry is convinced he needs to show Sally the “real him,” even if he can’t be entirely truthful. He has the right idea with a collage, even if it’s a little late for that. But he overplays his hand when he offers to freak Diane out a little with some good old-fashioned gaslighting and psychological torture he learned from the military (and a sub-Reddit). As he goes on about planting a seed so that his victims will destroy themselves, Sally gets justifiably freaked out. She recognizes, now, that this is definitely not normal and the only thing to do is tell her scary ex-boyfriend to get the fuck out.
It’s otherwise a quiet episode for Barry, though it’s nice to see the return of his old roommates Jermaine (Darrell Britt-Gibson) and Nick (Rightor Doyle). Now that Barry is momentarily less concerned with self-preservation — he can rest assured that Gene won’t go to the police again anytime soon — he has ample time to focus on his own “massive rage issues” and work toward forgiveness.
But, again, the past rears its head. Julie, the widow whose story we saw last week, makes her big move this week, having some nice mother-son bonding time on a stakeout to track the man who killed Kyle’s father. The idea to lure Barry seems solid enough, but they’re amateurs, people who’d probably never even thought about shooting a gun before this week. In an episode-ending cliffhanger, the gun goes off inside the car just as they’re about to set the plan in motion, and Kyle ends up with a pretty bad gunshot wound to the gut. They peel out before Barry can really investigate the nearby bang he heard, but his suspicions are aroused.
Gene is having much more luck at making amends, at least at first. He successfully apologizes to the showrunner who he’d splashed with hot tea, earning a teary-eyed thank-you. He apologizes to Joe Mantegna at a dinner party for taking out his professional jealousy on him earlier in their careers. He even rents Leo a new house with the money Barry gave him, emphatically saying that he needs to be closer to his son. There’s a level of modesty to Gene’s amends — and a matching sense of sincerity in Henry Winkler’s performance — that makes them feel believable and selfless in a way that Barry’s apologies never have.
But going along with my point last week about the inability to undo harm, it’s still not enough. At Joe’s house, Gene unexpectedly runs into Annie Eisner, an old ex whom he treated terribly. Being an asshole he can apologize for — but what he’s conveniently forgotten is the fact that he blackballed her as punishment for leaving him, ensuring she wouldn’t work in the industry again. Gene’s shock at being reminded of this does feel somewhat genuine. But that’s damning in its own way: What derailed a woman’s entire career was just a footnote in this man’s past. It’s unclear if future episodes will also feature Annie, but it’s obvious that nothing is as simple as quickly apologizing and moving on.
While “Crazytimesh*tshow” features a lot of comedy in its main dramatic story lines, its main comedic character’s arc is only becoming more dramatic. I felt foreboding when Cristobal seemed sketchy about being honest with Hank, but I still didn’t expect what happens next: the sudden arrival of Cristobal’s wife Elena, who seems to kill or capture all the remaining Chechens who aren’t Hank. It’s too soon to say for sure how much Cristobal knew about what was coming and what his plan is, but it’s brutal to see the terror and heartbreak on Hank’s face in close-up as he watches Elena from the closet.
As we barrel toward season three’s endgame, there are a lot of balls in the air — and “Crazytimesh*tshow” only adds to the juggling act. It makes for a slightly unwieldy but thrilling episode. I’ve never wanted to watch the next one more.
• Fuches finds a new recruit in Tracy, whose brother Taylor was killed back in season one by the Bolivians (he even calls back to Taylor’s desire for a hot tub). Seems promising, but it’s their only scene in the episode.
• The juxtaposition between Bill Hader’s gentle consoling voice and the actual content of his suggestions to Sally is so funny.
• The scene when Batir FaceTimes his Chechen bosses to show them the operation only to give them a perfect wide view of the plant shop getting wiped out is perfectly paced comedic gold. It’s also smart that the Bolivian attack coincides exactly with Nguyen’s move to round up and question the Chechens.