Bill Hader doesn’t speak a single full word in “Candy Asses,” the penultimate episode of Barry’s third season. For Barry, this is an episode of introspection: thinking about what he’s done and whom he’s hurt the most. His voice, for once, is taken from him; there’s no opportunity to rationalize, backpedal, or glean some false message of empowerment from a lazy attempt at redemption. He’s here to listen.
The morning after being poisoned, Barry is alive but too paralyzed to make it far, his poisoner nowhere to be found. While he’s slumped against a dumpster in reality, he hallucinates himself calmly walking to some purgatorial beach, where he’s intercepted by Ryan Madison’s father, George. George drives the real-life Barry to some undisclosed location — we, like Barry, don’t understand what his end goal is at first — and tells him about Ryan, the beautiful son he lost because of Barry. If Barry could speak, he’d probably point out that he technically didn’t kill Ryan; he was on his way to kill him but found out the job had already been done. But it doesn’t matter who pulled the trigger. What matters is that it could’ve just as easily been him.
Throughout “Candy Asses,” Barry sits on that mysterious beach, hearing only the breeze and the ocean waves. He keeps glancing over at the crowd of people congregating a bit farther down. Who are they? He seems curious, but there’s a reason he doesn’t run over right away. Deep down, he immediately understands who they are. And he doesn’t know if he can face them.
George’s pain surely gets through, even if Barry can’t respond or even react. The man wants to hurt Barry — hurting his child is probably the only thing a person could do to make him consider murder — but in the end, that’s not him. Letting this man die would go against George’s virtues, and in the end, it wouldn’t bring Ryan back. There’s only one way, in his mind, he can really be with Ryan.
So while George is swarmed after a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, Barry is rushed into the ER for a second chance — something that nobody on that beach will ever get. Not Traci, not Goran, not any of the mobsters who Barry massacred at the monastery, and certainly not Chris. Barry joins them all eventually, trying to blend in but failing. There’s no camaraderie here between old friends, no letting bygones be bygones. They’re all here because of him — Barry included.
If Fuches’s revenge army was meant to be made up of credible threats to Barry’s life, George’s suicide would be a little cheap; so many of these grieving family members have been taken care of in convenient ways. But George isn’t a Big Bad, and Barry’s life has never truly been what’s at stake here. What’s at stake is his soul.
Though Barry and Fuches have only shared one scene this season — and that one scene was a phone call across continents — their history still plays a significant role in the series. It’s Fuches who sees Barry for what he truly is. It’s only Fuches who understands, like Barry’s old vet buddy Albert, the deep-seated rage that leads Barry to kill, again and again, no matter whether the target is someone who personally hurt him or not. After meeting with Janice’s father, Jim, and telling him Barry was the one who killed his daughter, Fuches winds up in jail; none of the people he’s come to have outsmarted him before, but Jim is different. He was shot down as a fighter pilot in Vietnam and convinced an interrogator to kill himself after all. He’s the real deal.
When Albert finally gets in a room with Fuches, everything comes together. But it’s the final detail Fuches names that really conveys Barry’s twisted psychology: After all this time, Barry still attends charity runs for Chris. It’s enough to make Albert grab his gun from his desk and leave the station angrily.
It’s a thrilling setup for the finale next week, but none of “Candy Asses” feels like table-setting, as transitional as it is. Hank seeks Cristobal out in Bolivia to hash out their issues, only to be knocked out and imprisoned along with his few remaining friends. (The moment when Hank patiently waits as the man he’s speaking to loads a blowgun is one of the episode’s funnier moments.) Cristobal’s absence from the last couple of episodes raises the stakes: We still don’t know precisely where his allegiances lie, even if his heart is still with Hank.
At least Hank has hope that Yandar and Akhmal can come through and help him escape. Sally’s current position feels bleaker, even if her life isn’t in danger. We watched her rise early this season, and now we’re witnessing her fall: Sally keeps getting new opportunities to prove herself, but she keeps letting herself down.
Take the writers’-room scene early in “Candy Asses.” Sally’s writing style doesn’t mesh with the showrunner of The New Medusas — she’s more interested in getting inside characters’ heads than empty shock value and unmotivated sex and violence — but the suggestions she makes are received surprisingly well by her other new co-workers. Maybe there’s a path forward for her if she’s humble enough to accept this learning experience and work with new collaborators. She should realize that she doesn’t need her own show right away; she can actually make connections by helping improve the shows that wouldn’t exist without cynical algorithm-driven decision-making.
But Sally is not humble enough because any strides she may have made are forgotten when she realizes her friend/ex-employee Natalie now has her own show. It’s called Just Desserts, and it copies ideas from Sally’s old show Joplin, especially the central mother-daughter relationship. So Sally immediately squanders her own potential by cornering Natalie in an emergency-stopped elevator and screaming at her, calling her an “entitled fucking cunt” over and over.
There’s a lot to unpack about Sally’s self-sabotage here, especially her claim that this was Sally’s story to tell because Natalie never struggled. “You don’t even have a fucking daughter!” she exclaims, and Natalie points out, “Neither do you, Sally.” That’s Sally in a nutshell: She decided that a story was hers alone; besides, she deserved it, she went through the trauma and did the work, and it’s disrespectful to take that away from her. Her close-up yelling is strikingly reminiscent of Barry’s scary rant from “Limonada”; Sally keeps unwittingly re-creating the dynamics she’s familiar with, and it’s making her into the type of monster she always feared. The same has already begun to happen to Natalie, who already treats her new assistant the way Sally treated her.
But Natalie had the foresight to record the elevator outburst and send it into Hollywood Drama Report, a TMZ-esque tabloid, so Medusas is already dropping Sally. By the end of the episode, she doesn’t even have Lindsay in her corner anymore; she went against her agent’s advice to let her handle the fallout, prematurely sending in an “apology” video that contains every bad-apology cliché in the book. She throws her second temper tantrum of the episode, this time with Lindsay on the receiving end, stepping backward into the empty blackness as she shouts about how Lindsay works for her, not the other way around. Lindsay has no choice but to drop her.
It’s both painful and darkly satisfying to see Sally experience such swift comeuppance, losing the best advocate she ever had. This is a breaking point for her: Either being brought so low will make her remember her original goals and gain some real self-awareness about how she comes across, or she’ll lean even harder into bitterness and megalomania. Barry may be the only person left she can turn to — a depressing thought.
By contrast, Gene has had the most unexpectedly heartwarming arc in the time since Barry left his life. We get a first look at his televised acting master class this episode, directed by his ex and collaborator Annie. It’s very well-received by Bob Jacobson, who even wants to run some other projects by her. But Annie has been out of the industry for 20 years, and she can barely hold back the weight of the pressure. It’s beautiful to see the support and reassurance she gets from her new script supervisor Sheryl, and in general, it’s really nice to see Annie getting a voice despite being much less central to the narrative than Gene. Maybe nothing will fully make up for the years she couldn’t work, but Gene’s desire to do better is sincere. She’s getting back out there and figuring it out.
Gene being at the peak of his redemption arc makes me worried about him going into the finale, given Jim’s knowledge that he’s lying. It’s not just Jim’s impressive gifts of observation, depicted with a great zoom-in on the sweat on Gene’s brow. He knows for a fact that Gene wasn’t always on Barry’s side because the cops at the station mentioned Gene originally pointed the finger at him.
Ultimately I think Gene is safe, and this scene is just meant to confirm Jim’s suspicions about Barry. But it’s fascinating, at this juncture in the series narrative, to consider how this cast could fit together in a fourth (and perhaps final?) season. Few of the other regulars have spoken to Barry recently. And while I hope the series does find a logical and satisfying way to keep these characters in the same story, a big part of me hopes none of these people will go back to Barry. You know, for their sake.
• There’s no way Albert leaving the LAPD without debriefing the other cops (or getting backup) doesn’t bite him in the ass, right? I figured he was smart enough to do that first, but maybe he has a different plan entirely.
• Natalie bossing around her own assistant, continuing the cycle of bullying: “Make me an appointment at the acupuncturist where Chloë Grace Moretz gets hers done, but make sure that it’s with the tattoo guy and not the fangs girl because I did not like her.”
• Fuches can’t wrap his head around Jim being talented enough to convince his interrogator in Vietnam to kill himself: “Did you get any sense of his home life? I mean, he worked in a prison camp in the jungle during Vietnam. Seems like he might have been a ticking clock. It might be a right man, right day situation.”
• One of my favorite acting moments of the episode is the subtle shift on Stephen Root’s face as Fuches realizes the implications of Albert’s story.