[Editor’s Note: This post contains spoilers for Barry, Season 4, Episode 6, “the wizard.”]
They may not have acting class anymore, but at least Barry and Gene still share a pathological urge to manipulate stories to suit their needs. And in “the wizard,” they’ve both landed on that age-old method perfected by narcissists everywhere — carefully interpreting religious teachings to prove that everything they do is correct. Their complementary commitment to self-serving righteousness not only proves these characters are more alike than they’d care to admit, but also grounds Barry’s ongoing dissection of how easily spirituality can be disfigured into hypocrisy.
The show has nodded at this before. In Season 2, a Burmese gang pretended to be a group of monks living in a Los Angeles monastery, and when Barry (Bill Hader) eventually killed them all, it was darkly ironic that a holy building became a house of death. Similarly, Fuches (Stephen Root) spent a good chunk of Season 3 trying to find nirvana while he hid out in Chechnya. He was briefly serene as he herded goats on a mountainside, but his obsession with killing Barry kept nagging him. Eventually, he heard a Chechen proverb about a farmer being haunted by ghosts, and he decided the real message was that he was justified in seeking vengeance.
That’s echoed by Fuches’ arc in “the wizard.” After spending eight years in prison, he has embraced his identity as The Raven, a crime boss so feared that he makes nations shake. (Never mind that NoHo Hank originally just invented this nickname as a way to distract the cops.) The myth has become so powerful that Fuches really does run a crew now. His power makes him so seductive that when he simply winks at a barista, she leaves her job to become his girlfriend. He’s even influential enough to muscle in on Nohobal, the blue-chip real estate company that Hank (Anthony Carrigan) has created from the sand-smuggling business he started with Crístobal (Michael Irby). Fuches not only gets Hank to hire all his men, but also has them put up in a palatial home. Dining there with his new girlfriend, her daughter, and his guys, he laughs with amazement that he suddenly has a family.
This counts as another spiritual awakening. Because he believed in the myth of The Raven, Fuches unlocked something mighty in himself. Once again, he has the chance to be happy, but once again, his fixation on capturing Barry is getting in the way. In fact, he frequently says that killing Barry is more important to him than anything else. Like Wile E. Coyote, he’s so focused on his enemy that he can’t see he’s putting himself in danger. The episode ends with him alienating Hank, which doesn’t bode well for the future of his new family. As close as he gets to enlightenment, he never gets close enough.
Fuches is an instructive counterpart to Gene (Henry Winkler). After spending eight years on an Israeli kibbutz, he swears he’s learned “selflessness and true happiness.” He speaks with a deeper, more resonant voice, which befits his elevated soul. He apologizes to his son Leo (Andrew Leeds) for accidentally shooting him. And most significantly, he dedicates himself to stopping Warner Bros. from making a film about Barry. Unlike Fuches, who openly acknowledges his bloodlust, Gene swears he’s only doing this to protect Janice’s memory. But there’s an intensity in Winkler’s performance that reminds us he’s as vengeful as The Raven. Janice’s memory is part of it, but he also wants to stop the film so that Barry’s story gets erased.
As we learn at the end of the episode, Gene also wants Barry to be punished. In the final sequence, Barry walks up to Gene’s front door, intent on killing him, which he thinks will stop the film from getting made. (He doesn’t realize that he and Gene both want the movie to vanish.) Gene’s door is standing open, practically inviting him inside, but just before he crosses the threshold, Janice’s father Jim (Robert Wisdom) kidnaps him. So, just like he did eight years ago, Gene has once again teamed up with a psy-ops soldier to set a trap for his least favorite hitman. This doesn’t jibe with a philosophy of selflessness and true happiness, no matter how much argues he’s only doing what’s right. The kibbutz may not have purged the venality from his spirit after all.
Compared to Barry, though, Gene is a minor league hypocrite. In “tricky legacies,” Barry watched an online sermon with his family, and they all did the “peace be with you,” hugs-and-handshakes shtick when it was over. He seemed devoted to a gentle, Christian life. Now that he’s hellbent on murdering Gene, he’s looking for a spiritual justification, so that he can have his Bible and his rage without feeling conflicted. As he travels to L.A. and then buys a gun from a Wal-Mart-esque store, he listens to podcast after podcast about the nature of sin, huffily pausing them whenever they say that murder is wrong. He finally discovers a pastor who swears God told him to kill a guy while they were playing ice hockey, and he shouts “bingo.” All he needed was a religious lens that would let him remain a hero. Turning himself into a hero is one of Barry’s favorite pastimes, and as Hader himself has said, he likes the idea of religious redemption, though he doesn’t understand it.
That’s a pointed rebuke of people who use religion to serve their own ends, but the episode, which is directed by Hader and written by Duffy Boudreau, goes further. Like Fuches, Barry is so intent on his mission that he gets sloppy. He doesn’t stop to consider it’s odd for Gene’s door to be standing open like that. He doesn’t recall that this is almost exactly the scenario that got him arrested at the end of Season 3. And like Gene, he uses a barrage of self-serving, holy-sounding language to tell himself lies. Hypocrisy does more than curdle your soul, the episode suggests. It also makes you a fool.
Barry airs Sundays at 10:00 PM ET on HBO. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.
Mark Blankenship has been writing about arts and culture for twenty years, with bylines in The New York Times, Variety, Vulture, Fortune, and many others. You can hear him on the pop music podcast Mark and Sarah Talk About Songs.
TOPICS: Barry, HBO, Anthony Carrigan, Bill Hader, Henry Winkler, Stephen Root