Although it features a guy going through a car window, another guy flipping over the top of a minivan, and a woman getting shot twice while she sprays gunfire from the roof of a used car dealership, there's something oddly serene about the motorcycle chase in Sunday night's episode of Barry, titled “710N.”
There’s no soundtrack, for one thing, which means the entire sequence, which encompasses almost a third of the episode, plays out in relative silence. All we hear is the hum of motocross bikes as a gang of siblings called the Taylors chase Barry (Bill Hader) around Los Angeles. (They’re out for revenge after learning that Barry killed their brother a few years ago.) This creates an almost contemplative air, and so does the subdued editing. Instead of frenetic jump cuts, we see long, uninterrupted takes of the Taylors steadily pursuing their prey as Barry calmly navigates between cars while trying not to drop the box of beignets he’s taking to a dinner party.
Hader, who directed the episode, was responsible for this tone, and as stunt coordinator Wade Allen explains to Primetimer, it permeates every element of the sequence. “If all the Taylors and myself were left to our own devices, there’s a good chance there would be some kind of Metallica soundtrack,” he says. “It would be motocross porn and stunts, and it would be awesome. But Bill had this notion of how he wanted it covered and how he wanted it to sound, and it ultimately elevated the entire piece in a very different way.”
In many ways, the motorbike chase is a spiritual successor to the long fight scene in the Season 2 episode “ronny/lily,” which found Barry fighting off both a tae kwan do master and his feral little girl. “With ‘ronny/lily,’ that fight wanted to be messy and not glamorous,” says Allen, who was Emmy nominated for his work on Barry's second season. “In the same way, there’s a component of this chase that’s not entirely glamorous. We’re not riding wheel-to-wheel chasing Barry. We’re turning down the volume a little bit, and it gives you the same effect of making the chase seem really out there and exciting.”
It matters, for instance, that we mostly see the Taylors riding in a straight line — they're not swerving wildly between cars or popping up on a back wheel like marauders in a Mad Max movie. Similarly, when Traci Taylor (Jolene Van Vugt) steers her bike to the top of that used car dealership, she doesn’t do anything dramatic to get on the roof. Allen played with having her zigzag up some scaffolding or even jump her bike off of a car carrier and onto the building, but it proved to be off-tone. “In the middle of the sequence, to see what you might describe as a pure motocross stunt, just didn’t feel right,” he says. “That’s not the world that Bill wanted.”
As a consequence, when a wild moment does occur — like when one of the Taylors crashes while trying to grab a shotgun from his brother — it’s more startling and much funnier because it’s so incongruous with the rest of what’s been happening.
“That’s what makes the show work,” Allen says. “You never know when you’re going to make the switch. Are we staying serious the whole time, or are we going to get funny right now, out of nowhere?”
That promise of mayhem makes the quiet moments even more gripping because we never know when somebody’s going to go through a windshield. Or even worse, drop the beignets.
The final two episodes of Barry's third season premiere June 5th and June 12th at 10:00 PM on HBO. Past episodes stream on HBO Max.
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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, Bill Hader, Jolene Van Vugt, Wade Allen