As a character, Sally Reed has always been defined by the fine line she walks between genuine talent and a complete lack of self-awareness. She wants to succeed and share her own story, especially if it will help other partners in abusive relationships – but she’s never had the prospect of stepping out of herself and understanding how she presents herself. (Example: when her co-star Katie is amazed at her writing abilities, Sally replies, “Writing? Oh, it’s easy!”)
Sally’s obliviousness has been played for comedy thus far, though season two has taken her character considerably deeper. But it becomes a source of drama in “Limonada” when we learn that her relationship with Barry isn’t the same as the romance we’ve seen unfold.
This becomes clear when Barry visits Sally at work. He is at the height of mania, deliriously elated by all that a boost to Gene’s career could mean. When his girlfriend dismisses the possibility, she’s right, even though she is a little insensitive about it, a little too focused on herself. But Barry… doesn’t react well to being told no. Watch the slow zoom out as he realizes he won’t get what he wants (a callback to the indispensable Hader as a director). At first he’s just sullen, but his frustration quickly turns into a tantrum when Sally tells him that they both want Gene to be happy, to say the same thing.
“WE ARE NOT SAYING THE SAME THING! Barry yells, the volume heightened by the inaccuracy of his staging. “IF I DON’T DO THIS, I WON’T LIVE. I HAVE TO DO THIS FOR FUCKING LIVE. Sally can do nothing but laugh in response, prompting Barry to get right in her face, practically pinning her against the wall as he orders her to do as he says. Sally doesn’t back down, but it looks like she lost the battle anyway.
It’s hard to know when this happened – these things are usually gradual – but at some point Barry’s rage normalized. Though pitched and clearly triggered on a subconscious level, Sally’s reaction to Barry is surprisingly offhand. It may never have happened in his workplace, but I feel like it has happened before. You don’t spend that long in a relationship without see red flags, even if you refuse to look at them closely.
While the obvious writing choice would be for Barry’s fury to set off alarm bells, Alec Berg and Hader’s screenplay takes the richer and more complicated route. Sometimes when you’ve been through a particular experience, you automatically think you understand that experience inside and out – and Sally is so good at being yelled at by a man that it barely bothers her in the moment. On some level, she knows it’s different from just arguing with your boyfriend. But no previous trauma can prepare you for it to happen again.
It’s one of the most disturbing scenes in the entire series, period, and it doesn’t involve any physical violence. And that’s only the second scene. It’s an episode that never stops, relentlessly moving forward with the brutal aftermath of Barry and Gene’s confrontation in the premiere. Essentially, Barry has the idea that if Gene starts playing again, it will give him a goal the same way he gave Barry a goal. And if he can just bring Gene a modicum of peace and joy, that will be enough to earn that forgiveness he’s always dreamed of. (Narrator: That won’t be enough.) Not just from Gene, but from other people he hurt and from himself. “Everyone deserves a second chance,” he insists later in the episode. “That’s not how it works,” replies a casting director.
As Barry goes out to defend Gene, he encounters person after person who can’t help him – or won’t. The ’80s Gene was a total asshole, and stories of his various offenses haunt his career to this day. It’s fascinating to observe the differences in how men and women react to hearing Gene’s name. Casting director Allison Jones immediately closes the possibility of giving him a role, still rightly angry at his very public and very misogynistic comments about him. The male casting directors mostly laugh it off, and it doesn’t take much to convince them to finally give Gene and Barry roles on laws of humanity (although Gene has no lines).
Barry finally convinces them by delivering a monologue about what Gene meant to him: Barry was a lost soul before he met Gene, who made him a better actor and a better man. There’s a lot of truth to that, but it’s also a cynical gesture, the words taken directly from Gene’s plea to let him live earlier in the day. That’s what that relationship looks like now: There’s still some residual love and gratitude there, especially on Barry’s side, but it coexists with the ironic truth that one of these men has destroys the life of another.
That’s clearer than ever in the riveting final scene, which features another chilling threat from Barry, this time in a much lower, calmer register. After a messy but successful escape attempt, Gene arrived home to find Barry was already there. As Gene’s son Leo leaves the room, Barry delivers his news on the role – then he secures Gene’s temporary silence by explicitly threatening the lives of his family. This is the second bottom of a bottom episode for Barry. But it continues: Barry repeats his previous claim that he loves Gene, then asks if Gene loves him too. The slow, careful nod Henry Winkler gives, in a striking close-up, communicates so much. And again, there’s this duality: Barry is sincere about how he feels, but asking Gene to return that affection is absurd given the circumstances.
In stark contrast to these twisted manifestations of “love,” NoHo Hank and Cristobal, whose scenes together depict a love full of warmth and comfort, something sorely lacking in other relationships on barry. (Somehow, the text conversation of the two discussing the making of sangria, which I paused to read, almost brought me to tears.) Their scenes are much-needed balm, even in the face of conflict – and “Limonada” certainly introduces new hurdles for California. cutest mafia boss couple.
First of all: Cristobal has a wife and children in Bolivia! Her stepfather, Fernando, arrives this week to take care of business. He wants to decimate the Chechens so that Cristobal can return home — but Bolivia is not more home for Cristobal. Skein is at home. Fortunately, he manages to warn Hank of the impending ambush before Fernando’s battalion shows up. But that problem doesn’t go away, even though Cristobal thinks staying away from Hank will protect him. I like the idea of telling a Romeo and Juliet story with these guys, but hopefully with a different resolution.
Yet for me, this episode goes back to Sally, who may very well be in an abusive relationship without realizing it – as she lives her dream telling stories of abuse on TV. Watching her cook Barry a nice meal and apologize to him on the phone like she did something wrong is as sickening in its own way as Barry’s other two big moments in this episode. And watch Barry share his news on laws of humanity as if nothing had happened, it’s atrocious.
“I will never be with a violent man again,” Sally said once last season. It was already a cruelly ironic statement, given what we knew of Barry, but at that point, she hadn’t been the target yet. The line is even more devastating in retrospect, now that we know Barry’s anger has become a regular (if unacknowledged) part of their relationship. The question now is how long it will take Sally to see it.
• No Fuches this week, but that doesn’t really bother me. His story looks like a slow burn at this point in the season.
• Sally learns that there is another show with similar themes to Joplinentitled Pam! As a result, Sally’s premiere is getting further and further along, so I expect to see that in the next week or two.
• Katie is trying to talk to a few co-workers about what happened at the office, but there are very few options. Reporting Barry to HR or the police wouldn’t accomplish anything since he didn’t hit or threaten Sally. “They’re adults, and I like my job,” one writer says bluntly. It’s such an incisive scene — both as a critique of Hollywood’s culture of silence and as a way to show the different ways people talk about physical and emotional abuse.
• Sally: “People just don’t talk like that, in perfectly worded arguments.” One of its writers: “I would not agree with this hypothesis. Its naïveté is a direct result of the history of the subjugation of women by a draconian patriarchy. Sally: “Good. Maybe throw some ‘um’ in there?
• A hilarious gag: Fernando’s first appearance is preceded by an argument with the soldier who pulls on the car door as he tries to unlock it.