Editor’s Note: The following contains Barry Season 3 spoilers.Henry Winkler‘s work in Barry has always been fantastic. Gene Cousinau is one of the funniest characters in the whole series as an overconfident acting teacher. He also added some dramatic heft, whether it’s advising Bill Hader‘s Barry Berkman on his war experience or making up with his son. In season three, Winkler pushed even darker as the show moved to a point of no return, much like Barry and everyone else around him. Barry’s darkness trying to escape his whole life spreads to his new acting family, with Gene getting sucked in and tortured from knowing the truth about Janice and later achieving justice. Winkler elevated an already strong season with Cousinau’s resolve to redeem himself – both his acting career and for Janice’s death.
Cousinau starts the season at his lowest point when he loses his acting class and realizes that his student most likely killed Janice, the “love of his life.” Right off the bat, Winkler is asked to go to a darker place than he ever has and he does it well. He sells the desperation telling the cops about how Barry – or as he says “that punk” – has brought darkness into his life with the lines “The love of my life, dead. My acting class, dead. ” Even the way he hugs his grandson, Gordon, telling him exasperated but trying to be calm “It’s all going to be okay” as he goes to potentially kill Barry raises the tension surrounding the character, all while horror-esc music plays in the background. and the camera zooms out.
His first encounters with Barry this season shows more intensity. The camera zooms in as he tells Barry he knows he killed Janice and threatens to kill him, continuing that thread from the start of the episode. Then, the gun he uses falls apart, and then the angry leaves Gene’s face, he says “Oh” and looks confused. Winkler sells the quick turn so well with his face and mouth, from direct to more open and confused. Then he begs for his life and returns to the intensity, screaming “Then fucking earn it!” asking Barry to earn forgiveness. Again, Winkler’s desperation is turned up. The actor fully grasps the harshness “that punk” has put his character through and pushes the character further.
These scenes make the next few episodes more awkward. Cousinau must spend more time with Barry as his former student tries to earn forgives by getting Gene an acting role and revive his dead career. Barry even calls Cousinau a bad actor as his former teacher tries to beg for his freedom. But he flips the script when he goes into a monologue about how he helped Barry in LA He most likely playing Barry, but he sells it for a second, even getting Barry to respond saying “I love you” that Cousinau does not reciprocate. This is the warm Cousinau that Barry remembers but again, it’s used as a gamble to get Barry off his trail. Winkler sells the switch to anger and begging to a calm, fatherly demeanor so quickly and it nearly works. Not to get Barry to leave him alone, but to reestablish their previous connection.
Enough to let his guard down as Winkler escapes Barry’s trunk and runs through LA to get home – only to see Barry in his foyer. The deadness in Cousinau’s eyes as Barry forces him to say “I love you, Barry” is frightening. Winkler sells the exhaustion coming from the long day being forced to hang with this killer and the fear he has starring Barry in the eyes, the tight shot on his face showing every detail of his expressions.
Barry actually uses Cousinau’s speech to get Gene a roll as a one line character – ironically, saying “I accept your apology” to Barry. Before going out, Winkler sells the reserved, quiet anger of man forced to read lines with a killer – not to mention learning that he telling Janice Barry’s story may have led to her death. The anger is mixed with guilt, and that feeling from Winkler’s first scene returns as he forces Barry to confront his actions, Winkler’s straight face never letting Barry get into his head.
Of course, Cousinau goes off book, Barry slaps in the face and leaves set in tears. That moment, Winkler lets everything out, risking his life and his family just to finally lash out at Barry. And it’s earned. His cold face switching to anger and revenge finally telling Barry to “stay away from my family” and calling him a “piece of shit” in front of the entire show’s set is releasing a long held tension built from months of resentment, fear, and anger. Winkler’s widened eyes and screaming to the point of spitting pushes the character to a new place. The held-up rage is a response to the violence Barry has brought into his life that Winkler is releasing.
Flashing forward, and Cousinau sees Barry forgive him and promise to finally leave him alone. Not to mention his outburst on set stays in the show, leads to a recurring role in that series, and revives his career. The old Cousinau returns, he’s calmer, he’s relieved, and now he’s getting validation from the world of Hollywood and a chance to reconcile. He’s back to his old smugness with a newfound relief. Once again, Winkler is up to the task to sell this second chance, good guy role with nothing going wrong. He’s friendly, he’s seemingly sincere, and every word he says sticks with the Hollywood sphere.
That is, accept Annie, an ex-girlfriend and former director. His apology falls flat for Annie, and good reason – Cousinau blackmailed her and ruined her directing career. You can see the sadness and shock fill Winkler’s face as Annie storms away from Gene at a party letting everything out. Like Barry, Cousinau can not just earn forgives with an apology. Like Barry, that does not stop Gene from trying. Gene tries by forcing her to direct his master class, essentially him giving her that career back. Again, Winkler sells the apology like others and talks glowingly about how great Annie’s direction is – without seeing her unease and confusion on set. Winkler portrays the vapidness of the old Gene perfectly here, missing cues ignorantly or intentionally to play into his old self (not to mention the humor he provides in his masterclass is top-notch).
And then the Barry seeps back in when Jim Moss, Janice’s father, enters his life. Winkler lies to Jim about Barry – calling him a “good kid” nervously, the sweat building on his forehead, lying through his teeth ironically saying he wished Barry “had a gun” at the cabin where he killed Janice. The “bad actor” Barry mentioned returns here, and Winkler sells the same vapidness from Gene in Hollywood here to avoid getting involved with Barry’s life.
Moss confronts Gene again, using his interrogation techniques to convince Cousinau to admit Barry killed Janice. The camera goes from a wide shot and zooms into a close and personal shot as Moss is yelling in Gene’s face asking him about the murder, as Winkler admits the truth in tears. The intensity is back on Cousinau’s face as he cries with Jim about the encounter. Winkler shows a man remembering not only his whole relationship with Janice but his life and his failures: how he let Barry off the hook and he lied saying that he loved Barry to save his life. This is a man who has constantly been faking people to get by, whether it came from his apologies to his acting and he finally not only confronts this truth about Barry but himself as well.
Which leads to his real masterclass in acting. He convinces Barry to confront Jim late at night on the phone, saying coldly and scared “I do not know what else to do,” threatening to kill Jim Moss on the phone. He knows that will convince Barry to show up and defend him, and Winkler once again finds that intensity as he tells Barry. Berkman comes, and Cousinau frighteningly tells Barry that Moss “knows everything.” His terror appears real, like that from early in the season and even the audience believes that Jim has threatened Cousinau. In reality, it’s just Cousinau’s best performance. He tricks Barry to go inside Moss’s house. This leads to Barry getting surrounded by a SWAT Team and going to prison, ending his cycle of violence for now. Turns out Gene’s not a “bad actor” after all.
One of the first things Barry sees as the cops pull him away is Gene’s cold, emotionless face. That intensity towards Berkman returns and Gene finally gets his revenge for Janice. The camera rests on Gene for a second as Barry’s pulled away and Winkler’s expression changes. Again, with his mouth, he’s less straight and angry and almost has a bit of a smirk as he sees Barry pulled away. For once in his life, Gene Cousinau has redeemed himself. He earned justice for Janice’s death and could forgive himself for the ending, unlike Barry’s shallow attempts to do so or even Cousinau’s own attempts with Annie. Winkler sells this satisfaction so well in this scene with just his facial expression and the way he waves off Jim as he leaves the scene.
Winkler followed his character down a much darker path with the show this season. His character confronted the darkness surrounding Barry’s life that seeped into Cousinau’s. Winkler proved to be a game actor, from the small facial details to the perfect line deliveries staying beat-for-beat with Hader and his team’s story. They force Cousinau to earn redemption and earn forgiveness in a way Barry cannot and Winkler pushes the team and the character even further into the abyss and out of it again.