TV Review: The bleak and brilliant final season of ‘Barry’

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© HBO

Spoiler warning: This review includes spoilers for the season finale of Barry.

The final season of Barry leans more heavily into the bleakness of its dark comedy genre. Bill Hader and Alec Berg, co-creators of the series, always managed to balance the absurd comedy with a thoughtful contemplation on redemption and forgiveness, and this season noticeably focuses more on the dark and introspective themes explored in the show. 

The opening of season four notably lacks the bombastic score that usually accompanies the title card. After his arrest in the season three finale, Barry (Bill Hader) can no longer ‘act’; a passion that he often used to excuse and justify his actual job as a hitman and murderer. Instead, the title card appears with no score at all, perhaps signalling Barry’s inability to continue pretending that he is a good man through his acting ambitions. Or perhaps the silence indicates this season’s darker tone, as all of Barry’s protective fantasies are stripped away.

Unlike other anti-hero-centred shows, Barry’s undoing comes much earlier on. In comparison to Walter White and Tony Soprano, Barry Berkman commits the act of no return in season one when he murders Gene Cousineau’s (Henry Winkler) girlfriend, Janice Moss (Paula Newsome). One could also argue his murder of fellow Marine Chris (Chris Marquette) was equally harrowing, but Janice’s death brings more emotional weight to the story. She also directly leads to Barry’s death in the final episode, with Cousineau finally taking revenge with the Chekov’s gun that we have seen since the second season. The final season rejects the possibility of redemption for Barry, instead doubling down on removing his delusions of heroism and revealing him for the villain he is.

Following the unexpected time jump in episode five, Barry is living a secluded life with Sally (Sarah Goldberg), and the two now have a son, John (Zachary Golinger). Interestingly, all of Barry’s daydreams of a perfect suburban life with Sally have now come true, except that she is miserable and stifled; her acting ambitions practically non-existent. Barry is a near-perfect father to John, spending quality time with him every day, and spouting moralistic life lessons. He completely erases his deadly past, turning to God as a last-ditch effort at redemption. Of course, Barry doesn’t actually listen, instead searching desperately for justification of his actions, and continuing his delusion.

The mid-season time jump, a bold choice by Hader, ultimately works. Barry leans into absurdity and surrealism when it serves the story (such as the exhilarating ronny/lily episode in season two). This is not the first time jump of the show, however, with the final episode of the first season skipping past the romantic tension of Barry and Sally’s dynamic, as well as Gene and Janice’s romance, to depict all four characters content and loved-up — at least until the end. 

Barry is one of the most fascinating characters in recent memory, but Sarah Goldberg’s performance as Sally Reed should not be underestimated. Season four has been particularly heartbreaking to watch as Sally Reed, an ambitious and sometimes unlikable character, descends into a miserable, trapped woman, stuck with a son she doesn’t seem to want. That’s not to say she hasn’t made her fair share of mistakes; she is at best neglectful to John and could turn nasty in the past if things didn’t go her way. Sally’s ending offers a glimmer of hope in a dark finale, with her final scene showing her contentment with her life, finally getting to pursue her passion.

Anthony Carrigan’s portrayal of Hank, on the other hand, has been both captivating and tragic. Hank’s turn to darkness after willingly allowing the love of his life, Cristobal (Michael Irby), to be executed, was a tragic end to one of the few healthy relationships in the show. The end of season three had Hank face his mortality and compelled him to kill, rather than feel that weak and scared again. Cristobal’s death haunts Hank after the time jump, and like Barry, he has rewritten their history in his head. The final episode illustrates that Hank would rather die than admit his guilt over Cristobal’s death. He cannot admit his guilt and be truly vulnerable, ultimately reaching to hold hands with a statue of Cristobal as he reaches his demise. Hank might have become a true crime syndicate, but in doing so, lost the one genuine relationship he ever had.

Anthony Carrigan as NoHo Hank in season four. | © HBO

The show ends with Barry’s teenage son (Jaeden Martell) watching the dramatisation of his father’s atrocious past. The film glorifies Barry’s multiple murders, portraying him as a heroic war hero who died trying to stop the ‘real’ killer, Gene Cousineau. We learn that Gene is serving life in prison for Janice’s murder, whilst Barry is buried with full military honours. The ending is bleak and frustrating, presenting a shocking reversal of the ‘hero’ and villain. In episode six, Gene expresses his anger at the Barry Berkman biopic “glorifying a psychopath, and…exploiting the memory of the woman I loved.” He is willing to consider the offer once Daniel Day-Lewis is mentioned, exploiting his trauma for the chance at fame. Gene has always been just as self-serving as Barry, albeit in a less harmful way. His ending is tragic, as he truly loved Janice, but serves as a form of retribution for his greed.

Although I didn’t love the final scene of wow, as it felt like too much time was spent on John, rather than focusing on characters we have become invested in, the episode was brilliant overall, concluding a fascinating, genre-bending season of television. Bill Hader has played Barry masterfully, nailing his silent rage through the subtle widening of his eyes throughout the show (particularly his massacre in berkman>block). The show has always focused on the danger of living in delusion, and this season finally shattered all of these delusions. Barry dies in the middle of turning himself in for his crimes — four seasons too late. He didn’t need some excessive death scene, or a final dramatic showdown because wasn’t the hero of this story. He didn’t change for the better before he died. Besides, his biopic rewrote his history anyway. That’s showbiz, baby!

Words by Emily Nutbean


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