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‘Barry’ fuses acerbic Hollywood satire, redemption metanarrative in final season

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JUNE 05, 2023

Grade: 4.0/5.0

The most arresting image in the fourth and final season of Bill Hader’s tragicomic crime series “Barry” doesn’t feature any of the series’ familiar faces. It instead spotlights a faceless specter.

In the series’ penultimate episode, Sally Reed (Sarah Goldberg) — having stewed in depression and guilt in the years since she killed a biker — hallucinates a man breaking into her home, trailing her every move, wrecking what’s around her. The figure is shown having dimensionality of some form, but no explicable visual characteristics other than its blackness — it is covered head to toe in what can only be described as an opaque, synthetic black fabric. It’s a figure that evokes the hollow vacuum each of the series’ characters traverse. In refusing accountability and opting to live in flighty, dreamlike fictions, each character is left with nothing but quotidian desolation. Sally already stumbles through life while wandering the scattered wreckage of her brain; what’s perverse to her is when even the illusory outward life she’s chosen appears to be strangled by the same wreckage too. 

The show’s parody of showbiz and its farce of violence had long been explored through separate narratives. In the final season of “Barry,” though, its two spheres fully converge. Having carried out countless murders as a hitman, Barry Berkman (Bill Hader) is finally imprisoned for the murder of Janice Moss (Paula Newsome), a police officer who surmised his criminal identity. This is largely due to an elaborate performance put on by his former acting teacher, Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler) — also Janice’s former partner — who lures Barry to the right place at the right time. Meanwhile, Barry’s ex, Sally, in horror, finally finds out the scope of Barry’s transgressions as she flees town after she commits a murder of her own, while Barry’s former mentor Monroe Fuches (Stephen Root) inhabits a cell in the same Los Angeles County prison.

In prison, Barry is greeted by the staff as a celebrity known for his appearances on “Laws of Humanity” — to which there’s a great degree of comical irony, as Barry is neither law-abiding nor particularly humane. It is this blurring of the line between fanciful narratives and bleak reality that foregrounds the final season of “Barry”: Cousineau and Sally, who not only embody the Hollywood narcissism of actors but also the fantasy of a life away from crime that Barry desired, finally converge with NoHo Hank (Anthony Carrigan), the Chechens and Monroe Fuches (Stephen Root), key players in Barry’s hitman activities.

If the third season concentrated on the complications of forgiveness, the final season of “Barry” is primarily interested in the holes within the fantasies we concoct and internalize to deflect from accepting who we really are. 

In particular, it is the series’ midseason time jump that pays dividends in acutely cutting at the season’s thematic concerns. Following his escape from prison, Barry and Sally run away together to live in the middle of nowhere. Eight years later, they have a son, John, but the two share little beyond malaise. Barry has actively formulated an illusory, self-justifying mythos of Abraham Lincoln stories and fundamentalist Christian teachings. Sally, contrarily, puts on a dark-haired wig every morning and day drinks into oblivion, her disdain for John reminiscent of her mother’s disdain for her.

The couple’s exile is interrupted when they learn a film based on Barry is in development at Warner Brothers, with Barry resolving to return to L.A. to kill Gene to prevent him from consulting on the picture. A small, singular moment following this event illustrates what’s at the heart of the chasm between Barry and Sally. But perhaps even more crucially, this scene exemplifies the show’s excavation of the stories individuals concoct to survive — tracking the characters’ own productions against a backdrop of Hollywood’s grandiose narratives. In the interlude, Barry frets about where his guns are, rushing to a hole he punched in the wall — the hole a reminder of the anger he carries and atrocities he represses. “It’s the other one, honey,” Sally says to him, referring to another hole in the wall. 

Sally remembers. It’s because she feels the enormity of her past that she places a wig atop her head each morning; even as she passively inhabits Barry’s domestic fantasy, her ennui remains trenchant. She knows where the holes are in their lives, and what’s in them, while Barry’s willful delusions betray his total repudiation of any accountability.

As in life, “Barry” sees that those who inch closer to acceptance earlier bear a few of the lived-in fruits of redemption. Simultaneously, however, the series’ final moments champion the shallow yet admittedly redemptive power of the motion picture. Past a certain point, atonement may be unattainable. But if life is itself performance, then maybe it is better to be memorialized in death.

Contact Hafsah Abbasi at 


JUNE 05, 2023