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Tricky Legacies Abound in 'Barry' Season 4

Warning: Spoilers ahead for Barry Season 4.


Bill Hader is a celebrity who once grabbed my attention and has refused to give it back ever since. Perhaps it was his portrayal of Stefan in Saturday Night Live, bringing weird, niche humor to the NBC comedy mammoth as both he and the audience members experienced jokes for the first time on live television. Maybe it was the viral video of him going through the Criterion Closet rocking a House shirt as he holds up a copy of Salo, claiming it as the perfect date movie. Maybe it was the Adventures in Moviegoing video where he talks for 30 minutes, nearly uninterrupted, about his love for cinema, specifically Raimi's Evil Dead 2, Ozu’s Good Morning, Fellini’s 8 ½, and Scorcese’s Taxi Driver.

He’s someone who is so clearly passionate about filmmaking and storytelling that, when it was announced he was directing every episode of Barry’s fourth and final season, I couldn’t help but tune in prompt;y every Sunday with eager ears and eyes. My expectations were high going in, and yet they were still blown out of the water.


Barry’s third season was notorious for taking the show’s dreadful tone to a new level with its significant scenes of violence (i.e. Barry yelling at Sally at work in Episode 2, his near-death experiences with his prior victim’s families, that finale with Sally brutally murdering a biker and Hank’s men being eaten alive by a tiger), keeping viewers on the edge of their seats and transforming Barry Berkman from a dorky wannabe actor to a delusional psychopath as he tries time and time again to redeem himself.

After the 30-minute Season 3 panic attack of a finale when Barry was finally caught by Gene Cousineau and Jim Moss, I really didn’t know how Hader could continue the story. Season 4 begins with Barry in jail, slowly but surely losing it, Fuches swearing revenge on Barry’s life, Sally trying to get back into the acting business while coping with Barry’s true identity, Gene digging his own grave by framing the story of Janice’s murder as if he was the hero of the story, and Hank trying to bring the Bolivians and Chechens together with his loving Cristobal by hosting a gang mixer at a Dave and Buster’s. Just as everyone outside of prison begins building their lives back up, it’s revealed that Barry has escaped prison after a twistedly hilarious assassination attempt on Barry’s life (from SNL alum Fred Armisen) leaves Barry the only one in the room alive.


During the fourth episode, it seemed as if a switch had been flipped: Sally finds out Barry is free from jail and accepts it. She runs away with Barry the moment she finds him hiding in the shadows of her home. From there, a time jump occurs to show Barry and Sally (under the aliases Clark and Emily) living in a barren field with their son, John. “Clark” teaches John to follow a life of morality and non-violence by citing the Bible and glorified stories of Abraham Lincoln, clearly terrified that John will live the same life of crime he has for the entire show.

Here, Hader references religious motifs and the notion that even the most revered heroes have “tricky legacies," no matter how many sensational stories cover those atrocities up. “Emily” becomes a neglectful parent and alcoholic, hallucinating a home invasion (in my opinion, the most terrifying scene of the entire series), and is haunted by the motorcyclist she killed in S3 to save herself. Speaking of which, whenever Hader directs a horror film, it will be a dream come true for me. His methods of building suspense through long shots and cinematic fake-outs really feel like he’s utilizing the medium to its fullest potential.


As the production of a “Barry Berkman biopic” is announced, Barry decides to come out of hiding to kill Cousineau once and for all. When Barry goes back, however, he is immediately captured by Jim Moss, and the tables begin to turn. During Moss’s torture of Barry, Moss decides that Barry is ultimately innocent, only a puppet used by Gene to murder his girlfriend. Hank and Fuches are in a gang war with each other after Fuches escapes from prison and confronts Hank about the murder of Cristobal. To gain leverage, Hank kidnaps Sally and John to get Barry into the same building as Fuches.

From here, the finale begins, leading up to a big show-stopping shoot-out reminiscent of the S2 monastery sequence, starting with Barry walking through the children’s section of Walmart to buy assault rifles at literally the next shelf over (a hyperbolic, but hilariously effective satire of gun control regulation in present-day America).

As Barry rushes over to Nohobal Corporations, Fuches and Hank are face-to-face yet again, and Fuches explains the epiphany he’s had in prison: he’s accepted that he’s a morally corrupt man with no heart, and tells Hank that he’ll walk out of his life and leave him alone if he admits he murdered Cristobal. Hank gets close, breaking down, stating “I just wanted to be safe,” but he eventually composes his "boss" facade and calls off the deal. Fuches then shoots him in the chest. From here, all the gang members murder each other as Fuches covers Barry’s son and leads him outside, returning him to his father with an acknowledging nod before slipping away into the darkness – a fitting and redeeming end for “the Raven.” The self-proclaimed “man with no heart” turned out to be lying.


Sally and John subsequently leave Barry in the morning after Barry explains to Sally that turning himself in for his crimes wouldn’t be “God’s plan” for him (even after everything, the Barry we know hasn’t changed one bit). Barry barges into Cousineau’s house, before discovering that they aren’t there. When Tom explains to him that everyone thinks Cousineau murdered Janice, Barry remembers the mentor Cousineau was to him, and tells Tom to call the cops so he can turn himself in. As he says this, Cousineau shoots Barry, Barry falls and abruptly utters, “oh, wow." Cousineau then shoots him in the head. Gene sits on the couch next to Barry as the camera zooms out and reveals the crime scene blocked as if it was a set before we hear applause (fitting, as this moment will memorialize both of these characters forever in the on-screen world).

Another time jump occurs, and we see Sally leading a normal life, but some things aren’t right. John, before going to a sleepover, says “I love you.” Sally then responds with “was it good?” in reference to her show. In her car, she looks at her wilted flowers, and then looks back at the camera with a hint of despondence. She’s at peace, but she’ll always be seeking that validation that only Barry could give her. As we spend the final moments of the show with John, we see him at the sleepover watching the Barry Berkman biopic: “The Mask Collector,” which has been sensationalized and made camp with horrible acting. As the movie continues, it’s revealed what narrative the world accepted – Cousineau is the culprit behind Janice’s murder, and Barry, the hero, is ultimately framed for all of Cousineau’s murders.


There are a couple of slaps in the face to Barry’s characters: Movie Barry taking the Macbeth monologue Sally previously performed in S1, Movie Barry’s war flashbacks made terrifying when in reality he felt joy, triumph, and acceptance by killing others, and Sally and John being kidnapped by Cousineau rather than NoHo Hank. It's made worse when the cinematic version of Barry’s shootout is unveiled. The in-show film ends with Cousineau shooting Barry ten-ish times in classic SNL “Dear Sister” fashion, before showing screen cards revealing Gene is serving life in prison for the murders of Janice and Barry, and Barry is buried in Arlington Ceremony with full military Honors, forever memorialized as a hero. We see John smile with tears glistening in his eyes. Cut to black.

Throughout the whole show, the conflict of Barry acknowledging his past actions persists, but in the finale, this conflict is extended to every character. Hank never admits his betrayal of Cristobal, and therefore dies as his statue looks down on him, disappointed. Fuches admits he’s done horrible things and is “a man with an empty heart”, and is one of the three survivors of the shootout, along with John and Sally, who confesses her own murder right before. Gene never admits to his involvement in protecting Barry, and therefore, when he kills Barry, is condemned to not only a life in prison, but the destruction of his legacy.


Barry, despite being killed by Cousineau, has his reputation redeemed only after he agrees to turn himself in. With the religious presence made clear in this season – via a psychopathic Bible study podcast hosted by guest star Bill Burr that justifies murder – it’s interesting that those who repent for their “sins” in the show seem to get the best endings. This sense of divine redemption is bleakly juxtaposed with the mundane reality of the finale: Barry dies abruptly instead of transcendentally seeing all his victims on the “Hell Beach” like in S3.

Hader has made a perfect pendulum of a television show with Barry, frequently (and abruptly) switching tones from light to serious. The level of dark comedy and disturbing tragedy in this season make for insightful commentary on the sensationalism of media, the danger of easy narratives, and the difficulty of humans to change, while also being a meditation on the human nature of violence. The last screen card of “The Mask Collector” was so deeply unsettling and tragically ironic that I honestly had to pause to process it all (poor John, man).

Furthermore, the screen card font and trumpet song at the end seem to reference the end of American Sniper, the controversial biopic on Chris Kyle, a Navy Seal who had over 160 claimed kills, known for both his intense patriotism and Islamophobia, showing a direct parallel to overdramatized modern media today. Barry has not left my mind, and I imagine it won’t any time soon. I commend Hader for creating a series on his own terms and not being afraid to take risks, whether that be via time jumps or extreme subversion of expectations.

With the episode before the finale, Hader seemed to promise a Breaking Bad “blaze-of-glory” ending which Barry didn’t get. He seems to pay homage to these “prestige show finales” (i.e. Breaking Bad, The Sopranos with the cut-to-black death) while also manipulating what viewers are expecting from these kinds of television finales and flipping them on their heads.


Hader is a true film-lover and filmmaker, and Hollywood needs to give him free rein to make anything he wants at this point. We need more shows and films that are so clearly inspired and have such unique and captivating stories, performances, and screenplays as this one. I’m going to miss Barry Sundays, but I’ll be waiting for Hader to blow me away with his next creation.


-Spencer

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