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‘Barry’ lands the perfect dismount

By June 2, 2023No Comments4 min read
Bill Hader

From the start, Barry was a balancing act. There was no comedy without tragedy,no normalcy without violence, and  no acting class without the criminal world. Each season got progressively darker, but with that darkness came absurdity and surrealism. Bill Hader and Alec Berg’s HBO series lands the perfect dismount in the appropriately titled series finale, “wow.” 

The ending is bittersweet, but one that makes sense. Every character gets their final moment, and even when that final moment was death, it felt right for every single one of them. That’s difficult to pull off in a series finale and still have your thematic elements land. But Hader and Berg never wobbled, ending Barry with conviction. 

On first watch, it’s hard to take in. The big showdown at Nohobal between Fuches and Hank is over before Barry even gets there, and Barry’s shot dead six minutes later. Before the credits, we get another time jump. Barry and Sally’s son John is now a teenager, and Sally is a slightly better mother and finding a new version of success in high school theater. It ends with an extended montage of the new film The Mask Collector, in which Gene is the villain and Barry the hero. The last shot of the series is John smiling at the valorization of his father, who’s buried in Arlington with full honors. 

It’s a complicated ending fit for complicated characters. Like Gene says, there is no good guy or bad guy. There’s just people making choices. That’s what “wow” ultimately conveys. Sally chooses to come clean to John. Hank chooses to go back on his deal with Fuches, which kills him. Fuches lets John go with Barry. Barry, after realizing he’s lost his family, finally chooses to take accountability. And Gene chooses to kill him. 

Was Barry redeemed? For Barry, redemption is too simple. In one singular moment, Barry made the right decision. But redemption is an ongoing concept. We don’t know how Barry would have been past that moment. 

When Barry first started, the acting world and the crime world existed parallel to each other, with Barry the only link between the two. Sometimes I was more interested in Barry as a hitman, and sometimes I just wanted to stay in Gene’s acting class for an entire episode. As Barry started losing his grasp on each world, they started to get more entangled until by Season 3, Barry was on television sets while holding Gene hostage. 

The extra six minutes added to the runtime for The Mask Collector is a perfect way to bridge the two worlds on screen where they had only connected thematically beforehand. Throughout the show, the characters were surrounded by stories — the ones they told themselves about themselves, the ones they acted on stage, and the one they were in. 

Stories reveal legacy. No matter how far they turn from the truth, everyone remembers a good story. Abraham Lincoln is just Honest Abe. Barry is just a simple war hero. The truth is ugly. The truth is complicated. So we choose to believe the story. In the story, there’s a hero and a villain. Though Sally told John the truth about Barry, there’s no telling how the media narrative and his peers shaped John’s opinion of Barry. The Mask Collector may be a fantasy, but it’s digestible. In real life (and in Barry), violence is quick and matter-of-fact. It just leaves behind the dead. In films like The Mask Collector, violence is drawn out, and gives a sense of closure. It leaves behind the hero, forever immortalized.

These last eight episodes of Barry took risks in tone, structure, and style, an often gorgeous and terrifying season that might have lost some people in the middle. But even in its darkest moments, Barry always recognized that tragedy and comedy exist together. There can’t be one without the other. 

Barry is available to watch on Max.

Feature image courtesy of HBO

  • 'Barry' series finale - 10/10
Katey Stoetzel

Katey is co-founder and tv editor for InBetweenDrafts. She hosts the “House of the Dragon After Show” and "Between TV" podcasts and can be read in various other places like Inverse and Screen Speck. She wishes desperately the binge model of tv watching would die, but still gets mad when she runs out of episodes of tv to watch.

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