Barry Season-Finale Recap: Kill or Be Killed

Photo: HBO


Chapter Eight: Know Your Truth Season 1 Episode 8
Editor's Rating 5 stars

After spending an entire season nudging Barry to take control of his own life and start making decisions for himself, Bill Hader’s slyest joke turns out to be that passivity is the answer to Barry’s prayers. After baring some small sliver of his soul at the Shakespeare showcase, Barry decides to get serious about extricating himself from the crime world. He reads Fuches the riot act, gathers up all his money, ties up some loose ends with the Chechens in bloody fashion, and jettisons his former partner from a car at the airport to make himself crystal clear. It’s over, he insists, so there’s nothing left to do but let the police’s investigative chips fall where they may. Then, as many Californians do when feeling lost and confused, he goes to the beach.

But Barry never needed to wriggle out of the bind in which he’d gotten himself constricted. It simply falls right off of him.

The police force, characterized thus far as thoughtful and largely well-intentioned people constantly hamstrung by factors beyond their control, screws up yet again in their attempted raid on the Chechen headquarters. In the typical cops-and-criminal saga that Barry has steadfastly refused to be at every turn, this sequence would be the climax, but Hader and co-writer Alec Berg turn it into a big helping of nothing. They first puncture the would-be tension of the moment by swapping out the cops’ cued-up soundtrack of “Ride of the Valkyries” for the inappropriately whimsical “Flight of the Bumblebee,” hinting towards the cartoony bumbling that began with the uncrackable camera. When they roll up to the scene, their music warns the Chechens of their approach — Noho Hank keeps a relatively cool head: “Okay, they’re definitely coming for us. That’s not good. Fellas?” — and all the cops get is a garage full of bodies.

Barry blew away the Chechens for the simple reason that they were about to hack Fuches into manageable pieces. (Goran explains that “no one likes lugging around 50 kilos of torso,” to which Noho Hank helpfully adds, “That is back injury waiting to happen.”) He had no idea that this domino would begin the sequence that virtually solved all his problems for him. Finding a signed copy of Gene M. Cousineau’s book at Taylor’s domicile, along with the discovery of Taylor’s remains in the desert, guides Detective Moss and her squad to an easy way out via Occam’s Razor. In a press conference that spins into one particularly passionate press secretary expounding on the virtues of Japanese classic Yojimbo and its director Akira Kurosawa, they figure the most obvious explanation is probably the truest: Ryan Madison and Taylor had teamed up to incite a war between Chechen and Bolivian forces in Los Angeles, and got caught in their own crossfire. Easy as pie. That’s that.

That cannot possibly be that, but after a flash-forward, most of the episode’s final third sure acts like it. This series has trained its viewers not to trust visions of household happiness, and yet the reveal that Barry’s new life is all a fantasy never comes. He’s really in a relationship with Sally, who used to be married, and who never gained the depth that would make sympathetic her frequent jags of self-centeredness, and who remains the only flaw on this show not minor enough to overlook. He’s really making strides toward a career as an actor. And he’s really on weekend-getaway terms with Gene, who’s now free to pursue a real relationship with Detective Moss. It’s all real, even the Harry Belafonte lip-sync.

A savvy viewer remains on edge during this peaceable interlude, anticipating the worst; an episode that seemingly reaches resolution halfway through its final chapter is laying a trap. Still, it comes as a gut-twister when Gene offhandedly recalls the day he met Barry, and the confessional soliloquy that Barry delivered while convinced nobody would listen or remember him. That’s all it takes to get Moss hot on his trail for a “surprise, motherfucker” moment, at which point the endgame jumps into clear relief: Moss has to die, and Barry has to clean up the aftermath.

Moral ambiguity is this show’s stock-in-trade, and the terms of the final standoff continue the season-long demolition of the good-bad polarity. Think of it in simple, purely utilitarian terms: We have a decent man guilty primarily of allowing other people to take advantage of him, facing the gun of a policewoman who’s reopening a closed case that already resulted in a violent, unstable man being neutralized. Through coincidence and ironic dumb luck, everything turned out okay, and Moss has to upend it all just so that the events can conform to the arbitrarily set laws giving her work structure. Here, the act of justice being served feels counterproductive and frustrating; every series focusing on a criminal must get the crowd rooting on the subject’s side, but it’s not often that their comeuppance feels unnecessary rather than unwanted.

In no small way, this bucking of convention is why Barry exists, starting with Barry himself. Season one’s major achievement has been the introduction and further formation of its layered, surprising lead. He’s got a romantic’s mushy soul and a sniper’s sense of chilly pragmatism. He’s more professional than Léon: The Professional, and still Hader looks hilariously unnatural throwing a punch in this episode’s first minutes. He’s a recognizably regular guy reacting as a regular guy might to highly irregular circumstances, a schematic recycled hundreds of times for the action genre, and yet so rarely realized with novelty and honesty. (Another example would be Green Room, a film that’s also about people in way over their head reacting primarily with panic.)

Like myself and the majority of people who’ve devoted the lion’s share of their lives to watching moving pictures — a group in which Hader himself proudly lands — Barry spends most of his time feeling overwhelmed by the fundamental components of adulthood. He’s horrified by the compromises that his line of work forces on him. He’s baffled by romantic interactions, incapable of reading even the most straightforward signs. When we first meet Barry, his life is small, compact, and portable: one friend, no family to speak of. Barry isn’t the story of a criminal struggling to join the light side, or even the story of a fundamentally all right yet passive guy learning to assert himself. It’s the story of a lonesome man building a richer existence by filling his life with connections and passions and desires. It’s the story of a withdrawn cipher growing into an actor by the basest dictionary definition: one who does.

Bullet Points

• Perhaps unclear on the concept of exercise, Goran sucks down a cigar while slowly plodding along on a treadmill. We shall miss you, Goran, and your sober practicality even in the grimmest business there is.

• Noho Hank claims the final One-Liner of the Week for this season, logically explaining the idea of going on the lam with, “You know the song ‘Fly Like an Eagle,’ performed by Seal on the Space Jam soundtrack?” Ah yes, that song!

• I was all ready to take a brave and noble stand against the show’s stereotyping of Bolivian men as unusually short, until a bit of research revealed that the national average height really is 4-feet-11-and-a-half inches.

• It’s been a pleasure following this strange, special show over the past couple of months. Barry is precisely the sort of thing I look for on TV — an original entity coming from someone with a clear creative vision and something to say. Season two has been confirmed, so this isn’t the last we’ll see of one another. But until then, onstage as in life, may we all continue making the unsafe choice and committing to ourselves.

Barry Season-Finale Recap: The Curtain Call