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The Final Season Of ‘Barry’ Shot For The Stars

4:39 PM EDT on May 25, 2023

Image via HBO

In its fourth and final season, Barry has made a series of choices that at best could be described as polarizing—even before you get to the midseason time jump. The season has been a slow burn, a mostly meditative affair, concerned with the after-effects of the events at the end of Season 3, as well as the general concept of taking responsibility for your actions and the ways we destroy one another's lives in big and small ways.

We started the season with Barry in prison, arrested for the murder of Janice Moss, abandoned by everyone in his life and stuck once again with Fuches. As director, Bill Hader spends the prison episodes going from the gritty isolation of Barry's new reality in one moment to the Felliniesque fantastical dreams of Barry's subconscious at the next. It can be arty and pretentious and sometimes even dull, but it's a strong way of getting into the psyche of this caged animal still running from consequences and personal responsibility. Other characters like Sally and Gene Cousineau go through much more grounded versions of the same thing, with Gene's own travails, between wanting to do the right thing and wanting to be famous from sending Barry to prison, often serving as comic relief.

By midseason, Barry escapes from prison, sending the greater Los Angeles area into a frenzy; Sally's acting dreams are completely dead, with her only hope lying in becoming an acting coach for models cast in superhero spectacles; Cousineau is in hiding, accidentally shooting his own son when he mistook him for Barry; and Fuchs gains major street cred in prison. Most tragic of all is the violent end for Cristobal and his relationship with NoHo Hank. And just as the show was seemingly hitting a Breaking Bad-style propulsive crescendo of episodes, things came to a dramatic halt with an eight-year time jump.

In this new future, Barry and Sally are married, with a young son, and they're in hiding, living a quiet life in the middle of nowhere, USA. If the theme of this season is taking responsibility for actions that effect everyone else, it is potentially interesting to see how those actions weigh on all of them over a long period of time. But it's also a plot device, an experiment that's meant to provoke the audience.

It's apropos of Hader's ethos with the show, zagging whenever people don't expect it, and never wanting to just turn Barry into a pure action show. But what makes it difficult, particularly for a final season, is that it feels a little all over the place. There are probably two seasons' worth of plotlines being condensed into eight episodes. It's a comedy that's suddenly stopped being funny for long stretches, and an action/crime thriller that has become slower, gloomier, and quiet more often than not. As far as where the story is going, I'll give Hader the benefit of the doubt that he understands how best to conclude everyone's story, but introducing a last twist involving Cousineau being accused of partnering with Barry in the murder of Moss feels silly, even for this show. Still, they've clearly set it up so that the entire cast of the show will end up in the same room doing ... whatever it is they're meant to do.

Seeing these episodes early and all at once, I figured there would be things about this season that would prove divisive to audiences, but it seems that was an understatement. There's no real consensus at all about the last seven episodes, and the show's pairing next to another popular HBO show in the midst of a final season has probably done more to highlight Barry's problems. That's not to say there haven't been great moments: Barry's prison break, Sally's attempt at teaching, Cousineau in the cabin, all the NoHo Hank stuff, especially holding a crime ring meeting at Dave & Buster's.

And then of course, one of the funniest moments of the entire series.

It's just all been few and far between. A mess of good ideas and bad ones all jumbled together. A reminder that it's a lot of pressure to close out a great television series, and it doesn't always gel all the time. One thing you have to give Hader and company credit for is that they weren't afraid to make choices in this last run of episodes—choices that are endemic of the idiosyncratic, creative minds that have made this show great but also challenged audience sensibilities. Those kinds of choices tend to be controversial. The last episode of Barry could end up being so brave, so experimental, so adventurous that it justifies everything that came before. It could also be all of those things and still hated by lots of people, or none of those things and just straight-up bad. Barry has already crossed that point of no return, so we'll have to just see this through.

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