Barry Ends With The Hollywood Ending Both The Show and The Characters Deserve
In The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence one of the most iconic lines in movie history is spoken: “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” That line could just as easily speak for movie history as much as the world that Barry has inhabited for four glorious seasons. After everything that I had watched — particularly after the last four episodes — I knew that the series finale was going to end in bloodshed and death and that is in fact what we get. Barry gets the ending he deserves — and the redemption he wanted. That the latter was a complete lie is fitting because Barry has spent the entire series lying to himself, as has every major character. The series finale showed that some characters accepted who they were, some went to their deaths still lying to themselves, and that the innocent were punished far more than the guilty.
I don’t know what I expected from the final confrontation between Noho Hank and Fuches, but the last thing I expected Bill Hader to do in this series was for Monroe Fuches, who has spent the entire series being in a very real sense being the biggest monster of them all, have both the clearest realization of what he was and redemption. Yet that’s exactly what happened. Fuches admitted in the final confrontation that he had been lying to himself his whole life and that in reality he was just ‘a man without a heart.” And I never expected Fuches to give Hank the opportunity to just walk away from all of this if he could just admit to himself his greatest sin — that he had let Cristobal die.
Anthony Carrigan has been by far the greatest revelation of this series, particularly in the last season. And the last few minutes he had on Barry were a powerhouse level of acting as Hank seemed to admit the truth: that he had loved Cristobal, that he was weak and that all he wanted was to be safe. For the briefest of moments, you almost thought Hader (who wrote and directed the series finale) might actually let this violent series end in a peaceful resolution as Hank genuinely seemed to realize who he was. But in the end, Hank could not drop his façade and the violence we anticipated erupted: there was blood and bullets everywhere and Hank — and the statue of Cristobal he had put up as a monument to the man he loved — and a reminder of the monster he was — were both riddled with bullets. In Hank’s last moments, he grasped the hand of the statue of Cristobal, assuming the position we had seen him at the end of Season 3, chained to the radiator. Was he looking to the statue for forgiveness? Hoping that he would be with his lover again in the afterlife? Or did he think he was going to be a prisoner for eternity? We’ll never know.
When Fuches had learned that Barry had a son, his interest was peaked in a way we hadn’t seen. Given everything we knew about Fuches and Barry’s connection in the flashbacks in several of the early episodes, I’m pretty sure that the viewer, like me, naturally assumed the worst when Fuches asked for the boy. When he managed to rescue John from the carnage that had followed away from the pleading of Sally for John, I think everybody expected that Fuches had every intention of turning John into another killer. Perhaps the biggest shock of the episode was that at the end of the day, Fuches’ last action on Barry was to basically give John back to his father unhurt and reunite with his family. The two men did not exchange a single word in their last exchange and you couldn’t read either’s expression. Was this an act of atonement for Fuches? We all remember that just before Barry escaped from prison, Fuches had done everything in his power to save his surrogate son and was overjoyed when he managed to escape. We’ll never know why he wanted to see Barry again, and perhaps that’s for the best. Given all the carnage that unfolded in the aftermath, I don’t think we could have taken it.
Before the confrontation Sally finally looked at John, who she had not shown a single iota of love for throughout the last three episodes — and probably her entire life — and probably did the hardest thing she’s ever done. She told John the truth about everything: that she and her father were fugitives. That his father was a murderer and a horrible person. She admitted that she was a horrible person, but that her son wasn’t. I’ve always loved the work Sarah Goldberg did on Barry but she was at a whole other level in the series finale on Barry. In a perfect world, she’d get an Emmy for this episode — but as we all know, this isn’t a perfect world.
Barry was clearly prepared to die when he went to that meeting, and I think the prayer he gave before he got out of the car was genuinely honest. But when his family walked away perfectly fine, he did what he has done the entire series: he took the wrong lesson from it. When Sally tried to convince him to do the right thing, he naturally took as a sign from God and when he learned that Sally had gone to LA to see Gene, he took as a kind of betrayal. Sally finally managed to show the courage she had been lacking throughout every relationship in her life when she took John in the night and left Barry alone. And because Barry is incapable of seeing anything other than beyond the narrow scope of his vision, he naturally assumed the only place Sally and John would go to was Gene.
Gene Cousineau has done much to wreck his entire career and life throughout the run of Barry but no one would dare assume that he deserved what happened to him in the last two episodes. How exactly Janice’s father could look at everything that happen and somehow reach the assumption that Gene was somehow the mastermind behind everything that happened is completely inexplicable but Gene has spent his entire career being an egotistical, unreliable narrator, willing to change his story if it did him any good. His actions in the final season were horrid to an extreme, but it’s very clear he came back from being off the grid to try and do the right thing. But like everyone else on the show, he couldn’t change his nature. And in Hollywood, that sealed his fate.
I don’t think I assumed that the series would end with Gene being the one to kill Barry, but I think given everything that has happened between the two men in the series that when Barry came to Gene’s house, one of them wasn’t leaving alive. Admittedly Hader had set us up to believe that Gene was going to kill himself while Barry was at his home, with the dramatic irony that Barry had just decided to turn himself in. Then again, perhaps Hader had foreshadowed exactly what was going to happen in the third season premiere when Gene had tried to kill Barry with the same gun, only for it to fall apart at the last moment.
I have to say I don’t believe in Barry’s good intentions at the end. Perhaps he thought it was his final act of forgiveness, but Barry has always been very good at listening to messages when they didn’t suit his nature. And even if he had, I don’t think Gene was in any condition to accept it. He knew the town he lived in, and he knew that the retraction always gets filed at the bottom of the page. When Gene kills Barry in his final scene, there is a look of pure and utter exhaustion in a way we’ve never seen him show on this series. I’m honestly surprised he didn’t turn the gun on himself at the end of the episode. Maybe Hader thought that was a bridge too far — or perhaps he had an idea that there was a crueler fate in mind for Gene.
The series ended with yet another flashforward. Now Sally is a high school theater teacher, accepting the praise for a production of Our Town. There’s a look of happiness on her face we haven’t seen all season — perhaps not since Joplin debuted on what she really thought would be her career launching. We see her in scenes with her adolescent John, and they truly seem more content than they ever were when she was a child. Her ‘I love you’ is one of the few genuine signs of happiness in the entire last season. There’s a moment when she has a potentially flirting conversation with a history teacher, but when he asks for a cup of coffee, she turns him down. The last scene of Sally in Barry is of her driving home, and looking fondly at the flowers she was given by her class. I think this may be as happy an ending as any character on Barry gets, and considering everything Sally’s been through, she’s earned it.
Of course, that’s not the final minutes. John is having a sleepover with a friend and seems nervous about something. He’s told to never mind what his mother tells him: “You deserve to see this.” And then we see the title ‘The Mask Collector’
The comic highlight of the series finale is the movie that they made about Barry’s life because it is so horribly done, not just by the standards of the truth but by the standards of moving making. It plays like a cross between a Lifetime Movie and Mark Wahlberg’s production company. You get the feeling that at the end of the day Warner Brothers dropped their production and this is essentially a straight-to-cable release given the cheesy nature of the script, editing and acting. All of the scenes are filmed in such a method that Ed Wood would think were badly filmed, the performances are hammy all the way through (including the fact that like every major villain, Gene is given an English accent) and the climax plays almost like something out a video game movie. Even the credits revealing the fates of the characters play the kind of thing that you would see on an Oscar bait movie and you know that this movie would never get that type of screening.
Does John know that this isn’t the true story of Barry’s life? Has Sally withheld the exact nature of Barry’s crimes from him? Does he even remember how his real life rescue ended up playing out? In a way, this matters immensely. In another, it doesn’t. Barry has gotten the kind of redemption he always hoped for: posthumous and in a version that would know doubt be the exact story he would have told John had Sally and he not gotten away from him at the last minute. The redemption he hoped for is the cheesiest kind of Hollywood pulp possible. In other words, it’s exactly the right legacy for Barry Berkman to get.
The series finale for Barry was titled ‘Wow’. It’s the last word a mortally wounded Barry gets before Gene shoots him in the head. But it’s the perfect title for not just merely a magnificent final episode but Bill Hader’s magnificent creation which now stands as one of the greatest series of all time, not merely among comedies such as The Good Place and Insecure, but among dramas such as Breaking Bad and yes, Succession. Barry had a hard act to follow when it followed Succession’s final episode but Hader stuck the landing just as magnificently as Jesse Armstrong did, perhaps more so.
When Barry debuted on HBO in 2018, expectations were not that high for this show. Five years later, he has created one of the most magnificent accomplishments in the history of television having won nine Emmys, including two for Hader for Best Actor in a Comedy series. Hader has also won many other Best Actor prizes, has shared in two WGA awards and has won three Directors Guild Awards for Best Director in a Comedy. It has also won a Peabody in 2019. There will doubtless be many more nominations in the next couple of months: it is likely Hader will be nominated in all four categories.
And he has earned it in all of them. In an interview after the series finale aired, Stephen Root who has starred in several of the Coen Brothers movies, called Hader the equal of the Coen Brothers and Jordan Peele in terms of directing. It is hard to argue that fact when you consider the magnificent command that Hader holds whenever he is directing an episode, whether it is the incredible choreographed ‘ronny/lily’ the brilliant motorcycle chases and fighting in 710N, the horror movie like balance of Sally’s (nightmare? Hallucination?) in ‘It Takes a Psycho’ or the final gunfight that unfolded in the series finale. If Hader never does another work for television for the rest of his life, his work for Barry is enough to get him listed among the Vince Gilligan and Matthew Weiner as one of the greatest showrunners in the 21st century.
I don’t know if I have any superlatives left to praise Barry after the last four seasons, save for this. At this moment Barry ranks as one of the three best shows of 2023 with only Abbott Elementary and Yellowjackets certain to be above it. It’s one of the greatest accomplishments that television is capable of when everything fires on all cylinders. It was dark, it was hysterically funny — sometimes within the same minute. It had some of the most memorable characters played by some truly incredible actors. It had some of the most astonishing use of camera work I’ve seen in TV since Breaking Bad and Mr. Robot ended. It showed a level of character depth that few dramas, never mind comedies are capable of. And it continued to shock you all the way to the end. I have thought over several things about Succession in the past several months, but when I wrote last week that I would miss Barry more than that show that opinion has not changed and it has increased exponentially. And I know this series will last — I will rewatch it again someday in the future, hoping that there was a way I could watch it for the first time. Not bad from the guy who couldn’t keep a straight face as Stefan.
My score: 5 stars.