Bill Hader’s HBO Crime Dramedy Goes Out With a Bang

Apr 11, 2023

In its fourth and final season, HBO’s darkly comic crime drama Barry shows its cards just a few minutes into its first episode. Barry Berkman, Bill Hader’s earnest yet sociopathic hitman, is newly incarcerated after finally getting caught by the police at the end of Season 3. His first move from the inside is to call up his acting teacher, Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler), using a prison telephone. Though Gene is directly responsible for his arrest, Barry pleads with him for understanding and forgiveness. “Mr. Cousineau, are you mad at me?” Barry asks, his voice dripping with confusion and hurt. “Because I love you.” Barry has spent four seasons maiming and murdering his way through L.A.’s criminal underworld, but all he’s ever wanted is the love and understanding of others in the hope that it would fill the hole where his soul should be.

And that’s really what the show has been about since the start — the endless quest of all human beings to know love, to find purpose, and to be accepted for who they are, by either friends, family, or community. Achieving these goals can be challenging for anyone, but it’s especially tricky for the characters who populate Barry, many of whom are murderous psychopaths who will back-stab each other over a sour look or whispered rumor. The ones who aren’t, like Gene or Barry’s actress ex-girlfriend Sally (Sarah Goldberg), have their own egos and expectations to contend with as they try to stay afloat as working actors in Hollywood. While Season 4 is filled with the plot twists and violent outbursts the series is known for, it also never loses sight of the fraught emotional underpinnings that drive not just Barry, but essentially every notable character on the show.

Later in the premiere, Barry gets the “I love you” he wanted to hear… although it comes not from Gene, but rather a different (and shocking) source. When we catch back up with NoHo Hank (Anthony Carrigan) and his partner in both crime and life, Cristobal (Michael Irby), they’re chilling at their newly rented house in the Santa Fe desert. “I’m in a magical kingdom,” Cristobal tells Hank. “Finally able to be happy and safe.” And in Episode 2, Barry and Sally reunite on opposite sides of the glass in the prison visitor center, where she echoes Cristobal’s words, surprising Barry by simply saying, “I feel safe with you.”

Image via HBO

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Love. Happiness. Safety. Recognition. That’s all these people want, even if maybe none of them deserve it. Being that this is the final season of a show that’s never been afraid to go to some dark places, it’s fairly safe to assume most of them aren’t going to get the happy ending they’re hoping for. Though Season 4 opens with Barry and his former handler, Fuches (Stephen Root), in prison, the show doesn’t spend much time resetting its pieces or letting the audience take a breath. Both characters have information the FBI is very interested in — Fuches can tie Barry to a bunch more murders past the one he was arrested for; Barry knows enough to serve the Chechen and Bolivian crime syndicates up on a platter — and those who are compromised quickly get nervous about what deals might be under discussion behind closed doors. Hank and Cristobal remain happy together, but Hank still craves a life of wealth and status. Before long, they’ve put together a new scheme that involves another tenuous truce between warring crime families. Gene should feel content knowing Barry is finally behind bars, but can’t resist the urge to capitalize on the starring role he played in his arrest. And Sally — spit out by Hollywood after her Season 3 elevator outburst went viral — returns home to her parents’ house to search for a lifeline that just isn’t there.

One by one, either by circumstance or because of an emotional connection they just can’t shake, they all come back into Barry’s orbit. I can’t say for certain whether the series sticks the landing, as HBO only sent out seven of the final eight episodes to critics, keeping the finale under wraps. I can say those first seven episodes are brimming with the deft character work, deliciously dark humor, and surprising plot twists the show became known for during its previous three seasons. Co-creator and star Hader is fully in command this year, directing every episode and writing several, and he deftly captains the ship. There’s an extended bit in Episode 2 that expertly highlights Barry’s biggest strengths. Desperate to convince a group of gangsters to put aside their differences and work together on their new enterprise, Hank and Cristobal give a presentation in the middle of a Dave and Buster’s that’s one part Shark Tank pitch, one part self-help seminar. The first part takes place around a large round table filled with gangsters, and, in one take, the camera swings in a circular motion back and forth, tracking Hank, then Cristobal, and then Hank again from the middle of the table as they cheerfully deliver their pre-planned pitch, finishing each other’s sentences with precision salesmanship. The entire sequence is not only hilarious, but it’s also a bravura piece of filmmaking.

Image via HBO

The entire season is stuffed with similar little delights. Guillermo del Toro — yes, that Guillermo del Toro — is the first of several surprising cameos, showing up as a revered (and heavily scarred) crime lord. In that same episode, some characters are seen watching the 1988 Tom Cruise/Dustin Hoffman classic Rain Main, and Hans Zimmer’s brilliant score from that film spills out into Barry itself, essentially providing the soundtrack for the rest of the episode. There’s another scene where an overhead helicopter drowns out the dialogue being spoken, yet it makes all the sense in the world. Though the showbiz satire the show has often dabbled in plays a much smaller part this year, Barry still finds a little time to poke fun at giant franchise filmmaking (especially Marvel) and Hollywood’s unending shallowness. The acting remains top-notch across the board, with the infallible Hader leading the way. Although, if you’re keeping score, Winkler doesn’t get quite as much to do as he did in earlier seasons, while Goldberg is rewarded with the best material the show has ever given her and just crushes it.

If there’s going to be a hiccup for some people, it’s going to come near the middle of the season, when Barry drops what is almost certainly its biggest and most daring plot twist to date. No spoilers here — I certainly don’t want HBO sending their own team of L.A.-based assassins after me — but I will say it’s jarring enough that at least a portion of the audience will find themselves unsettled. Although, that’s always been part of Barry’s DNA, too; this is a show that has never been afraid to make you laugh and then, in the next moment, make you feel deeply uncomfortable. Season 4 is happy to continue this tradition and then some.

Mostly, though, it just feels like Hader and his co-creator Alec Berg were able to make exactly the series they wanted to make. Barry never stopped adding layers to its sitcom-y “hitman wants to switch jobs and become an actor” premise. It piled on enough thrills to compete with the best crime dramas TV has to offer and still found time to thoroughly examine the human condition. At one point in Season 4, Hank amusingly describes his and Cristobal’s romantic partnership as a “total unicorn situation,” and that’s a phrase that could really describe the show itself. There’s really nothing else out there like Barry, and, now that it’s ending, who knows if there ever will be again?

Rating: A-

Barry Season 4 premieres Sunday, April 16 on HBO and HBO Max.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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