‘Barry’ Kills off Its First Season With Dark Humor and Broken Ties
HBO’s “Barry” has fully defined dark humor in its entertaining first season. The story of a hitman with a heart of gold becomes an allegory for those struggling to make lifestyle changes. Some people want to alter their diets, others want to go back to school, former Marine Barry Berkman (Bill Hader) wants to stop murdering for hire. He finds escape in the world of Los Angeles acting classes, where aspiring actors try to test their chops before attempting to get into the business. Since there is no A.A. (that we know of) for assassins, discovering acting becomes Barry’s therapy. In the season finale he finally tries to make the final leap into clean living, cutting the ties that have held him back and pulling the trigger one last time (he hopes).
As he grows ever closer to acting, things are coming to a head between Barry and the angry gang of Chechen gangsters on his tail. As you may recall, it all started in the season premiere when a ruthless gangster named Goran Pazar (Glenn Fleshler) hired Barry to kill the personal trainer sleeping with his wife. While tracking his prey Barry followed the trainer into an acting class which quickly ended up taking him in. Having botched the job, Barry and his handler Fuches (Stephen Root) found themselves in a violent stand-off with the Chechens. In the finale Fuches finds himself getting dumped by Barry, who is now convinced he must quit being a hit man. One major reason for his decision is his growing relationship with Sally (Sarah Goldberg), who he met in the acting class and is now teaming up with for theater performances. The Chechens are also engaged in a feud with Bolivian traffickers, and while searching for Barry they capture Fuches. Chechen gangster NoHo Hank (Anthony Carrigan), who has grown to be friends with Barry, calls him and urges him to flee. When Barry decides to rescue Fuches and cut all ties with him, it seems like he can finally turn the page, until a beach getaway brings him dangerously close to being captured by another threat, the police.
The charm of “Barry” is that it balances its material well. Co-created, written and occasionally directed by Hader himself, it is a passion project with both heart and wicked glee. Because the running theme is itself already pretty violent, the humor never becomes too gratuitous or even dirty. The writers truly want to challenge the viewer by giving many moments a feel good, even empathetic vibe involving a hit man. Throughout the season Barry can’t stop daydreaming about what a happy life he could have with Sally, even after at one point she tells him they should take a break. The central stories involving Bolivian cartels and Chechen gangsters are balanced out with angles about the hardship of trying to get acting gigs in Los Angeles. At one point Sally is sexually harassed by her agent, who drops her when she refuses him. Barry learns different forms of acting techniques and the ins and outs of the craft, even as he escapes ambushes, assassins and the cops. This is almost like a darker version of “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” which used two spies as an allegory for how marriage can be love and war. “You can’t quite pin it down. You think it’s going to be one show then it turns into something else completely,” Anthony Carrigan recently shared on the nature of this comedy.
But action isn’t the driving factor in the show, in particular in the season finale. What we care about are the quirky characters. Barry is a former Marine and nice guy who just so happens to be a killer, the Chechens are can be ruthless, but someone like NoHo is actually a friendly guy at heart. “I wanted to play against what everyone expected a Chechen mobster to be like, which is what I think makes the show special,” adds Carrigan. “I learned to improvise with an accent,” he reveals, explaining NoHo’s lively Chechen tone.
In the finale we even feel a bit of sympathy for Fuches, who Barry drops off after saving him in a bloodbath where Goran goes down (possibly leaving NoHo now in charge of the crew). Like a dumped buddy Fuches pleads with Barry not to go with a hit man version of puppy eyes. Sally is both a sweet and empathetic love interest for Barry. If you live in L.A. you will immediately recognize the friendly enthusiasm in her voice as she struggles to be an actress, defying rejection after rejection.
The finale crescendos at a nice forest getaway with Sally and Barry’s actin teacher Gene (Henry Winkler), who sees talent in Barry, but also happens to be the partner of Detective Janice Moss (Paula Newsome), who has been investigating Barry’s trail of corpses. When she realizes who Barry as the two find themselves alone a beach, there is a tense stand-off as she raises her gun at him. The episode closes with a distant flash through a window as Sally sleeps, only to be joined by Barry who again makes the futile vow that this was the final killing. “Barry” captures those struggles in life when we keep insisting we won’t repeat the same mistake, and then do it all over again.
Can Barry truly escape his lifestyle? Will Fuches be back? And how will Barry cover up having just (possibly) killed his teacher’s partner while staying at their place? One imagines season two will pick up from this moment and continue this character’s ever so engaging journey. “Barry” ends its first season as a hilarious dark comedy that also takes aim at our capacity to empathize with people stuck in the most unsavory job choices. Carrigan sums it up nicely as, “at the heart of it all there are these people who really kind of want a better life for themselves, and better themselves. It’s just fascinating to watch.”
“Barry” season one finale aired May 13 at 10:30 p.m. ET on HBO.