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Barry Season 4 Review: Bill Hader's Dark Comedy Pulls Off the Impossible

The series careens unpredictably toward an incredibly satisfying end

Allison Picurro
Bill Hader, Barry

Bill Hader, Barry

Merrick Morton/HBO

Early into the fourth and final season of Barry, Bill Hader's titular hitman pleads with his acting teacher-turned-executioner (in a sense), Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler). "Are you mad at me?" Barry asks repeatedly. "Because I love you." A stoic Cousineau doesn't hesitate with his response: "Hey, Barry? I got you." Feasibly, the entire show could end there, barely two minutes into its Season 4 premiere. It's the kind of ending a show like Barry "should" have, maybe — a delusional Barry begging for love from the person who got him arrested while Cousineau basks in his moment of triumph — but you also can't help hoping a show like Barry has more to say.

Every season finale of Barry could function as its own ending, but Season 3 especially wrapped up each character's story in a neat bow. Barry went to prison because Cousineau sent him there, ending their dangerous back and forth and giving Jim Moss (Robert Wisdom) catharsis in the process. Sally (Sarah Goldberg) got on a plane back to her hometown, ready for a fresh start. Hank (Anthony Carrigan) was safely reunited with his boyfriend, Cristobal (Michael Irby). Where do you go from there, really? There were loose ends — Barry ending up at the same facility as his former handler, Fuches (Stephen Root); Sally and Hank being irreparably altered after finding out how it feels to kill people — but it's easy to imagine a world where this ending worked. Instead, Barry uses its final season to focus on what comes after the ending. In doing so, it pulls off some pretty impossible feats, ratcheting up the stakes in truly unpredictable ways as it careens toward a spectacular, satisfying, and bleak final bow.

Barry has always been a show about whether humans have the capacity to change for the better. Barry began his foray into acting because he was aching for something to give his life meaning. He's a man of many false starts and attempted shortcuts, always trying to take the simplest path to reinvention — if only he could just stop killing, and if only his past kills would stop haunting him. Of course Janice's (Paula Newsome) murder, committed back in Season 1, ultimately ends up being the catalyst for Barry's downfall. Hader, who directed every episode this season (seven out of eight were provided to critics), adopts some clever, visually striking methods of showing how the past is the present is the future. More than once, he pans his camera to the side, allowing the prison setting to melt away as Barry digs up vivid memories of meeting Fuches for the first time as a kid. Barry's always been a searching, childish character, but it feels significant to see where it all began. It's too late for Barry to change, his future having been written out for him when he was young. Not long into the season, we see how quickly he still allows his rage and hurt to take over, proving he's learned nothing from his misdeeds. Nevertheless, he still believes his relentless quest for love and acceptance can be fulfilled.

He tries to find it through Cousineau, obviously, and Sally, as well. One of the season's most memorable moments comes in the second episode, when Sally visits Barry and tells him she feels "safe" with him. It doesn't matter that "safe" doesn't mean "love," or that he still can't understand that he lied to Sally about where he was the night of Janice's murder. It's enough to jolt Barry alive again, giving him a sense of purpose and a reason to strike up a deal to get out of prison. Hank, too, projects an air of safety as he settles into his new home in Santa Fe with Cristobal, but he startles at the slightest noise and can't help fantasizing about returning to Los Angeles to gain control of the crime syndicate. Hank and Sally aren't changing for the better either, not after learning they're capable of horrific violence and suffering extreme damage to both of their psyches in the process. They both try to outrun responsibility but are repeatedly served reminders that they're just as broken as Barry. "I feel like I understand him now," Hank says in one particularly chilling scene. 




  • Every character is being set up for a satisfying end
  • The performances are stellar
  • Hader is an excellent director


  • It's ending
  • The crime plot starts to feel muddy

It helps that Barry, one of the best shows out there for demonstrations of nimble character work, still has a firm handle on every member of its ensemble. Even as Sally, Cousineau, Hank, and Fuches fall back into Barry's orbit, the series is careful about not making it feel repetitive. The FBI wants information from both Barry and Fuches, but Fuches is too hobbled by his twisted but genuine care for Barry to give him up. (As toxic as their relationship is, there's a crushing realization in knowing that if Barry was willing to accept Fuches, whom he associates with everything he doesn't want to be, he might actually find out what it's like to be loved.) Cousineau should be content with Barry behind bars, but he's too hungry for the limelight to resist telling their story to the first person who will listen. Sally, unable to find comfort in visiting her parents, is traumatized by what she's done and clinging to Barry, the only other person who knows about it. Hank, for a period, even thinks he can even save Barry. As the season moves swiftly along, all of these situations play out in alternately satisfying and gutting ways.

If some of the loopier showbiz satire the series has been so adept at falls by the wayside in Season 4, there are still a handful of solidly goofy jokes. Sally's brief gig as an acting coach leads to her giving a desperate, wide-eyed audition to Coda director Sian Heder (one of a handful of perfect cameos) for a sci-fi project everyone knows is terrible; Natalie (D'Arcy Carden), who leaked the "entitled vagina girl" video that got Sally blacklisted in the first place, pops up as the star of her own hackneyed sitcom that, apparently, the president is a fan of. This season, the crime elements overtake the Hollywood elements, sometimes to Barry's detriment, but the show also still knows how to nail a good gag, like one incredibly funny bit where Hank and Cristobal choreograph a salesman-like pitch to two warring gangs around a big table in a Dave & Buster's. It's moments like this, where deft character work collides with zany comedy, that I'll miss the most when Barry is gone. 

It's hard to complain about the crime plot when it gives Root, a performer always willing to commit to the absurd sadness of his character, such great material, and the enduringly wonderful Carrigan an opportunity to shine as he does his most dramatic work so far. The series maps out Hank's trajectory very well, making the erosion of the "eternal optometrist" that much more tragic. But Goldberg is still Barry's MVP and long deserving of an Emmy for her work, though I suspect Sally's portrait is destined to hang in the "misunderstood female lead in a male-dominated show" hall of fame. Sally's descent into corruption has made for one of television's most fascinating arcs, especially since she's sort of been corrupted in her own way the whole time. The further Sally sinks, the more Goldberg digs her heels in. She's sensational.

As a character, Barry has spoken less and less as the series has progressed, with Hader showing more interest in being behind the camera rather than in front of it. This season, he's back at the center of the show, and his clear-eyed vision for the end of the series informs his infallible performance. Halfway through the season, Barry opts for a bold swing that feels genuinely surprising and will probably be controversial among fans, but it ends up totally working thanks to a strong combination of Hader's direction and his potent chemistry with Goldberg. Without spoiling too much, such a big swerve opens up new questions as Barry tries to start anew one last time, only to return right back to where he started. Luckily, the series is smarter than Barry is, and it's well aware that a person can only do this so many times before burning out completely. The penultimate episode explores just how far the premise, and the characters, can stretch themselves, setting up for a thrilling conclusion.

What, exactly, Barry is hanging on for? That pathetic moment when he screamed in terror at the end of Season 3, thinking he was about to be killed, posed the question of what exactly was giving this guy his will to live. Is it just vengeance, or is it the impossible fantasy of finally changing himself, maybe even for real this time? With so many big shows ending around the same time (its fellow Emmy-winning HBO series Succession also wraps this spring, and last year marked the end of Barry's greatest contemporary, Better Call Saul), we're also saying goodbye to this specific era of TV. I couldn't help thinking about Barry's dogged survival as sort of meta commentary of the series, which has thankfully been allowed to end on its own terms after a remarkable four-season run where it stayed true to itself the entire time — an increasing rarity.

Premieres: Sunday, April 16 at 10/9c on HBO
Who's in it: Bill Hader, Henry Winkler, Sarah Goldberg, Stephen Root, Anthony Carrigan
Who's behind it: Bill Hader and Alec Berg
For fans of: Depressed guys, the final season of Better Call Saul
How many episodes we watched: 7 out of 8