To paraphrase another of Barry co-creator Bill Hader's characters, the "ronny/lily" episode of his dark HBO comedy has everything: A brutal one-take brawl, a highly symbolic dream sequence, another brawl in a supermarket set to "How Do I Live?," a man with his hands superglued to the steering wheel of his Jeep, and an 11-year-old girl tae kwon do master seemingly possessed by the spirit of a "feral mongoose."
The episode — which Hader directed and wrote with co-creator Alec Berg based on weird ideas Hader had — is different than every episode of Barry previous, a format-breaking standout in the vein of The Sopranos' "Pine Barrens" or Atlanta's "Teddy Perkins." It essentially hits pause on Barry's breakneck plot to focus its entire 38-minute run time on a hit gone wrong. Barry (Hader) gets sent to kill a crooked homicide detective's ex-wife's new boyfriend, who, it turns out, is a tae kwon do master who kicks the snot out of Barry. Barry finally dispatches him — against his wishes, as he wants to give the guy, Ronny Proxsin (Daniel Bernhardt), a chance to escape with his life — only to then have to deal with the guy's daughter, who is equally adept at fighting and seems to have supernatural abilities of some sort. "I don't think she's of this world," Barry tells his handler, Fuches (Stephen Root), after the girl escapes. It's an extremely weird and dark and funny sequence that maybe shouldn't work in a show as grounded in its own sense of reality as Barry, but it somehow does. Hader sat down with TV Guide and talked about how he came up with the episode, which started with a tip from a stunt guy during Season 1.
Hader, looking polished on a Monday morning with a buttery green suede jacket and brand new Nike Killshots, said he wanted to do a bottle episode about a hit that goes wrong during the first season, but there was too much story to get through to fit it in. "And then Wade Allen, my stunt coordinator, said, 'You know, I have this girl named Jessie [Giacomazzi] whose parents are stunt performers, and she's an amazing stunt performer,'" Hader said. "'So, if for some reason, if you need a kid who can do karate, I have a kid who can do karate.'" Hader thought that was cool, and he filed that information away. When the hit on Ronny came up as part of the story in Season 2, Hader thought that would be the time to write that bottle episode and bring in Jessie. "I went off on my own and did this episode and then just presented it to Alec and the writers," Hader said of the writing process. "It wasn't so much a thing that was built in the writers' room, it was, 'What if we did this?'"
Hader said that the choices, from the decision to take out the musical score to the decision to make Lily ambiguously supernatural, were all made intuitively, and he had no idea how people were going to react to it. "It could be a good 'What the f---?' or a bad 'What the f---?,'" Hader said. "You never really know what people are going to think, and you hope they like it, but at the end of the day, I'm in a very lucky position where HBO let us do our thing. In that episode, I really followed my instincts on a lot of things. But, you never know when you're doing these things if it's going to work or not."
It did work, as critical and fan reaction to "ronny/lily" was pretty much universally positive, which was not the case for "The Long Night," the massive episode of Game of Thrones it followed on April 28. The Game of Thrones lead-in lifted Barry to its biggest audience ever, who were treated to an episode that weirdly mirrored the one they'd just watched. They're the most intense battles either show has done, and both include a little girl stabbing a guy. "When I was watching I was like, 'Oh, we have that. Oh f---, we have that too. Ah s---, ah man,'" Hader said. "'People are going to think that we ripped it off.'" But Hader said that he only found out they'd be paired when he got an email from Game of Thrones executive producer David Benioff inviting him to a screening of "The Long Night" at the TCL Chinese Theater.
Hader, who won the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series last year and was nominated for writing, directing, and producing the series, has the potential to get all those nominations again this year, and perhaps an even higher chance of winning, given that he's already won and Season 2 is even better than Season 1. Not that Hader does all this work on Barry with the intention of winning awards for it. He just goes into it hoping it all makes sense. "You're just trying to make each shot, and each moment, each cut, each costume decision, each production decision, all of it to be part of the piece, and that in and of itself can be very daunting," he said. "The fact you can put all those things together, and you really don't know what you have until you cut it, and you look at a cut that you like because the first cut, invariably, you don't like and you feel like you blew it, and you want to die, but once you get it and order it, it's like, 'Oh, this really works.'"
Barry's Season 2 finale airs Sunday at 10:20/9:20c on HBO.