news ‘Barry’ Rewrites Its Own History in a Fitting Finale

[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for the “Barry” finale, Season 4, Episode 7, “Wow.”]

There are plenty of things that “Barry” chose not to hide, in the end. Like a henchman with his own entrails spilled out for him to see, the show left few details to the imagination in its series-ending “Wow,” a finale designed to shock and pay off in equal measures, largely succeeding on both fronts.

If there’s any key to unlocking “Wow,” it’s not exactly love (as we guessed last week), but acceptance. This 35-minute final chapter did give each of its main players a choice, paired with the closest thing any of them would get to a way out from a couple of converging storms. With this show, “happy” is a fraught descriptor, but the only characters who got an ending close to their terms are the ones that actually embraced the idea of an ending in the first place.

Fuches’ “Denial. It’s tough” ends up being the three-word mission statement that the rest of the episode revolves around. He says it to Hank (Anthony Carrigan), who’s somehow talked himself into having the upper hand, even though that possibility probably set sail when a bunch of severed heads got dropped on his desk last week.

That last bit of self-assuredness melts away, though, when Fuches (Stephen Root) uses the weak spot he identified at their Episode 6 dinner together. He invokes Cristobal first as a way to gain control of the Barry (Bill Hader) trap, and then to test Hank’s worthiness of holding John’s (Zachary Golinger) life in his hands. Finding his answer insufficient (or in a warped show of mercy to spare Hank from having to keep living in self-denial), Fuches fires first, igniting a bloody crossfire that leaves almost everyone either shot or exploded. Leave it to “Barry” to not only have one last bit of mass violence presented in a purposely sterile, banal way, but to find a tiny moment of beauty in the aftermath. Despite the hailstorm of bullets, Fuches dives on John, somehow sparing them both.

Part of a steady stream of situational jokes strung throughout “Wow,” Barry shows up overprepared for a shootout that ends in seconds, just before he arrives. That quickly gives way to a head-nodding entente between Barry and Fuches. It’s not said aloud between the two, but unspoken in that exchange is Fuches urging Barry to do better with John than he did as a father figure. In John, he spots the same young boy he set on a path to be a killer all those years ago. It’s not exactly solace or redemption, but Fuches also sees an opportunity for an ending, a chance to break the cycle of retribution, let the youngster live, and put an end to the Berkman feuding.

Stephen Root in Barry

Stephen Root in “Barry”HBO

It’s the same opening that Sally (Sarah Goldberg) sees just a few minutes before he does. Sensing an opportunity to come clean to John about who his parents are, Sally finally drops the act. For all the ways in which Sally has been tortured over the seasons — for reasons of her own making and for far more beyond her control — there’s a tiny kindness in letting this confession scene be as straightforward as it is. It’s grounded, not overly saccharine or garish. The question of where the character’s double life begins and end is taken out of the equation. Goldberg delivers that moment in a decidedly non-indulgent way, which helps the meaning behind the rest of the episode’s fates start to lock into place.

“Barry” does make one major stipulation with its own version of acceptance: It can’t be a last resort. That idea links Barry and Gene (Henry Winkler) one final time, as they both resign themselves to some unexpected fates. Barry once again tries to use his newfound sense of faith as a “get out of consequences free” card. (There is not a single ounce of humility in that “prayer” outside the Nohobal offices. Negotiation doesn’t seem like the healthiest cornerstone of a spiritual belief system.) When that same reasoning serves as the last straw to send Sally and John away in the middle of the night, Barry heads to Gene’s house, thinking he’ll find them there. When he doesn’t and finally accepts that all of them have effectively chosen a life without him in it, he seems to relinquish and ask Tom to call the police to turn him in.

Instead, Chekov’s Rip Torn Joke rears its head. Gene’s clicking through all the open tabs about his impending murder charges (with his son Leo’s LA Times tell-all being the final straw) is definitely the doomscrolling shortcut for telling an audience that someone feels he has nothing left to live for. So if the world already thinks him a murderer, Gene swoops in to make it somewhat of a reality. Barry’s final words end up being one of the series’ darkest jokes, a man realizing in the span of milliseconds that the professional skills that kept him alive for so long and that led to the deaths of dozens (if not hundreds) of others are about to be wiped away by someone who only ever shot anyone else by accident.

An inescapable part of watching a last episode is getting to the point where anything could be the final image. Any cut to black or any knowing look could be the goodbye moment. Each beat that feels like a stopping point becomes a chance for a momentary referendum, ranging from “Not like this” to what Barry offers up in his own final moments. “Oh wow” is that light bulb that this could actually be it. For Barry, it is. For “Barry,” it’s not.

Because first, there’s applause.

As disastrous and self-aggrandizing as it would have been for the series to end with that slow pull-out from Gene to a living room tableau of carnage with only the sound of cheers in the background, it’s as satisfying and surprising to have that become a pivot point for another Season 4 time jump. This time, it’s Sally’s high school production of “Our Town” getting the healthy kind of approval its director never got on a TV set or in some small-town diner or in a creaky black box theater somewhere off of Lankershim. Sally getting her literal flowers in this hazy future is, in a way, her reward for accepting that a life on the run wasn’t going to solve anything.

Anthony Carrigan in Barry

Anthony Carrigan in “Barry”HBO

We don’t see Fuches in the future. (That is, unless Root is somewhere on the steps outside that auditorium, a move I would not put it past writer/director Hader to pull off as a sneaky “Cache” reference.) Instead, his legacy is in John (Jaeden Martell) being alive to witness the movie about his parents that did get made after all. A friend invites him over to spend the night, where he forces John to confront a dramatized version of his own past.

The biopic “The Mask Collector” (the “American Crime Story” part is implied) is one where a righteous Barry is the uncorrupted military vet who lives valiantly, bested only by the manipulative drama teacher who ruined his Wonder Bread, true-American life. There are copious squibs, gratuitous slow-motion shootouts, and some Fresnel-adjacent lens flares. The Hollywood version of Barry’s story is grist for the “based on a true story” mill. Whether this comeuppance is just karmic retribution for Gene being unable to resist the spotlight at least one too many times is a personal judgment call. But Barry actually getting to be the good guy in his son’s eyes is the kind of warped, cosmic joke that only a narrative-hungry entertainment industry could nurture.

Some will see a handful of symbolic gestures in “Wow” as blunt-force explaining, making painfully clear the ideas that have been running through the show from the start. Some may see the multiple Pieta-like displays of characters in the moments after their death as showy farewells. But this is a show about performers! Those touches are well in line with the “Barry” idea that everyone in this sordid web got tangled up by putting themselves at the center of their own story. Hank not being able to speak as he grabs the hand of the Cristobal statue is both a grace note and a punishment. Hank isn’t sure which it is that he’s getting, something sharply brought across by Carrigan, who’s managed to bring sense to every stage along Hank’s Season 4 psychological roller coaster.

It seems like it’s been something of a weekly ritual to point out all the comedic touches of this show that don’t rely on a heavy dose of the macabre. The note in Gene’s gun case is an exquisite payoff, from “Couscous” all the way to “(Dictated but not read)”. It’s not quite tossing a desktop computer into a pool, but at least Melamed gets one last chance to show off a bit of his chops, turning Tom’s attempted escape from Gene’s house into some physical comedy cowardice. And the “More Than Words” echoing over the department store PA system as Barry’s leaving with his arsenal makes a nice little pairing with LeAnn Rimes tracking the supermarket fight from “ronny/lily.”

For all the (deserved) attention this epilogue will get for all the reenactments and that look that Sally gives her passenger seat occupied by only a bouquet, there’s one telling detail that’s easy to miss underneath all the other questions raised: John’s almost thrown away comment that he doesn’t drink. Yes, there’s the tiny tragedy of Barry’s actions being whitewashed for a mass audience. But for the one parent who John still has left, he has more than an image made by someone else. He has a mother who he loves, despite what her past choices may have done to him. So in the end, “Barry” made room for both myth and reality. Accepting that there’ll always be a little bit of both makes it easier to find the peace that good endings can provide.

Grade: A-​

“Barry” is now available to stream in its entirety on Max.
Leave it to “Barry” to not only have one last bit of mass violence presented in a purposely sterile, banal way

Here I was thinking to myself, what a great decision to spend the extra money on that grenade.
it was definitely a lot more work to pull off, but it was cool and nicely executed, one of the more memoriable moments of the episode IMO

Author comes in and calls it Banal. jackass.
Great episode, and you know what, I think the grenade was a great touch. Inspired even.

The last few episodes of Barry were really strong. I really have to hand it to Bill Hader for being the only person in Hollywood with the slightest clue as to how to present his political viewpoints to the public.

Excellent examples were

1. Barry joins a religion, and then just keeps channel surfing through preachers on the radio until one of them seems to be endorsing whatever he wanted to do in the first place. When he needs to turn himself in for a murder to save his friend, he simply says "I think god has other plans for me", a shot at people who commonly sidestep complex moral issues using one of the "magic catchall phrases"

2. Barry buys an arsenal of weapons for an intended murder suicide run at a local wall mart, and walks through a crowd in public bristling with assault weapons on the way to planned mass murder, with no one paying any attention. I feel like they could have added someone in the background of the parking lot shot getting surrounded by armed police for saying a bad word.

3. The media tries to tell his story, as accurately as they can, and repeatedly studio people say "We're telling the true story of what really happened" and then when the product comes out, they get basically every important thing wrong, make the villain the hero and the hero the villain, and this upside down and backwards version of the truth becomes the "official version" of the story, and the only thing anyone will remember.
he simply says "I think god has other plans for me", a shot at people who commonly sidestep complex moral issues using one of the "magic catchall phrases"

Yeah everything is always ego centric with those type of thinkers...
If there was a 'Gods plan' in barry it was focused around fuches. He had the ultimate redemption arc
I felt like the show faltered a bit with it's tone in the early episodes of this season, but finished really strong. For a comedy show, I felt like the plot was crafted well above the standards we're used to. Hader clearly has an intellect that runs a bit deeper than his SNL roots.
i heard hader is doing a horror movie next , should be interesting.
the show definitely drifted away from comedy into more serious territory in the last season but yeah what a strong ending that took every character into account