Barry’s end is nigh, but don’t expect conventional closure


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SPOILER ALERT: This column discusses plot details of season 4 of Barry.

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SPOILER ALERT: This column discusses plot details of season 4 of Barry.

I’ve noticed Crave is starting to announce final episodes and final seasons in its up-top highlights. There seems to be an understanding now that this can be a real draw.

We’re living through weird times, and the promise of finality is appealing. We yearn for answers. We want to see things wrapped up.

Barry, the HBO series created by Bill Hader and Alec Berg (on Crave, with new episodes airing on Sundays), is just two episodes away from reaching the conclusion of its fourth and final season. I don’t think we’re going to get much in the way of conventional closure, though. This uncomfortable, unclassifiable comedy/tragedy/crime story/Hollywood satire — about a midwestern hitman (Hader) who comes to L.A. on a job and then decides he wants to become an actor — is only getting darker and stranger as it slouches toward its bloody end.

For much of its four-season run, Barry has deliberately frustrated viewer expectations, particularly in the way it plays around with the all-American notion of reinvention and redemption. Like a lot of shows, Barry asks questions about whether people can change. Unlike a lot of shows, Barry seems ready to go with a hard no.

Much of the series’ action takes place in Hollywood, where most screenplays are built on three-act character arcs. But nobody becomes a better person in Barry. Nobody outruns their past. Nobody puts in the work required for genuine self-knowledge and real repentance. Instead, this last season sees the ultimate collision of the show’s two spheres, the violent criminal underworld and the only slightly less violent entertainment industry.

If these characters can’t change themselves, they’ll change the stories they tell about themselves, and this need to “control the narrative” gets dangerous and desperate — and very meta — when Warner Bros. plans a true-crime movie based on Barry’s murderous history.

This season has presented a time-jump so jarring many viewers have been speculating it’s all a Lynchian hallucination. Barry and Sally (Sarah Goldberg) have gone on the lam, and we see them living on an empty, windswept plain, raising an eight-year-old son named John. Sally is really pushing the Method acting, giving quite the performance as a small-town diner waitress. Meanwhile, Barry, attempting to be a normal husband and dad, has never seemed more hollowed out and morally empty than when he’s giving John a benevolent — and massively ironic — father-knows-best talk: “You messed up, but you took responsibility. It’s the right way to live.”

Then word gets out about the Warner Bros. project — and the news that Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler), Barry’s former acting teacher, might be consulting on it.

Barry is worried his son will find out he’s a murderer. His solution isn’t to stop murdering people, however. His solution is to try to kill Gene, in order to kill the project.

Bill Hader is the co-creator and star of “Barry,” now in its fourth and final season. (Merrick Morton/HBO/TNS)

That’s the thing. Barry has been attempting to be an ordinary, non-hitman kind of person since the first season, but in a paradox that circles in on itself with tightening coils of horror and humour, his attempts to go straight cause even more death and pain. Barry is always going to be a good person “starting… now,” as he says, but his moral reset button is covered in blood.

So, Barry won’t change himself. He’ll change the narrative. This process is paralleled, in ways that are sometimes more, sometimes less lethal, with the other characters. During his prison stretch, Fuches (Stephen Root) has reinvented himself as “The Raven.” Gene has been trying to get out his highly skewed version of events by way of a self-serving one-man show performed for a Vanity Fair reporter. NoHo Hank (Anthony Harrigan) is covering up a vicious act of betrayal by crafting a hokey corporate origin story.

The show doesn’t let anyone off the hook, though, and that might include its viewers. As Gene warns the Warner Bros. executive: “You’re glorifying a psychopath” in the service of “mindless entertainment.” Somehow, I don’t think we’re going to get that. I suspect Barry will be neither righteously punished nor miraculously redeemed. This anti-antihero show is going to withhold catharsis until its gloriously bitter end.

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Alison Gillmor

Alison Gillmor

Studying at the University of Winnipeg and later Toronto’s York University, Alison Gillmor planned to become an art historian. She ended up catching the journalism bug when she started as visual arts reviewer at the Winnipeg Free Press in 1992.

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