Succession‘s series finale isn’t the only recent HBO ending that will leave you feeling empty inside. No, that title also belongs to Barry, which closed out its fourth and final season with “wow,” an episode that belongs in the dictionary next to the word “bleak.”
Bleakness is to be expected given the setup going into “wow.” NoHo Hank (Anthony Carrigan) has kidnapped Sally (Sarah Goldberg), as well as her and Barry’s (Bill Hader) son John (Zachary Golinger). Meanwhile, Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler) has been accused of murdering Janice Moss (Paula Newsome) due to a major police mix-up.
While these plot setups may tease explosive showdowns and major revelations, “wow” often undercuts its own possibilities, resulting in surprising narrative choices that burst quickly onto the scene before flaring out. The description “anticlimactic” comes to mind, yet the lack of one definite, show-stopping climax speaks to how Barry has been dismantling characters’ fantasies this season — a theme that takes a sharp turn in the finale’s third act.
So how does Barry Berkman’s story end? Let’s take a look.
A showdown between NoHo Hank, Fuches, and Barry goes horribly awry.
Anthony Carrigan in “Barry.”
Credit: Courtesy of HBO
In his attempt to take down Barry, Hank calls in Fuches (Stephen Root) as backup. There’s still a lot of bad blood between them, but they’re willing to call a temporary truce for Barry’s sake. (Or at least, for the sake of his death.) With Fuches and Hank’s men combined, there’s no way Barry’s making it out of this one, right?
Wrong! Before Fuches and Hank can achieve their mutual goal of killing Barry, they get in each other’s way. Fuches forces Hank to admit he killed Cristobal, during which Hank finally drops the lie that he had nothing to do with the murder of the love of his life. Naturally, Hank doesn’t like doing this, so he declares that the deal with Fuches is off. A shootout ensues, lasting for a few brief, fiery seconds before everyone but Fuches is down.
Meanwhile, Barry races across town with a bunch of guns, prepared to do battle. (Some classic Barry humor sees him have a hard time getting in his car with the guns strapped to his back.) When he arrives at Hank’s headquarters, he finds John waiting for him, delivered to safety by Fuches. Neither man makes a move to kill the other, and Fuches disappears into the darkness.
Sally, reunited with Barry and John, tells Barry about Cousineau’s arrest, and that he should turn himself in. But Barry’s not having it. He was fully prepared to die that night and tried to make his peace with God. According to him, the fact that he’s still alive is a sign that he’s been redeemed — a new fantasy to replace the older ones that helped him justify his killing. Sally, rightfully frightened by this, takes John and leaves.
Barry gets a shocking surprise from Gene.
Henry Winkler and Bill Hader in “Barry.”
Credit: Courtesy of HBO
Gene is still dealing with being accused for Janice’s murder, but he soon has a more pressing problem: Barry bursting into his house looking for Sally and John. This moment is the first time in almost a decade that Gene and Barry have seen each other. What kind of stand-off will they have?
None, as a matter of fact. Gene shoots Barry in the chest, earning a mildly astonished, “Oh wow” from Barry. He follows it up with a headshot, and just like that (and with a quick cut to black) Barry Berkman is no more.
Here’s another moment where we see the fantasy fall away: Barry tells Gene’s agent Tom (Fred Melamed) to call the police because he’s going to turn himself in. Without Henry and Sally, he truly has nothing left but this one last-ditch shot at redemption. Funnily enough, Barry’s redemption is directly tied to Gene’s, as only with Barry’s confession can Gene walk free. In killing Barry so hastily, Gene seals his fate — and Barry seals its ending.
Barry ends with one last time jump — and a surprising movie.
Sarah Goldberg, Zachary Golinger, and Bill Hader in “Barry.”
Credit: Courtesy of HBO
Barry pulls one more surprise time jump out of its sleeve for its final act. John is a high schooler (now played by Jaeden Martell, who shared a character with Hader in the IT films), and Sally, who no longer has to use an alias, is a theater teacher. There are still many signs of her shallowness and need for validation: When John says he loves her, she simply asks if her play was good.
But John’s got something else on his mind. His friend has invited him over to watch something that Sally has forbade him from watching. It’s a film called The Mask Collector, and it’s a pretty mid-tier thriller that also happens to retell Barry, Sally, and Gene’s story.
In The Mask Collector, Barry is a handsome young veteran who has done absolutely nothing wrong, while Gene is a conniving, murderous mastermind (also, British for some reason) — basically, it’s the horrendous glorification of Barry that Gene feared would happen when he discovered a movie was being made about his life. Still, John watches on, tearing up at this portrayal of his father.
Earlier in the episode, Sally does admit to a young John that his father was a murderer. But how much does he remember of that? And did Sally later feed him the narrative that Gene was the true mastermind? Based on John’s mournful reaction, it seems like he buys what The Mask Collector is selling, which means he’ll grow up idolizing his father, presumably alongside the rest of the film’s audience.
John’s perception of his father is another dream to add to Barry‘s collection, and it’s a haunting way to close out the show. Sally may be able to use her real identity, but she’s still living a lie. So is her son, even though he may not completely know it. As Barry has shown us throughout its four seasons, living a fantasy and attempting to maintain it through evil acts is a slippery slope, one that will still ultimately leave you empty.
Ending Barry on someone watching a movie that creates a Barry-related fantasy is also an extremely meta move, as it forces us as audience members to sit with our reactions to Barry as a character — especially in the show’s early stages. Did we sympathize with him? Did we glorify a monster? These questions will leave you staring blankly at the screen as the credits roll, wondering how you could have watched something so gripping, so darkly funny, and so alienating all at once. The answer, of course, is that you just watched (well, finished) Barry.