Look away if you don’t want spoilers, but the Emmy-winning HBO dramedy turned unusually violent extremely quickly with this episode. The setup came the previous week, when Detective Loach (John Pirruccello) finally confirmed that hit man Barry (Hader) murdered his former partner, Detective Moss (Paula Newsome). But . . . twist! Loach said he would “forget” the crime if Barry would kill Loach’s ex-wife’s new lover.
That brings Barry, in Episode 5, to the home of his assigned target, Ronny (Daniel Bernhardt). Desperate to get out of the killing business, Barry has hatched a complex scheme to persuade the man to save his life by fleeing to Chicago. Ronny, though, seems disinclined to heed this suggestion from a masked intruder — and he goes on the offensive, deploying his formidable taekwondo skills.
The fight between the two men is truly epic — but it’s nothing, compared with the assault later launched on Barry by Ronny’s daughter Lily (Jesse Giacomaszzi), a middle-school-age master of mixed martial arts.
Lily stabs Barry with a kitchen knife; she scales a tree and jumps on a roof; she takes a bite out of Fuches’s cheek (that’s Barry’s handler, played by Stephen Root); and hisses and screams (“like a feral mongoose,” Barry says) while drenched in his blood. Barry’s battle with Ronny reignites in a grocery store where both are seeking first-aid supplies. But just as Ronny gets the upper hand in the fight, Loach shows up to shoot Ronny. And then tries to kill Barry. But the not-dead-yet Ronny lurches up to take down the cop with a roundhouse kick. And then gets shot to death as the police arrive, while Barry and Fuches make a miraculous escape.
Beyond the violence, the tense half-hour held an undercurrent of emotional complexity for Barry. We talked to Bill Hader about it all — the meaning of Barry’s black-out visions, the decision to super-glue Fuches’s hands to the steering wheel and whether Lily is indeed human.
(This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.)
Does Barry really think . . . that Ronny will just get in the car and go to Chicago and live in hiding and everything will work out?
Hader: Yes, it’s terrible. It’s a terrible, terrible idea. (Laughs.) . . . The slow reveal of who Ronny actually is was a lot of fun.
As soon as Barry walks in the door and sees all those taekwondo trophies . . .
Hader: I like that Barry asks, “Whose trophies are these?” On the slight chance they’re not his.
At first, because the fight was going on for so long, I thought, “Is this some sort of dream?” It was so unusual, so I would love to know where the idea came from to make this a bottle episode [industry jargon for an episode using a limited number of characters, sets or scenarios] where everyone was just fighting the whole time.
Hader: It’s a couple things. One was we had this Ronny character, and we knew we wanted Loach to have Barry kill him; but Barry is on this mission not to hurt people or kill anymore. And this has to go wrong some way. We also knew that Loach needed to go, so Barry would be in the clear. So those were the objectives.
. . . The second thing was that Wade Allen, our stunt coordinator, who’s amazing, said, “I know this little girl named Jessie, her parents are stunt coordinators, and she can do anything.” He told me this during Season 1. So I wrote down notes before we started writing Season 2, and had this idea of a little girl in a karate uniform attacking Barry in a house. And I had her running up a tree, like a squirrel, and that was kind of it. Then we were in the writer’s room talking about Ronny, and I just went, “Oh, my God, the little girl, that’s his daughter. Oh, this is good; okay, I can put these two things together."
. . . When [the writers] read it, they liked it, but they all thought, when the little girl bites Fuches’s face, why doesn’t he just pull her off his face? Then we said, “Oh, well, he uses superglue to do the stitches.” And in the room, it was like, “What if he superglued his hands to the steering wheel?” And everyone started laughing.
I did love the part where Barry sees Ronny in the grocery store and says something like, “I have a guy literally glued to the car ready to take you to Chicago.”
Hader: (Laughs.) Alec Berg [the co-creator], on set, he pitched one of my favorite lines: When I see Ronny in the grocery store and say, “Hey! I’m the guy who was in your house.”
Did this take longer to film than a regular episode because of all the fights?
Hader: No, but it was more prep time. The interior of Ronny and Lily’s house was a stage. So there’s crew guys behind the walls making things fall off on cue, and we had wire work for the little girl, so the whole ceiling was open. It was a big operation.
So, the little girl — is she human?
Hader: I don’t know if she’s human or not. I mean, yeah, like Fuches says, “What ARE you?” (Laughs.) I like it when she screams at them at the end. (Imitates Lily’s howl.)
When she had all that blood on her face, I was really wondering whether she was some sort of supernatural creature.
Hader: I don’t know, I think she’s real . . . but it’s like, what was Ronny doing, how was he raising that kid? That’s the bigger question. But she definitely loves her dad, and that was the emotional thing, and her dad’s dead. Jessie is a great actress, too.
When Barry confronts Ronny at the grocery store . . . he takes off his mask, and he’s bleeding everywhere — was he just too dazed to think about what was happening?
Hader: Yeah, he’s not thinking straight. . . . he’s trying to be undercover. I mean, part of that was a comedy thing: “So I’ll just put my hood up, and no one will notice!” And then immediately that [store employee] notices. Like, “You’ve got blood all over; you look so suspicious.” Then that guy gets knocked out, and I don’t think other people get a good look at Barry. The cops are more focused on Ronny, because he just kicked Loach, so [Barry] is kind of always like a weird ghost.
What was the biggest challenge in directing an episode like this?
Hader: You just take it step by step. You’re working with stunt coordinator, the director of photography, the production designer, makeup, visual effects, and the camera department, the grips, everybody — we’re all just one unit trying to nail these shots.
. . . And when the stitches blow up, I felt so bad, the visual effects guy in charge of that shot was like, “Ugh, really, I have to do this?” Then when I saw it everyone went “Ew!” and I was like, “Can we just have a little bit more blood coming out?” I think that shot is really funny, because the stitches are so janky and they’re all different colors because he got one of those yarn sets from the supermarket. And then they just immediately break. The worst stitches on earth.
What did you want this episode to say, amid all the special effects, about Barry’s journey and evolution as a character?
Hader: I think it’s a big episode for Barry’s relationship with Fuches. It needed to be something more than just a crazy fight, you know? So that’s why Barry passes out, and we thought we should have these little daydreams he has of coming home from the war . . . and he came back into the hands of someone that was evil. Someone that did not have his best interests at heart, someone who is using him.
You see that in this episode. Barry’s in pain, he’s been stabbed, he’s bleeding, he’s like, “I’m gonna die.” The first thing he says is, “I need to go to the hospital; I’m hurt really bad,” and Fuches says, “Is it done? Did you kill him?” And then he’s like, “I’ll stitch you up because I can’t get into trouble, because if I send you to the hospital, they’ll ask too many questions.” Fuches is just concerned about himself.
So it’s Barry, I think, seeing clearly that he’s being used. That was an important part of the puzzle of writing this episode. When I first pitched this to Alec, he was like, “That’s cool. . . . I have one note,” and I said: “I know what it’s going to be! It doesn’t push the emotional story forward at all, and I need to figure out what this is.” Coming up with those daydreams and coming up with that ending really helped.