Toward the end of the season finale of HBO’s dramedy “Barry,” it seemed like he might get away with it.
We speak, of course, of Barry Berkman (Bill Hader), the depressed Marine-turned-hit man who traveled to Los Angeles for a kill and inadvertently became immersed in an acting class. He also developed a crush on another student, Sally (Sarah Goldberg) and tried all season to worm his way out of his murdering gig so could pursue a “normal” life.
Naturally, he hit some roadblocks. In the penultimate episode, Barry shot Chris (Chris Marquette), his friend and fellow Marine, when Chris spiraled after a kill gone awry and threatened to go to the police. Although he shot Chris to protect himself, the murder sent Barry — usually a flippant, emotionless killer — over the edge.
So, in the finale, a devastated and newly determined Barry took the steps to end his hit-man career. He punched his boss and recruiter, Fuches (Stephen Root), and eventually forced him to leave California. He shot the members of the Chechen mob who were out to kill him. He tried to quit acting class, though he was pulled back in when Sally gave him a pep talk.
“Using my pain in my work, it’s helped me to process it,” Sally said, revealing she had once been in an abusive marriage. While she had no idea about the source of Barry’s pain, she told him, “It can be the same for you.”
To tie an even neater bow on everything, the police found the dead Chechen mob members and declared the case was done. They incorrectly tied clues together and decided the killings were the work of the Bolivian mob. The cops made more wrong assumptions and concluded that the murder of Ryan Madison (Barry’s original target that brought him to the acting class) was because Ryan was the brains behind the operation and baited the rival Chechen and Bolivian gangs into a war.
So, it looked like Barry escaped without any suspicion. Until the show jumped ahead a few months.
Cut to: Barry and Sally at a beautiful lake house for a romantic double date weekend with their acting teacher, Gene (Henry Winkler) and his girlfriend, Janice (Paula Newsome), the detective who was chasing Ryan’s killer all season. She had suspicions that Barry wasn’t just a regular theater student yet was forced to give up on her hunch when she couldn’t find evidence.
However, her antenna quickly went up again at the lake house when Barry let it slip that “Barry Block” was his stage name, and Berkman was his actual last name; in an earlier episode, Janice searched “Barry Berkman” on Facebook and found nothing. Things got worse when Gene excitedly told the story of why he wanted Barry in his acting class — when they first met, Barry delivered an intense monologue about a soldier who came back from Afghanistan and found work as a hit man.
Janice raised her eyebrows but kept quiet. However, hours later, like a good cop, she went back on her computer and searched “Barry Block” on Facebook. It worked, as she scanned photos and finally connected him to Ryan’s killing.
Alas, Janice made the critical error of taking her laptop outside in the middle of the night, alone. So when Barry approached her, and she pulled a gun and ordered him to put his hands up, it was already too late.
At first, Barry tried to reason: “I used to work for a man who talked me into some really bad stuff. But that’s not who I am. I realized what I was doing was wrong, and I did everything I had to do to put it behind me. And I did it,” he said. “Everything’s so good right now. I’m a good person. I help people out. And if you could just walk away from this and forget about it, everybody’s life would be better.”
“You know I can’t do that, Barry,” she said, glaring at him.
“Yes, no, yes you can. Janice, you can,” he protested. “Because we want the same thing. We want to be happy. We want love. We want a life. … We’re the same.”
“We’re not the same, Barry,” Janice retorted. “Cause I’m a cop. And you’re a … murderer.”
As they went back and forth, Barry spotted a shotgun hanging from a tree*. Viewers knew what that meant. “Janice, can we please not do this? Please?” Barry begged.
Janice refused. “It’s done,” she said.
The camera swiftly cut back to Sally, who was asleep. The sounds of gunshots rang out, and she didn’t move. Suddenly, it was morning: Barry came back into the bedroom and climbed back into bed with Sally. Staring at the ceiling, he whispered to himself, “Starting … now.” And then everything faded to black.
The scene was particularly chilling because it was the third time in the episode that Barry uttered that phrase: The first time, when he punched his recruiter in the face, he said, “I’m done, Fuches. Starting now.” Then when he took Fuches to the airport to send him away, Barry repeated himself: “I’m done with you, I’m done with all of this. Starting right now.”
Clearly, the writers wanted to send a message — for a hit man desperate to quit, that is much easier said than done. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly after the finale, “Barry” co-creator Alec Berg teased that in the second season, Barry’s previous life is going to come back to haunt him.
“It’s not going to turn into a show about an innocent theater student and his kindly friends,” Berg said. “Again, I think the past always catches up.”
(* Several readers have pointed out that it was actually a pistol that Barry likely stashed away himself, knowing he would confront the detective.)