[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “Barry” Season 2, Episode 8, “berkman > block” — the Season 2 finale.]
Barry Berkman isn’t blocked, he’s broken — but “Barry” is only getting better. In the Season 2 finale of Bill Hader’s existential HBO comedy, the eponymous hitman-turned-thespian tries to plug up a release valve that’s been opened on stage and won’t stop flowing off of it. Over the course of eight episodes, Barry spoke his truth to his acting teacher Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler), confessing to the worst thing he’s ever done, with the intention of never repeating the same mistake again. But in “berkman > block,” Barry did it again, with 10 times the body count.
Why? The worst thing he’s ever done isn’t killing an innocent man out of misplaced vengeance, but killing a police detective out of self-preservation. With Janet Moss (Paula Newsome) almost certainly dead and now a houseful of confirmed kills to join her, the looming question over Season 3 isn’t if Barry can change, but if there’s anything left to be saved.
That, and how Gene will react to knowing who killed the love of his life. The cliffhanger final scene shows Mr. Cousineau remembering what was forgotten out of shock: Fuches (Stephen Root) telling him Barry was responsible for Janice’s death. Will Gene believe him? Will he have any other choice? And what will Barry do when confronted with a life-or-death decision about the one man he’ll fight an army to protect? He can’t kill Gene… can he?
These questions are an ideal means to raise the stakes, after an ending that showed just how far Barry can go when pushed. Earlier episodes this season made clear what’s really haunting Barry: When he tried to use his memories from the Army to get into character for Sally’s (Sarah Goldberg) play, he could only go to that deepest, darkest corner of himself when his more recent kill came to mind. And while he’s been processing his actions in the Army for years, he hasn’t been able to talk to anyone about Janice.
Obviously, he couldn’t talk to Sally (not that she’s the best listener, anyway). He decided he could talk to Gene, but only about the other murder on his mind. He wanted to talk to Fuches, but his old boss betrayed him, leaving Barry with no one to talk to and no way to work through his problem. These blocked paths were like a clever way to keep the mystery alive: “Did Barry actually kill Janet? Well, he hasn’t said he has, not really, so… maybe not?” But that theory seems out the window after Gene’s reaction to seeing her body in the trunk of her car — his long-lasting shock feels like the saddest way to confirm her death, and a defining choice.
But back to Barry: All of these closed doors bottled him up, and Barry finally exploded in Episode 8. The best case scenario is that Barry snapped as a means of punishing himself for Janice’s death; he felt so guilty about what happened to her, he went after the man threatening the love of her life in an unplanned, suicidal rampage. Somehow, it worked — or didn’t, depending on if you believe Barry wanted to die — and he’s left with the wreckage now. At his feet, he sees the man he trained; the man who thanked Barry for giving him purpose; the man who lowered his gun and smiled when Barry walked into the room; the man who Barry shot without a second thought but is now sending him reeling, back into the darkness.
While that may seem like a sad, tortured ending, it’s where Barry has to go to find peace. Now that he’s opened up his emotional can of worms, he has to dig to the bottom and find his actual, real, unquestionable truth. Acting is his therapy, and his rampage was his relapse. When he’s denied that release — by Sally, who flipped the script on Barry when she flipped the table before he could — bad things happen. He needs to keep going, and Season 2 proved it’s well worth our time to go with him.
“Barry” is available now on HBO.
- Sally pivoting to an inspirational version of her “truth” during the play — and being worshipped for it after — is such a savvy twist. For one, backing down at the last second felt true to her character, but it also just felt human, and in a weird way, honored the very real difficulty of exposing oneself for an audience. It should also provide plenty of parallels to Barry’s journey in Season 3: They’ll both have to choose whether to keep masquerading as the person society accepts, or if they’ll risk what they’ve gained by telling the truth.
- Hader pointed out in the post-episode behind-the-scenes featurette that Season 2 started with Barry emerging from the darkness into the light and ended with him going back to the darkness. Touches like these are common in “Barry,” but they go a long way to elevate the series’ depth — and illustrate how much Hader is growing as a producer/director. (He helmed the finale, while Hiro Murai directed the premiere.)
- “He was right,” Barry says. “I’m pretty sure people can change.” Famous last words?