Saying “I love you” has served a number of different purposes on “Barry.” It’s been said in moments of desperation, fear, confusion, and consolation. It’s been used to try to avert disaster and it’s been used as shorthand for reassurance.
As the series finale awaits on Sunday night and many viewers start to put together theories of what might be in store, now’s the perfect time to think about what role that same idea of love might mean for the endgame. There’s a transactional quality to a lot of the love on this show, love that comes with opportunities and escapes and material success. The strongest test will be in that last episode, as it sure seems like everyone from the inner Barry Berkman circle who’s still alive is converging on the same place to meet in one big physical, in-person test of whose love wins out.
Trying to anticipate how that love will unfold, it’s good to be reminded that “Barry” is often using the idea of love to help crowd out the other emotions that tend to lead to tragedy. The Season 4 premiere ends with Fuches cradling Barry’s bloody body and saying that he loves him. By the finale, Fuches is ready for an all-out assault to eliminate him once and for all. At the end of our conversation with Stephen Root at the beginning of the season, we asked him if Fuches still has any of that love in there for the killing machine he helped create.
“I thought that was a great thing to reveal in this season, that he didn’t just pick him up from the Army at the end of the war and mold him. He knew him when he was playing army in the dirt with him when he was seven years old. So I think his development and love for Barry started there,” Root said. “He’s known this boy, this thing, for a long, long time and he will always love him. It’s his broken, revenge-filled soul that is the problem. I think he always had the love for Barry from time immemorial.”
In a way, “Barry” has found all its characters struggling with the idea of trying to hold on to both, the brokenness and the cure. Whether in turf wars in the entertainment industry or the illegal goods trade, everyone is trying to have both the killer instinct to separate themselves and the love that keeps them from losing themselves in the pursuit. Sally wanting to flee, Hank wanting to go “legitimate,” and Gene relocating to a kibbutz are all time jump transformations beyond the physical. It’s trying to square that love and passion for something in a way that doesn’t lead to more harm. They’ve each lost something, but they’ve hung on to the idea that they can still have it all.
In the case of Barry, he’s confronted with the collateral damage he’s caused in trying to square those two sides of himself. So he escapes to worlds of his own making where he doesn’t have to try anymore. We see it first in daydreams and then when he and Sally are on the run together. As someone who’s had to play half that dynamic for four seasons, Sarah Goldberg offered her own insight.
“I think the sad truth is, both Sally and Barry aren’t very capable of love. And I think that Sally never really loved Barry. It’s somebody who bore witness to her worst moment, and so she needs to feel connected to that person. She keeps going into the well there’s no water,” Goldberg said. “Their relationship pendulum swings between need and mutual advantage, and in his part, obsession. Barry also never really saw Sally. All of his fantasies about her, they’re all ideas that you have about love when you’re a teenager. Whenever he sees a fantasy version of Sally, she’s always in pink, but Sally never wears pink. He only saw what he wanted to see.”
“Barry” has also been a pretty shrewd dissection of what living in Los Angeles can do to someone. That love for other people can also get caught up in a passion for performing, whether it’s on some black box stage in North Hollywood, on a soundstage in Burbank, or in some diner in a rural southern town. Acting, like love, is all centered around choices. Even though some characters seem to be on the receiving end of misfortune, “Barry” has been sure to give all its main players plenty of chances to make their own.
So the finale shouldn’t be any different. At this point, it feels dumb to say definitively what will happen or who will “survive” the show’s final chapter. But if there’s room to make one on-the-record guarantee, it’s that a show so laser-focused on blocking and movement and decisions and instincts will make room for Sally, Gene, Hank, and Fuches to each have one final choice that guides each other’s fate. Given the various physical and mental injuries that Barry has been responsible over the years, this episode will probably serve as a kind of trial for Mr. Berkman, with a panel of his peers presiding.
Even so, “Barry” has rarely taken the onus off of Barry. It’s usually left things up to him to choose a least undesirable path. The way that everyone seems to be converging, it would make sense that the last decision of them all would be given to the guy who the show is named after. Even though the logistics are still hazy for a few more days, the terms have been laid out for most of the season. Love or revenge? All or nothing? Fantasy or reality? It’ll probably come down to which one Barry, in his own way, loves more.
The last episode of “Barry” airs Sunday at 10:30 p.m. on HBO.