Barry season 4 begins with Barry in prison | Agents of Fandom

Barry Season 4 Is A Gripping Masterpiece

The goal of any series is to go out on top of its game, and Bill Hader does just that as HBO’s latest comedy/drama reaches its conclusion.

When a series begins the descent into its final run of episodes, there’s a sense that every plot point, every scene, every line carries all the more weight because of the limited real estate with which it must make its landing. Sometimes, the added pressure of a ticking clock is a delight (think of Breaking Bad in its dénouement). Other times, it can be downright baffling. (The Vito storyline in season 6 of The Sopranos comes to mind. Actually, a lot of that season fits into this category.)

We’ve watched Succession provide a master class in the Art of Ending, but it’s not alone in that venture among the HBO stable. Barry season 4 occupies our Sunday nights, raising the stakes, setting-and-resetting the chessboard, and surprising us with each passing episode. The show never gives us the feeling that it’s wasting precious time on some meandering subplot. Every word pushes the story closer to its conclusion.

Bill Hader takes Barry to his lowest point in Barry season 4 | Agents of Fandom
Bill Hader takes Barry to his lowest point in Barry season 4. Image Credit: Merrick Morton/HBO.

As always, intriguing characters punctuate Barry season 4

From the jump, Barry season 4 takes the already tangled threads of affections, deceptions, and misconceptions between the central characters and weaves them into a brilliant tapestry.

Sally (Sarah Goldberg) had reached the heights of the entertainment industry in season 3, running and starring in her own autobiographical series, but found herself retreating to her flyover state beginnings after killing a man (in self-defense). Goldberg really shines in this role, which could have been so easily one-noted as a vapid wannabe-ingenue. Instead, Sally is a complex mix of insecurity and talent, full of selfishness and anger and vulnerability.

Henry Winkler delivers the defining performance of his latter career in the character of Gene Cousineau. At the beginning of the series, it appeared that Cousineau was a hack of an actor who had found a living suckering young hopefuls into his acting class. But, like Sally, the character has so much more depth than that.

Underneath Cousineau’s selfishness and wacky acting is the truly tragic story of a man who is not good enough to cut muster but loves nothing more in the world than to act. He’s the only thing worse than a has-been; a never-was, which makes it all the more delicious to watch him wrestle with the moral quandary of whether to exploit the murder of his girlfriend, Janice (Paula Newsome), to finally make a name for himself in Hollywood.

Sally, John, and Barry enjoying a moment together in Barry season 4 | Agents of Fandom
Sally, John, and Barry enjoying a moment together in Barry season 4. Image Credit: HBO.

NoHo Hank (Anthony Carrigan) is simply one of the funniest characters of all time. The rumor is that Hank was initially supposed to die very early on in the series, but that Carrigan was so electric and hilarious in the role that Hader and co. knew they had to keep him in the mix. Carrigan plays Hank as a scared child who is also unreasonably optimistic as far as outed gay Chechen mob bosses go.

And then there’s Barry (Bill Hader). If nothing else, Barry has provided proof-of-concept that Bill Hader is one of the most talented and thoughtful performers we have. Barry is a complicated character. Like Noho Hank, he’s vulnerable and childlike emotionally. Like Sally, he’s got an anger in him, deeply rooted in trauma. And like Cousineau, he too struggles with morality, though his is usually weighing the pros and cons of murder.

Hader, one of the great weirdos in the 21st century of comedy, has at times played Barry almost as a creature from another planet who is merely mimicking human behavior. There’s a cold detachment from humanity Barry exhibits when he’s killing that is somehow more chilling than if he simply reveled in it.

Mr. Cousineau is on a journey of self-discovery in Barry season 4 | Agents of Fandom
Gene Cousineau’s seen better days in Barry season 4. Image Credit: Merrick Morton/HBO.

Bill Hader flexes his directing muscles in Barry season 4

Barry is very much Bill Hader’s brainchild. Aside from creating the series and playing the titular character, Hader is credited as a writer on 12 episodes and, prior to season four, the director of 10. Hader directs every episode of Barry season 4 with an uncanny competence.

It is incredible that outside of Barry, Hader has no other directing credits. He shows such a masterful touch from the composition of shots to his timing. It’s clear Hader is a student of capital “C” Cinema. His direction on season four is reminiscent of Wes Anderson, the Coen Brothers, Quentin Tarantino, and Paul Thomas Anderson. Hader has a wonderful directing career ahead of him if he so chooses.

Another director might take the premise of the series and see it as an opportunity to let the blood flow. Hader walks a tightrope when it comes to the violence on Barry. Sometimes, it’s dark and haunting, sometimes it’s surreal, and other times it’s downright hilarious. In a series focused on crime bosses and assassins, the violence never comes across as gratuitous. One way or another, the murder and mayhem we see on screen is meant to elicit some emotional reaction.

NoHo Hank smiles while welcoming guests to his new operation in Barry season 4 | Agents of Fandom
Oh, NoHo Hank, we’ll miss you most of all after Barry season 4. Image Credit: Merrick Morton/HBO.

How will Barry be remembered?

When it’s all said and done, Barry deserves to be remembered among the great series of the past decade. It pushes the form to new heights, proving that even in the farcical there is room for complexity. The series interrogates big questions about redemption and morality, much like another all-timer, The Good Place.

The action is as masterful as Breaking Bad or Better Call Saul, even if it’s often played for a more comedic effect. NoHo Hank is a Hall of Famer; the polar opposite of Gus Fring yet arriving at the same indelibility. Now that all episodes are currently available on Max, Barry has undeniably hit its target.

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'Barry' season 4 review

'Barry' season 4 review
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The Good

  • All-time memorable characters
  • Perfect balance of hilarity and tragedy
  • Bill Hader is one of the best directors on television
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