'We wanted people to feel like you're seeing another fantasy,' Alec Berg says
Let’s talk about that deadly Barry season finale, starting … now!
The funny, surprising, and heartbreaking debut season of Barry ended Sunday with Barry’s (Bill Hader) past catching up to him right as things were better than ever. Still coming to grips with killing Chris (Chris Marquette), Barry goes back to taking out bad guys when he kills Goran (Glenn Fleshler) to save Fuches (Stephen Root). This results in both NoHo Hank’s (Anthony Carrigan) promotion and the cops thinking they solved the case, believing Ryan (Tyler Jacob Moore) and Taylor (Dale Pavinski) had conspired to start a war between the Chechens and Bolivians. After putting Fuches on a plane, Barry tells Sally (Sarah Goldberg) that he’s done with acting, only for her to convince him he has what it takes, and even asking him to star with her in a production of The Front Page.
Fast-forward, and Barry has been upgraded from Sally’s scene partner to romantic partner. With their production approaching, the duo are rehearsing at Gene’s (Henry Winkler) lake house, where they are joined by their acting teacher and his detective girlfriend, Janice (Paula Newsome). The couples weekend is going great until Gene shares the story of Barry’s hitman monologue in the first episode. Later that night, Janice sneaks outside to look Barry up on Facebook and eventually connects him to Chris and Taylor, making her realize that he was the shooter in the video. Her epiphany is interrupted by Barry, who begs her not to arrest him, arguing that he’s become a good person and that they’re the same. “But we’re not,” she tells him. “We’re not the same, Barry. Because I’m a cop and you’re a f—ing murderer.” At gunpoint, she begins to walk him back to the house, and as he again unsuccessfully pleads her with, we see a gun strapped to a tree. As the camera goes upstairs to focus on a sleeping Sally, gunshots ring out. In the morning, Barry comes back to bed, closes his eyes and declares, “Starting … now,” once again trying to convince himself that his former life is over.
To break down the episode and find out what’s to come, EW chatted with co-showrunner Alec Berg (who serves the same role on Silicon Valley) about why they arrived at that ending, what it will mean for Barry moving forward, and what else to expect in season 2.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When planning out the first season, is this always what you had in mind for the ending?
ALEC BERG: It started going this way the more we did the Macbeth stuff in the middle of the season, where the question was, “Can you ever live down murder, and once you’ve got blood on your hands, can you ever get it off or not?” I think what we wanted to play with was, “Can Barry ever really put it behind him, or is he just being naive in thinking he can just change gears and never pay any kind of consequence for that former life?” So we really thought of the finale in two parts. There was the sort of resolution of Goran and NoHo Hank, and putting Fuches on the plane and getting rid of him, and we wanted it to feel like that’s the happy ending. And then we had this idea that his monologue in the pilot would be what trips him up at the end. It’s one of the things that we always try to do in the show: plant something early on that feels like the end of a story or just an idle joke, and then those things come back later after you forgot about them. You think they’re played out, and then those are the things that trip people up later. So that seemed like a really good way of doing that. The thing that got Barry into the acting class at the beginning is the thing that ultimately proves his undoing in the finale.
With the time jump to the back half of the episode, you basically skip over what most shows would spend a lot of time on: the beginning of the relationship between the two main characters. Why was that something you wanted to do? Was it just a necessity to get to where you wanted to go?
We wanted people to feel like you’re seeing another fantasy. Barry has these very idyllic fantasies, so the idea was we wanted you to think, “Oh, this is his fantasy,” but then it just kept going on and going on. And I think there was some real tension, like, “This can’t all just end this way — something has to happen! What is it? Where’s the bolt of lightning coming from? Because I know it’s coming.” And there’s a real tension to that. And it is a little naive of Barry to just think that he can put all of this stuff behind him, and just because he’s a good guy now the actions of his past are somehow forgiven, which, of course, is never the case. He’s like, “I’m a good guy now.” And Moss’ thing is, “No, you’re a f—ing murderer. That’s never going to change.”
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We saw what Chris’ death did to Barry, so should we expect a similar reaction with Janice?
I guess I would say tune in to season 2. That’s where we started the writing process, like, “Okay, what is the fallout from that, and where’s the best place to start? How is he digesting this? How is everyone else processing it?” A lot of it comes from saying, “What actually would happen? What would these people do, and how would they behave, and what would the implications be? How would the police treat this?” So those were the questions we started asking at the start of writing season 2.
Before killing Chris and Janice, Barry had mainly killed bad guys to this point. You did a good job making us root for a killer, but this crosses a different line. Does that make it more interesting to write, trying to still get viewers to root for him? Or does it even matter if we root for him?
Absolutely. Part of what we were trying to do early on is Barry’s whole thing is, “We kill the bad guys,” but then in the pilot he was saying, “I met Ryan. Ryan’s not a bad guy.” And Fuches’ whole point is, “Don’t get into the business of judging whether people deserve it or not, just kill the guy and move on. The more you think about it, the more involved you get, the more it’s going to drive you nuts.” And sure enough, that’s what happens. And then in episode 2, he’s never been around for the aftermath of one of his jobs, and then Ryan’s dad shows up and Barry is like, “Oh s—, I killed somebody’s son.” That was sort of the design of the whole show: What are the consequences of this guy moving from an emotionally dead place to a place where he actually starts looking inward at his emotions? What is it going to do to him? At the beginning of the season, he’s not fulfilled and he’s leading a life of quiet desperation, but he’s also not exposing himself to the emotional ramifications of anything he’s done, and that has its advantages. So trying to run to the light the way he is, it exposes him to have to emotionally dissect everything that he’s done in his life. And it makes his life a hell of a lot harder, not easier. That was sort of the conceit of the show. Like, “Boy, this guy is going to have to crawl through a whole valley of hell to get to the peak on the other side — is he going to make it?”
The episode ends with Barry again saying, “Starting … now,” in hopes of this being the start of his non-hitman life. Is it literally impossible for him to start over? If he could, then you probably wouldn’t have a show.
It’s not going to turn into a show about an innocent theater student and his kindly friends. Again, I think the past always catches up. There are forces at work, and legal ramifications, and the mobsters who lost their leader and his family back in Chechnya who are going to want blood, and Moss’ partner who wants to know what happened to her, and Gene and the class want to know what happened. Barry is going to have to work pretty hard to make it all right.
Bill Hader was incredible throughout, but Anthony Carrigan as NoHo Hank became the clear breakout. As you saw that performance unfolding, was it a situation were you just kept giving him more to do? And what should we expect with him taking over for Goran?
That was the voice that we all kept doing on set. Like, just the way he says, “Hey, man,” that alone just made me laugh every time. So yeah, he is sort of the comedic breakout of the show. Just arcing him forward, he’s lost his oppressive boss, so it kind of falls to him to decide how to run the operation. But what we’ve been playing with there is the idea of, “Heavy is the head that holds the crown.” It’s not going to be as easy as he thinks to just be a nice guy. Obviously, running a criminal operation requires a certain amount of ruthlessness, and if you’re not prepared to do it, you might get rolled over.
You’ve already given us a little glimpse of what to expect, but what would be your general tease of season 2?
As Barry gets more emotionally enlightened and he starts to take apart his own psyche in pursuit of being an actor, he’s going to look deeper and find things that maybe he’s not prepared to deal with. And I think he’s always asked this question of himself: “How was I able to do all of these things and not completely come apart? What is it about the way my brain works that let me do these things?” Not every Marine that comes back from Afghanistan becomes a contract killer; why him?