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Barry episode 4.08 "Wow"

There is really no better word to describe this show than unique. Which might sound like I’m sugarcoating a less than positive reception, but this time I mean unique in the very best way. I often say, in writing and in life, that it’s a good thing when there’s nothing else like you in the world. If someone’s already done what you want to do exactly the way you want to do it, then what’s left for you to do?

Bill Hader in "Wow". Image courtesy of IMDb.

Barry is so itself. I generally categorize tv into either a drama or a comedy and don’t really break it down any more than that, but Barry forces the issue of nuance. It’s a true dramedy in the way it combines short form narrative with a gritty action/thriller plot to tell a story that is, at its core, a deeply ironic commentary on the entertainment industry. It’s not haha funny, but the juxtaposition of the hit man/Chechen mob world with that of Hollywood highlights the senselessness and silliness of each. And the way the series wraps up really hits the nail on the head of these comedic themes told through a dramatic lens. I said “wow” out loud as the final credits began to roll, and then couldn’t hold back a smile as I learned that was the title of the episode.

This is one of those shows that has a very different feel by the end, and I think it’s because rather than people changing, we learn with more and more certainty who they have been all along. I had a friend watch this show all the way through for the first time recently, which was a fun journey to see unfold because I’ve been watching Barry from the beginning. She fell in love with it at first but was given some pause when Barry killed Janice Moss.

It felt different from his other killings, less justifiable. I remember feeling the same way when I first saw it, but as the show progresses, we realize this event isn’t an outlier, but rather our first glimpse into who he is and always has been. So much of the show is catalyzed by Janice’s death because it isn’t a moral gray area. It was wrong. But how do people handle right and wrong and justice when a coveted acting role is on the line? Or a lot of money? Or love? Or the flex of having a boyfriend and looking like you have your life together?

After avoiding an attempt on his life and escaping from prison, some deep flash forwards in season 4 find Barry living an intensely strange and religious life in the middle of nowhere with Sally and their young son John. Their house looks like it’s in the middle of open desert, much like where a young Barry once first met Fuches. Barry and Sally’s son doesn’t even know their real names. It’s pretty bleak, but Barry seems deeply deluded while Sally and John are miserable.

At this point, we’re not even pretending that Barry is somewhat sane. In no way is he the good guy, or even the anti-hero of this story. He’s deeply childlike, his entire moral compass being driven by the father figure he’s latched on to- we’ve watched it shift from Fuches to Gene Cousineau after a phase of teen-like rebellion, and when he was rejected by both of them, we watched him spiral, absolutely lost with no sense of direction. It seems that after this he couldn’t make sense of the world without turning to the ultimate father figure- God.

The thing about God is you can put words into His mouth, and he can’t dispute them. We’ve seen his pious life with Sally and John but this episode especially had a very darkly religious underbelly as Barry returned to LA to kill Gene, listening all the while to a Christian radio station debating the ethics of murder.

When Sally and John are kidnapped by Noho Hank as a ploy to deliver Barry to Fuches (more on all of them in a minute), Fuches is deeply moved by Barry’s son. In an abrupt but sincere change of heart, he lets Barry, Sally, and John all go. In the previous episode, in one of the best depictions I’ve ever seen of a character ‘deciding’ to do something, she had tried unsuccessfully to give up Barry and turn herself in. The thought of continuing to live as they had been, with no end in sight, was unfathomable to her. That night, after escaping Noho Hank and Fuches, Sally urges Barry to turn himself in. Barry’s takeaway, though, is that he has been spared and redeemed by God. He tells Sally she must just be tired, and, in the morning, they’ll get out of LA and clear their heads.

Anthony Carrigan in "Wow". Image courtesy of IMDb.

Unsurprisingly, Barry wakes up the next morning with Sally and John nowhere to be found. In a panic, he rushes to Gene’s house, convinced they’re there. Instead, he only finds Gene’s lawyer, who also encourages Barry to turn himself in as Gene as somehow twisted himself into looking responsible for this whole thing. Barry was never going to do that, but the interaction is cut short by Gene entering the room with a gun and shooting Barry in the chest. Barry looks down at his wound, up at Gene, and says a genuinely earnest “oh wow” before Gene puts another bullet between his eyes.

One of my favorite things about Barry is the very realistic use of speed and sound. This is the kind of moment we’d expect to have a lot of buildup, a highly emotional scene, but it’s very abrupt. It all happens fast- as fast as it would in life, without ample time to reflect. And this also drives home the point that Barry is just a very tragic pawn. He was a pawn to Fuches and Hank, and even to Sally and Gene, though in their case a poorly used one that led to their downfall. He was also a pawn to the narrative, as all the thematic takeaways really have to do with everyone else and how they used Barry, rather than Barry himself.

So let’s talk about these other guys. To me, by the end, there are two important throughlines to this story, both of which involve Barry but neither of which are about him. First, there’s Gene Cousineau and his addiction to attention. When the flash forwards begin, he’s been off the grid, but he emerges when he hears that a movie is being made about Barry and his killing of Janice. Janice’s father is still intently investigating the murder and his suspicions of Gene are confirmed when Barry (in a childlike apology) inadvertently confesses to having given Gene $250,000.

Jim Moss is smart. Gene receives a call from an agent wanting to talk to Gene about someone playing him in the movie about Barry. He doesn’t want to hear it, that is until the agent admits that the actor is Daniel Day Lewis, wanting to come out of retirement to play Gene Cousineau. Gene’s tune changes on a dime. He agrees to meet with the agent, where he overindulges in his self-importance and clandestine admissions that he was like a father to Barry, that Barry is misunderstood and would have listened to anything Gene had to say. He even went so far as to try to humanize him so that Mark Wahlberg- up for the part of Barry- wouldn’t feel bad about playing a cop killer. The incident he is supposedly outraged over, that ruined his life, is actually not so bad if he’s going to be credited in its star-studded dramatization.

Charles Parnell, Robert Wisdom, and Gary Kraus in "Wow'. Image courtesy of IMDb.

Gene and the agent hurry back to the office to meet with Mark, where we learn that the ‘agent’ was an actor hired by Jim Moss, who now believes Gene to be complicit in Janice’s murder, if Barry loved him so much and was such a ‘sympathetic soul’. Gene’s dug himself a hole he can’t dig himself out of, which brings us to the moment Barry arrives at his house looking for Sally and John. Barry is the only one who could clear Gene’s name, but Gene kills him before he gets the chance.

In another decade’s long flash forward, John, now in his late teens, amicably parts ways with Sally. He goes home with a friend and steels himself to watch the movie that really did get made about Barry, Gene, and everything that happened. The movie ends with on-screen text revealing that Gene is serving life in prison for the murders of both Janice and Barry, while Barry is buried in Arlington memorial cemetery with honors.

Again, it’s not ha-ha funny, but it’s a grimly comical look at the extent to which Hollywood will twist tragedy for the spotlight, even to its own detriment. It’s a satire in which all of these bleak characters are the punchline. But what really gives this theme heart, is Noho Hank. The character who started out as the comic relief for this series ends up being the real emotional gut punch. It’s hard to sympathize with Gene, who brought all this on himself with his sleazy personality, but Hank was endearing and his love for Cristobal was real.

Hank and Cristobal were both the comedic and emotional light to this show in the last couple seasons. They were both fun and funny, and they were so entrenched in the violent realm of this story that their violence was more normalized than Barry’s- it was more reminiscent of an action comedy than a poignant ethical dilemma. You can’t help but root for them, especially as they embark on something as silly and harmless as selling sand.

But Hank didn’t want to settle for selling sand. He wanted a life with Cristobal, but he wanted that life to be an empire. So he made some plans behind Cristobal’s back, killing their partners in the sand venture and shaking hands with people Cristobal would never have agreed to. When Cristobal finds out, Hank begs him to get on board, knowing what will happen if he doesn’t. But Cristobal insists on walking out, promptly to get shot dead before he can reach his car.

Hank mourns this, but gets back to work, even partnering with Fuches to build his empire. But when Fuches toasts to Hank, and his willingness to sacrifice Cristobal to make this happen, Hank snaps. Hank refuses to admit to sacrificing Cristobal, and in fact, their deal is off for Fuches having even suggested it. The two quickly end up in a violent feud, trying to kill each other as everything else in this season progresses. Eventually, though, it’s clear that Hank is no match for Fuches, leading to his abduction of Sally and John. This was his white flag to Fuches, if he would come over to Hank’s compound he will use Barry’s family to lure Barry there and deliver him to Fuches.

This is where Fuches has his first human moment of maybe his entire life. He looks at John and admits to Hank that he is a bad person who does bad things- and he is ready to put all the weapons down if Hank will just admit the same thing. If he will say out loud that he is responsible for Cristobal’s death, they can put this all behind them. Hank and Fuches both have a small army with them, and the crowd is silent as Hank thinks and tears well up in his eyes. But he can’t do it. He can’t admit to himself what he and everyone in the room already know to be true. He opens fire, and everyone follows suit. Everyone dies, save for Fuches, Sally, and John.

Anthony Carrigan in "Wow". Image courtesy of IMDb.

Hank has his final moments sitting at the feet of a statue of Cristobal. Blood drips from his mouth as something in another plane makes him gasp and whimper in fear. His hand shoots up and grasps Cristobal’s bronze fingers. And then he dies.

I honestly don’t even have any guesses as to what he saw, but I think the takeaway is that it wasn’t good. To me, this is the real heart and heartbreak of Barry. The real consequences of denial, of being power-hungry, of refusing to take accountability. It adds stakes and emotion to Gene Cousineau’s silly little tale of the same pitfalls. I watch Gene and Sally and the whole Hollywood scene, and think “wow, entertainment really is like that. Our world today really is like that”. Then I watch the Shakespearean tragedy that is Hank’s story and think “wow that is so sad”. Together, they make Barry an on-point reflection of our society, and a cautionary tale of the consequences of all those traits. And it really just made me say wow.

Did you say wow? What do you make of Gene’s killing Barry, or of Sally letting him in to the extent that she did? Did the ending hit for you or were the flash forwards too much? Let me know!

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