The thing to remember about the second season of Barry is that it was not necessary. The first season could have existed on its own as a self-contained little story. Even with the cliffhanger-ish ending, in which Barry (Bill Hader) kills his acting coach’s homicide detective girlfriend because she discovered his secret hitman past (and present… and future), there was a nice out if the people behind the show — Hader and Alec Berg — wanted it. It could have been an open-ended statement about how he’ll never really get out and how he’ll always be looking over his shoulder and, if it had been a movie instead of the first season of a show HBO put a bunch of money and resources into and would probably like to see last a few years to draw in (or retain) a few subscribers, maybe it would have been.
But things don’t always have to be necessary to be good. Look at the automobile. I bet a lot of people saw the first cars and remained convinced that horses were fine. (“Horses are fine,” these people probably said, incorrectly, as they reached hour three of a 30-mile trip.) But now we have cars and they’re pretty great. We also have season two of Barry, which was itself pretty great, despite the minefield-stuffed terrain the first season left behind. We have cars and a second season of Barry. Look at us go.
One of the best things the show did in season two was become more of everything it already was. Parts of season one were pretty dark, especially the scene where Barry kills his old military buddy who was planning to go to the cops. Season two was really dark, almost the whole way through, right up to the disturbing finale that saw Barry snap and murder half of the organized crime leaders in Los Angeles. Parts of season one were pretty goofy and fun, too, but at no point in that season did NoHo Hank (Anthony Carrigan), everyone’s sweet Chechen prince, dance on a rooftop after trying to kill Barry and instead get him to agree to train his men. So that’s a point for season two, as well.
Mostly, season two took some bigger swings than the first season, making bolder choices in its plot and developing characters in new ways and getting really weird sometimes. I’m thinking of two examples, specifically. The first is the story about Sally (Sarah Goldberg) and her old boyfriend and the performance she did about their relationship. That was deep and sad and heartbreaking, both in general and in a few notable moments, like when he confronted her in the hotel room and when she changed the performance on the fly at the end, neutering it a bit and disappointing herself and getting rave reviews for it. The show is still Barry’s story (his name is the entire title, so, yeah), but there was plenty of room carved out for this to be meaty and devastating.