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.
The second example is the episode about the stoned taekwondo champion and his possibly demonic daughter. What a strange half-hour of television. I’m not sure how it worked. I’m not sure it should have worked. It added an element of something almost supernatural out of nowhere, in a show that is otherwise very grounded in reality. That can take viewers out of a show if it’s not done well. I was worried for this exact reason when I saw her float through the air like a character in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. But somehow, it worked. It all worked. It was a fascinating and flabbergasting episode of television, unlike anything else I’ve seen with the possible exception of everything that happens in Atlanta. It’s been fun to watch Barry since then and remember there’s a little girl somewhere out there, perched on a rooftop like a gargoyle, hellbent on killing Barry.
(In a recent interview with Uproxx’s Jason Tabrys, Bill Hader, when asked about the thought process behind this episode, said, “I dunno, it was just making us laugh and it just felt right. It didn’t feel like we were jumping the shark.”)
And speaking of problems Barry has, the Fuches/Gene situation in the finale was a heartbreaking culmination of something that had been brewing all season. As Barry moves away from killing (or at least tries to), he’s been moving away from Fuches (Stephen Root), too, and replaced him as a mentor/guide with Gene (Henry Winkler). Seeing a scorned Fuches drive a wedge between them — a wedge Barry very much built and handed Fuches by, again, killing Gene’s homicide detective girlfriend and hiding her body in a car trunk near Gene’s cabin — was sad. Barry has been close to getting out a few times. He thought he was close, at least. But now that Fuches has told Gene the truth, I don’t see a way to recover from that. It’s not great. And Barry didn’t even know that part before his killing spree. He just knew Fuches framed Gene. So it’s really not great!
(How blessed is this show to have Stephen Root and Henry Winkler at its disposal? They both play manipulative Svengalis but in totally different ways. Fuches is cold and calculating, Gene is warm and needy. And they both nail the funny parts that cut through the show’s tension. The scene in the finale where Fuches gives a long speech to a rival gang as he approaches them only to discover he started talking so far away they couldn’t hear him, I mean… that was really great. And Winkler is a legend. Maybe we’re the ones who are blessed.)
And now, here we are, in the same place we were last season. This time the closing moments were a little more open-ended, sure. Some of that is because we know the characters better and want to know what happens to them going forward. What goes down with Barry and Gene? How does Sally’s career change now? Does NoHo Hank get his heroin table? (Especially that last one.) But you could make an argument that this is a decent endpoint for the series, too, if you wanted. Barry has backslid, his relationships are crumbling, it could all end as a very dark story about the effects of killing and it could lead into a NoHo Hank spin-off. Bingo bango.
But after seeing this season and the way the creative team and cast built it out from the first, I see no reason to cut bait now or anytime soon. They’ve earned that level of trust, in large part because of how good season two was, against pretty stacked odds. It’s a good thing they made it. It’s a good thing someone invented cars, too. Great job, everybody.
Or, to quote a wise man…