The fourth and final season of Barry is going to be a divisive one. It makes sense that the series — with its reputation as a black comedy that grows increasingly dark with each season — will be at its most tonally grim as it ends. But even with that trend in mind, this season of Barry has an air of particular bleakness around it, and sometimes takes jarringly big swings with its tone and storyline.
For those that come to Barry to laugh, they will be relieved to know that creators Alec Berg and Bill Hader continue to be unable to resist leaning into a joke or a bit when they can find one. Barry still has its comedic streak. But this time around it feels like more of an undertone.
Perhaps the greatest testament to how plot-heavy this season is — how much dense, complex, material is crammed into an eight-episode season with thirty minute-episode runtimes — is how vague I have to be in this review to keep things spoiler-free. Things shift, and shift drastically, every couple of episodes.
Alongside the uber-popular HBO series Succession, Barry is taking the path-less-followed in recent times and choosing to end their series where they claim they found a natural endpoint, instead of pushing to extend for more seasons.
This idea of a “natural ending point” is the beating heart of the final season itself, almost to a meta-textual level, because the final season of Barry feels mostly like a meditation on legacy and memory. Barry is interested in how we make sense of the ways we once chose to exist. How do we go about accepting the fact that we are inherently contradictory and flawed as human beings? What does it mean to have lived the life and made the choices that someone like hitman-turned-bad-actor Barry (Bill Hader) has, and reap the consequences, externally and internally?
What stories must we tell ourselves to sleep at night? How do we, like Barry, reckon with being someone who has made mistakes, who has sinned, who has hurt others — especially in big, undeniable, unchangeable ways? Or alternatively, like Sally (Sarah Goldberg), how do we make sense of the ways we end up around cruelty or violence more often than we expect — is it a fluke or fate or something wired into our DNA that attracts us to these things?
Beyond legacy, the final season of Barry seems strikingly tied to the notion of love. “I love you” is uttered with surprising frequency — as a way to manipulate, or in desperation, or in earnest, or sometimes all of these things at once. This is perhaps a lofty theme to attribute to a show that, at times, so values silliness, but I wonder if Barry is suggesting that love is the one great connecting force — the one human experience through which we understand almost everything. Barry seems to care deeply about the notion of humanity in even extreme contexts.
I am not certain that the final season of Barry will be satisfactory for everyone. When one recalls the first season, looking at season 4 can be like looking at an entirely different series. But there’s something to be said for a certain boldness and brashness in storytelling in the day and age of streaming, immediate online responses, and constant echo chambers of audience feedback. Barry chooses to get philosophical, and tell the story that it wants to tell, instead of necessarily the story that would make everyone happiest. It’s a laudable attempt, and I look forward to seeing how people respond.