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The ‘Barry’ Season 2 Exit Survey

In honor of the other HBO series with a finale last Sunday, here’s our tribute to the hitman-turned-actor and the inescapability of the past, a feral mongoose child, and our favorite Chechen mobster

HBO/Ringer illustration

In the first season of Barry, the HBO series created by Bill Hader and Alec Berg, the titular character (played by Hader) sought to change his life from that of a contract killer to one of an aspiring thespian. In the second season, which concluded on Sunday, we learned just how difficult it is to escape one’s past. Here, then, are Ringer staffer reactions to the shocking conclusion of Barry Season 2.


1. What is your tweet-length review of the Barry season finale?

Ben Lindbergh: HBO’s most fan-pleasing season finale on Sunday.

Micah Peters: Tragic that the finale discussion we’re still having is about the show where they invented a constitutional monarchy and crowned the useless stoner friend and not this one.

Miles Surrey: Turns out Daenerys Targaryen isn’t the only character on an HBO series capable of a shocking, impulsive, and violent breakdown this month!

Justin Sayles: Well, I guess we have an answer on what the show thinks about people’s ability to change.

Alison Herman: Telling the truth may be the right thing to do, but it sure isn’t easy!

Kate Knibbs: Sometimes you eat the shit pie, sometimes the shit pie eats you.

Donnie Kwak: NoHo Hank may be an “optometrist by nature,” but Bill Hader and Alec Berg? Not so much.

Sean Yoo: Barry spends all season trying to convince himself that he is not evil but we can all agree with NoHo Hank: Barry is the most evil badass person we know.

Matt James:

2. What was the best moment of the finale?

Lindbergh: A fawning audience swarming around Sally after she caves under the pressure of performing in public and betrays her artistic integrity by fabricating a heroic monologue. Sarah Goldberg did great work with a sensitive subject this season, and her expressions in that scene capture the conflict between her desire to tell the truth and her hunger for approval.

Herman: Sally getting validation for the least authentic version of her story is way less gory than Barry’s final rampage, but a much more devastating demonstration of the structural obstacles to change. Not only do you not want to expose your truest self; other people don’t want to see it. This season did an excellent job of setting Barry and Sally on parallel paths, and Sally’s Pyrrhic victory cements her arc.

Kwak: I was more tense for Sally’s performance than I was for the final shootout scene. The fact that Sally capitulated under the spotlight wasn’t surprising, but it still unnerved me.

Sayles: The beginning of Fuches’s speech, when Cristobal and the Burmese crime family couldn’t hear a word of what he was saying, is a great example of the subversive humor the show has perfected. (“I think he’s on Bluetooth.”) It also seems like a sub given that we saw another power-hungry HBO character give a speech in a similar open-air environment earlier on Sunday.

James: I loved when NoHo Hank’s top assassin Mayrbek stood ready to put Barry’s training to use, only to freeze up at the sight of his mentor and idol. Without hesitation, Barry snuffed out the man most eager to follow in his footsteps—which was an instinctive repudiation of Barry’s own past—and, with Barry and Gene’s relationship coming to a head next season, perhaps telling commentary about how the show views mentor and mentee relationships.

Yoo: The best moment comes following Barry’s shootout when he finally cools down and sees the carnage that he has left behind. The scene ends with a beautiful yet chilling shot of Barry leaving into the darkness, a fitting call back to the first shot of Season 2 when Barry is entering into the light from the darkness.

Peters: Inasmuch as it was an episode about realizing stuff, I’m kind of torn between (1) Fuches trying to set up a parlay between Hank and Cristobal and accidentally doing therapy; (2) Cousineau slowly remembering, for the first time, that Barry killed his girlfriend; and (3) Jermaine chewing over his feelings about his absent father mid-monologue.

I think I’m going with (3) because—and this is definitely recency bias—it’s the first time I can really remember “that’s crazy” working as an actual, full emotional response to something, and not just as a “get out of this conversation free” card.

Surrey: Gene’s last-minute realization (as in, right before the credits hit) that Fuches whispered Barry’s name in his ear. After the first season, critics were wondering whether Barry even needed a second season—now, we’re impatiently waiting to see what Gene’s gonna do about this shocking revelation.

3. What was your favorite episode from Season 2?

Surrey: The fifth episode; also known as “ronny/lily,” also known as the one with the rabid taekwondo girl. I like television that doesn’t mind eschewing some logic to get a little weird (see: Atlanta), and the surreal desert sequence and the animalistic assault from Feral Karate Kid—which doesn’t sound funny, but believe me, it rips—were a big reason why this isn’t just my favorite episode of Barry, but a contender for best episodes of the year.

Lindbergh: Episode 5, “ronny/lily.” This was the “Teddy Perkins” of Barry’s second season—an absurdist diversion that strayed far from the show’s typical content and tone, resulting in some of the year’s most memorable imagery.

Peters: “ronny/lily.” Every now and then I remember Ronny—extra zooted, with a busted windpipe—wheezing through his fancy nunchaku routine and I snort-laugh.

Sayles: This A.V. Club review likened “ronny/lily” to “Pine Barrens,” and I can’t find a good reason to disagree.

Herman: Showy standalone episodes may be critical catnip, but “ronny/lily” actually lives up to its premise. “‘Pine Barrens’ with a feral tweenager” is a hell of a swing; the resulting half-hour both escalates the action and slams on the brakes, giving Barry and Fuches space to expose just how toxic their relationship has become. Often, self-contained chapters like this turn out to be a needless flex, or inadvertently show how formless the rest of the season is in comparison. “ronny/lily” lifts all boats.

Yoo: “ronny/lily” is an all-time episode of television. There are so many memorable moments: Barry entering Ronny’s trophy room, Lily attacking Barry and biting Fuches’s face, and when Barry sees a wheezing Ronny at the pharmacy. I would 100 percent watch a spin-off show featuring the father-daughter ass-kicking duo of Ronny and Lily.

James: Although “ronny/lily” was incredible, I really enjoyed Barry channeling his trauma to finally deliver an inspired performance in “The Truth Has a Ring to It.” And the accordion player ratting out NoHo Hank was a hilarious twist ending to the episode.

Knibbs: I really loved “The Audition” (Episode 7), even though it was so tense I don’t plan on watching it again for a while.

Kwak: I liked “ronny/lily” but I loved “The Audition,” particularly for the two standout monologues within: Sally feeling everything as she emotes to Barry poolside and NoHo Hank’s would-be last rites on the “barbecue bus.”

4. Besides Barry, who is your favorite character on the show?

Knibbs: NoHo Hank, who is my favorite character on television.

Peters: NoHo Hank in a walk.

Lindbergh: I really tried to come up with an honest answer other than Noho Hank. I failed.

Surrey: That’s a bit presumptuous, I’m not sure I’d call Barry my “favorite” after he just committed a mass shooting [crying tears of blood emoji]. But, obviously: NoHo Hank.

Kwak: NoHo Hank’s screentime is like the juice in a Juul pod—you always think there should be more and immediately feel yearnings when it runs dry.

Sayles: Henry Winkler’s Gene Cousineau took on an added depth this season. The narcissistic acting coach we met in Season 1 is still there, but with his grief over Janice and his attempts to reconnect with his estranged son, he’s given the blackest of comedies something of a heart.

Herman: Gene Cousineau is such a brilliant illustration of what Barry does best. He’s a narcissist and a fool, but the series never loses sight of the fact that he’s a man in deep, devastating grief. Give Henry Winkler an(other) Emmy.

Yoo: It shows just how great of an actor Sarah Goldberg is but if they removed Barry from the show Barry, I would still be heavily invested in Sally’s life and career as an actor.

James: NoHo Hank provides phenomenal comedic relief but Sally’s character carries Barry forward. Sarah Goldberg’s performance somehow manages to elevate the drama of a struggling Hollywood actor to meet the stakes of a professional assassin. Sally makes the show possible.

5. What was your favorite NoHo Hank moment from the season?

Knibbs: Everything related to his dream of being “50/50 with Cristobal” was very beautiful.

Surrey: Like a Lay’s potato chip, it’s hard to pick just one. But NoHo Hank sporting a blonde wig at Lululemon? We need to give this guy more “disguises” in Season 3.

Herman: HANK. IN. A. WIG.

Kwak:

James: I was cackling watching NoHo Hank’s dream in Episode 3. “So, you know what, Thomas Friedman? You are bad at writing and nobody likes you.” It was a great added touch having a Thomas Friedman book resting on sleeping NoHo Hank’s chest as he woke from his dream.

Peters: His tough-guy posturing at the end of the premiere when he sets boundaries with Barry was so good. I mean, everything about it—Hank’s obvious reluctance with putting a friend in their place, the way his voice sort of trembles, and likewise the way he holds firm, because he’s the boss now and that’s what bosses do. “Don’t fuck with me Barry … it’s not polite.” Fuck yeah, Hank.

Lindbergh: After Barry spares his life in Episode 3, he morphs from impassive criminal to nervous vomiter to gleeful dancer in the span of two minutes, encapsulating much of the magic of NoHo Hank in a single scene.

Yoo: The entire scene where NoHo Hank fails in his assaination attempt of Barry might be the funniest moment of the entire show. This scene is the opposite of King of Suck Balls Mountain.

Sayles:

All hail the King of Suck Balls Mountain, first of his name.

6. Barry is a show of small comedic details. Which of them was the most memorable to you in Season 2?

Yoo: It’s not necessarily a small moment but any scene involving the accordion player made me laugh way too hard.

James: This show is constantly sending visibly injured characters into public spaces. Watching these characters try to play “regular people” out in the world is delightful every time.

Sayles: “Forgot-TEN, nine, eight, seven, SIX was the age when I was left at a garage sale” triggered a dozen memories of bad slam poetry.

Surrey: When Kirby Howell-Baptiste’s Sasha kept insisting that seeing a horse on the streets of London was a really big deal. (She’s also a really good actress, and I hope she has more to do next season.)

Peters: Barry’s height being his most bankable acting skill is jokes.

Lindbergh: Gene gasping when he learns that Barry is auditioning to play the character who says “swim instructors” in Swim Instructors. “That’s the title. They can’t cut that!”

Herman: Barry not understanding that “feature” is Hollywood-speak for “movie,” driving his colleagues insane in the process.

Kwak: Detective Loach trying, futilely, to relay information to Fuches via his illegible handwriting on a legal pad. The man who opens up a quinceanera store that’s not in a Hispanic neighborhood also has terrible penmanship.

7. Which premise has more promise: Payback Ladies or Swim Instructors?

Herman: Swim Instructors does not appear to have much of a premise beyond its title (and co-lead’s height), so Payback Ladies wins by default.

Peters: Wasn’t Payback Ladies literally Grindhouse? It’s just missing Rose McGowan with an M16 leg.

Lindbergh: I’m not sure either has promise, but with minor adjustments, I bet both could be made. Change the poster and the tagline, and Payback Ladies isn’t so different from many other actual movies or shows (which is why the satire works).

Yoo: Swim Instructors solely because of Barry’s line: “Hey Ike! You shitbird, you want a little pieeeeeee?”

Knibbs: I fully want to watch Swim Instructors, so: Swim Instructors.

Surrey: I would definitely stumble to a matinee of Swim Instructors if MoviePass was still a thing.

8. What will happen to Barry in Season 3?

Herman: Presumably, not consequences!

Lindbergh: He’ll book his first feature film role and also probably slaughter some people and feel bad about it.

Knibbs: I think we’re going to see Barry have a lot of success in his career and a lot of failure everywhere else.

Peters: I’m willing to bet that at least one film exec in the audience at Sally’s showcase also noticed that Barry is 6-foot-2, so he lands a part in a Star Wars project or something. Then he gets arrested for murder.

James: What will happen to me in Season 3?!? I really want good things for Gene and Barry but it doesn’t look possible for both characters to find stable ground.

Yoo: I hope Gene goes full John Wick and turns into a revenge-hungry assassin with the sole purpose of killing Barry.

Kwak: I would never underestimate the imaginations of Hader and Berg, but I have to think that the third season will be the last. I can’t imagine Barry outrunning his demons—both real and karmic—for much longer. Morbid as it is to write, I feel like the series will end with Barry killing himself.

Sayles: I thought Hader and Berg had backed themselves into an impossible corner with the Season 1 finale. They proved me wrong. After Cousineau’s realization at the end of Season 2, I feel that way again. And I look forward to seeing them make a fool of me again next year.

Surrey: If you asked me this question after the first season, I wouldn’t have a good answer. I’m in the same boat after Season 2, but seeing how great this season turned out—in some ways, it even surpasses its predecessor—there’s no reason to believe Bill Hader and Alec Berg can’t cook up something tragic, bleak, and funny. All I humbly ask is that we get Barry on the set of Swim Instructors eating Ike’s ill-fated poop pie.

Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.