I mostly loved “Barry”‘s first season. The great Bill Hader delivered a career-best performance (no small feat for the genius behind the excellent “Documentary Now” parodies). Stephen Root displayed a crackling newfound ruthlessness that felt electric. And Henry Winkler was a delightful, easy “Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy” series contender as Gene Cousineau the wily acting coach who actually does appear to be teaching his students something even as he can barely land a role himself.
And yet “Barry” took several dark turns in its last two episodes—the only two I hadn’t seen before listing it as one of the “5 Best Shows You’re not Watching” in a very recent video—that saw Barry [spoiler alert] murder his Marine buddy Chris and Janice, the black female detective who’d been chasing him for most of the season, and played by the fantastic Paula Newsome.
The murders of Chris and Janice have several things in common: Barry committed both less as part of his job as a hitman or to kill those that would kill him (separating them from all the season’s other murders), but to save himself from getting found out. Both victims were also Barry’s only non-criminal kills of the entire season. And both were involved in loving, happy interracial couples.
Barry’s Marine buddy Chris was married to a Latina woman and had a young son, the perfect picture of family in our New America. Janice was in a surprisingly great relationship with Winkler’s rascally Cousineau—whose talent as an acting coach allowed him to see right through the detective’s loneliness—and you couldn’t help but be touched when Winkler said “I’m 48 years old, and I know a great thing when I see one, and enough to know they don’t come around all that often.” [Of course, Gene is at least two decades older than that, but you have to give an aging actor their vanity.] Even though Janice is younger, theirs was a mature picture of Autumnal love—another thing you don’t see all that often on TV—and more than a little heartbreaking we won’t be seeing it play out in Season 2.
That’s because Barry the character wanted to protect his new life as an actor which pretty much consists of endlessly supporting the self-absorbed blonde actress Sally (Sarah Goldberg, nailing a certain type of LA actress so well, it may enter a sort-of Uncanny Valley territory, and you may find yourself cringing at many of her scenes more than laughing) and co-starring with her, mostly because he makes her look good. Because Sally and many of the actors in his theater class are so self-centered, they rarely ask Barry enough questions to know something is obviously wrong, allowing him to pivot away from Detective Janice’s questions by deflecting praise to Sally, which she’s only too happy to eat up.
In the end, the message “Barry” the series is unconsciously sending is that interracial couples and families don’t matter as much as Barry and Sally’s happiness. Right after he murders Detective Janice in a gun fight—which Sally literally sleeps through—Barry crawls back into bed with her, saying “Happy…starting now.” All of this is because Barry (who expressed real remorse for murdering Chris in episode 7 but not enough to keep from doing Janice the same way) forgot to delete a Facebook page clearly linking him to Chris, and Janice even finds pictures of Barry volunteering at a memorial event in Chris’s honor. You may begin to question how many innocent people Barry is willing to kill to be happy.
Chris’s wife and young son think their husband or father killed himself, because that’s how Barry disguised the scene. The casualness of that cruelty is completely skipped over, but you might imagine that if Barry truly felt bad about what he’d done to Chris it would be mighty hard to go to a memorial event and take smiling pictures with that man’s family. Now Detective Janice will be missing next season, and it’s likely Barry’s acting coach Gene Cousineau will be implicated in that, further spreading the misery of his deeds.
Anti-hero Television is no stranger to punishment, but “The Sopranos,” “The Shield,” “Breaking Bad,” etc. waited several seasons before their characters committed acts as dark as Barry is in only an eight-episode first season…Oh, and “Barry”‘s a comedy series. Yet I probably wouldn’t have a problem with it at all if it weren’t for the subconscious message the series is sending: “Well, they’re interracial couples. Their happiness really isn’t as important as Sally and Barry’s.” Which is a larger Hollywood problem I discussed in “Why Won’t Hollywood Positively Portray Interracial Couples?” That notices all too often black/white couples in TV/Film are either 1. diversions on the way to same race love, breaking up before the end of a series or movie, 2. villains, or in “Barry”‘s case 3. Tragic. It’s become so bad and so predictable, that when Chris’s Marine buddy was revealed to have a Latina wife and son in the middle of the season, I literally said out loud “Oh no, he’s a goner.”