Barry, HBO Max's favorite depressed hitman, is back for his final outing. Having finally been caught and arrested at the end of season 3, Barry Block/Berkman (Bill Hader) is stuck in his tightest situation yet: prison.
Over three seasons now, Hader's hitman (who tried his hand at acting but couldn't escape the murder industrial complex) has repeatedly unstuck himself from the trickiest jam-ups. Now, in a season that Hader himself directed, Barry starts out in captivity, which creates a difficult situation for all of the people he's connected to. Everyone, from his ex-girlfriend Sally (Sarah Goldberg) down to his acting coach Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler), is worried about the lies they've told along the way that could be exposed now that Barry's in custody.
Having watched nearly all of Barry season 4 — HBO provided critics with seven of the eight episodes, leaving us hanging — I can truly recommend that you get into this show if you haven't already. It's truly one of the best HBO Max shows.
This Barry season 4 review, I should note, is spoiler-free, as I've left out all the significant plot points (and some medium-sized ones as well), writing this as if I was going to read it before I watched. Those include two fantastic cameos that you might learn about beforehand. I hope neither is spoiled for you.
Barry season 4 switches speeds on us
The Barry writers have loved to set up traps for their protagonist to escape, but kicking off Barry season 4 with the titular character behind bars freshens up the series. Now, Barry's survival is based around an escape we can't really imagine. This isn't Shawshank. That said, this season is as immaculately shot as all that came before it, so kudos to the entire production team behind Barry.
This leads to two key changes: Hader's performance goes to a subtler, more stoic place, as he's starting to lose it a little. And in this situation, the show moves to a different pace, which viewers may find slower than anticipated. It still works nonetheless. Primarily, this comes from the show's ultimate through-line: the lies being told by actors (both good and bad).
For example, on a phone call early in the first episode, Barry shows a vulnerability that Gene Cousineau — who's on the other end of the line — probably doubts. I didn't believe him either, but it's left up to the audience's interpretation.
Action does pick up, as it always does in Barry, and the show continues to keep audiences on their toes. And throughout, the series continues to veer into the surreal. In true Barry fashion, there's one moment in particular that had me asking "WTF?" right before the credits hit.
What follows that, though, is maybe my only personal hang-up about this season. A surprising pivot doesn't (at least before the finale) quite pay off.
Barry's ensemble still delivers
While Barry is Bill Hader's show by title, its excellent supporting cast is still delivering throughout. As Sally, Sarah Goldberg has a ton to work with, from going back to her small-town home and her pleasant and quaint parents — and navigating Hollywood. And don't worry: Sally's narcissism is still here, even as she's coping with the aftermath of Barry's arrest.
Trying to find the next steps in her career, Sally starts teaching the Cousineau method that she experienced herself, and Goldberg really nails the tone and moments. That even brings her to the next level in Hollywood, where she continues to climb the ladder.
And now that Gene Cousineau — who helped with Barry's arrest — is believed by the public to be a hero, Barry's writers have put that character in an increasingly anxious situation. We all know the truth, and it's fun to watch him squirm as he deals with increased attention. I won't spoil it, but there's a certain moment where he curses in a weaselly way that I kept rewinding to.
Ultimately, some of the best moments for the whole season come from Anthony Carrigan's NoHo Hank. Still with Cristobal (Michael Irby), the two venture into a new enterprise this season that they can't help but screw up. Of the seven of eight episodes provided to critics, I truly believe the best moment came from Noho Hank.
Oh, and what can I say about Fuches (Stephen Root), Barry's former handler turned nemesis? Well, Root continues to prove that he can turn manic energy driven by fear and neuroses into gold. His false confidence in prison leads to some excellent moments as well.
Bottom line: Barry season 4 may start slow, but it works
While I could explain more about the best scenes of this new season — of which there are many — I would rather end this Barry season 4 review noting that the series appears to be going out on the perfect note.
First of all, it hasn't overstayed its welcome at all. And, secondly, you do get the feeling that they may be close to running out of ways for Barry to escape the chaos he's found himself in.
I'll save my final decision for when I've seen the finale, but the first seven episodes give me a strong indication that Hader and co-creator Alec Berg can land their chaotic show perfectly, a rarity among even the best prestige TV shows.
Earlier on Sunday nights, over on Succession, Jesse Armstrong is trying to do the same exact trick in Succession season 4, something that the likes of The Sopranos and The Wire — two of the best HBO shows of all time — couldn't pull off. If HBO's finally found the magic equations to make shows end when they should? That's a deserving a reason as any to applaud.