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‘Barry’ Season 4 is Hard to Watch, But I Still Love It

5/5 murder weapons

Barry, wearing a blue prison uniform, talks on a cell phone. He looks upset.

Season 3 of Barry ended with a shocking twist: Barry (Bill Hader)’s mentor Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler), livid over his girlfriend Janis’s murder and brainwashed by Janis’s father Jim (Robert Wisdom), gets Barry arrested in a sting operation. Now Barry is in jail, trying desperately to maintain some kind of connection to the life he thought he could make for himself in Los Angeles. However, he finds himself sucked back into the world of violence and crime that molded him.

As the Barry season 4 trailer hints, incarceration isn’t treating Barry well. He gets beaten; he slides further into emotional distress; he finds himself back in a fraught relationship with Fuches (Stephen Root), who’s being held at the same prison. He reaches out to Gene and tries to reconcile with Sally (Sarah Goldberg). Meanwhile, Sally goes home to her parents and, during a family viewing of her short-lived TV series Joplin, remembers why she got the hell out of there in the first place. Hank (Anthony Carrigan) and Cristobal (Michael Irby) try to live out their happy ending after Hank’s miraculous rescue operation in season 3, but their own ambitions get in the way. And Gene is, as always, Gene: a world class narcissist who can’t help but put himself in the spotlight, even when it threatens to destroy him.

Barry season 4 is, to put it mildly, bleak as hell. Remember Barry’s hope, way back in season 1, that he could transcend his sordid past and become a successful actor? At the time, the most interesting barrier to that dream—aside from Barry’s lack of acting skills—was that any visibility would make him a target for crime bosses and police. Now, though, as his history of murder and betrayal gradually swallows him whole, the wild optimism of season 1 fades into a distant memory.

What’s even harder to witness are the ways that Sally, Gene, and other characters continue to sabotage their own happiness. Sally ruined her own career when the video of her screaming at Natalie went viral and she became the “Entitled Cunt Girl,” but because of her own history of abuse and survival, you still want her to succeed. In season 4, she continues to reckon with the ways that she’s been shaped by abuse, but she’s not done shooting herself in the foot.

If this series were in less capable hands, it might get crushed under the weight of its own pathos. However, co-creator and director Hader is a master storyteller, and all of Barry‘s best qualities are back in season 4. There’s plenty of dark comedy and surrealism, along with a massive plot twist. Guillermo del Toro guest stars as a crime lord simply called Toro, with another big name in a hilarious cameo that critics have been forbidden from revealing. One of my favorite moments in the season is a hallucinogenic scene that seems too real to be a dream, but too dreamlike to be fully real. Barry is at its best when it digs deep into its characters’ broken psyches.

The emotional beats of the season hit home, too. The events that unfold are rough, but mostly true to character. Sally, Gene, Fuches, Hank, and Cristobal all struggle with their demons. At the center of everything is Barry himself, the funniest and most sympathetic hitman on television. Everyone’s circling the drain, but you want Barry and those caught in his orbit to figure out how to build a life—even when it seems impossible.

The first two episodes of Barry season 4 premiere on HBO Max on Sunday, April 16.

(featured image: HBO Max)

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Julia Glassman (she/they) holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop and covers film, television, and books for The Mary Sue. When she's not making yarn on her spinning wheel, she consumes massive amounts of Marvel media, folk horror, science fiction, fantasy, and nature writing. You can check out more of her writing at, or find her on Twitter at @juliaglassman.